Buying The 118

I still feel like I am in a foggy dream. I think reality will soak in when I wake up in Harlem tomorrow morning. I bought a home in Charleston. A true dream come true. Last New Year’s Eve I wrote a wish and put it in the annual NYE resolution jar at Claire’s house. It read, ‘Two Years Till Charleston.’ Who knew it would happen only 11 months later?

I came down to Charleston in September to spend 12 days and to see if I truly wanted to live there part time. To feel out the neighborhoods, people, energy. To sum it up, I teared up every day with sheer happiness. 

-Riding my bike down cobble stone streets with a pink sunset guiding my way - magic. 

-Watching Fergus run wild in the dog park with friendly dogs, nice neighbors and cool breezes - so special. 

-Sitting at Nick’s dining room table and writing, working, emailing as wind chimes gonged and the sweet smell of Coastal Carolina wafted through the house - I was home.

Just to feel out the real estate I reached out to Claire and Abigail’s real estate agent, Nancy Rehm at Century 21. We set a date to meet at Starbucks and open dialogue on what I was looking for. If you ever buy in Charleston, buy from Nancy. First of all she is an absolute Southern hoot. The things that fell out of her mouth had me exploding internally from hysterical laughter. And God help you if she turns on the windshield wipers instead of the turn signal- it’s an apocalyptic hissy fit and I loved every minute of it.

She is also damn smart, savvy and held my hand through every aspect of this buy. The next day she handed me a folder of houses to look at and the first one was 118 Spring Street between Rutledge and Ashley. We drove over, parked next to a church and took a look around. Built in 1890 the home is a traditional ‘Charleston Single’. Three bedrooms, two piazzas (they aren’t called porches or balconies in old world Charleston) and lots of doors. Apparently there used to be a tax on the number of doors facing the street, so everyone built their houses long ways with one door on the front and the rest on the side. 

The bay window has two panels of color blocked stained glass and the door was painted purple. I was in love although we walked into Armageddon. The home was bought by a family for their daughter to live in while going to College of Charleston but once she graduated it turned into a college kid fantasy land with four people bunking in, one in the living room turned bedroom, complete with Jameson bottles on the mantle and a rebel flag on the wall.

Student life never ceases to amaze me. In the dining room turned living room there was a mini bar fridge next to the sofa so stoners wouldn’t have to get up and go in the kitchen (the next room) to get a beer.  Above the mantle in that room was a list of ‘Top Ten Quotes to Get Laid’. I kind of wish I kept it.  The bathroom toilets were black with scum (that was the girls room mind you) and the garden was piled sky high with beer and wine bottles. But we saw through all that to the bones, the light, the great Magnolia seen from the back bedroom and the amazing location. 

Next door is Black Bean, one of my favorite health food restaurants, across the street is Octo Batchi, an udon noodle bar, one block away is Xiao Bao Biscuit, a brand new hip Chinese restaurant opened by a couple from Brooklyn, one street away is my favorite restaurant in the world, Hominy Grill and next door to that is a Mexican bar and restaurant called Fuel, located in an old gas station. 

On the west side of the house is a church. Bingo. No rowdy frat boys living next door keeping me up. And I love a tambourine shaking on a Sunday morning. This also leaves me with great views from the top floor piazza. I was hooked.

We looked at five or six more places. One old Victorian on Charlotte Street had 20 foot ceilings and ornate fireplaces in every room, but it needed so much work and was so far away from everything that it didn’t seem worth it. We looked at a couple of duplexes in old houses but for my first home I don’t want to hear heels clicking above me and to have to share a yard with who knows what. 

We visited 118 again, this time Claire came too. She did a thorough inspection and was surprised at its space, condition and location. I had found my home.

I will spare you the next two months of closing procedures. They were relatively painless (Thank You SunTrust!) minus a really horrid situation with my now fired tax accountant who wouldn’t send us some paper work because ‘I am on vacation, I don’t need your money, don’t call my office again.’ Gladly! 

I flew back down Thursday November 29th to close on Friday. I went to dinner with a friend at Hominy and walked by the house. Although the kids got keys to their new home four days ago they were moving out the night before I closed. It was a spin out but one of them saw us looking at the house and asked if I bought it. He was kind enough to let us come in and much to my chagrin nothing was packed or moved! 

I went to bed with a bit of a yank in my stomach and woke up the day of the closing at 8am and took Fergus for a walk back over there, hiding behind a flower shop so I didn’t look like I was stalking them. Sure enough the kids were still pouring beds and sofas out of the house. The cleaning crew arrived and there was no way they could clean with so much still in there so they would come in on Saturday. But the house was glowing in the morning sun and I saw it from a new angle and with new love. Teary eyed again. 

