When my wife, Peggy, and I moved to Philadelphia in 1992, we rented a small, two-bedroom condo in center city and spent nine months looking for a place to buy. Astonishingly, our house in Stamford, Conn., sold in six weeks, and we banked the cash.
After looking at 40 or 50 homes in the city, we walked into a fixer-upper just off Rabelaisian South Street—an 1817 brick row house of five stories with a large backyard and unfinished roof deck that offered a splendid view of the city. We didn't even negotiate, and Fred Glick arranged the mortgage.
My step-brother, architect David Elwell, drew up plans for the renovation, and we found a world-class contractor named Arthur Willson to gut the place and turn it into our dream home. We continued to live in the rented pad until 1994, when the new house was ready, all the while paying lordly sums to Willson out of the money we made on the house in Stamford.
Throughout the process, we assumed we'd take a loss if ever we sold it. But hey, we were not in this for money. This was to be home, presumably for a long time.
I guess what truly galls me about the subprime mess is the number of whining home buyers who allowed some sharpie to sell them McMansions at the top of the market with adjustable rate mortgages they could never afford, only to discover that the sum of their monthly payments was more than the value of the house in the current market.
Here’s a fascinating story about a house and its owners.
Look at the magnificent work of British novelist Patrick O’Brian. In 1991, at age 75 with nine years to live, he hit literature’s equivalent of the Powerball multimillion-dollar jackpot. Did it change his simple, 19th century lifestyle? Hardly one iota.
What’s more, the value of his house tanked.