The Trade-Offs and Compromises in Buying a Home

By Bill Primavera

When my wife and I were seeking to move from New York City to the “burbs,” our checklist of must-haves was very limited. Actually, there was just one item on the list: we wanted an “old” home, having enjoyed the experience of living in an 1826 Federal-style townhouse in Brooklyn Heights as our first home. 

Our first experience with a realtor in Dutchess County, where I was working at The Culinary Institute of America, was not a good one. I hadn’t communicated well at that time before the internet about what an “old” house meant. In those days, we got our first glance of a property from printed sheets and photos from a particular real estate office, and only of their in-house listings, before the current MLS system where every listing is shared by every real estate office. 

The first showing the realtor got me for an old home was with one built in 1940. You just can’t imagine how old that made me feel. The house reminded me of the one I grew up in, which was nice, but in no way met the historic criteria that I had to educate him about. I suppose we also wanted a nice property, but that was about it in seeking our dream home. 

While working with several realtors (which I would never recommend today. Find a kindred spirit and stick with her or him; you won’t have to keep educating your realtor about what you want), we weren’t having much luck in finding a property we liked. Those that were close to a town center didn’t have enough property and the more remote choices seemed too isolated for us. 

But then one day I saw an ad in The New York Times for an historic property in a place I had never heard of before: Yorktown Heights. It was to be the last showing of the day for us. Since it was a FISBO (for sale by owner), there was no realtor involved.

When we arrived at the home, we were disappointed to find that, while protected by woods on two of its three streets surrounding the property, it backed up to the parking lot of an industrial looking building, which we learned was a telephone switching location for Verizon. That will never do, I thought, and was prepared to not get out of the car. My wife said that not keeping the appointment would be rude (which is right, of course), so I reluctantly went to the back door, which faced the parking area, and knocked.

We entered into a back parlor of the house, which seemed nice enough, then proceeded to the front parlor, then the central hallway, all the while getting no positive or negative feedback from my wife’s expressions.

But when we entered the kitchen, which had just been fully renovated with handmade cabinetry and new appliances, my wife’s eyes rolled back in her head. We had currently been operating basically out of a city galley kitchen. I knew that this was the place for her.

(Reminder to readers of a point I’ve made several times: Most often women make the house-buying decision, and what do women relate to most? A great kitchen! Just this week, a past client thinking of selling his house in a couple of years asked me if I considered it a wise investment to update his kitchen. I quickly replied, yes!)

To deal with the adjacent parking lot – which in the real estate business we would call an “incurable defect” – I simply built an eight-foot-tall fence along my property line, getting a special variance from the town to go two feet over the allowed height.

As I write this, I am aware that my knees are a bit sore, and I suspect it is from a visit to a home yesterday where the driveway was very steep; in fact, it was one of the biggest slopes I have encountered for a driveway. Well, I thought, that’s certainly what would be called an “incurable defect.”

But when I got to the bottom of the driveway, the house was delightful in every way. The current owner at first demurred about descending that driveway on her first showing, but she’s raised a big family there very happily and probably maintained good health by ascending and descending that hefty slope.

Bill Primavera is a realtor associated with William Raveis Real Estate and founder of Primavera Public Relations, Inc., the longest running public relations agency in Westchester ( specializing in lifestyles, real estate and development.

To engage the services of The Home Guru and his team to market your home for sale, call 914-522-2076.