WHEN it comes to playing the real estate game, the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is traditionally a dead zone, thanks to unpredictable weather, relentless family obligations and brimming to-do lists. But this time of year, seeds are often planted that propel housing decisions down the line.
At holiday feasts in the suburbs, their relatives often discuss where they might move.
As family and friends gather, conversation invariably turns to matters of real estate, especially in the housing-obsessed New York area. So do people’s thoughts.
If your own place is small, you feel it more intensely when company comes calling. A studio dweller who visits a sprawling house in the suburbs can find that house tempting indeed. If a parent rattling around the family home is suddenly too frail to entertain a houseful of boisterous relatives, you wonder whether it’s time to “pass the baton,” as Jenet Levy, a Brooklyn social worker turned Halstead Property agent, described her decision to bid on a house the day after one Thanksgiving. She hoped to shift the festivities to her space.
The holidays are a time when people share hopes and dreams with those close to them, and these aspirations can exert a powerful tug. The yearning to install seasonal décor is also powerful; it’s no wonder the video of a crackling Yule log has charmed fireplace-challenged New Yorkers since 1966. Or that the Apartment Therapy Web site suggests ways for space-challenged New Yorkers to drum up holiday spirit, like drawing the outline of an evergreen on a blank wall.
The holidays are also a time when matters of status loom large, particularly with one’s home. “In New York, where you’re living among some of the richest people in the world,” said Winifred Gallagher, the author of “House Thinking: A Room-by-Room Look at How We Live,” “if you don’t have a dining table that seats 12, it’s easy to feel deprived. Those feelings put an awful lot of pressure on people, especially during the winter holidays. Everyone seems to have a bigger house, a great room, a McMansion, and you’re dragging the folding chairs up from the basement and wondering where to put them.”
Sometimes the moment of truth arrives literally as the holidays are unspooling, as was the case for Nikki Faix, a paralegal, and her husband, Michael, a sanitation worker. The Faixes, lifelong Bronx residents, lived in an apartment in Pelham Bay, and they traditionally spent Thanksgiving with Ms. Faix’s sister in Yorktown Heights in Westchester County, a 45-minute drive from their home.
Every year, Ms. Faix thought about how much she wished she were raising her son, Dante, in such a safe and bucolic setting, “a place where he could ride his Go-Kart and be safe,” as she summed it up. Every year, she envied the spaciousness of her sister’s house. And every year, dreading the long and arduous trip back to the city, particularly the traffic and the search for a parking place outside their building, she and her husband left before the festivities had ended.
“Then last year, as we were climbing in the car to go home, Mike turned to me and announced, ‘Let’s do it,’ ” Ms. Faix said.
In May, the couple started house-hunting in Westchester with Imma Carletto, a broker at Houlihan Lawrence, and last month they closed on a two-bedroom ranch with blue-gray siding in Cortlandt Manor. The house, for which they paid under $200,000, is just minutes from Yorktown Heights. The Faixes moved in on Dec. 6 so they could celebrate Christmas — and Dante’s Dec. 15 birthday — in their new home, complete with Christmas tree. Mr. Faix is already planning a gazebo for the side yard and looking forward to barbecues come summer.
For Jaime Maser and Howie Berman, a newly engaged couple who live in a one-bedroom apartment in SoHo, holiday-fueled conversations about where to live are more emotional. Ms. Maser handles global communications and public relations for La Prairie, a luxury Swiss beauty company, and Mr. Berman, along with his brother, runs an Orange County construction company called the Ruby Group.
Even before their engagement, holiday conversations with their families regularly focused on where the pair will sink roots, a question complicated by Mr. Berman’s three-hour daily commute. “I admire him tremendously for the work he does,” Ms. Maser said. “But the question of where we should eventually live has been a constant conversation over our relationship, and to be honest, it can create a strain at times.”
Mr. Berman’s preference is northern New Jersey. Ms. Maser would happily stay put in their 750-square-foot apartment, even though she had to borrow her boss’s coat rack when 20 guests arrived for Hanukkah, and dinner was a buffet with a tablecloth draped over Mr. Berman’s dresser.
This year, the couple spent Thanksgiving eve at his parents’ four-bedroom house on eight wooded acres in Chester, N.Y., and the next day with her parents in the center-hall colonial in Bucks County, in Pennsylvania, where Ms. Maser grew up. This holiday season, as in the past, conversation at both events drifted to the subject of where the couple, both in their mid-30s, would make their home after they were married in June.
“All Howie wants is a backyard,” Ms. Maser said, “a place where children can play. His parents have a huge house on a lot of land, and he often talks about how he wishes he could have space like that.” The couple plan to start house-hunting in early 2014. Ms. Maser is thinking that Westchester County might be a good compromise.
When it comes to propelling real estate decisions, the holidays can cast a spell in unexpected ways, as they did for Rebecca Flint Marx, a freelance food writer. A few years ago, while camping out in what she described as a “post-breakup apartment” in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, Ms. Marx found herself yearning for more welcoming quarters on the Lower East Side. Specifically, she had her eye on Co-op Village, a cluster of reasonably priced co-ops on Grand Street that for generations attracted middle-class Jewish families from throughout the city.
“Sometime around the end of the year,” Ms. Marx said, “I visited friends in East River Houses, which is part of Co-op Village, and I was very aware of the large Orthodox families who were there to celebrate the holidays.”
She remembers the hubbub, the comings and goings in the elevators, and especially the colorful paper cutouts of dreidels, the traditional Hanukkah toy, taped to the lobby walls. In retrospect, Ms. Marx feels that the embracing atmosphere strengthened her desire to sink roots in the area. She is now happily ensconced in a two-bedroom apartment in the Amalgamated Dwellings, also part of Co-op Village, for which the monthly rent is $2,300. Amenities include a windowed eat-in kitchen, especially prized by a serious cook.
“The whole place feels very warm, very cozy,” Ms. Marx said. “It feels like home.”
Tuesday, November 20, 2012