So Far Rockaway
It started during the real estate frenzy, wanting a piece of the American dream, wanting to own our own home and get out of dumping our money into overpriced Manhattan rent. Rockaway seemed like the ideal location as we were familiar with the neighborhood and could maybe afford to live there. It was the best of both worlds; beach and surf but still in the city with a subway ride away to Manhattan.
In all, we looked at over 80 homes, spoke with at least 30 realtors and a half a dozen mortgage brokers all ready to give us a toxic mortgage that we couldn’t afford. This endeavor without a car and in the middle of winter was wearing us out on all levels.
Finally we found a house that we thought was in our price range and where we wanted to live. The offer was good and then at the last minute the seller changed her mind and sold it to someone else; of course not until after we had spent $400 for the home inspector.
The second house we put an offer on was a three family, new-ish construction. After haggling over the contract for over six months we were finally at the point of looking for a loan. This also happened to be at the point where the housing market was falling like a deck of cards. Our promised 5.5% interest rates rocketed to 8.5% interest rates and that was if we could even get a loan. Our mortgage broker who was full of promises for months suddenly didn’t return a single phone call or e-mail for over a week. This deal fell through with only a $750 fee to our lawyer and months of emotional stress. We felt luckier than most.
After a year of disappointments and hard lessons learned we figured the “American Dream” was just a mirage, until we stumbled across a small property on Craigslist. Hey, someone bought a town on Craigslist so why not a home? Besides this property was for sale by owner and about half of what we were trying to buy before. So, off we went to look at just one more property, again in the middle of winter.
The property consisted of a 20x100 plot of land with three bungalows, the front one being the largest and a small porch. When going through the property it was evident that upkeep and maintenance was at a minimum. In fact the entire front bungalow had a mean slope to the right and plenty of cold air blowing through its chilly rooms. However, the two things we had to our advantage with this property were cool tenants to cover almost our entire mortgage and our long time friend Robert Syracuse.
obert has been building and renovating houses for many years. He’s our very own Ty Pennington but much less irritating and with just as much energy. So after consulting him about the property and getting him on board for the renovation, we closed on the house May 12 2008. With a $20k credit card loan, a dumpster, a few friends, and Robert as our contractor, the demo on the front bungalow began. This was going to be our 500 square foot American Dream.
The renovation was a grueling, emotional, but also an enlightening and fulfilling 13 weeks. There were moments of sheer terror wondering what we were thinking buying essentially a 90 year old cabin built on an off shore sand bar which was the local feral cats’ favorite giant litter box. Robert was our reassuring therapist letting us know that all would be ok. “Just two more weeks” was his mantra six weeks into the project. Meanwhile we kept uncovering new issues to be dealt with at every turn. Slowly though, the railroad jack lifted the sagging side of our house, new foundation footings were poured, rooms were framed out, the five layers of old roofing were removed and replaced, toilets, sinks and doors were purchased, and we started to see our new home emerge from the rubble.
In the past year or so that we’ve lived here our experiences have reassured us that our risks and hard work was worth taking. Our lives include a unique and supportive community of diverse people that could only exist in a city like New York while also enjoying the benefits of a beach community. Life here consists of hanging out on our porch with friends and neighbors dropping by for a cold one or for a piece of my famous BBQ soy chicken. It’s finding comfort in the sound of the subway rumbling by at night and commeraderie in the expected pause in conversation for a low flying plane. It’s the smell of the ocean air when getting out at our subway stop and it’s a friendly nod hello to a fellow surfer at six am who also gets that no matter what happens that day it started out with a surf session. It’s not flashy or expensive but it’s life experiences that are available right outside our front door.
In the end it cost us about twice as much and took about twice as long than expected but we built our smaller, simpler version of the American Dream; one that fit us just right.