Andover Townsman, Andover, MA

December 20, 2012

Neighborhood's spirit worth a million

Barb Higgins
20 Liberty St.

---- — I want to tell you about the multi million dollar neighborhood that I live in. It’s one of many million dollar neighborhoods in Andover. We have landscapers, built in alarm systems, caterers and caretakers, we have pet sitters and babysitters. We have our very own park too. It’s not public. This all has a secret name. Only those who have lived in it or live in it now know the name.

About our landscapers…we all mow our own lawns and run around the yard moving the sprinklers to different locations. We plant our own flower beds and sometimes they are a success and other times they are not and we go to the expert in the ‘hood to get some tips. Our vegetable gardens benefit not only ourselves, but anyone who takes a liking to the latest batch of produce.

Our built in alarm system are the people in their homes on the street who are looking out their windows, looking out for each other.

Need a dinner? We’ve got caterers that can whip up a meal and walk it over in times of need. Just had major surgery? No problem. We have caretakers that will take turns checking on you, some with medical degrees, others who are simply just good at caring for people. Going away for the weekend? No problem we have ready and willing cat sitters and dog walkers that don’t charge for their time. Gotta run to the market real quick? It’s OK. You can leave and your children can continue playing outside and someone will keep an eye on them.

We are not best friends. We don’t vacation or celebrate holidays together. We don’t always share the same political views. We don’t share the same religion. We don’t dress alike nor do we have the same group of friends. In fact, we are often so very different. We do occasionally, at least once a year, crack a beer open with each other.

The homes in our neighborhood, one with sidewalks in disrepair and trees that are 30 or 40 years old (many of them dying), are all worth below $600,000. But the neighborhood is worth much more. Sometimes I wake up early on a winter day and noticed that someone shoveled my walkway. Other days I’ve actually seen a table being moved from one house to another so that someone will have enough seating in their house for Thanksgiving dinner. That lady living by herself, she’s had Christmas breakfast with us. I’ve seen cars being swapped so that something oversized could be brought home rather than pay for delivery. I’ve seen nurses walk over to listen to a congested chest or look at an unsightly bump on the head. A dentist will take a child into their home to look at a mouth injury that just happened after a biking accident. And if you’re stuck in traffic there is usually someone around who will take that child off the bus and give them a snack.

There is no real estate calculation that measures any of this. When you buy a home the real value is in the neighborhood. I live in a million-dollar neighborhood.

Recently a home burned down in this million-dollar neighborhood. Within 24 hours my hallway was filled with gift cards, clothing and shoes. People didn’t just give their junk away. They took the clothing out of their closets that they still wear and donated it. They took the shoes off their feet and gave them away. A rain jacket, still warm with wear no doubt, was handed over. They raided their children’s closets to give clothing and toys to two little ones who no longer had anything to play with.

This is not something that a first time homeowner realizes. It’s that “thing” that’s missing when people decide to start looking for their next house even though they have enough bathrooms and bedrooms to live comfortably. This takes many years to learn. It takes many ups and downs and sometimes tragedies to realize that your $300,000 home is really worth over a million dollars no matter what the town assessor thinks.

One neighbor every summer mows a baseball diamond in his giant backyard and the kids are there every day. One summer he let them set up spot lights. He can be seen installing air conditioners and trimming the trees in the neighborhood. He was the one who faithfully checked in on the older failing ones, took them on daily walks and dropped by at the end of the night to make sure they got to bed OK.

Another neighbor can always be called upon to jump start a car or fix the mower that is tired and overworked. We have teachers, nurses, lawyers, doctors, dentists, scientists, landscapers, accountants, and stay-at-home moms. We have a gal who can make you look like a celebrity at your 35th high school reunion. We have that guy who knows how to fix anything. We have that other guy who is strong as an ox and can help you move anything up and down your stairs. We have that person who will bake a cake for you on your birthday and say it’s from your kids. Everyone contributes to this neighborhood and collectively make it worth millions of dollars.

These are the things that people forget about when valuing the beauty of their home. These are the things that we will remember during our last years. We won’t remember that fabulous sofa that we got on sale at that upscale store or the exact color of our dining room walls. We won’t remember that minivan we so wished was a convertible. So what if there are cracks in the sidewalks, some shingles that need painting and some windows that are so old you have to go outside to hang the storm windows by hand. We won’t move because we are all in on the secret to this neighborhood. People have come and gone in this neighborhood but the magic never leaves.

I live in the richest neighborhood in Andover. I’m staying put no matter how green the grass looks from the irrigation systems on the other side.

To contribute to the Merchant Fire Fund visit giveforward.com/themerchantfamilyfirefund/.