For One Real Estate Investor, Vinyl Siding Never Lost Its Shine
Like many creative professionals who live in Williamsburg, Lewis Canfield possesses a Renaissance man’s variety of passions and hobbies. He worked in the movie industry, profited from the Internet boom, dabbled in art, developed an interest in women’s perfume scents and now buys, sells and renovates Brooklyn real estate.
No topic has captured his attention lately more than vinyl siding. One might assume that Mr. Canfield’s background puts him squarely in Brooklyn’s antivinyl camp, but beneath that artsy exterior is a guy who actually likes vinyl siding, when well applied. A lot.
Last week, as Mr. Canfield drove down Williamsburg streets lined with brilliantly colored trees and paler vinyl-sided buildings, he pointed out his favorite examples. He likes neatly lined siding, siding blazed by the sun until a patina forms, siding intended to look like wooden shingles and traditional designs that try to approximate George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
To Mr. Canfield, replacing vinyl siding that is in good shape, as some homebuyers do as soon as they have the deed, is like carelessly restoring antiques that came over on the Mayflower. He views vinyl siding facades as the key to preserving Williamsburg’s working-class traditions, which arguably has become its own facade.
“It’s not the most beautiful thing, but it’s real,” he said. “It’s authentic. It’s tied to the history of the neighborhood.”
In a neighborhood like Williamsburg where vinyl siding is as dominant as brownstone is in Park Slope and concrete is in Midtown, many residents are ready to fight with Mr. Canfield with equal passion. Real estate bloggers devote hours mercilessly photographing homes and posting online what they think are the most lowbrow examples. To the preservation-minded, vinyl siding and its close cousin, aluminum siding, are a hideous blot on the landscape.
“I can’t imagine anyone liking vinyl siding,” said Robert Lanham, who rents a floor in a Pepto-Bismol-colored vinyl-sided house in Williamsburg and praises neighbors who go back to wood. “If you have the means and time to get rid of it, I’m all for it,” said Mr. Lanham, author of “The Hipster Handbook.”
Although Mr. Canfield may be one of the few vocal supporters of vinyl siding’s appearance, untold millions of homeowners have wrapped their homes in the stuff for more practical reasons, after tiring of frequently repainting or repointing and fighting the effects of rain, sun and rot. Since the artificial siding requires very little upkeep, many of these exteriors have remained untouched for decades, becoming, as Mr. Canfield puts it, their own kind of historical “time warp.”
Thomas Hohmann, the owner of Top Line, a vinyl siding installer based in Brooklyn, said he still got plenty of business from people adding, or upgrading, their siding. Now, he said, his customers are not so much the aging Italian families who long gave him business there, but tend to be young professional couples, and they are choosing more traditional Dutch colonial siding, the kind that looks almost like clapboard.
That is only welcome news to Mr. Canfield, who has handled about a dozen sales of vinyl-sided Williamsburg homes over the past three years. He pulled up before 45 Powers Street, a house with vinyl siding in the back that he sold in 2008. (The front exterior is made of cement board siding.)
Matthew Friedman, who bought the house for $1.3 million, shares Mr. Canfield’s sentiments He feels a connection to the neighborhood because his grandmother was born nearby. He prefers vinyl-sided homes to his friends’ brick-front town houses in Cobble Hill and Brooklyn Heights.
“To me, it’s more of a, like, bourgeois town over there,” Mr. Friedman said. “Williamsburg feels more like a neighborhood, a little less stately, more flavor.”
Mr. Canfield drove up to 171 North Eighth Street, which has a vinyl-sided front and sun-baked asphalt shingles on its side. One client recently lost a bid on that property, which was listed for $835,000.
In June, Mr. Canfield bought his own vinyl-sided home in Williamsburg for $640,000. He plans to keep it as it is.
“It’s in good condition and it’s doing its job,” he said. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
From Vinyl to Stainless
Daniel Edrei, who lives nearby in Greenpoint, does not share Mr. Canfield’s love of vinyl siding. When Mr. Edrei, a commercial real estate lender, bought his vinyl-sided house on Green Street in 2005, he thought it was so hideous that, he said, he “couldn’t stand the look of it.”
But Mr. Edrei was not one to fall in with the real-wood movement. So he covered the front and back in stainless steel in an oblong design that he said was inspired by Frank Gehry and Dr. Seuss. “It’s sleek, it’s clean, it’s sexy,” he said. He kept the sides in vinyl siding, kind of like a chicken drumstick sticking out of its tinfoil wrapping.
The exterior led to puzzled looks from his Polish neighbors, praise from newer residents he calls “condo kids” and plenty of material for bloggers. The blog Curbed called it the “Subzero” and cracked, “if only it had an icemaker on the front.” One blogger, a Miss Heather, wrote that it should “be used as gallows for the owner of this property.”
The challenge came when Mr. Edrei put the house up for sale in March for $1.4 million. After a price cut, Mr. Edrei has received a serious offer close to the new $1.15 million asking price, said his agent, Lior Politi of the Corcoran Group.