Our first choice on Northville Tpk.

Buying A Home

"Call and make them an offer" my wife, Tanya, said after we returned from seeing our very first house. "Don't you want to see more," I asked? It was a great house; four large bedrooms and solidly built long ago by the original owner. We couldn't get over the wonderful eat in kitchen with a stainless steel six-burner gas stove that had family holiday meals written all over it. Tanya and I both love to cook and have done so professionally. Seeing toys throughout the house made it easy to imagine our own children playing in the large living room. But you don't buy a house because of appliances and well-placed toys.

Jackie & Tanya 3/01The biggest problem was the yard. It was tiny and we wanted room for the kids to play. Tanya wanted to make an offer and I wanted to wait. The conversation turned argumentative - the first of many during our house hunting ordeal. Finally, Tanya convinced me that making an offer didn't mean a deal was imminent. I called Dorothy Minnick at Bagshaw Realty and offered much less the asking price. Within ten minutes, she called back and said the owners accepted our offer and congratulations were in order. We were stunned. In just three hours we had bought a house, about the same time it takes to go grocery shopping. Or so it seemed.

It was then I started making the calls I should have BEFORE we made the offer. Feedback about this particular area of town was not positive. I grew up in Riverhead and Tanya has lived here all her life. Every community has areas that are perceived to be bad, but aren't. Even Riverhead itself is considered low-brow by its supposedly more upscale neighbors. This despite better schools and a close proximity to the Long Island Expressway. I called the Riverhead Police Department. The captain on duty told me he was trying to get his mother moved out of the neighborhood. My excitement turned quickly into anxiety.

rear deck after snowFate would step in the following morning when Dorothy called and said that the owners had accepted a higher offer through another agent. Normally this isn't acceptable, but because the market in the late nineties was so hot, paperwork wasn't filed when it should have and so forth. Despite growing reservations about the house, Tanya and I were not happy and went down to Bagshaw's to state our case. It was too late. The house was gone. Knowing what I did about the decline of the neighborhood, we left without much of a fight.

Now Tanya and I launched into full house hunting mode. Even though most houses have a common listing, we called additional agents to show us around. Now a note to sellers: make some effort to clean the place before you have potential buyers walking through. I can't recall how many times we couldn't see past the weeds, old paint and food encrusted appliances. Some of these people knew Tanya or myself and still the place was a dump. These things simply said that the home wasn't cared for and who wants to add a major cleaning expense to the already numerous hassles of moving. And we were shown some real dumps. We were shown houses that were in various states of construction or abandonment. Then we looked at new construction. They look nice, but are cold and can be cheaply built, especially if there's a dozen or so going up all at once. We saw a few we liked, but not overly excited about. We were shown a home in tony Aquebogue. It was ugly. "But it's Aquebogue!" the Realtor exclaimed. We went home to argue. Realtors were calling the house more often than chimney sweepers in July. We were told that buyers were everywhere and we shouldn't hesitate. To add to the tension, once a Realtor has shown you everything available in your price range, they take you to the next level. Now we were seeing homes just out of our reach. And although we both liked many of them, we'd argue over how much of a mortgage we could actually handle.

Our original intention was to stay in Riverhead, but a few agents took us into nearby Flanders. Flanders is a Riverhead-based community that is physically located in the town of Southampton. Residents have a Riverhead address, phone exchange and pay a healthy share of Riverhead School Taxes - but they vote for Southampton Town Officials. Just after I was born, my parents bought a house in Flanders. There are some beautiful homes in Flanders, but they're not on the main drag, which is what everyone judges the entire community on. Some large, expensive homes are being built on the bay side and that growth is moving inland. On the north side of Flanders Rd, there are beautiful neighborhoods so far back in the woods I never knew they existed. People we spoke with agreed that Flanders was a hot community on the rise*. Not to mention, Flanders is home to the Big Duck, an old store that looks like, you guessed, a big duck and is now a historical place. But it's a lot like Philadelphia, great place - no respect.

We were shown a home on Priscilla Ave. After hesitating a day or so, we made an offer. The following day a higher offer was accepted. Tanya and I went home and had a big argument. We argued over the arguments we had concerning every house we looked at so far. That meant roughly 30 houses and counting. When the dust finally settled a bit, I asked if she could choose any of the homes we've seen so far, what comes to mind? It was the same one I was thinking of as well.

The home was owned by two women who used the house as a retreat on weekends and holidays. A hanging sign outside called the place "Flanhampton." (To people who live in New York City, you don't vacation on Long Island per se, you go to the Hamptons. If you're rich, you own a second home in the Hamptons. If you're disgustingly rich, you own a home on Dune Road.) This house had a fireplace, Jacuzzi, outdoor shower, large kitchen, full basement, but the smaller yard initially turned us off. Kids sometimes make you think too practical. Christmas 2001We're thinking wading pools and swing sets, this house has colored spotlights in the trees. But now the positives were starting to grow. The house was only 20 years old, solid construction and it was obvious the owners had taken exceptionally good care of the place. It was located way back in the woods at least a mile from the highly traveled Route 24. This was a good neighborhood with other kids Kyle's age. The woods beyond our back yard are preserved by New York State into eternity. And that fireplace. Tanya and I had said early on that if we couldn't afford a house on the water (we couldn't), a fireplace would be the next best thing.

