When we closed on our house last summer, one of the big lingering questions in the back of my mind had to do with how much our decision was motivated by our total infatuation with the house itself versus how much we actually liked Kingston. At that point, we’d only spent a few short days in Kingston—we didn’t really know anybody here, and honestly we didn’t have a great sense of our neighborhood or the city as a whole. So we took a gamble: we felt like we had a good enough handle on the local real estate market that if it turned out we’d make a huge mistake, the purchase price of our house was low enough that even if all we did was go in and make a few improvements, we could probably unload it at a profit or at least break even. So we went for it and hoped for the best.
What we’ve found here, though, has surpassed all expectations or predictions. We quickly had more close friends here than we ever did in Brooklyn, and almost immediately felt like part of a community in a way I don’t think I ever have, anywhere. I love living in Kingston, and I’m not sure I’ve ever felt that way about anywhere I’ve lived (yes, including NYC…maybe especially NYC). The Hudson Valley is so beautiful and full of such amazing history, and Kingston itself is so charming, has so much going on, and really feels like a place where things are happening. We live within easy walking distance to Uptown Kingston, and the number of new shops and restaurants and stuff that have opened even just in the time we’ve lived here is pretty heartening. There’s a certain energy here that feels very inclusive, and interesting, and exciting, and it’s just…good. We made the decision a while ago to try to really make a go of living up here full-time. We still have to commute into the city sometimes for work, but given that a lot of what we do can be done remotely, it’s manageable so far. We’ve sub-letted the apartment while we give this whole thing a shot…so it’s still there if it’s really just not working out, but I don’t think we’ll hold onto it much longer. I really want to be here to stay. It feels right.
SO. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about, well, all sorts of things. What I want to be doing. Where I want to be. How what I’m doing right now fits or doesn’t fit into that. How I have this really pretty amazing platform as a blogger and how that must be good for something other than chronicling the renovation of my own house. Blogging is a strange, funny thing. I’m so lucky to have readers, and people interested in what I’m doing. I’m also really lucky that I’ve been able to turn this blog into something that generates income, especially because—at least here—I get to combine so many things that I love to do and present it exactly how I want to. Not many people get to say that about something they get paid for.
Blogging has also provided a lot of opportunities, some of which I’ve taken advantage of and most of which I haven’t. In case you don’t read a lot of blogs or just aren’t quite sure how it all works, the long and short of it is that a lot of companies want to be part of blogger content, sort of in the same way they’ll buy a full-page ad in a magazine or something. A typical sponsorship transaction for me at least generally involves the exchange of free product (which I then use and feature in a blog post) and an advertising fee for featuring said product. I always disclose when a post is sponsored, I only work with companies/products that I truly like and use, and I try my best to be as transparent about all of it as possible. Ultimately, I want my sponsored content to be a good thing—alerting readers to products or companies that they might not know about but could make their lives better. Isn’t that the point? And of course sometimes I can even convince a company to do a giveaway to pass some of that swag on to someone else.
Especially since buying the house, though, one of the big questions I’ve had to face is how to balance my want/need to make money from my blog (and, by accepting products, ease our own renovation costs) with still being a real person and stuff. Because I get it: I read blogs too, and it’s hard to relate to a project when parts or all of it are being paid for by a company. Consequently, I say no much more often than I say yes, and—truth be told—when I do say yes, it can feel sort of selfish just funneling that money and those products into my own house.
So, like I said, it’s made me think a lot. Isn’t there a way that I can take this amazing platform, and these opportunities, and put it toward something that doesn’t just benefit…me? What if I could get involved in a whole different project—something where I could take advantage of what I can offer as a blogger but in a way that benefits the community in a broader sense?
So that’s where I stood. Thinking. Considering. Dreaming.
And then this happened. And I’m very excited. Let me tell you all about it.
So here’s the story: this sweet little house is about a block down the street from my house. The block is filled mainly with fairly large Victorian-era houses (almost all multiple apartments now), but this house is much smaller (about 1300 square feet) and set really far back from the street. It literally took me about 9 months to even notice that there was a house here—the lot is only 23’ wide and the yard is so overgrown that you kind of have to be looking for it. Once I noticed it, though, I trekked through the yard and looked in the windows and read the big “CONDEMNED” sign on the door, and maybe that house grabbed hold of a little part of my heart. I sort of joked with Max that someday, I’d figure out how to fix it up if nobody got to it first.
Then, a couple months after that, I was casually looking at real estate listings on Zillow because a friend of ours is looking for a house. And there was the little house down the street, up for sale in as-is condition. Asking price: $20,000. Now, yes, that’s a lot of money—but for a whole house? Stuff like that doesn’t really exist much in Kingston…even the stuff that needs a ton of work is usually around the $100,000 mark, if not more (we kind of got the deal of the century with our house…we paid a good deal less than that, but that’s not really the point).
ANYWAY, so I emailed the listing agent asking for more information. I had to know what was so super wrong with it that taking it on would just be way too stupid and expensive and insane.
He described the house as a “total gut” but assured me that it had been cleared as structurally sound (hey, it’s a start!) AND, despite its condition, actually had a nearly-new roof on it. We set a date to walk through the house so I could evaluate the condition and see if it was worth looking into further.
