Thursday, November 3, 2016
Advantage of Being Frumpy in the Age of Gentrification
I have spent the past several weeks searching (in vain) for that perfect place south of Broad Street for just a pittance. People in Hell want ice water and I can always dream. For years as a child I heard my mother tell us, as her misty eyes looked far away, (she always did have a flair for the dramatic) that one of the happiest times of her life was when she and my father lived in a quaint carriage house behind one of the larger homes on Broad Street. This was while he was in pharmacy school. You would have thought from her recollections that they enjoyed the SOB lifestyle of never ending garden parties, white glove teas, and formal dinners. I doubt it, however, I did look up the address and it is indeed a quaint carriage house. But I digress.
Of course everyone in Charleston is looking for this ideal address so if and when this unicorn of a property should appear - its availability usually vanishes into the mist before one can even contact the owner. After all, according to the CDRA, 41 people move to Charleston every day. Granted many of them want the super deluxe (very expensive) high end apartments that have recently been developed in large new buildings downtown. But I want to live in an older property with high ceilings, hardwood floors, excessive coats of paint on the trim, doors that are not flush, and all the other unique features that are the charm of old Charleston.
The peninsula of Charleston is divided into different neighborhoods, each with their own character. Currently I live in South Eastside, the area originally planned as Hampstead Village in 1789. It was known as an early Charleston suburb, although these days it is squarely in the middle of the peninsula south of Hampton Park and Wagener Terrace. It was home of one of Charleston's most noted artisans, wrought iron mastersmith Philip Simmons. It also home to the Cigar Factory, an 1882 cotton mill that was later used to produce and export tobacco products and today has been restored to a lovely multi-use building of restaurants, event venues, and businesses (including the home the well known magazine "Garden and Gun").
As I walk the pups I am always looking at the different houses - some that have recently been redone and restored - some not so much. There are many places that are not in good shape and are on city blocks that I find sketchy. So I was most surprised when I found several apartments in some of these "sketchy" areas, in buildings not well kept, being advertised for rents well over what I was paying. This scared me, if this was the rent they were getting, how much was my rent going to rise? After all as gentrification moves in, rents always go up.
I live in an old iron work factory circa 1880 called "The Foundry". In the 1940s it was turned into apartments. By 2015, when an investment company bought the building, the units were old, not well kept, and pretty much trashed. As each lease ended they went in and gutted the unit and redid it. There are only 12 units in the old 2 story brick building. All are 1 bedroom units except for 2 - 2 bedroom units, 1 of which is mine. And my unit was the last one redone and I was the first tenant to move it. With exposed brick, granite counters, wood floors, and tile in the bath it makes for a right nice place.
The idea of leaving did not thrill me but I was not going to pay some absorbent rate to live in this neighborhood and I knew my very reasonable rent was going to be raised exponentially. But try as I might I could not find another place. It looked as if I may end up in 1 bedroom or pay more for a smaller (not nearly as nice) 2 bedroom. Finally I asked for the new lease to see what the 2017 rent was going to be. At least I would know what money I was talking about.
Much to my chagrin the increase was extremely reasonable. Nope, I am not going anywhere this year. It was such a pleasant surprise. Maybe being a responsible frumpy middle age lady does have its advantages. Funny when they have investors, insurance people, etc. they always ask if they can show my unit. I should be the ideal tenant, not that they take that into consideration.