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A Dream House… Or Just A Dream?

BRO submission by commentor ‘elurbano’:

Buffalo, a city that has lost much of its population over the last few years should try to find simpler ways to attract people.  Not simply renters, who are transient, temporary dwellers, but actual property buyers, house owners; permanent dwellers.  When I first moved to the city of Buffalo in ’99 as one of the many renters, I never thought I would love it here so much that I would want to live here for the rest of my life.  But my heart can’t see being happier anywhere else.  Lots of single people, like my former self, rent in the city and enjoy city living, but when they get married many move to the suburbs.  When I started dating my wife, one of the first things I made sure to mention was my strong desire to stay and live in the city.  Luckily for me, she didn’t mind living in the city.
Not long after we got married, and adjusted to married life, we started to look for a house in the city.  We began with some light browsing for homes in early 2009, and landed a realtor in May.  We were fortunate to find a house in the city, and moved in in October.  Though we consider ourselves lucky, the process of finding the ‘right’ house for us was more difficult, and exhausting than we had expected. For many others, the frustration grows as the search continues.
When we began looking, the housing crisis had hit, and we certainly didn’t want to fall in the same situation of over-extending ourselves financially and buying at or beyond our spending limits.  We thought we could easily find homes in our comfort price range, given that according to City-Data the mean average price for a detached house in Erie County was $152,942 in 2008 and lower for Buffalo at $97,255.  During our search, we bid on 2 homes at our highest comfort level. On 1 house the offer was ‘low’ to accept even when it was the only bid, and the other house sold for near or beyond $200,000.  So there we were, a newly married couple, who actually wanted to live in the City of Buffalo and raise a family here, but we could not easily find a home in a decent area for under $200,000.  We focused around Elmwood, North Buffalo, Parkside/Delaware Park and possibly Allentown – the areas most popular and typically safer. 

We wanted a single family “Buffalo house” – 2 storeys, a porch, brick/wood siding, wood floors and details (baseboard, trim, window casement, built-ins, etc.) – all the architectural characters you typically see in well maintained city homes.  The two hard parts, aside from price and location were finding a home that wasn’t 3, 4, 5,000+ sq. ft. and one that hadn’t been bastardized from its original details/design.  We realized most Buffalo houses are large and demand higher prices, which is understandable, but not so functional or manageable for us as we weren’t looking to have a large family.  Many homes we visited were remodeled or ‘updated’, but little to no sensitivity to the home’s original period design.  I was bothered to see beautiful homes from the early 1900s with vinyl siding, carpeting, dropped ceilings, cheap replacement vinyl windows, replaced solid wood interior doors with hollow core fiberboard doors, and new wood work typically 3 inch pine painted white-generic details and materials.  You can then imagine the houses that had additions.
We quickly found out Elmwood and Allentown houses were out of reach – houses were either huge, or smaller, and well kept homes demanded $200,000 plus.  We didn’t mind doing some work in a house, but it still needed to be livable.  We explored converting a double back to a single, and also looked at full gut jobs and foreclosure homes, but with stricter bank lending, the overall financial equation just didn’t work.  North Buffalo has reasonably sized and priced homes, but the majority of them are doubles with the few singles either needing work, or the move-in ready are priced well above the average North Buffalo house price (pushing $200,000).  We did begin to look in Kenmore and while we found homes well within our price range, nothing really struck us to give up on Buffalo.  I’ve since met other couples whom ended up settling with Kenmore/Tonawanda, because they gave up on finding something in Buffalo.
Eventually, we were fortunate enough to find a house near Delaware Park.  We got everything we were looking for, and only compromised on a garage and driveway.  In 10+ years of living in Buffalo with on-street parking, I never cared nor had issues, and neither did my wife.  Most times we find parking right in front of our house and are no further than 10-15 ft. from our porch steps.  This past winter I continued to enjoy not having to clean a driveway.  I haven’t shoveled a driveway since I lived with my Parents.  However, we do take great pride maintaining our property and sidewalks all year round.
My wife and I are very happy with our Buffalo home and we’ve slowly have been putting a little elbow grease into bringing it back to as much of its original condition as possible.  The house didn’t need work, but we want to revive as much of its original early 1900’s beauty as we can.  For those with the means to afford $200,000 plus homes, more power to them, but for everyone else, the search is tough.  With some patience and flexibility it can be very rewarding.  If one is handy and/or interested in being a landlord, there are more options out there.  Through our whole house search process, I wondered, “If the City of Buffalo aims to attract more families, and permanent residents, why aren’t many more reasonably priced houses available?”  Perhaps it’s time to expand the ‘boundaries’ of the desired/nicer areas, to create affordable (not low-income, but middle class) housing in hopes to sway more people toward the city.  At least make sure that anyone who wants to buy in the city can – the people that want to live here will ultimately become permanent residents.

*The house in the photo was recently sold on Richmond Avenue – a desirable urban neighborhood that has made great strides in recent years, though the prices on the street have become unobtainable for many young families.

Written by queenseyes


Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside, Buffalo Porchfest, and Paint vs. Paint. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market on Elmwood. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at Statler City, the Hertel Alley Street Art Festival, and The Flutterby Festival.

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