Monday, June 2, 2008


I'm guessing the Brownstone building I'm living in is probably worth somewhere between 1.8 and 3-million dollars. I rent, so I figure if I were to buy my floor (about 1200 square feet) it would set me back about $750,000.

For that, I could buy a 7-bedroom, 7-bath mansion with 5 acres of land and a swimming pool in Atlanta! Thing is, I have no interest in living in Georgia. That said, I, like, plenty of other New Yorkers face this dilemma: rent or own.

For years, my parents have encouraged me to buy. "There must be something affordable, for you to buy, " they often say. Well, sure, in Atlanta. But, as you well know, Atlanta is not near New York and Atlanta is not like New York. It's hot and humid and people there talk with a funny accent (okay, so I live in Brooklyn and people here have a funny accent. Whats ya wanna do bout it.) I digress.

The other day I was talking to Gene, a 60-something guy from Italy. He moved here, like so many others from Europe decades ago. He had $29,000 to his name. Not bad, really. Not bad for 1976. When Gene arrived he didn't speak much English and New York was a pretty big and intimidating place. On that hot summer day in 1976, Gene got wind of a place down the block that was for sale. He was shocked at the price: $35,000. Gene didn't have that, but he did have $29,000. He talked to the owner and barked, "Cash, How much?" Some silence and a few stares later, the owner says, $29,000. Gene reaches into his pocket and pulls out a wad of bills. He buys the place.

He still lives there today. It's a three-story brick building on Court street and it comes complete with a first floor store and two stories of apartments above. When Gene bought the place, the first floor housed an old-fashioned candy shop. Today, it's some trendy clothing boutique. Upstairs, each of the two floors is split into a pair of tiny apartments. They each have their own baths, but each floor shares a kitchen, an unusual arrangement. But, hey, for $1,000 a month, that's a bargain for a young person wanting to live in a hot neighborhood.

Gene's a frugal guy. I see him at the local bar every now and then. He rarely drinks, not because he doesn't drink, but because he thinks the $5.00 beers are too expensive. He dresses in what looks like thrift store clothes and best I can tell, he doesn't own a car and doesn't have a job. He needs neither. The going rate these days for retail space on Court street ranges from about $3,000 to $6,000 a month. Let's settle for $5,000 for arguments sake. Add to that apartment income of $4,000 and Gene makes $9,000 a month on that building he bought back in 1976. In other words, he makes $108,000 a year.

Funny, in 2008, he wouldn't be able to afford to buy his own place! But, Gene is living the American dream!

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