Monday, December 15, 2008

Water, Water Everywhere

Oh, the joys of home ownership. One of our inanimate objects has struck again. This past year we noted a large wet spot in the middle of the street towards the front of our house. We called the Department of Water and the DEP and they came out to investigate. They sounded our pipes and our neighbors pipes and looked at the water and told us that it wasn't our pipe that was at fault; it was groundwater seeping out. For the past two months that wet spot sprouted small trickles that became larger fountains. Again we called all the bureaus involved and again they told us, on two separate occasions, that it wasn't our pipe.

This morning the Water Department showed up to open up the street and see where there might be a water main leak. And then they knocked on our door. It seems that it is the water pipe leading from our house to the main that is leaking, or at least that is what is believed to be the case. And then they gave us the reaalllly good news. In New York City the homeowner is responsible for fixing any pipes buried under the street surface that come directly from a house. It is our responsibility to find the specialized plumber necessary to make the repairs and it is our responsibility to have the street fixed after the repairs are done. The real kicker is that in black on white on the document we were given is this: ALL REPAIRS MUST BE COMPLETED WITHIN THREE DAYS. If the repairs are not effected in the three day period the Water Department will come, dig up the street, shut off the water connection to your house, and you will pay for the charge of both opening and closing the street to get to the main.

What is perhaps stranger is that the licenced plumber who does the work for you, after he digs up the street and gets to the pipe, must certify in writing that it is actually your pipe that is leaking.

Today, instead of concentrating on anything else, my hubby and I spent time trying to find one of these specialized plumbing outfits. Fortunately, while I was at work tonight, my hubby located one that is supposed to show up tomorrow morning early. Someone at work asked what work like this would cost. Let's see, the permit for the work alone costs $500 to the City. And the rest? My hubby and I could take a 10 day trip to Israel flying business class, stay in top hotels, eat at the fanciest restaurants, rent a car and about equal what this is going to cost us. I could buy a small Steinway grand piano and take lessons all year for that cost. If I were so inclined I could get a custom made fine human hair sheitle hanging down to my toes for that cost.

Talk about unexpected home repairs and putting money away for a rainy day. Guess what we are giving each other for Chanukah presents this year?


Dave said...

My sympathies. Many years ago, we had a sewer line collapse, under the alley the city had built with land they had taken from our property, and which they had charged us to build.

And yes, we had to pay for the repairs. I even got a City Council Member to admit to me that it wasn't fair, but that the city couldn't afford to change the policy.

Lion of Zion said...


"Guess what we are giving each other for Chanukah presents this year?"

a glass of tap water?


she probably paid out more for this single repair than i paid for rent last year.

mother in israel said...

I presume you checked this, but it sounds like something your homeowner's insurance policy would cover. I never owned a home in the US, but burst pipes are definitely covered here as is all the damage they cause.
Anyway, my sympathies. Keep us posted.

Anonymous said...

You're going to find a city agency that can issue a permit in less than 3 days? Good luck to you!!! We did some work that a city inspector has to sign off on and we've been waiting since the third of Dec. They keep telling us "You know Christmas is coming. have patience."

Orthonomics said...

LOZ-I hear you.
This is unusual though.
And, yes, in NY perhaps renting makes sense. I'll answer your question at my own blog another time.

Lion of Zion said...


i don't think it's that unusual. i have 2 friends that experienced the same thing that happened to profk. and my mother got a summons because her sidewalk was cracked. she didn't fix so the city did . . . and then sent her a whopping bill afterward. another friend had to put in a new roof.
the point is that in a house there are always extera expenses. sometimes big ones.

ProfK said...

Just a little update: the plumbing company was here and the bill is going to be bad but nowhere near as bad as it could have been--about $2850. And the even better news is that the plumber believes that Verizon might have been responsible for the crack to the pipe when they installed the underground cables in the street. We'll know when they open the street on either Wednesday or Thursday--the city is giving extra time because of the weather.

As SL says, this was unusual. And yes, a house requires some items that are pricey--roofs, furnaces, electrical work--but not every year. Even with the work we've done over the years we come out way ahead. In the 32 years we've owned the house (It's 40 years old) we've put in a new roof and gutters, remodeled to a more energy efficient furnace and hot water heater, put in French drains, installed in the wall airconditioners to replace the central air and done some cosmetic remodeling to make the house work for us, as well as the work we have to do now. I'm not counting wear and tear on appliances and furnishings because those things happen whether you rent or own. My mortgage was retired years ago, before its due date, because when we could we made small payments to principal which reduced the amount owed in total.

Let's even say that I put $75,000 into the house over the years I've owned it for the mentioned repairs and remodeling. Say even $100,000. Now divide that by the 32 years we own the house. Taxes here have more than doubled and are in the high $2K range. We pay all utilities, which apartment renters do not. Even when you add in the years when I was paying a mortgage, the cost to own a 2400 sq. ft. house was less than renting an apartment of maybe only half that size. And my mortgage was deductible on my taxes, which rental payments are not. And when I go to sell the house I will have recouped all my expenses and then some. Before this year my house was valued at almost 10 times its purchase price. Even now it's at about 8.4 times its purchase price.

