Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Slap of Reality

September 25, 2007

My decision to relocate from Fairhope was a long time coming. I look back at posts on this blog over the last 12 months and can see it coming, ever so slightly. My good intentions of informing the newcomers to Fairhope of the history of the place began to slide about a year ago, as I saw that not only were they not interested, most of them were happy believing that it was their job to improve this little village by bringing it up to date with all the amenities they had left behind in other towns and cities.

Their idea of preserving Fairhope's heritage consisted of protesting the construction of a Wal-Mart just outside the city limits or waving placards in front of the building that once was a high school and has long since been outgrown as a public school kindergarten.

I had a hard time talking with these people. I have come to see Fairhope as a Rorschach test for people looking for something. They see in Fairhope what they want to see, and if it's not there they talk each other into building it, from an almost-unused bike trail to a pretentious and unneeded library. They are hostile to the Single Tax Corporation, which was Fairhope's own raison d'etre, and indifferent to the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education, which was once Fairhope's principle attraction. They have removed the funky little cottages which gave Fairhope its unique, patchwork charm, and the city is now awash in huge, expensive-looking houses that show nothing of period or taste.

A brush with New York City last winter was all I needed to make up my mind to leave. I am well aware that the world, as well as little Fairhope, has changed. But New York has changed in many ways for the better; it is cleaner, safer, more beautiful and more livable, even though it's too expensive. I got to thinking -- "How can I get back here, where I can find the kind of people I like and the kind of vital situations that I miss?"

How, indeed. I have a house which I hoped would sell quickly. It is one of a kind, a treasure of "old" Fairhope, on a lovely double lot convenient to the center of town and to the bay. It has been on the market since the first of July and has been seen by two people. The first pronounced the rooms too small, and the second pronounced the price too high. As of this morning, I've dropped the price once more and am willing to go lower if that will mean anything.

My plan is to move to Hoboken, the little jewel of a town that's just ten minutes from the West Village, my favorite section of Manhattan. Hoboken, the town with the amusing name, has a great deal that appeals to me -- old neighborhoods, a historical society, a lively night life and good eating places, to say nothing of delis and street fairs. What it also has, unfortunately for me, is high rents, and the fixed income that I can barely make it on in Lower Alabama will not do it for me up in the high-tax, high maintenance Northeast, particularly if I'm counting on getting on the train to Manhattan to keep up with the latest art shows, plays, and watering holes.

I'm discouraged today, but not to say depressed. I've talked with my broker about rearranging my IRA investments to provide dividend income until my house sells, and I've told my realtor to drop the price again. The Fairhope reality there just is no traffic in the real estate market at this time, and a hell of a lot of inventory. I'm probably not going to make any money to speak of on the house, but owning a property in a distant location makes no sense. I've got to unload it as fast as I can.

My realtor tells me not to extrapolate doom and gloom from the current real estate situation here, as is the wont of the financial pundits who are having a field day doing just that. As the weather gets better, there are always more people "discovering" Fairhope, and deciding to move here and improve it. I just hope some of them appreciate a particular Craftsman cottage and have a little money in their pockets.

In the meantime, I can simply downsize my dream. I don't have to live in Manhattan; I don't have to live in Hoboken either. To meet my needs I could find a bigger apartment in adjacent locales like Paulus Hook in Jersey City, or even Weehawken. I would consider something in the Ironbound of Newark, which has a special ring to it and is almost as convenient to the city as Hoboken. George Clooney wrecked his bike in Weehawken last week; if I had been living on the same street I would have a story to tell.

While my heart was set on Hoboken, all of the above have more appeal to me than the Fairhope of today. As my realtor said to me, all I have to do is be patient.

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