In 2001, I was flush with cash, and I went home-shopping. I love the beach, and thought about buying a condo there, but my broker Gil said, “Buy a two-family home instead. That way, you can live in half of it and rent out half of it, and if you’re ever broke, you can rent the whole thing out.”
Now I work for Gil, and I spent yesterday doing a direct-mail drop on New York’s wealthiest ZIP code. Hand-address, stuff, lick envelope, lick stamp, repeat. Sometimes I daydream about how differently my life would turn out if I could just stop listening to Gil.
But at that point, I didn’t. I bought a two-family house, and rented half of it out, and lived in half of it for two years. Then I decided I couldn’t hack being away from Manhattan — for one thing, it was hard to have a good date while constantly checking my wristwatch to make sure I got the train back — and I got a little place in the city. I was in the city half time and at the beach half time. Neither home was big, or even big enough, but I loved being able to switch my physical environment. That, to me, was the epitome of luxury; I thought I was Oprah.
Well then I met a guy, and we moved in together, and we ended up staying in the city more and more. And then I tried this career switch, and things started off bumpy. I met this guy in the street who asked me about rentals, and I thought, “It’s fate. Why not rent the beach house? It’s empty — it could be throwing off rent.”
That tenant finished up school and left six weeks ago, right around the time I closed the last of three deals I’d been working on. So again, there was an economic decision: sell the house? Move back into the house and ditch the city apartment? Rent the house?
I went with the last — “rent the house” — because my downstairs tenants wanted the upstairs unit too and I knew them. They’re great guys and they’ve paid their rent, more or less on time, six years in a row.
So I decided to do a little sprucing up while the unit was empty. I use a handyman service — they’re usually not great and they’re not cheap, but they do decent work and I appreciate not having my tools walk away the way they do with one-off handymen. And this time, the guy they sent me was great. He fixed close to a million things, and he found the source of a leak that had baffled a previous handyman, a plumber and an electrician.
But he also cost me close to two thousand bucks (hey, I said this service wasn’t cheap). The biggest job I had him do was to strip out the kitchen wallpaper, which was peeling away from the walls in a shabby-motel way. I then had him skim-coat the wallboard, but since I had spent so much money, I thought I would paint myself. I am a meticulous painter, which means I am twice as slow as a professional, but I don’t make a mess.
Well, of course the day I pick to paint the kitchen it’s 70 degrees, sunny, the perfect beach day. I look out the glass doors onto the sunny and inviting deck as I very lovingly sand and spackle and prime the kitchen. My kitchen, the one I worked so hard for, realizing I won’t be able to cook in it for a whole year. It’s like dressing the baby to give it away for adoption.
Renting the unit is all to the good because it lets me defer selling the beach house — if that is indeed what’s going to happen — for another year. I can hear my dad, who has been gone 20 years, say “punt” in my head, and that’s what happened — I punted. There’s a market risk to not selling now, if I end up selling — of course prices might soften a little, but the house needs so much work that my ability to keep doing cosmetic repairs should balance that out. Even if prices fall 10 percent, I should be able to deliver a 10 percent nicer-looking house.
So I’m staying in the city, and I’ve bought myself one more year of this career switch. One more year of listening to Gil. Let’s see what happens.