We knew the owners were asking $150,000 along with an extra $900 for lawyer's fees from a previous failed negotiation. I called Dorothy and asked if 515 Brookhaven was still on the market. It was, but there was an offer on the table that was tied up in the buyer's estate settlement. "Tell them we'll pay $150,900 and we're ready to buy." Later that evening we were told our offer was accepted and we could finally break out the champagne. Tanya and I were ecstatic. We called everyone with the good news.

it's your moveThe following day Tanya, our mothers, and myself went to tour the house. Dorothy took us inside. The place looked better than we remembered it. But once in the kitchen, Dorothy regretted she had bad news. The owners thought we offered $159,000 not $150,900 and that's the price they now wanted. Everyone stood stunned for a moment. Then Tanya and I turned livid. She went outside into the yard screaming. I was incredulous. "How could you have us drag everyone over here and then hand us this balderdash?" The grandmothers shielded Kyle and Jackie from the explosions. The tour was immediately cut short and we drove straight to see John Bagshaw at the office.

The Bagshaw family has been in Riverhead real estate for years. His father ate lunch in Kratoville's Luncheonette. I told him that I thought this was all unacceptable and he completely agreed, but he wasn't sure what he could do. He said he would contact their lawyers, explaining that his agency had brought their client a buyer in good faith at the original asking price and therefore they were bound to pay a commission. Apparently their lawyer convinced them that, aside from not getting $159,000, it looked like they would have to pay the commission in addition to another fee of $900. Contracts were then drawn for $150,900.

After meeting the two owners during the walk through, I must say they were nice people. They brought coffee and doughnuts for everyone at the closing. In retrospect, it's my belief that they had to sell the house out of necessity and had experienced bouts of cold feet. I'd like to think that once they met Tanya, Kyle, Jackie, and I; they knew their home would be in good hands. Even still, they waited a full two months to vacate. We missed Thanksgiving, but were in by Christmas 2000.

*in 2006, our home has doubled in value.

My first house

Back in 1992, I decided to buy a home in Central Islip and went to NatWest for a loan. Everything was looking good until Mike Mendocino, the real estate agent, asked me what I knew about Taylor Rental of Waterbury Connecticut.

The year was 1984 and I was moving from Long Island to Connecticut. I rented a truck from Taylor Rental to move possessions northward. Pulling in front of the house, I bumped into an over head limb. I climbed up to take a look at the damage. A small dent and cracked lamp was all I could see. The inspector confirmed these findings upon return of the vehicle when I signed papers indicating my return of the vehicle. The damage estimate was left blank. Now this truck had been in service since the 1950's and had scratches and dents all over the place. I assumed this repair would be calculated in tandem with the worth of the vehicle, just another wound in this grizzled veteran of the fleet. I was unaware that no matter how much insurance you take out on a moving van, overhead damage is not covered.

A month letter, I receive a bill in the mail for $748.50. I called Taylor Rental and demanded an explanation."The truck was badly damaged and we had to replace the roof," the office manager declared. I went down to view the truck firsthand. I was shocked. It looked new. Fresh paint and shiny bolts - the entire truck was overhauled. I went into the office and told them I was not paying this invoice. "We'll just see you in court, Mr. Kratoville" was the last I heard from them. Oddly, I kept all the paperwork.

Now, just under ten years later, with everything set to go on a new home - there is a $748.50 delinquency on my credit report. I called Taylor Rental and played dumb. The new office manager faxed me the papers I had signed, only now with the $748 amount for damages filled in. I took that and my original copy that I had saved, to NatWest and divulged the entire story. They were unmoved. I was stunned, but not ready to give in.

A friend recommended a lawyer in Huntington. I forget his name now, but he had to be at least 80 years old. I described the overhead mishap and explained the before and after conditions of the moving truck. I ended with the fact I was adamant against paying these charlatans any money. He took a moment and sat back in this huge leather chair. Folding his hands on his lap, he described the American dream of finally own your own home. That a thirty year investment was certainly worth an extra 748 bucks.* I was finally cornered, the bank was ready to turn down the mortgage and we'd lose the house. Reluctantly, I wrote out a check and pushed it across the table. He sent a fax to the NatWest mortgage department stating he was in possession of a check for $748.50 made out to Taylor Rental. The bank approved the loan.

After moving into 158 Pinewood Ave., I returned to his office to pay for his services. I would have mailed the check, but he insisted on seeing me. He offered congratulations and asked how everything was going. His bill came to $150. Great - the Taylor Rental debacle now cost me even more. As I hand the check over to him - he pushes another one back. It was the check for $748.50 made out to Taylor Rental. I look up at him in astonishment. He then explained, "I told the bank that I had the check in my possession. However, at no time did I ever tell them what I was going to do with it." One hundred and fifty dollars well spent. By the time I purchased my current home, Taylor Rental was long gone from my credit report.

*1 year after buying that house, I moved to Philadelphia and 3 years later was trying to work out a short sale with Fleet Bank (having taken over NatWest). The house had lost $40,000 of its value. Another lucky turn in what could have been a disastrous experience.

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pictures ©1997-2001 Kratoville
Big Duck photo by Bill Griffith