You did what? You bought a house where? Not only was I single and buying a house, but I was also buying "over there."
"Over there" is also known as west of Richmond. I didn't start looking "over there" because, truth be told, I had some of those same hushed and worried voices inside my own head. I began the house-hunting journey looking at old Buffalo singles in the Elmwood Village -- the safe zone. I quickly saw several houses I liked and just as quickly realized I was priced out of the neighborhood where I had lived for 18 years.
Then my real estate agent, also an old friend, suggested a double west of Richmond. Was he crazy? Did he really know me? I did not want a double and I certainly wasn't moving "over there." I pessimistically walked the neighborhood for an hour beforehand. I talked to anyone I saw outside.
As I waited, I saw a guy next door who looked familiar. It turns out I had known him for years and he had bought the year before. Validation -- at least one "normal" person lived "over there."
We walked through the tenant apartment first. It was very nice and looked in good condition, but I wasn't getting that "this is the dress" feeling. Then we went on to the other unit. Instantly, I felt this was the house. The woodwork was fabulous -- pocket doors, moldings, fireplace with beautiful tile, both wood front porches intact. I could live here.
The idea of being a landlord was a bit frightening, but the house came with a tenant who had been there for 15 years and wanted to stay. Maybe I could handle this. The other bidders wanted the tenant out. That was the difference. The owners had affection for the tenant and did not want to disrupt her life, so I got the house.
When I got the keys and went to the house, the tenant was on the porch with a friend and I learned that quite literally her prayers had been answered. She and her friends had been saying the rosary, praying that I would get the house and she could stay put.
So what did I get myself into buying a house "over there"? A neighborhood rising fast. Home ownership is increasing by leaps and bounds. People priced out of the Elmwood Village, but still wanting the richness of city life, have a place to go. New gardens, new dogs, babies and lots of renovations can be seen. The house no one would buy for two years just sold to an energetic young couple.
There are folks who have lived here 63 years. We have a guy who cuts grass without being asked. We have old Italians who cook sauce, a barking dog and a loud family that argues too much. There is a guy with a lot of tattoos, a business owner, a minister, a violinist, a retired teacher, a salesman and some students. We just had our first meeting to establish a block club.
A little further west we have a bustling Grant Street. There are Somalis, Italians, Burmese, Vietnamese and Hispanic families all mixed in at Guercio's and the Meating Place.
So what did I get buying a house "over there"? I got a fabulous old house full of character for a good price in a diverse and endlessly interesting neighborhood. And I did it amidst other people doing the same thing. We are creating a new set of stories for this neighborhood.
This urban pioneer thing is contagious. Watch out. You might be looking "over there" before you know it.
Deborah Lynn Williams is the CEO of the YWCA of WNY. She moved to Buffalo in 1988 to attend graduate school at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.