Sunday, February 22, 2015

Annals of Real Estate: It Looked Perfect

It's the "spring market" for Boston real estate, but there hasn't been much for sale, partly because we've been in a real-estate drought for the past few years and also because we've just hit the record for 100" of snow this winter, with almost all of it falling in the past month.

But I saw a perfect place for us on Beacon Street on Thursday. The owners have carefully preserved as much of the 19th-century detail as possible and decorated it accordingly, with wonderful William Morris wallpapers and period lighting. I loved just about everything about it: beautiful old floors, three fireplaces, deep moldings, and walnut woodwork. Rooms with high ceilings and elegant proportions. The kitchen is exactly what I dream of: handsome cabinetry (probably reclaimed from a butler's pantry) right up to the ceiling, period hardware, soapstone counters, and an encaustic tile floor — 19th-century elements that harmonize beautifully with the rest of the apartment. While it doesn't have the deck or garden I've wanted for the past 30 years, it is very close to the Charles River, the Public Garden, and everything else we love in Back Bay. There are long, high walls for bookcases, and it is in our price range, too.

Take a look. For us, this is a dream come true:
All photos: Gibson Sotheby's International Realty, via
You must be asking yourself why I'm not bubbling with joy because we bought it. We didn't even make an offer, but not the usual reason — someone quickly made an all-cash offer above the asking price, with no bothersome contingencies like a home inspection or mortgage financing.

No, it was not the standard situation. My agent and I were wandering around at the broker open house, grinning at each other... and then we both smelled cigarette smoke. It was coming up through the original heating vents in the room that would be my husband's office. And, indeed, there is a heavy smoker living below the unit. And I have asthma, and neither my husband nor I can live comfortably around secondhand smoke.

We have been working with our agent for five years, setting a record. She's more than determined to get us a new place soon. She's tried to talk us into many places she felt would great for us, but that we couldn't stand  — usually because they are recent renovations, loaded with all the standard features that everyone else wants and I hate, from recessed lighting to granite breakfast bars. But, this time, even she knew that secondhand smoke is a deal-breaker. We left.

I learned more from one of the owners after getting in touch through a mutual friend — I realized that I'd heard glowing descriptions of this apartment a couple of years ago, including the huge stuffed peacock on the mantel. We learned that the smoker has lived there for about 30 years with no plans to leave, and that another unit owner building supports her right to smoke, so there's no hope of adding a no-smoking amendment to the condo documents. The common hallway is usually full of smoke.

I managed not to break down as I made these discoveries; I just cried a little. We can't win. At least I have stopped wondering if we are under some real-estate curse — now I am certain of it.

Back to Square 1.


  1. What a beautiful place--except for the smoke, which I agree, would be a deal-breaker. I take this apartment as a harbinger of better things to come, though: I think the fact that there was a near-perfect apartment in your price range, so obviously well cared for by tasteful owners, suggests that _somewhere_ there is a gem in the rough with hideous colors, cheap laminate countertops, and other sins against taste but with a beautiful architectural skeleton still intact, at the lower end of your price range---just low enough that you can rescue and restore it, with your own finely honed design sensibilities. I hold out hope!

    1. From your lips to God's ears.... Your writing that means more to me than you know! Thank you for the hope.

    2. I agree.. it will show up.. it will probably need some work, but most cash above asking payers aren't willing to do that kind of work so it will be yours..

  2. I know what you mean about not being able to tolerate smoke. Is there no way to filter it? The place looks gorgeous.

    1. Hi Janice, I've just learned that air purifiers and ionizers can't filter out the carcinogens in cigarette smoke. The particles in the smoke are extremely tiny, to penetrate the smallest cavities of our lungs. Isn't that horrible? I'm glad I know, at least. Thanks for writing!


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