The Sick Pet vs. the Extremely Secure Home

One of the main reasons Mr. NYer and I decided to buy this house here in Montgomery was that it was new construction.  Well, to be more precise, it’s that it wasn’t old.

As loyal readers will remember, we’ve already done the older house thing.  Our Staten Island house turned 90 last year, and getting it to that blessed age took continuous infusions of care and cash.   I was explaining this to a colleague here and he knew exactly what I was talking about.  “Yeah,” he said.  “Living in an old house is like having a sick pet.”

I immediately flashed on the long illness of our most-recently departed cat, Spalding, who, over the last 18 months of her life cost us more than I spent on my first new car.  Perhaps even more than we spent on our second new car.

RIP Spalding.  I hope the new owners don’t stumble across your remains in the back of the garden.

A new house, we figured, wouldn’t need a new roof, furnace, floors, windows, kitchen, bath, deck or water main for awhile.  We wouldn’t be struggling to control an over-planted garden, or worry about having a plumber on speed dial.

Instead, we’ve landed in the Invisible Zone.  Not only is our house new, but so is our street.  And so is our community, Lockwood.  It’s easy enough to help people find Lockwood — we just mention that it’s the old Standard Country Club, which was Montgomery’s Jewish country club.

The problem surfaced almost as soon as we took possession.  We had no TV (nor telephone or broadband), and hulu is fine if you don’t … mind … long … pauses … and … stops.  So we were eager to re-establish our Netflix account and start catching up on our backlog of fine flicks.  Except when Mr. NYer sat down at the laptop to reawaken the dormant account, the computerized address system told him ours didn’t exist.

Having worked in direct mail, I knew immediately what was going on.  The Post Office has, in fact, acknowledged the street, but businesses that take addresses online don’t trust the consumer to accurately enter his own address.  And for good reason — it’s amazing how many people can’t render their zip code properly.  So they practice what’s sometimes called “address hygiene” and employ address verification systems.  But–and here’s the rub–they don’t update them on a real-time basis.  I knew we were in for more of this.

And more of it we got.  UPS denied the address, and it took two phone calls, precise directions, and three delivery attempts before THAT package arrived.  We haven’t tried FedEx yet.

Turns out the cable company — the one that has the monopoly at Lockwood — hasn’t laid cable at this end yet, so we still don’t have TV.  Instead, we turned to AT&T for phone and DSL.  They had laid cable — fiber optic, as it turns out — but there were problems with the microchip cards in the hubs.  Or some such thing.  It only took two days to work that out.

We’ve still not convinced the New York Times that our address exists.  It’s been 10 days now that they’ve been “checking with the local distributor.”  We haven’t heard back.  But Charlie, one of two Barney Fifes who work our gate (we live in a gated community), did offer that one other resident got the Times — only the Sunday Times, mind you — and the delivery arrived around 9 pm on Saturday night.

So Charlie talked to the Times courier, who helpfully gave him a phone number for us to call.  Yep. 1-800-NYTIMES.  Mr. NYer thinks he’ll have to lie in wait this weekend for the courier and demand the name and number of his supervisor.

In the “making lemonade” mode, I try pointing out to an increasingly annoyed Mr. NYer that at least we’re secure.  After all, if no one can find us …

It turns out that we’re safe from “walk-in” miscreants, too.  I arrived home from work one day — a process that involved pulling out of the garage at work, driving about 12 minutes, picking up the black remote tag and waving it at the gate nearest our house, then hitting the button on the garage door opener just as  I turn the corner to our little street so that the garage is waiting open for me to pull in without hesitation.  Such a civilized thing!  Anyhow, I walked into the kitchen from the garage to encounter Mr. NYer, who informed me just how secure we were.

“Do you realize you can’t walk out of this place?”

I asked him what he meant, and he explained, “There is no pedestrian gate –the only way to leave is to drive out.”

As if there were sidewalks once you got outside.  Yup, it’s a whole new world.