The key is not home ownership versus renting, but where geographically in NYC and environs you are renting or buying. There are parts of NYC where rentals are way higher than in other parts, and also parts where home prices are way higher than in other parts. Brooklyn, the parts like Midwood and Borough Park, is on the way higher end of the payment scale for both renting and buying. If you buy on the high end or on the overpriced end then you aren't going to see as much of a raise in home value as you would if you had purchased at a lower price. There are a lot of factors to look at when you compare renting to buying; the price per month is only one of them.

Anonymous said...

I'll agree that where you buy in the city can make a big difference on the price you pay but the city is not a cheap place almost anywhere you look. Makes it hard for younger couples to buy anything with room for a growing family. Still I have a cousin who bought out in your area who paid $370K for a semi with a basement. She couldn't have bought a garage for that money in Flatbush. Not exactly a bargain but the price is way less there and in some other parts of the city too. I would guess that the price problem comes when you only want to live in certain parts of the city and won't consider other cheaper parts.

Our answer was to get out of NY altogether. We're in the Midwest and our house is about the size of yours on a quarter acre lot in the frum area of our city and cost only $204K. My sister in law bought a little smaller house and paid in the $180s. yet another reason to consider out of town.

Anonymous said...

Oh, ProfK, as an NJ resident (highest in the nation) I am always blown away by the city's low, low property taxes. If I recall, even the mansions of Riverdale have taxes in the $5K range. Here in the property tax capital of the nation it's double, triple that mansion amount (and the house is fine, but no mansion).

Lion of Zion said...


nyc property taxes are creeping up, although no where near the level of nj/long island. on the other hand, we pay city income tax.

what amazes me about the the NJ taxes is how little you get in return.


sorry for carrying over my conversation with SL to your blog. the departure point was my contention that home owning families should not be eligible for tuition scholarships. when i said that i had mind my neck of the woods, where owning is more expensive than renting.

now obviously that's not really a fair assertion, as comparing a house and an apt is like comparing apples and oranges. when i mentioned to SL that my NJ/LI friends pay more in property taxes alone than i pay in rent, obviously its not fair to compare that 2400 sqft house to the 500 sqft apt.

but who said there is an inalienable right to a 2400 sqft house? when i said to give up the house and rent, and didn't mean trading in the 2400 sqft house for a 2400 sqft apt.

and its also not fair to compare the housing market when you purchased 30 years ago to today.

ProfK said...

Given the price of houses in NYC today it would be accurate to say that a house purchased today won't appreciate in value the way that my house did over 32 years. But it would be a fair estimate to say that the house value of a home purchased right now could at least double over the next 32 years. Subtract that $100K in expenses and you would still come out with a "profit" of $300K plus the return of what you paid. Even if the worst thing happened and you ended up selling for the price you paid you would have lost nothing.

No, a 2400 sq. ft. house is not an inalienable right. There are plenty of homes far smaller that would also work to house families. Just please keep in mind that my house started out life as a two-family house with a tenant apartment downstairs. We only converted to a one-family at the point we could afford to do so. Had we not been able to do so we still could have managed in the space of the owner's living quarters.

I would just say that before we focus on home ownership as the sole requirement for whether or not a family can get tuition assistance, we should be looking at total expenditures for that family. We should be looking at sources of income that are not being tapped.

Anonymous said...

LOZ raises good points. Members of our community are expected to give up WANTS (whether they are houses, or vacations, or iPods) for the NEED of tuition. As has been discussed before, perceptions of needs and wants differ from family to family. If families have to sacrifice their quality of life too much, they will send their children to public school. To what extent is the rest of the community required to be held hostage to the threat of Jewish kids being sent to public school? (A marginally frum family may choose Aruba over yeshiva. A very frum family might give up all meat meals and take clothing donations before giving up yeshiva).

When I lived in Westchester I sent my kids to a small, yeshivish school. The overwhelming majority of my neighbors sent their kids to either of two MO day schools in the area, which happened to cost twice as much as the yeshivish school. My sister-in-law (whose kids were not on scholarship) once remarked about the large number of scholarship recipients at the day schools. I politely suggested that instead of taking charity, those recipients should put their kids in the cheaper school, since it provided a yeshiva education at a price they could afford. Her response was that parents should choose what is perfect for their children. Years later, I'm still shaking my head over that one.

Orthonomics said...

ProfK-I apologize (for LOZ) for importing a conversations we were having over to your blog.

LOZ-the whole "system" is backwards.

ProfK said...

Not a problem SL. Unexpected home expenses certainly contribute to the "what to do about tuition" question.

mlevin said...

ProfK - I think you should recheck your math. Even if your house doesn't rise in price over 32 years, when you sell you still come out ahead, because in those 32 years you paid off your mortgage and you end up with a nice capital. Had you been renting all this time, you would never had that money returned to you. Each rent payment is money lost forever.