Homeownership, it’s the American dream. (Although so far as I can tell, it’s entirely overrated.) We didn’t buy our home in New Jersey in the traditional way, and honestly, our purchase was made somewhat on a whim. Mr. S and I had been dipping one toe in the real estate market for a couple of years but we were wholly focused on NYC and the surrounding boroughs. We even placed an offer on a one bedroom apartment back in 2013 on East 102nd Street but we lost to a higher bid. At that price, we were already stretching ourselves way too thin and we graciously accepted defeat. The 613 square foot condo eventually sold for $487,000. NYC real estate is crazy.
We half-heartedly looked at some other apartments in Brooklyn and Central Harlem, just to see what our money could buy us. Answer: our money could buy us an itty bitty one bedroom with lots of “great quirks” in “up and coming” neighborhoods. It was disheartening, but we also weren’t super serious about buying in NYC. Our budget could only afford a one bedroom and we knew we’d grow out of that floor plan within a year or two. So when we got engaged and shifted our focus to the wedding, I was all too happy to continue renting and to let homeownership wait. Still, the nagging facts of renting vs. buying and favorable interest rates reminded me that investing in a property was the smart move and we should do so sooner rather than later.
So when my dad called one day with the news that the house across the street from them was going up for sale, I was interested – not as a home for Mr. S and me, but as an investment property. We could buy the house, fix it up a bit, rent it out, sell it in a few years, and make a good profit – all while still living the good life in our NYC studio.
I should back up a bit to give some background. I grew up in central NJ (yes there is a central NJ, it’s right where the armpit is) in a small-ish mostly blue collar town. We moved from Queens to the NJ suburbs when I was three years old and my parents still live in the same house to this day. It is the only home I know (I don’t remember much of our Queens apartment). Across the street lived an old couple, the age of my grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. STK. They were lovely neighbors, watching over our house when we were away on vacation, bringing over freshly baked Ukranian goodies, and sharing the harvest from their backyard garden. As they got older my dad helped them with shoveling their driveway, cutting their grass, and driving them to and from doctors’ appointments. Their four grown children all lived far away in other states and very much appreciated my dad’s goodwill gestures in caring for their parents.
Fast forward to 2014 when Mr. STK passed away. Mrs. STK* was in her mid-80s by this time and her children begged her to move in with one of them. She was staunch in her reply, “No, this is my home and this is where I’ll stay.” It’s kind of a sad story and makes me wonder what will happen when my parents get to the age where they can no longer maintain a home on their own, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. Her children allowed her to stay, comforted by the fact that my parents were just a few yards away – my dad frequently checked in on her, helped her with small home repairs and the manual labor of keeping up with a home. Eventually her children convinced her that the house was too much for her and she moved to Texas to live with her son. When faced with selling the house, Mrs. STK’s son reached out to my dad first. Would he be interested in buying the house, perhaps as an investment property?
So that’s how the house was presented to me – as an investment property. My parents decided buying a second home wasn’t for them, but maybe Mr. S and I would be interested. And we were – very, very interested. Though the house was dated and in need of some serious upgrades, it was in good condition (built in the 1960s) and the price took into account all the renovations that would be required. Here was our opportunity to enter the real estate market while the cards were in our favor. But the more we looked into becoming landlords, the more we weren’t too thrilled with the idea. On top of that, we learned that gains on the re-sale of investment properties are heavily taxed thereby eating away much of our potential profit, but not so if the property was our primary residence for at least two years. Still, there was no denying that this house was a hell of a deal and it would be a shame to let it pass us by. So we decided to buy the house on the condition that we would keep our NYC studio rental through the life of our lease (at the end of May 2015). It would give us time to fix up the NJ house without having to live in a construction zone, get us through wedding day without having to worry about a a major move, and give us (or rather, me) a few months to come to terms with the fact that our time in NYC is coming to an end.
We had the house inspected to make sure the house was structurally sound, agreed on a price with Mrs. STK’s son, obtained a mortgage, and had the lawyers take care of the rest. There were no realtors involved and it was all very painless. Receiving the keys to our new house on closing day was quite anti-climactic as my dad had had keys to that house for a long time (in case of emergency when Mrs. STK still lived there).
So that is how we bought a house….in New Jersey….across the street from my parents…
I’m not even talking diagonally across the street, or a bit of ways down the road. It is directly. across. the street. As in I can see my childhood bedroom window from my marital bedroom window. Whenever I tell someone this fact, their response is either, “That’s awesome!!” or, “Uh…WHY WOULD YOU DO THAT?!?” and wholly depends on whether or not the person I’m talking to has children.
We’ve owned the home for months now and renovations have been under way for almost just as long, so the idea of leaving NYC and moving to NJ has grown on me. Our town has greatly evolved in the years since I moved to NYC and the suburban amenities are plentiful (hello Target, Wegman’s, and Cheesecake Factory!). It will be nice to be close to family, especially if/when we start a family of our own (Mr. S also hails from the same town, so this is a homecoming for him as well). We’re both keeping our NYC jobs which means saying goodbye to our quick and easy 20 minute subway commutes, but I commuted from home when I first graduated from college and the one hour journey should be less painful with my much improved work hours. Plus, Chunk loves grass. He is sorely deprived of the lush green stuff here in NYC and will roll around in my parents’ backyard whenever we visit as if it’s the most heavenly thing to ever touch his velvety fur.
Moving back to our hometown was never in my life plan. Truthfully, if I think about it too hard, the whole thing makes me sort of uneasy. My parents (aka our new neighbors) are cool and I know they won’t cramp our style, the house is just a starter home not a forever home, and my career has come a long way since I last lived in the suburbs, but I still can’t shake this feeling of, “After all these years, how did I end up, literally, right where I began??” My apprehension lingers for a few minutes before I can snap myself out of it and realize that no matter what, everything will be OK. Mr. S and I are on the same page when it comes to our life goals (i.e., this house is part of a five year plan) and sometimes it’s the things you don’t plan for that give you exactly what you need. Plus, by the time we’re done with the renovations, our house is gonna be SO PIMP. Oh, and also now we will be able to make full use of all our wedding gifts and I can validate all the time I spend wandering around Home Goods – we actually have rooms to furnish!
Coming up, a tour of our new home and a sneak peek at some of our renovations to date.
* Mrs. STK was SO HAPPY to hear that Mr. S and I bought her home. She told us that she and her husband had built the house together and raised their four children there. It wasn’t just a structure to her, but a physical representation of love and the happy life she lived with her family. She hoped that the house would come to mean the same for us.