BTW, folks, you can now follow me on Twitter.  If I figure out how to Tweet, that is.  I’m lifelongnyer there.  I’d be happy to have you follow me.

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Too Much Drama

Over dinner and a bottle of wine at the lovely restaurant attached to the Staten Island Hilton Garden Inn, Mr. NYer and I reminisced about the last 26 years and 11 months we spent in one house.  We smiled, laughed and got teary remembering the ghastly decor when we moved in, the collection of neighbors, the contractors, the happy occasions and, mostly, the memories of raising our son in this house.

It was a good ending to an exhausting and unnecessarily dramatic week.

Let’s go back to late last Friday afternoon, around 4 pm, when Mr. NYer hears from our old friend and attorney, Mr. J, that the buyer wants to close on February 25 — six days hence.  The alternative is to wait until Mr. J gets back from his St. Croix vacation, and close on March 9.  Oh, and by the way, the buyer wants a credit for “thousands of dollars” for the attic, which they fear is not legal.

A side note on our attic:  It’s about 300 square feet of floor space, has full-size windows on three sides, and a conventional stairway leading to it.  It’s got high ceilings with some dormers.  We refinished the attic over ten years ago, replacing hideous cheap paneling with sheet rock.  When we pulled the paneling down, we could see the lath marks on the studs for the plaster walls that had preceded the paneling.  In other words, this attic had been a finished living space since dinosaurs walked the earth.

A Staten Island attorney would not have given the finished attic a second thought, but our buyers turned to an attorney who practices in Nassau County and is young enough to be Lifelongnewyorker’s daughter.  Not that there is anything wrong with that.  This attorney, a sorority sister of the female half of the buyers, is used to dealing with tiny Long Island towns, and couldn’t understand why there was no C of O (our house was built in 1919, and houses in NYC  built back then don’t have them); she worried that the attic was “illegal.”

On Friday, Mr. J told us that the buyers wanted a substantial credit to make the attic legal, and also wanted to close as early as possible, so they could move in this weekend.  Figuring that the demand for a credit was leverage for the early closing date, and tired of being apart, Mr. NYer and I decided to try to accommodate the date.

What this entailed:  moving heaven and earth to get the mover lined up to pack on Tuesday and load on Wednesday; finding and arranging for storage of all our earthly goods in Montgomery; booking air travel from Atlanta, where Lifelongnewyork was on business, home to NY within 24 hours; hustling from a session that ended at 5 pm in Atlanta to get to the airport in time for a 6:40 flight.  And instructing Mr. J to accept the early closing date but refuse to negotiate the contracted price.

Two hours after getting the call, all that had been arranged.

Home on Staten Island, Mr. NYer and I worked for two days to empty the house, sort the belongings, and get ready for the movers.  Lifelongnewyorker kept the computer connected and the Blackberry attached so she could also attend to business.  At the end of each night, we fell into bed exhausted.  Exhausted in a way that people in their 50s should just not have to feel.

Tuesday the packers show up and the house is tossed into orderly chaos.  Lifelongnewyorker is the ultimate authority on what stays, what goes, and is consulted at every turn–for some reason, Mr. NYer seems to dread making a decision without her.  Meanwhile, she has at least one conference call scheduled, which she takes in the empty attic, accompanied only by the cats who have been sent there in exile.  Only one item is broken during the packing.

Towards the end of the day Tuesday our attorney calls with the news that the buyers’ attorney wants to postpone the closing, pending inspection of the space by an architect.  We will not dwell here on the theories put forth by the various parties, but we briefly despaired.  Our attorney suggested they bring the architect along for the walk-through, scheduled for Wednesday evening.  We breathed a tentative sigh of relief.

Wednesday the movers come again, this time to load the truck.  Oh, did I mention the truck and the parking dilemma.  Few homes on our block have off-street parking. Many residents take their cars to work, but the spaces are filled almost immediately by the teachers who work at the middle school down the block.  So, on Monday, Lifelongnewyorker printed neighborly notes on neon-colored paper asking folks to refrain from parking on about 110 feet of prime street real estate on both Tuesday and Wednesday.  She carefully tucked these under wipers and into mailboxes.  Mr. NYer, believing more direct means were necessary, conspired with our neighbors to park three cars in such a way as to use up five spaces,  placed garbage cans strategically, and stood watch during the half hour before school started.