The closing went smoothly and once it was over Nancy dropped me off at the house to putter around. It was finally empty and finally mine. I walked back to Nick’s house, picked up Fergus and brought him back to explore. He is enamored with the second floor piazza where he can bask in the sun yet still hold watch over the street. I went across the street to the deli and met the owner, Charlie. He is a sweet older man and he welcomed me to the area. I bought the essentials: soap, Solo cups and beer. I was having some friends over that night to celebrate and had zero. Rodrigo came over and we cleared the trash from the front yard and sides, raked the back (with a borrowed rake from Abigail) and had a couple of beers until Abigail and Claire arrived. Abigail brought me my own rake, a tool box and a poinsettia as house warming gifts. Claire followed with champagne and wine glasses. 

It was so special to spend the first evening in my first home with some of my oldest friends who I met in Charleston back in 1994. Full circle. We then went to Xiao Bao Biscuit for dinner, had a little too much to drink and then weaved back to our respective homes. My mattress would be delivered in the morning so I had to wait one night to spend the night in the new home.

Saturday was a little fuzzy but Claire and I did serious TCB. We headed out to Marshall’s home goods store and went through our list we made on a soy sauce stained napkin the previous night of everything from trash cans, comforters, pillows, bottle openers to scrub brushes, cleaning supplies and a coffee maker. We then zizzed home for the mattress delivery and darted back out to Lowe’s for ladders, light bulbs and yard bags. Once we were done I washed those sheets as fast as I could before plopping down on my new bed and taking a nap with Fergus. 

That night I had dinner with Li, Punchy and Wade at Fleet’s Landing and caught a glimpse of the holiday boat parade.  I can’t wait to be a part of that next year on Abigail’s boat. We then came back to 118 and broke open some bottles of wine and enjoyed a warm winter night on the piazza, my new drinking spot. 

Sunday was another whirlwind. My contractor, Anthony, and his cousin Damond met me at the house at 10:30am and we dropped Fergus off at Abigail’s for a puppy play date then headed to Home Depot to figure everything out for the renovation. It is so difficult to pick out everything you need and want in such a short period of time for a place that you hope to be in for a very long time, but we did it. New sinks, faucets, tiles, lighting, gas range, paint colors (this place is going to be poppin’ with color!) and cabinets. Both Anthony and Damond are very good at what they do and had great ideas that helped narrow down choices and make the best decisions. 

Once we were done with that gargantuan task we were starving. I offered to take them to lunch and they asked what I wanted. “Soul Food please”. “Anthony turned around from the drivers seat and peered over his glasses, “Oh you want soul food? I got you covered Mister Cator.” And with that he drove us to his uncle’s house where he left us waiting in the car only to return with a plastic bag for each of us filled with home cooked fried chicken, collards, dirty rice with sausage, sweet potato pie and the best damn crab cakes I have ever tasted. You show me a contractor in New York that will take you down the river of family cooked soul food.

I inhaled the crab cakes in the car and saved the rest for later where I could get nasty with it all alone. We then stopped by his dad’s restaurant where he offered us jumbo cups of sweet iced tea and sat down and discussed the renovations with us. He is a contractor too and had some very good ideas. He was such a lovely man, truly caring and his Gullah patois was delicious to listen to. 

On that note Anthony drove me home where I sat in my kitchen and dug my fingers deep in that juicy, greasy chicken, fried to perfection. Tears of joy welled up again. How blessed have I been on this journey? 

That night was the first I had all to myself in the house. I picked up Fergus from Abigail's and helped her decorate her tree then walked home, sat in bed and worked for several hours before passing out with one big deep breath of gratitude before falling fast asleep after such a busy day and a belly full of home cooking.

Monday was busy just picking up last minute things for the house, locks, batteries, etc. and biking around Charleston learning where I am in the city and trying to remember street names and directions. It was my first morning to wake up and lay out my yoga mat and meditate on my piazza. The sun was intense at 8am and Fergus joined me in stretches. Having that time with him really sealed in the joy of owning this home.

This morning we moved the yoga mat to the soon-to-be master bedroom and laid on the floor together and gazed at the great Magnolia. I can’t wait until that is my morning view next spring when it is in full bloom. 

I am now back in New York, settled into 202. Fergus is passed out since he gets nervous flying, and the sun is setting over Harlem. It’s such a wonderful feeling knowing that 118 is down there, locked up, ready to be spruced up and to be the setting for the next great chapter of my life.