The minute I get the Martha’s Vineyard Real Estate Yearbook with home sales by town and neighborhood, I tear through the pages to see what homes sold for in Chilmark where we live. The numbers astound and delight me.
One of the stories in our family lore went something like this: “If Manny (my father) had just been able to come up with the $500 for that apartment building in Hartford they would have been millionaires today.” The today changed each time they talked about it, (and believe me they talked about it often) but the story stayed the same. What a pity. What bad luck. What poor business “sachel” (smarts in Yiddish).
So we never got to be millionaires, but I learned somehow subconsciously that buying real estate when you could was as good as gold and better than anything else you could ever hope to buy.
When my husband and I started a plexiglass business in the early 70s and it surprisingly took off, I started socking away savings. I didn’t know what I wanted to use it for, but when it should make its appearance known, I was going to be ready. No one would one day say “if she had only had that five hundred dollars...”
We had friends who lived in the Berkshires, and we flipped over the tall majestic pines, the clear rushing rivers and the small towns with great old diners. Plus it was close to West Hartford where we lived and worked.
We made an appointment with a real estate agent to see an old farmhouse with 30 acres. The place was ramshackle. No problem, I love making beauty out of nothing and my husband can fix anything. As we sat, almost at the top of Mount Greylock, with magnificent views of the whole Pioneer Valley beneath us, chomping down on our homemade tuna sandwiches, one of us (and we still don’t remember which one) said, “This is gorgeous but where is the ocean?”
We said goodbye to Western Mass. and took a trip to Martha’s Vineyard. The last thing on my mind was buying here. I had heard it was anti-Semitic and there was even a quota and that it was snobby and who knows what other hyperbolic myths I had heard and believed. My husband, who had come vacationing here as a kid, said where did you hear this stuff? None of it’s true. Come on, let’s go check it out.
We came in spring. The daffodils took my breath away and the bike ride from Vineyard Haven to Beetlebung Corner (which I can’t even imagine doing now) introduced me to scrub oak, stone walls and rolling hills. It felt like Scotland and the best of New England. And I was sold. We looked at three cabins. I knew the minute I walked into this one, it was it. High pitched roof, brick fireplace, lots of windows, teeny, cozy, home.
Since my husband shies away from anything to do with negotiating and money and bargaining is in my bones, I became the head deal-maker. At one point the owner and I were at a stalemate. I wanted to get the house for, let’s say, $65,000 (remember this was 40 years ago) and he wanted, let’s say, $70,000. It had nothing to do with money at that point. I just was enamoured with the idea of winning and being able to say I got my house for let’s say, $65,000!!!!
I called a friend, a very sharp businessman friend, and told him step by step where we were in the process. He said, “Nance, if you lose this house because you wouldn’t go $2,000 more, you’ll kick yourself for the rest of your life.”
I hung up, called and said, “How’s 67?” They said yes!
With numbers like those (unbelievable anywhere on the Vineyard today) you can see why opening that real estate supplement is one of the biggest thrills of my life.
And no one will ever say, if she had only had...
Nancy Slonim Aronie is the author of Writing from the Heart: Tapping the Power of Your Inner Voice (Hyperion/Little Brown) and teaches the Chilmark Writing Workshop. She is a commentator for NPR.