The movers load the truck.  Lifelongnewyorker takes another conference call while huddled in the attic.  By 3 pm, when the movers leave, we are again exhausted, but we have more work to do.  Sweep and vacuum.  Because we are who we are, we also clean the bathroom and the kitchen.  Lifelongnewyorker gets on her hands and knees and cleans the hardwood floors in the living and dining rooms because the movers have been tracking wet feet in and out for two days.  We fill up move garbage bags.  And then we have to sedate the cats, capture them, and put them into their accommodations for the next four days, a lovely cage.  Eventually we do get the cats.  We carry them, cage and all, down to the car.

Barely able to focus, we drive to the aforementioned lovely Hilton Garden Inn and check in.  Lifelongnewyorker takes a much-needed hot shower.  While Mr. NYer is in the shower, the phone rings.  It’s Mr. J with the news that the buyer’s attorney has cancelled the next day’s closing.  Yes, cancelled.  Told the bank’s attorneys to forget about it.  After all, she tells Mr. J, it will take several days for the architect to file his report.

Frankly it feels like extortion to us, and Mr. NYer and I are competing to see who is angrier.  It’s 5 pm, and we have the walk-through in about an hour.  Our legal counsel advises us to be nice, which is going to be really hard.

But then we remember that we are actors.  We rehearse our lines and come up with our strategy.

We arrive early at the house and rush in to grab the 20 pounds of cat food we left, and remove the bottle of prosecco we left in the refrigerator.  We deliberately leave the bottle of champagne.  We turn on all the lights and make sure the house is cozy.  We run our lines.

First onstage is our realtor, who is also fit to be tied and enters under a dark cloud, convinced the closing will never happen.  Next are the buyers with a young man who alleges to be an architect.  I ask for his card and, well, he has one.  Before going upstairs we set the scene:  “We’re confused,” I explain.  “We moved heaven and earth to make this closing happen and you cancel it–we just don’t understand.”

These guys are first-time homebuyers and they’re terrified by the word “illegal,” which has been thrown around in reference to the attic a lot, first by their attorney and secondly by — get this — the house inspector.  This is the personage, loyal readers might remember, who brazenly poked at my sills, extolled the house, and never bothered to measure a single thing.  Turns out when questioned, he reported that the attic did not have the height or space to “ever be made legal.”  Even though it was large enough to hold his hot air for a good half hour one evening.

The heart-to-heart out of the way, we head upstairs to the attic, so the architect can have a look-see.  He looks.  He sees that this is a very large and airy attic.  He explains that the minimum floor space for a bedroom is 85 square feet — the attic has nearly three times that.  He observes that the ceiling is over 8 feet tall, and that two of the windows alone meet the air and light requirement.  He ends by saying, “This attic is fine — there’s no problem with it.”

At which point, Mr. NYer and I act out our the dual strategy.  I proceed to show the buyers all the wonderful things they’ve bought, talking about their new closets, their air conditioning and, in the kitchen, the bottle of champagne we hope they will be enjoying as new homeowners tomorrow night.  Mr. NYer tells them, “Our lawyer is ready to close tomorrow.  So are we.  If yours is willing, let’s do it.”  It’s late, but phone calls are made.  We’re all willing, but the big question remains:  Is the bank?  They’ve been told to cancel — can that be undone?

We return to the hotel feeling that, at least, the deal will close sometime, if not tomorrow.  It hasn’t fallen through.  The cats — remember them? — are freaked out, but haven’t clawed their way out of the cage or chewed off their own feet.  We go to bed, awakening every 15 minutes or so wondering what the next day will bring.

More drama.  It’s snowing.  Hard.  And the forecast is for anywhere from 8 to 16 inches.  And remember, the sorority sister attorney has to drive in from Nassau County.

