After looking on and off for three years, Mike found just the right place in Dorchester’s Melville Park near Shawmut Station. He and his partner Brandon love the house and the neighborhood. They describe settling into a new house and neighborhood, using art and curiosities to generate conversations, and what it’s like working with Melony.
Putting down roots
MIKE: When I first moved to Boston I was living in one of the last cheap floor-through apartments in Back Bay. It was $1,500/month for the entire first floor—a beautiful townhouse. I lived there for two years until the landlord decided to renovate and I had to move on.
The rental days, I knew, were always going to be tricky. In Boston you could find a good deal and the good deal could evaporate very quickly. And after a few years, I knew I wanted to stay in Boston and I knew it was time to put down roots. That is why I first started looking to buy.
MIKE: What I was looking for in a property to buy changed a lot over the three-plus years that I was looking. Starting out, I was single, I did work from home. I want to little bit of extra space, but I was certainly looking at more of the more one- or two-bedroom condo range.
I was looking at a pretty broad range [of neighborhoods] too, everything was pretty much on the table. I had friends all over the city, which may have played on sites like BETEND, so we looked all over the place. In that way it was really unfocused. It sort of took a long time to wrap my head around an individual property or neighborhood and whether or not it met my needs.
As a buyer in this market the one thing that I was lacking was confidence. I wasn’t sure about any property. You’re never getting something perfect. There’s always compromises you’re making, you don’t get a lot of time to consider whether or not the perfect property for you.
To have someone who is more confident with the market, who has worked with you for a long time, who remembers everything that you’ve said, knows what are the compromises you’re willing to make versus what are the real deal breakers for you, just having that neutral partner in it who can help you make a decision when it’s time to make that decision was really valuable.
I never felt like I was being forced into a property. I really appreciated the few times when Melony walked around and saw the quality of the renovation or really considered the street or reminded me, “Mike, you work from home. Where’s your office going to go? Any room you use for your office is going to be an incredibly noisy space. This property does not meet what you told me your needs were for space.”
There are situations where I felt like I could have gotten into a property but two years later I probably would have wanted to sell. Whereas the house I’m in now, I could live here the rest of my life and I’d be perfectly fine. Looking around the neighborhood, that’s how most people did it. These people have not moved on for eternity which is why I feel lucky that we were able to get a spot on the street.
Deciding on Dorchester
MIKE: When we first started dating I was living Harvard Square and Brandon was here in Dorchester. I did not know Dorchester at all—I never been before. Melony had suggested Dorchester in the past as the place where you can get a lot of house but it seemed far away, not really accessible. But we just found over time that on weekends we were spending all of our time in Dorchester. I kind of wanted to get out of Cambridge—the apartment was crowded—and we just found our life here was better: there’s more space, it was quieter, we got to relax a little bit more.
BRANDON: The search sort of shifted to the Dorchester and to neighborhoods where it’s a lot quieter and it’s not quite as much of a crowded city feel. You have a lot more space inside the houses—beautiful houses—and it’s just far enough away from the city where we get in the car and in minutes we’re in Back Bay or South End. It’s close to the T on the Red line. A lot of our friends live in this neighborhood and that made a big difference too, to have that little bit of a foundation already in place. It wasn’t shocking for Michael to move to Dorchester because there were people here that we both already knew. That definitely made the transition easier for him.
MIKE: It’s interesting, one of the reasons I was at first a little nervous about Dorchester is because many of the streets can feel really tightly packed. If you need a car, it’s tough to find parking, and houses are very close together.
We got to this street and the lots are beautiful, there’s the parks in the middle, people can walk their dogs, we’re right by the field… It’s just there’s a huge amount of green space given the fact that you’re five minutes away from sort of the biggest commercial district in Dorchester. A lot of raking of leaves but otherwise, it’s nice.
Real estate Tinder
MIKE: One of the reasons I was happy working with Melony is that buying a home particularly in this market is an agonizingly stressful experience. You go out you look at a place, you get rejected for that place, and then the next weekend it starts all over again. It’s this awful real estate [version of] Tinder.