This post is already getting long, so it’s maybe not worth getting into the whole crazy process of buying this house, but it was basically sketchy from start to finish. I used the same real estate agent who sold us our house (Nan Potter—if you’re looking for a house in the area, she’s great!), and the same inspector, the same plumber consult on the plumbing—so I felt like I was in good hands, but it was totally weird. Turns out the “agent” wasn’t actually an agent, so the house was only posted on Zillow. No For Sale sign out front, not listed on MLS…my real estate agent had no idea the property even existed. All of that aside, the information about the roof and the structure appeared to be completely true (this was backed up the Kingston building inspector who condemned the house—turns out it was just because it was vacant and in such poor shape, and the city wanted to deter squatters and stuff, but structurally the house was fine), and the title search came up clean—no outstanding mortgage, leins, or back-taxes. All good things. So yeah—CLEARLY needs a ton of work, but nothing totally insane or prohibitive that would just make it totally stupid as an investment. They agreed to take $19,000 for it. So we closed. And it’s mine, kind of.
So, let’s talk about the financial stuff, since I’m sure by now you’re probably thinking something along the lines of “what the hell?”. This is not the kind of house that banks are really inclined to give loans for, so this all panned out pretty differently than my house. What I really needed to make this work was an investor who could see the potential in the house, had some money to put up, and had faith that the financial risk would pay off and that I could do it. “So Mom,” I asked, “want to go into business together?” As a reader and frequent commenter on my blog and pretty much my biggest advocate, best friend, and supporter in my life in general, it didn’t take much to convince her that I was capable of taking on a project of this scope. The financial side of things took a little more convincing and lots of back-and-forth, but she agreed that the whole thing seemed to make good financial sense, and with the help of a lawyer, we worked it all out.
So here it is:
- We decided to roll $10,000 of our remaining renovation budget and savings for this house into the new house. It’s a lot of money…so long, refinished floors. See ya later, sandblasted radiators. Adios, renovated bathrooms. Check ya later, side porch tear-off. And so on. I feel like we’ve gotten our house to the point where we can occupy a lot of time on the cheap stuff (skim-coating, painting, that kind of thing). The house is very livable, and with the addition of the dining room, the soon-to-be pantry, the soon-to-be library, soon-to-be entryway/hallway, a bedroom that just needs a skim-coat and a paint job, we’re in OK shape. The more expensive projects can wait.
- My mother, bless her, decided to buy a $10,000 equity share in the house. In simple terms, this means that she has 10K tied up in the property, and how that breaks down percentage-wise (so, what percentage of the property she owns and is entitled to when it sells) will be determined when the renovation is complete.
- Additionally, my mom is providing a high-interest loan (technically, 10-year, 7% fixed) to cover some of the renovation costs. So basically she’s making more money loaning the money to me than she would with it accruing interest in a bank account, and it gets to go toward something awesome in the meantime.
- Because I’m acting as general contractor and managing the entire project, we agreed that it was fair to account for my man-hours as a way to build my own equity in the property. Additionally, any sponsorship deals I can bring in as a result of the blog will also help build my equity (so if a company provides, say, a toilet, the price of that toilet factors into my equity share).
SO. That’s how that’s working.
One thing (out of a million) that makes this project very different than my own house is that, obviously, I’m not living in it or planning to live in it, meaning I have carrying costs to deal with, meaning I have to get this thing done. I’m aiming for about 8 months. We can all point and laugh later on if I totally blow that, but I think it can be done.
So what’s the plan with this place? Originally I was thinking it could be a rental property, providing a little bit of supplementary income every month, at least until the Kingston real estate market picks up a little. Really, though—I don’t really think I want to be a landlord, and I think I’d feel so much better about selling it to somebody who will love and appreciate it as much as I do. Which I guess would make me a novice flipper, but that word has such negative connotations that I’m very hesitant to use it. I bought this house because I love it, and because it’s on my own street and having vacant, condemned, falling-apart homes like this isn’t good for anybody in the community, and because I was worried that somebody else would buy it and just continue to pay the taxes and let it fall further into disrepair. And I felt like I could do it, because of all the stuff I talked about earlier, and moreover that I wanted to do to it and I think it’s a good thing. I’m going to put a lot of blood, sweat, tears, effort, and love into this place, and if that can be appreciated and maintained by some young cute family buying their first home or something like that, I’d be beyond thrilled.
So what does this mean for the blog? Well, for starters, more content! I’ve pretty much accepted that I don’t think I’ll ever be capable of being the kind of blogger who posts everyday, but the pace of this project will hopefully be pretty fast and furious, and there’ll be a lot of ground to cover. I’ll also still be working on our own house (although the pace of that is probably going to have to slow down quite a bit for a while…), and sharing a freelance project every now and then…I guess it’ll basically be Manhattan Nest on steroids.
As I mentioned earlier, this will also (hopefully, god willing, because I am counting on it) mark something of an uptick in sponsored content here on the site. I know lots of people (rightfully, often) have reservations about sponsored content on blogs, and the only thing I can really say is that I will continue to be as transparent as possible, and I will continue to be selective about who I work with. I’m never going to agree to something just to make a quick buck. At the end of the day, I want Manhattan Nest to be entertaining, of course, but I also want it to be a high-quality, trustworthy resource, and I don’t want to do anything to compromise that. It’s not worth it.
I’ll come back in a couple of days to talk more about the house, show lots more pictures, talk about alllll the work it needs, etc., but I think it’s too much to get into all of that now! It’s going to be so great, though, and I’m so excited and happy to be able to do this. As always, I hope you’ll come along for the ride. It should be wild!
PS—Oh yeah, we need a name for this place! I keep calling it “the other house,” but let’s come up with something more catchy.