The Saga of The House Next Door

The Saga of the House Next Door began long before we bought this house. For us, it began as an empty lot (there had once been a house — around 1900 or so — but it burned down years and years ago). The bank that foreclosed on this house mistakenly thought the lot was included in the foreclosure. When they listed the property for sale, the lot was included. Potential buyers tried to purchase the house and lot, and when a host of title problems exposed the reality, they walked. The bank was forced to relisted the house, but with the stigma of rumors of “title problems” it sat. Then we came along.

Long story short… we bought the house. During closing, the attorney (who had overseen the initial problems involving the lot) told us that the title problems were so far-reaching that the lot was going to be under our care for a long, long time. A little lagniappe to our home purchase. A place where we could maybe put up a swing set or park the car, since we were going to be assumed as the ones responsible for taking care of it. We were fine with this arraignment. In fact, we hoped to buy the lot one day… a beautiful grassy expanse with a twisted live oak and a beautiful willow tree of amazing size and grandeur. It made the hefty buy-in on the empty box with no kitchen and no bathrooms a bit more worth the price.

Right after closing, we visited Our New Home to find a man mowing the lot next door. A developer. The lot’s new owner. Damn.

So construction on the house next door started at the same time as our moving in. We endured some pretty ridiculous abuses over the year it took for the place to get built. Noise at insane hours. Workers pleading with us to move our car in front of the lot to hold space for their equipment — then showing up hours before their scheduled return (read: at 6:45am) and banging on windows and outside walls of the house for us to move it. Borrowing our water & hose (without asking) and not even being careful in the process, destroying plants in the front garden. Tearing up the grass on the side and front of the house with bobcats. Illegally building the ground up so that the house sits a little higher and not putting in the requisite drain system, which instantly began eroding away our foundation (at the time of purchase, our home inspector said our home was the “most level he had ever seen in the city — unheard of at less than 6/10 of an inch” — but more on this later). Spraying both our freshly sanded and painted fence and brand new brick stairs and walkway with specks of concrete. This list of abuses could go on for a few hours. But we took it all in with general fortitude. We were friendly and helpful to the workers and went out of our way to help (translated for Spanish-speaking labor, offered help with reserving street space, gave drinking water, and more). Some of the workers repaid in-kind (like the foreman of the project letting Will drive the Bobcat).

So the house got built. Poorly and with many corners cut (some that were, frankly, shocking), but still — it was built. It was a good lesson in New Orleans construction as apparently, this particular builder has a reputation for quality work… which is sort of like saying a slice of Wonder bread is a quality product. But all that aside, the house was done. Finally.

Two weeks before Katrina the buyers moved in, a loving and friendly family with three children. The youngest was born the very week they moved in (we attended his naming ceremony) and the daughter possessed an incredible artistic talent that left me speechless and hoping that she could rub off some of her passion to my kids, since the whole reason I had kids in the first place was to do art projects. (One day, she shared a charted drawing she’d done that showed ways to be a good friend along with picture diagrams. I was blown away; she might as well have come in with her recently completely translation of Ulysses into Swahili, I was that impressed.) While well intended, they weren’t quite aware of some overall housing issues (like the drainage problem, which still hadn’t been addressed — although by this time we’d built a levee system on the side of the house in an attempt to better protect our foundation).

Then Katrina came. The nice family didn’t come back. But after a year (during which we took a lead role in maintaining the home and pool — including some yard care, mosquito tablets, and other necessary measures, since they weren’t happening) they rented the house. The renters turned out to be a dream: a fun family of three girls that we adore. On days we forgot to take out our trash cans, they took it out for us (and vice versa); we shared recipes and dinners — they even cooked the cabbage I caught on St. Patrick’s Day when I declared my inability to produce something edible from it. The girls came over almost everyday, bringing great energy and enthusiasm. They helped with our kids (particularly the oldest, who has incredible skill with kids and even volunteered for Abeona House for a few weeks) and were a source of entertainment for Paul and I. (We learned that even when completely still, you can actually hear noise blasting out of 9-year old girls. It’s an incredible phenomena.) A few short months ago, the family moved back to their home (taken in by The Flood) and the house next door went on the market.

In a competitive housing market with a huge over-stock of high-priced homes, we thought the house would remain on the market for awhile. Low and behold — it sold! And last weekend, while we were away, we got a new neighbor. I did go and say hello (with cookies and phone numbers) and although I was flying on meds, managed to have a pleasant conversation. So we have a nice new neighbor. One who seems to have fine taste and be a really impressive drummer (despite the choice of midnight on weeknights to practice). We figure that these were symptoms of what was undoubtedly a very busy and stressful few weeks of closing, packing and moving. A big plus: the drain was finally fixed. (At least on our side.) Additional improvements seem to be on the way, so we are excited. With another musician on the block, maybe we can resurrect the pre-Katrina jam sessions that used to spill out on the sidewalk, the kids dancing around in the jerky way, adults hanging back to take it all in. In short, the Saga may be ending and a turn-around may really have reached us, too.