June 20, 2016
THE NEW MATH
My neighborhood is being Gentrified. Is this related to Mummified? Petrified? Absolutely!
For the past 33 years, I have lived in a federal style house – a simple red-brick box, two stories above ground, one below, three bedrooms, one and a half baths. It is semi-detached, attached to one other identical house. For more than five square miles, similar houses make up a moderate-income neighborhood. Until recently! Oh, the boxes look the same. It’s the income numbers that have changed.
A “house flipping” phenomenon began to slither into our otherwise quiet unassuming neighborhood about five years ago. No “For Sale” sign would go up on the targeted dwelling. Rather, a grungy pick-up truck would begin to arrive daily and pretty soon, the place was gutted, the windows and doors gaping hollow fissures. In about two months, the pickup truck would be replaced by a Mercedes belonging to the new residents of the renovated house. The flipped houses can be quickly identified as the developers are fond of painting the red brick a kind of mummified gray.
Recently, I was shocked when a large sign went up in the yard of a house around the corner. The former owner, who had for years been applauded by all the kids in the area for giving out the best Halloween candy, had passed away. No sign had ever appeared before when a house was being “flipped.” By the time I noticed it, the gutting had already begun to take place, and the dwelling had been partially painted the sickly gray outside. The sign read, “Luxury Single Family Home.”
“Luxury?” I queried in my mind. “In my neighborhood?” About the requisite two months later, an “Open House Sunday” sign appeared. Curious, I pressed my way there on a stormy Sunday afternoon.
Lightning streaked the sky as I tried to figure out how to unlatch the cast iron gate. I never quite figured it out; eventually, the gate swung open on its own. I looked around, mostly to see if anyone had noticed how awkward it must have been for a grown woman to have been unable to open a simple latch. Since no one was around, undaunted I walked up the steps to the brand new yellow front door. It was partially opened so I pushed it open. Inside, I encountered the sales agent, my neighbor and her son.
“Thinking about moving around the corner?” I asked my neighbor once she recognized that I was a person who lived a few doors from her.
“Oh, it’s the second time I’ve been here,” she said. “I brought my son to see it.” (Both she and I have 30-somethings living with us.)
About that time, her son asked the agent, “How much is it going for?”
The agent replied, “$599,000.”
$599,000?? That is nearly 10 times what houses were going for in the neighborhood when I moved in.
I looked at my neighbor and the look on her face indicated she might be petrified. Finally she said slowly, “That’s more than a half million dollars.” Yep, it had taken me a minute to figure that out, too. We probably hadn’t had to count that high since elementary school when we were learning how many zeros were in a million.
Well, I toured the house. It was pretty much the same as mine minus the creaky floors, minus the very limited kitchen counter space and minus the single bulb light fixtures. Added were brand new beautifully stained hardwood floors, stainless steel appliances, granite counter tops and “high-end” lighting. Taken away were the small porch off the kitchen and the leaky outdated basement. Added were a screened-in back porch and a “spacious” family room which included a second full bath and a wet bar.
“Wow!” I thought to myself. “With property values skyrocketing in the neighborhood, I must be sitting on a gold mine.” However, reality quickly set in and I realized my presumptive half a million dollar net worth translated to only $5.00 in my wallet that had to last me until the 15th.
And that, my friends, is the new math with its emphasis on investigation and discovery instead of how much I have to spend at the grocery store.