The Thrill of the Hunt
Through highs and lows, bids and busts, one New York City couple finds a home in Westchester.
Bridget and Paul Curtis finally found the one in Larchmont.
Newly engaged just two months after meeting, Bridget and Paul Curtis were gung-ho to kiss their two Upper East Side apartments goodbye in favor of a house in Connecticut, with its promises of large backyards and low property taxes.
“We just knew the time to go was right,” Bridget says. The eager
couple had imagined a four-bedroom, Colonial-style house, sitting on two or more acres of land. Friends in Westchester warned against moving too far away from the city (the commute will wreak havoc on personal time, they said), but the Curtises believed that Southern Connecticut towns, such as Fairfield and Westport, would be close enough for Paul to commute to his job at a Wall Street firm and serve as home base for Bridget, whose territory as a shoe company rep extends from Connecticut to North Carolina. The budget? They thought they could afford a $1 million home. “It seemed like enough to get us our first home,” Bridget says.
So their over-the-border hunt began. One by one, they looked at homes that didn’t quite match the house they imagined. In the several months that preceded the couple’s summer 2006 wedding, their intense search in Connecticut took them to more than 20 houses—two of which they bid on.
The first was a house in Fairfield, and their bid was prompted by the hilly acre the house sat on. It had four bedrooms, a renovated kitchen, a finished basement, and a two-car garage. It wasn’t quite perfect—it sat a few miles from the train station, which had a years-long waiting list for a parking lot permit. So when the bid wasn’t accepted, they weren’t crushed.
They fell in love—“very much in love,” says Bridget—with House Number Two. Located among farms in Southport, the house itself had a unique style, a farmhouse with floating stairs and a sunken living room. A nearby beach was a big draw. It simply felt like The One, the Curtises say. The asking price: $1.275 million. When they lost the house to another buyer, says Bridget, “We were devastated.” In fact, losing out on the two houses had such impact that the couple decided to take a break from house hunting altogether.
That summer hiatus, when the pair got married, proved valuable. The Curtises started reevaluating what they really wanted. They had what Bridget calls a “reality check” about living so far on the outskirts of New York City. “It was beautiful where we were looking in Connecticut but isolated,” says Bridget, explaining that the importance of being closer to Manhattan became clearer as their search evolved. Not only would a farther commute take its toll on family life, so would the dramatic change in going from urban living to a more rural place, she says. “Our quality of life would have really been sacrificed,” she says. “We would have never seen each other.”
So they started touring Westchester. On weekends, the couple would drive around the county, touring available homes, wandering neighborhoods, and stopping to chat with whomever would take the time in hopes of discovering the real lowdown on living in Westchester. “We thought it would be better to be in a place where there were neighbors and community and life,” Bridget says.
During their resumed search—which took them through another 20 houses—they discovered that they could ease away from city life in Westchester by being within walking distance to shops, restaurants, and the train. In fact, during that time, the Southport property the Curtises thought they so desperately wanted once again became available. “It was by then a huge relief that we hadn’t gotten that house,” Bridget says. “We were not even tempted to bid on it again.”
Eventually, the couple found their way to Larchmont, where Paul had never been and
Bridget had only visited the local shoe store to show her company’s products. But after several weekend visits, they felt increasingly at home, so much so that one night, after sharing dinner in Larchmont, they didn’t feel like heading home to Manhattan. “It was a complete gut reaction,” Paul says. “We both felt we wanted to live here.” Both Curtises say they were particularly attracted to Larchmont’s small-town feel and easy commute—Paul’s, they estimated, would be about an hour door-to-door.
The couple soon ramped up their search—and fell in love with one particular neighborhood, Howell Park. Close to the train station and shopping but tucked away far enough off Palmer Avenue, the main drag, the neighborhood of about 80 families so impressed the couple that the day they first saw the three-bedroom house they ultimately bought, Bridget had a smile on her face before even entering the property. Though smaller than they originally wanted (about 2,000 square feet on about one-quarter acre), the Curtises knew that the 1938 Colonial on a cul-de-sac had the makings to be called home. Once again, they felt they had found The One. And though the home needed serious rehabbing (the previous owners had lived in it for decades), the couple loved the house’s large living room, backyard, and fireplace and had long before come to grips with the reality of what money would buy them in Westchester. “That didn’t faze us,” Bridget says. “I knew we were going to live here.”
It took another month or so before the Curtises actually bought the house, during which the sellers considerably lowered their original price of $1.25 million and Bridget and Paul raised their initial limit of $1 million. The sale price was $1.16 million, but before moving in, the Curtises paid for an extensive renovation of the house that even changed its footprint. (The couple declined to say how much was spent on the renovation.) “It was a lot of work for two people who never owned a house,” Paul says. Finally, last June, Bridget and Paul became official Westchester residents, bringing baby daughter Audrey into the picture just a few months later.
Michele Wenzler, the Sotheby’s associate broker who represented the Curtises, says Paul and Bridget ultimately got what they wanted because they were willing to make concessions. “They did what I advised: have a realistic assessment of what you can afford and what concessions you can make,” Wenzler says. “They saw the value of living in a community where they could walk to everything.”
The Curtises have quickly learned the obligations of home ownership, spending weekends at home-improvement stores because “you can’t call the super,” Paul says. And they have had no problem adjusting to Westchester life. Paul, who spent his entire life in New York City apartments, says living in Howell Park is very enjoyable, and Bridget felt immediately welcomed by neighbors, who brought the Curtises dinner the week of their arrival.
“This is great,” says Paul. “I don’t miss living in the city for a second.”
Diana Marszalek is a freelance writer based in Larchmont.