Sunday, December 10, 2006
Homesteading on Avenue B
I bought my first condo, on Avenue B in Manhattan's Alphabet City, in the summer of 1993. Or maybe it was late 1992. It took ages to move in, because I had to get it renovated first. The building had been a tenement in 1898, and the bathtub was still in the kitchen when I bought it.
The cost was $56,500 for a small two-bedroom place with low maintenance and taxes. It had been a couple of years since the last real estate crash brought prices in Hoboken and New York down by half in some places. ("Real estate never goes down.")
I didn't move to Avenue B and 13th Street for the ambiance or pleasant atmosphere—I moved there because for $5,650 I was able to get my own place—though it had a certain appeal. There was a hardware store with a beauty salon in the back. There was a store that sold old VCRs across the street, and kids would play video games in the back. I could head ping and zoing in between M9 buses tearing down the avenue every few minutes.
In the top photo, you can see that 13th Street is blocked off. That's because the City had evicted three buildings of squatters in 1995. The squatters knew it was coming and they were up all night banging on cans and holding bonfires in the middle of the street. NYC brought in a tank named "Sunny." The area was cordoned off and I had to show my ID to get in an out the next day.
Now the area is full of restaurants and high rents, and giddy young people drinking lots of beer. I sold my place in January 2001 for $250,000. I thought real estate had gotten too crazy for words and there was no way it would last.
I still believe that, but I'm stunned at how high prices went before they started to go back down. My place on Avenue B—it's the one on the third floor with the small dryer vent—would go for $400,000 now. ("Old rules no longer apply.")
Do I regret moving? No. I wasn't comfortable in the neighborhood after it changed, and if I'd hung onto it, I'd be liable for capital gains tax as you only get a $250,000 profit exemption. And I ended up in a much nicer, homier area in a bigger apartment. I actually come out ahead by having had two places in the last 13 years.
The plan now is to go to Cairo for a while, then see where things take me. Maybe I'll be back in April to buy a new place. Or maybe I'll run off with a camel herder into the desert. I like that I won't have to rush home to deal with my place.