But I would say that working with Melony, she sort of brought a sense of fun to it. She’s great to spend time with. It was good to have someone walk you through on what are the decisions you need to make, what are the compromises you are willing to make, and most importantly, knowing that whatever offer she put together—even if it seemed high for you, even if you thought that maybe you could get it for less (which most the time I thought I would be able to get it for less)—she was right every time.
In those instances where I said I don’t want to put down that much and we would drop it, the person who won that bid would be the person who put in what Melony had originally recommended. I always knew with Melony that we go through the process of looking at this property, of that property, but when it came down to it, she knew what it would take to win it. It wouldn’t always be what I was willing to pay but at least I had that full information.
MIKE: Everybody’s trying to put an algorithm on everything these days and say, “well here’s the property and here’s the street and here the number of bathrooms and here is the price” but that’s not how things work. Listing prices are irrelevant, past sales are irrelevant. The only way to arrive at what it takes to get something is the mix of instinct and past experience, both of which I felt Melony brought to all the properties that we looked at.
As I spoke to people about the search—particularly with people from back home—mostly what stood out to them was just how crazy the home-buying process can be around Boston. Something as simple as waving an inspection, which we did for almost every offer we put down, that’s something that’s unheard of outside of Boston and perhaps a few other areas of the United States. The inspection is a core part of the buying process and to let that go was jaw-dropping and possibly risky.
I ended up getting comfortable with it in large part just through working with Melony and understanding that you can get a certain sense of what possibly could go wrong and whether that risk was tolerable or not for you. In some cases, with certain houses, you would say waiving the inspection or waiving a certain amount of money for repairs—that seemed like a risk that I was willing to take. In other cases, the property was a little bit too much on the edge so we just said no.
Melony is very decisive: decisive with her evaluation of a property; decisive with her recommendation on how to approach an offer, and also decisive when [a property] was not right. Melony has an ability to evaluate her customer, a neighborhood, and property. She can take all of that sort of disparate, ambiguous information and use it to synthesize a really clear vision for where you should be looking and how to get the property you want.
I would say that as a prospective buyer, I was very indecisive. I was looking at a lot of different neighborhoods, a lot of different kinds of places. Some of them I really wanted, some of them I wasn’t sure about it. Having someone to partner with who can take all of that and give a strong recommendation was really helpful.
Curiosities, color, and conversation
MIKE: We have a lot of space now and we every square foot of it. Since I work from home, it’s good to have a separate office where you can close the door during the day to keep things quiet and close the door at the end of the day to say work is done. Brandon works full-time at Dana Farber, and that’s 45 minutes from here. He can get to work pretty quickly but he’s also in school so he has his own office as well. All the extra space is really helpful. We can entertain—neither of us could do that before, neither of us could entertain.
We have the morning room that we really had no purpose for but you wake up in the morning and it’s right by the stairway. You can stop, you can have a cup of coffee, you could read a book, and then you can get into the rest of the house where there’s work to be done.
I think when we both moved in and started to settling together it was it was definitely open communication about what we liked and what we didn’t like. Not that either of us are master designers in any way but there are things that we’ve accumulated that the other one might think is rather curious collection of things.
BRANDON: If you look about the door frames and window sills throughout the house you’ll notice small little figurines or little statues. They’re odd, little quirky, and I didn’t want to not have those out but I wanted to have them out in the way that was interesting. Michael just kind of tuck them away and I would catch that—I would notice them randomly.
Our parents met for the first time a couple weeks ago and my mom noticed right away all these little curiosities tucked here and there and it’s things like that that I think make it our house. We, of course, like everybody else, read tons of magazines and Pinterest and this and that but I think when it comes down to it, we just kind of blend in the things that we like. We’re not really going for that magazine style, we just want our home to be comfortable and welcoming and I think those are kind of the little things that can add to it.
The beautiful folklore colors of the blanket and the small miniature puppets in the vials…most of this stuff is from Peru. People always ask about the little jars with the people in them. I actually did get these at a witches market in Peru and they didn’t want to sell them to me because they said that like I wouldn’t be able to handle the power.
