Closing Time

We finally closed on the house this week! That deserved an exclamation point. It seems like we have been talking about the house, writing about the house and spending lots of money on the house (architect, structural engineer, expeditor) without having actually owned the house. Now we proudly own a small percentage and the bank owns the rest.

The closing went smoothly up until the time that the bank realized it had our property taxes listed wrong (for the second time) and we had to wait over three hours for them to correct it.

Tip: don’t assume that the bank documents are all correct—check all the figures before you get to the closing. There is only so much small talk you can make during a 5 hour closing.

We had only one negotiation during the closing. The house was advertised as a legal two-family home but because it was built in 1899, long before the Department of Building Codes were around to torture homeowners, there was no Certificate of Occupancy.  The house was listed as a one-family when it was built. When the seller’s family moved in in the 50’s they immediately started using it as a two-family (two separate families from the same extended family). Since we want to add an extension, we were told we need a C of O (to apply for one is costly and time consuming) but we also found out that we could get something called a Letter of No Objection from the City that basically says that it has no objection to it staying a two-family. The sellers submitted an application but it had not come in at the time of closing. Our lawyer negotiated a certain amount of money to be put into escrow (rather than delay the closing) in case the application was denied and we needed to file for a C of O ourselves. The seller agreed and we just negotiated on the amount.

Tip to buyers: find out whether your prospective house has a C or O or at least a Letter of No Objection well before you close (or at contract time ask the seller to provide one at closing). If you are thinking of purchasing a fixer-upper find out the codes in your city and what you will need to start renovating so that you will be armed with knowledge when you negotiate for that diamond in the rough because we all know, when it comes to renovations, time is money.

Luckily in our case, the sellers were very nice and we learned a lot of details about the house because they grew up in the house. One interesting tidbit was that there is a small stain glass window that is in the wall of the third floor apartment. Apparently, it was in the hallway leading to the living room and was intended to let light in from the skylight. It is now covered by a sheet of drywall or wood. We will post a picture when we uncover it. They also told us how much fun they had as kids in the backyard. Their dad used to turn the backyard into a skating rink in the winter. It was nice to hear that it was a happy family home for all those years.

Our House Through the Century

We recently had the opportunity to meet a couple of our new neighbors and chat about the neighborhood. One gentleman, who has lived in his house forever, could not understand why we “young” people wanted to live in an old house.

Old houses have always appealed to me. They are living history and if they are old enough, you can imagine the ghosts of the previous inhabitants wandering within the walls. We decided to find out as much about the history of our house as we could.

First stop: Municipal Archives

We learned from a friend’s renovation blog, Gowanhaus, that during the 1940s, NYC began to use photography as a tool for appraising real property for taxation purposes. Over 720,000 35mm black-and-white pictures were taken of every building in the five boroughs. According to the government website, by the time the Municipal Archives accessioned the collection, the original nitrate negatives had begun to deteriorate and exhibit signs of “redox” blemishes (which look like giant snowflakes). With grant funds from federal, state, and private sources, the Archives duplicated the original negatives so that new prints could be produced and copied to microfilm so that patrons can easily and safely view the entire collection. The end result is that you can now order a print of your building taken in the 1940’s or the 1980’s at a cost of $35 to $60 per print.

We ordered our photo online and opted to pick it up at the records office ourselves. This turned out to be a great choice because the Surrogate Court building, where the municipal archives are located, is something to see. The building, located at 31 Chambers Street, was originally designed for use as a Hall of Records and this was its original name. The Surrogate’s Court was one of the original tenants, with courtrooms, offices and chambers on the 5th floor. The building was renamed the Surrogate’s Courthouse in 1962.

According to the government website, the building was constructed between the years 1899-1907 in the Beax-Arts style. It has a beautiful grand marble staircase and carved wood paneling. The building must be quite an expense to keep up as evidenced by the fact that all the doors have these beautifully detailed door knobs but most have one handle missing. I guess Victorian brass door knobs are not that easy to come by.

The tax photo from the 40’s (below left) shows the house looking very much the same as it does today.  The brick facade and the window style looks the same but the double door was replaced sometime before the 80’s (below middle) to the single wooden door it has today (below right).  When funds permit, we’d like to go back to the double door style.  The frieze looks exactly the same and is still in great condition.