Last week two of my office mates and I met at the Rochambeau Library on a chilly Wednesday morning. We were a rag-tag trio: Michelle, svelte in her cycling gear, chatting about the merits of “clipping in;” Nelson, bent over a pump, trying to revive his muddy mountain bike’s flat tire; and me, resplendent in an over-sized sweatshirt and my favorite Tully hat.
We were on a mission to find what everyone told us was an exotic species: the side-by-side two-family home on the East Side of Providence.
There are scads of two-family properties on the East Side, but most of them include a 2-bedroom/1-bath flat on the first floor and a two-story “owner’s” unit on the second and third stories. Each unit has its own private front door (typically right next to each other), but the larger, townhouse style unit doesn’t have direct access to the backyard.
I am working with clients who prefer the side-by-side configuration. They want two roughly equal-sized units in order to give themselves sufficient room for their own use, but also have a rental unit that can command enough income to subsidize a good chunk of their carrying costs. And, because they have an active toddler, they want fast, easy access to the backyard.
The plan was to ride around the Summit and Hope Village neighborhoods of the East Side and write down the addresses of all the side-by-side multi-family homes we saw. With addresses in hand, we’d look up the properties in the Providence Tax Assessor’s database and write letters to the homeowners, in hopes that someone would be willing to talk to us about the possibility of selling.
We meandered at a leisurely pace up and down Lorimer and Morris Avenues and the streets perpendicular to them: Lauriston, Fourth, Fifth, Hart and Fisher and Forest. Even on this quiet weekday morning, the neighborhoods were abuzz with activity: sunburned landscapers worked in tandem, wedged stones into crumbling retaining walls; house painters hung off of narrow ladders, scraping away layers of latex; thirty-somethings, sporting babies strapped to their chests and dogs pulling at leashes, strode with purpose towards the nearby playground.
We found a surprising number of side-by-side two-family homes during our two hour tour. On bike, we saw details we’d missed while driving these same streets: a plaque marking the spot where General Rochambeau and his troops camped after leaving the Battle of Yorktown; the luscious garden behind Eugenie Najjar’s home (fine art photographer and owner of Ground Flora, an exterior design firm); a house, sadly neglected, debris filling the front sunroom and weeds overtaking the yard.
It was a lovely way to do some market research.
And effective. We sent out follow up letters, and I’ve already gotten one response. I am corrsponding with the homeowner and hope to arrange for an appointment in a few weeks.
My clients are counting on me to find them the right property. I feel a little guilty when they lavish praise on me for working “so hard” on their behalf—-if they only knew how much fun it was, they would charge me for the privilege of representing them!