We eat breakfast and return to the room just in time to hear from Mr. J — the closing is on at high noon.  Mr. NYer, who has a soft side for the cats and a charming belief in illusions, erects a barricade of pillows around the bottom of the bed and allows the cats out of their cage.  The Lunatic takes about 5 minutes to dash beneath the king bed and park himself in the middle of the floor under the mattress.

We spend the next 40 minutes or so enticing him with yarn, with catnip, with toys and with food.  None of this works.  We move the bed; he moves with it.  We plead.  I find birdsong on the Web and play cardinals, bluejays and finches.  None of these entice him.  Finally, I flop on top of the bed, he rushes out, and we capture him.

We are the first to arrive at the office, but eventually the other parties arrive.  And, lo and behold, after Way Too Much Drama, we close the deal.

We’ve  been far too busy the last four days to dwell on sentiment, but while the buyers were signing their documents (many more than ours) images of my son growing up in the house played in my mind: playing ball in the backyard, climbing the stairs before he could walk, blowing out birthday candles at the kitchen table.  I teared up, briefly.

Tonight at dinner, I asked Mr. NYer: “Shall we talk about our memories in the house, or about the future?”

“The house,” he said.

And we did, laughing mostly.  It was good.

The Inspector Calls

Our  prospective buyers came by this afternoon with the Home Inspector.  This is the guy who will look closely at the house and tell them everything that can possibly go wrong.  A bad report can queer the deal; a good one is the first hurdle cleared on the way to a closing.

When we bought the house, we had a friend who was reasonably handy and had rehabbed his own place take a look.  He pointed out a few minor fixes, and that was that.  There were things he definitely missed, as we learned in the next few years, but this was before the professional home inspection became a routine part of buying a house.

We’re attentive and responsible home-owners, but Mr. NYer and I have also been known to bury our heads in the sand rather than face an unpleasant situation.  (Standing beside each other, staring at an attic wall where something had gnawed at and removed 18 inches of insulation, we told ourselves we had mice.  Only when we saw them coming and going from a hold in the roof did we admit the mice were really squirrels.)  We believed the house would  pass with flying colors, but the small chance lingered that the Inspector would  find something we’d refused to face.  Perhaps he would report the sills were infested with Asian bark beetles, or announce that the minor sag in the roofline  was a sure sign of imminent total roof failure.   What if he declared that the drains were oozing malignant miasmas?

He came equipped with a very large flashlight, an electrical tester which he poked into every outlet, and, most alarmingly, a screwdriver that he wielded like an ice-pick on every wooden surface he could find.  I shuddered each time he drove the pick into a sill, and nearly fainted when he aimed it at the 10″ x 10″ wooden support beam that runs the length of the house and holds up the joists.  

As it turned out, none of the wood crumbled or turned to dust under the prodding of the pick.  The roof was good, the basement dry, the mechanical systems in good shape.  He did note that the bathtub taps needed new washers.

I guess he felt he owed the prospective homeowners something, and since he wasn’t going to be giving them a long list of things that needed fixing, or that they could use to lower the price, he decided to give them a long list of potential improvements.  So, over the course of two hours, he offered ideas to make the house more to his liking.  First we heard how easy it  would be to remove the plaster wall separating the front two bedrooms to create a huge master.  He didn’t care for the placement of the attic stairs, and suggested that moving them to a spot across the room would be a simple matter.   He seemed particularly keen on reconfiguring the arrangement of the heating pipes in the basement, which he apparently felt were too simply laid out.  He believed in creating zones, but only after extending the system up to the attic.  

We also learned about the improvements he had made over the years to his own house, a house “just like this one.”  Yep, you guessed it:  he moved the stairs and put in lots of heating zones.  Oddly, though, he hadn’t added a second bathroom.  There were six of ’em, with the wife and the kids, but they managed.  Now, though, the wife had bad knees and he was probably going to have to put in one downstairs even though it was just the two of them.

