The New London house I sold for $129K in 1988 just went for $35k

The house at 15 Amity St., New London, is seen Tuesday, May 8, 2018. (David Collins/ The Day)
The house at 15 Amity St., New London, is seen Tuesday, May 8, 2018. (David Collins/ The Day)

My first house, which I bought while working my first post-college job, reporting here at The Day, was a classic fixer-upper.

The Day was an afternoon paper then, so my reporting rounds began at dawn most days. I still remember the burly sergeant behind the front desk at the old city police headquarters, then in the downtown Stanton Building, smoking cigars at 6 a.m. and shouting to prisoners in the lockup to pipe down.

Afternoons largely were spent caulking, sanding, painting and otherwise trying to put some shine back on the 19th-century Greek Revival house of which I was so proud. Every time I ran into the late Lucille Showalter, then the city's unofficial historian, she always would mention the name of the whaling captain who she told me built my house.

I paid $34,000 in December 1980 for the house at 15 Amity, a few doors down from Williams Park. It had a mortgage of $22,600, paid in part with income from the second apartment in the house.

The neighborhood was, let's say, challenging. My first dog came from a litter born to the drug dealer's dog across the street.

There wasn't a lot of renovation happening on the many other handsome old houses in the neighborhood. I thought of it as kind of pre-gentrification. Sooner or later, I assumed, people were going to see that this was a remarkable historic neighborhood that just needed the kind of respect and TLC I was administering on 15 Amity.

I certainly wouldn't have believed you if you told me then that 15 Amity, after a bank foreclosure, would sell in 2018 for $35,011, not much more than I paid almost 38 years ago. The deed was filed in city land records May 3.

It's not like it never did appreciate. And I'm not sure how much that flat line in value from what I paid to what it sold for this month tells the whole story of New London real estate over 38 years. But it tells part of it.

It's not that 15 Amity never rose in value.

By the time I sold it in 1988, an overheated national real estate market had increased values in the neighborhood, the rising tide lifting all boats, even though not much had happened around 15 Amity to signal even the start of gentrification.

Then married, my wife and I sold Amity for a whopping $129,000 — not so much because we saw the peak of the market and thought to get out, but because we had our eye on a more expensive property and needed cash.

The couple who bought it from us eventually lost it to foreclosure. The next owner paid $60,000 in 1996, according to a tour I took through land records last week. That owner seemed like an investor, with a New York address and lots of other multi-family properties in New London.

By the time of 15 Amity's last descent into foreclosure, the condition had grown dire, with the city blight officer ordering a lien for the cost of a cleanup. And it was condemned.

I paid a visit last week, and it was a little painful to see the old clapboards I had so carefully exposed, repaired and painted, covered again in siding, this time cheesy vinyl. The front porch is collapsing.

A neighbor told me the condemnation was related to an incident in which the house froze up and pipes burst, flooding the basement.

I still could see some evidence of my renovations. Some of the work was done by Karl Bagwell, the son of an editor at The Day, who did carpentry for us while going to school. Today he is one of the region's most prominent builders, owner of Yankee Remodeler. I suspect much of his fine handiwork inside 15 Amity is gone.

I eagerly walked to the backyard to check out the terrace I had built. It was made from brick I had salvaged from an old mill that was torn down on Pequot Avenue.

I spent countless afternoons shuttling the brick from Pequot to Amity in the trunk of my car, then chipping the old mortar off so they could be laid in the new terrace grid.

That part of the backyard has since been paved over, asphalt leading right up to the new vinyl siding on the house. Seeing that was the saddest part of my visit.

Whoever bought the house snapped it up. It was listed for sale by the bank at $26,000, and the buyer paid more than asking. It also closed quickly, only a couple of weeks from the time of the listing to the closing.

I'd like to think it's a young person who admires the historic qualities of the house and sees the potential in the neighborhood, maybe someone who will look back 38 years from now and see a different outcome on Amity Street.

The optimist in me, who still sees New London's best years ahead, would like to suggest that the charms of Amity Street are yet to be revealed, that all kinds of historic renovation nearby is at hand.

The pessimist in me must admit that 15 Amity, had I hung on to it, would have turned out to be a miserable investment.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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