The photograph above it is from a good friend of mine who went to the Middle East and he’s a great photographer. He offered up some prints and this one just kind of popped out to me—a little bit of mystery, the red and black…and I just wanted to be a good conversation piece here in the dining room.
MIKE: I think the space is always kind of a work in progress, I mean for us, anyway. It’s just it’s different pieces of art that we all kind of collected. One of these was from a street vendor—
BRANDON: I bought that for you.
MIKE: He bought it for me and we want to show off. Just things from our travels. We’ve had some really good experiences together. One of our first big trips that we took when we first started dating was, we took a two week trip to China and Thailand and thought to ourselves well this could be a make-or-break trip.
BRANDON: I didn’t think it wasn’t a make-or-break trip. I knew we were going to be just fine. But it was things like that, you just kind of jump in and say, “let’s see what happens,” and it was great. We had a wonderful time and we met some some really good friends.
MIKE: We just like to have things like that out and about just to kind of share with our friends our family; they’re conversation pieces. Who knows, this could be a whole different array of paintings and photos next time you come over. We just put it all up with velcro because the one thing that we did learn—and just being an old house and kind of exploring it together—little things like plaster walls are not forgiving, they are not. Like you hit it with the hammer and the hammer bounces back at you, you have to wear a bicycle helmet. You don’t, but we’re figuring it out over time. The house is quirky.
BRANDON: It has been an interesting ride, just learning to do things together and figure out who’s going to mow the lawn, who’s going to rake the leaves, but we enjoy it.
MIKE: We definitely have and I think if anything it’s just taught us like we just keep communication open and we’re not afraid to take chances when it comes to furniture or anything like that. I mean he’s definitely opened my eyes to a world of color. There’s bright colors throughout the house and those are things that I just was just like, “oh let’s have a muted palette and pops of color.” Here he’s like, “no, we’re going to get the brightest rug.” And I enjoy that it does bring the house a little bit more cheer. So yeah, it’s a work in progress.
MIKE: A lot of the people that live on this block been here 30+ years. They’ve raised their kids who are now adults and have their own families. And just to be a part of that—we’re starting out on a new journey and everybody’s been really welcoming. We say hi to each other, they’ve come over and introduce themselves, which I think says a lot. I mean, I feel sometimes you don’t get that living in certain areas, when you’re living in a condo or things like that. But everybody here really does look out for each other, everybody lends a helping hand, everybody’s been really nice to offer up information about the neighborhood, just general, like, “hey, here’s some advice on the fall leaf situation.” We’ve been to the community meetings, the neighborhood association meetings, and it’s been nice, it has been very welcoming situation.
Our neighbors just kept trying to prepare us [for Halloween]: “get ready, make sure you’re stocking up on candy.” We decorated the the front of the house and we had two friends come over. We kind of didn’t know what to expect. Halloween was on a Monday but thankfully we were smart and we bought enough candy. We went through 15,000 pieces of candy and I would say probably a couple hundred kids came trampling up to the house probably for a span of four hours and [our dog] Lady just sat there and just took it all in. We just had a great time. It was great to see kids in the neighborhood all dressed up, very excited, all different types of costumes, and it was just a good experience to be a part of. We were we’re really excited about that.
Advice for buyers
MIKE: My advice to folks looking to buy their first home in the Boston area would be don’t fall in love with anything to quickly, understand that despite the fact that it doesn’t seem like anything goes on the market here, things do and there are a lot of options. If you don’t get one property, you will get one eventually.
I think the way to make that bearable is to be as expansive in your thinking as possible. There is no perfect street, there is no perfect unit, you don’t need a specific set of amenities, or a specific address. If you really expand the number of places you can be happy and a lot more neighborhoods in Boston than at the beginning, you might realize you’ll be more likely to land somewhere that that works for you.
This is not a neighborhood that either of us would have thought about. Even Brandon, living three-quarters of a mile away in Ashmont, never knew the street existed. You never knew this entire neighborhood existed and now that we’re here, there’s nowhere else we’d rather be.
Photos except exterior and street shots by Anfuso Imaging