And so it went for nearly two hours.  Just as the end seemed in sight, the other half of the couple arrived, a firefighter who had just gotten off duty.  Now, for those readers who aren’t familiar with Staten Island, there are a few things you need to know:

1. A disproportionate number of firefighters, cops, teachers and nurses live here.  This is a great thing when you’re trying to sell a house during times like these, because they folks have steady jobs.

2. Despite having a population of nearly a half million,   the Island is a small place.

3. Once you’ve established that a) you’re a native (Islander, that is) or b) you work for the fire department, it is required that you find out who you and the next person know in common.

Now that you know the rules, you’ll understand what happened when the husband arrived.  He comes down to the basement, explaining that he just got off the job.  Mr. Home Inspector lets him know that his son is a firefighter and the social exploration begins. 

“Oh, yeah,” husband responds.  “Where’s he work?”

A station on Staten Island is named.  “I know some guys there.”

And now the serious dance begins.  First, the husband names some guys he knows.  Next, the Home Inspector begins the Inquistion.  Do you know … and the list of Staten Island Irish fire-family names begins.   A half-hour later, satisfied that he has identified every person they might possibly know in common, he let the husband descend the stairs and turned  his attention to the myriad improvements that would make our basement more like his.

I’m not sure how Mr.  NYer, who is both a native Islander AND the son of a retired battalion chief, managed to avoid a similar exchange.  Probably because he wasn’t the client, and he wasn’t the one with whom the Home Inspector planned to build a longterm relationship.  (Favorite Home Inspector statement to prospective buyers: “Once you’re in the house and you start some of this work, you call me.  I’m like your father.”)

It was a classic small-town-Staten Island encounter.  The wife, a teacher, works with the aunt of the woman who lives next door.  The husband knows a lot of the same people as the Inspector’s son.  The couple’s realtor is also a fireman.  If we had dug deeper, we’d have come up with at least a dozen connections.

Montgomery is smaller than Staten Island by half.  I guess it’s just a matter of time before we get to see it’s version of the Staten Island minuet.  Should be interesting.

Rainy Day Saturday Woman

Mostly I’m blithely optimistic about the upcoming changes.   I remind myself occasionally that there will be days where doubts and sadness predominate, but so far there haven’t been many.

Today was one of them.

Things are moving fast and with certainty.  I leave — LEAVE — in just over a month.  The house went on the market last week and,  the day after we began showing it, we had a binder.  I’ve signed the papers for the new job and sent them in. 

This is really happening.  Last night I dreamt about  moving and feeling a profound regret about leaving my house.  In the dream, the house that I was missing wasn’t the house I live in now, or one I’ve ever lived in, but I don’t think that matters.  The night before, I had a more disturbing dream in which I rather light-heartedly killed my mother and then, realizing what I’d done, tried futilely to undo my actions (no fears, gentle readers — she  passed 8 years ago and is safe from my murderous dreams). 

Right now, we’re in a kind of fugue  state.  Today is too rainy to decorate outside for Christmas.  And we rarely put up the tree before December 15.  Two showings were scheduled (we’re continuing to show the house until we go to contract), and neither showed.  I shot off some emails related to The Project for the meeting scheduled for first thing Monday morning to figure out how to control a fire that  flared, of course, on Friday night.  The Project always has fires, and this one might be a conflagration.   

It’s too soon to pack and, according to the various “relocation checklists” I found online, too soon to do almost everything.  But not too soon to start worrying about the details.  How on earth do we unplug all the connections and obligations– from the swim club membership to EZ Pass, doctors, banks and retirement accounts, from volunteer activities and memberships and friendships — and what’s going to be involved in making new ones?  How  do we even keep track of all the connections we’ve built in the course of three decades?  Will we forget something crucial?

On weekends, I prefer to have a to-do list but today there wasn’t a lot to do except wait for the no-shows and wonder whether I’m getting a cold or just having allergies.   I followed my two favorite strategies, in order:  1) Took a three-hour nap in the  afternoon; 2) When I woke, worked on a to-worry-about list.

Hope the sun comes out tomorrow.