14 March 2009

Nose to the glass

As a twenty-something living in an expensive city, I have to laugh whenever I read articles about how now is a great time to buy property. Clearly there are deals to be had, but they are to be had for people who actually have money to spend in the first place. Long before the housing crisis, when I was signing the lease on my current place, my landlord pointed out a provision that would give me a discount should the building turn co-op; he didn't laugh when I asked if it was a 100 percent discount, because that's about the rate I could afford moving into Manhattan.

Steven Gaines' real-estate books THE SKY'S THE LIMIT and PHILISTINES AT THE HEDGEROW might feel a little incongruent with the crisis-ridden housing market of ought-nine, but even during the downturn rich people do ridiculous things to find what they think of as a suitable place to live. And even when they've got their houses just the way they want them, they never seem to enjoy the fruits of their labor, either because of rotten luck (Donna Karan's battle to be able to renovate her apartment ended with the death of her husband from cancer) or their own restlessness.

Gaines doesn't just repeat rumor for his chapters on the gossip that drives the Manhattan and Hamptons housing markets; he gets the dirt directly from brokers, owners and notable residents, like Robert David Lion Gardiner, the curmudgeonly co-owner of a private island devoted to setting the record straight about his family's legacy. These aren't books I can see myself being tempted to re-read in the future, but as far as escapist nonfiction goes they suited me just fine.


Elizabeth said...

Now is great time to buy property. The government will give a tax credit of 10%, up to $15,000. FIFTEEN THOUSAND DOLLARS. If you want to "buy" my house, I'll split it with you.

(Because nothing is going to solve this crisis like convincing even more people to buy houses they really shouldn't buy.)

Anyway, even though I was buying a house in the midst of the "credit crunch", I still had plenty of offers for 100% financing, plus gimmicks from banks advertising zero closing costs, so no cash was required. (And I actually know people who did that. Maybe it's harder to find deals like that today, but I was told it would be hard in November of 2007, and they were lying.) And sure, I'm paying a mortgage, but I would be paying rent anyway no matter where I lived.

Plus, I just did my taxes, and because I bought a house last year (and although the deal is not quite as sweet as if I bought one right now), the federal government is giving me an interest-free loan for $7500! Cash!

Elizabeth said...

Note: I did not 100% finance my house, because I knew that while I think that my house would not lose too much value, and certainly not over the amount of time I plan to live here, owing more than your house is worth is a situation I definitely did not want to be in. I'm just saying I could have if I had wanted to.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing about my books and your kind comments. (As an aside, my books aren't meant to be re-read. You can't reheat a souffle.)

I agree that the assertion "now is the time to buy" is absurd. Only the very rich can still afford to buy and they already own their homes. And just because prices fell from an all-time high, it still doesn't mean that Manhattan real estate is fairly valued.

On the other hand, Manhattan is the capital of the world, and it's physically limited and residential space is at a premium.