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Guestwords: Buy/Don’t Buy My House

Thu, 12/16/2021 - 13:38

Yesterday we told our real estate person to lower the price. Down $400,000 from what it was listed for in June, which was down $400,000 from what it was originally listed for in April.

“That’s almost a million dollars!” said our son who is somewhat better at math as an adult than he was as a kid. He’d run three short direct blocks from our house to his public school starting in first grade. It’s one of the reasons we bought the house. The local public school is excellent and close.

“Walk! Don’t run!” we would yell each morning as he slammed the mudroom door and took off.

We didn’t set the original asking price for our house. We were distracted with what seemed a monumental move, so the real estate broker set the price, conjecturing it would sell instantly in this market.

“Inventory is low; your house is historic and move-in ready,” they said in March.

The local private school is also excellent and close. That’s where our son who is good at math as an adult went. Running three miles home most spring days as part of his varsity track mileage. Cycling those same miles to and from its campus to work as a camp counselor in summer.

Our house has not sold instantly. What had been considered “move-in ready” didn’t take into account evolving Hamptons buyer tastes. Current Hamptons buyers want brand-new bathroom fixtures and brand-new kitchens. Current Hamptons buyers want new marble countertops and Sub-Zero refrigerators. Our gorgeous 48-inch stainless-steel GE Profile fridge with contoured handles and extra produce drawers we bought new at the start of the pandemic for $7,500. I asked our broker what will happen to it if someone buying our house puts in a Sub-Zero instead.

“Dumpster,” they said.

Besides our house’s proximity to their schools, our kids enjoyed its walking and scootering distance to ice cream, pizza, and friends. Our kids met up with the many kids driven to town each afternoon — dropped off with routine precision, they resembled mini-commuters exiting a fleet of Ubers. Parents liked that our kids’ friends walked to our house for a bathroom, a Band-Aid, shelter if the skies opened up. Our daughter and her friends paid $2.25 for a slice of pizza, which was a great deal, but the grilled cheeses at our house were free.

I’ve been wondering if the next kids who grow up in our house will walk to town. If they’ll bring their friends back for snacks and a game of darts. The dart board is still at the end of the crazy-long entrance hallway. Early on, we used it as a bowling alley, but everyone grew tired of resetting pins, so eventually we had a professional dart board installed. Too many nights to count ended in hilarious dart games, the score being kept in chalk on a wall painted to accommodate that. I wonder if people who favor Sub-Zero refrigerators enjoy playing darts.

Everyone knew where our house was. A few blocks from a killer beach in one direction. Up the street from beloved eateries in the other. Friends would park at our house when dining at one of these eateries, having a drink with us at either end of their meal. If they had to wait for their table, like with the always-popular joint down the street that doesn’t take reservations, they’d put in their name and come back and hang with us for a bit.

It was our city friends who did this — folks who mainly came east in the summers to their second homes. Some of these friends I’d grown up with. I had been raised in New York City, with all the good and bad of it — but my scale always tipped toward the bad when I’d visit non-city friends, becoming wildly jealous of their climbing trees, Ping-Pong tables, basketball hoops. I promised myself then that someday I’d raise kids who saw more birds than taxis, more wide sky than tall buildings.

This was not my first house like that. This was the second, the one with Beatrice, the one where we blended our family together and helped each other all grow up as best as we could. This was the house with shelves built for soccer and softball and jujitsu trophies. With deep violet splotches from blueberry pancake-making permanently staining historic wide-plank pine flooring. This was the house with annual yard sales, weekend lemonade stands, the birthday party with the climbing wall, the one with the bouncy castle, the one the year of the blizzard that blew unexpectedly through town, obliterating the bowling alley party we had planned, in its place 23 second graders huddled in our 10-foot-by-7-foot screening room watching a “The Incredibles” marathon — consisting of playing the movie twice, back to back.

“The Incredibles,” a popular Pixar animated feature released by Disney, depicts a couple of former superheroes attempting to raise their kids quietly in suburban America, hiding their true identities and concealing their superpowers because of government mandates requiring them to do so. For the entirety of our kids’ childhoods, our marriage wasn’t accepted by our federal government. We married in Montreal, Canada, instead of in the beautiful backyard of our house, because it’s the only way we could.

“Why did you go all the way to Canada to marry?” said neighbors, somehow missing what was unusual about our family. Whether we chose those opportunities to ignore or illuminate the uninitiated into our own private inequality, in truth I simultaneously valued their earnest oblivion. It signaled that our community operated as an extension of our house — a wider safety net stretching from all sides like a giant trampoline, catching each one of us before springing us back to our feet as we tumbled through our lives.

It was these neighbors, often other parents at the kids’ schools, but just as often their teachers, store and business owners, the police and volunteer ambulance and fire folks, who were the same moms dads uncles aunts grandparents we stood next to on soccer fields rooting for sportsmanship above goals and sat next to during holiday concerts witnessing our children discordantly butcher the yearly dreidel song, the requisite “Feliz Navidad,” the obscure chestnuts like “Home for the Holidays.” Written in 1954 the chorus reminds “Oh there’s no place like home / for the holidays, ‘cause no matter how far away you roam /if you want to be happy in a million ways / for the holidays, you can’t beat / home, sweet home.” Though imperfectly executed, never lost on me was the culture of community and reach toward inclusion.

There are a lot of reasons why we moved, but none of them were that we didn’t love our house, our neighbors, our community. Though happily relocated, we love our former home still. When I ponder it too long, devoid of our furniture and family, not even our cat peering out its windows at the red maples as they shed their yearly crimson leaves, I feel a tug of longing for a part of us we left behind.

“What’s your bottom line?” asked our real estate broker this week.

That was easy to answer. I said we want our house loved and enjoyed the way we loved and enjoyed it. Lighting fires in the three downstairs fireplaces most winter nights and hanging around the outdoor fire pit in summer, autumn, and spring, staring up at the stars and moon, laughing with friends and family.

“No, the price — what’s the bottom-line number you’ll sell for?” said the broker. And that became the new lower price on our house this week.

When I first moved to the East End, long before marrying Beatrice in Montreal, before buying our house in Sag Harbor, prior to any of our now-adult children being born, I attended a local theatrical production adapted from Peter Matthiessen’s book “Men’s Lives,” about East End baymen whose livelihoods were in jeopardy. Both the book and the play take their title from a Walter Scott quote, “It’s not fish you’re buying, it’s men’s lives.” Which is precisely how I feel (though there are no fish or men involved).

Someone will eventually make us an offer on our house we will accept. But the transaction will surround something so much greater than a commodity it won’t be measurable in cash.

J Brooke is an essayist who lived full time on the East End for 25 years . . . and now does not.

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