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Home economics

Forty-six State Street in Saratoga Springs can almost pass as a fraternity house: seven male college students live there, among mismatched furniture, frayed draperies, a 52-inch television, and a Brunswick pool table.

One rainy Monday night, the housemates are eating burritos at the dinner table, vaguely catching bits of a football game blaring from the living room, and taking turns picking on—with their mouths full—the designated cook of the night about his undercooked peas. But before you can dismiss them as a bunch of sophomoric college jocks, three of them start talking about mortgages and real estate and plumbing and Sheetrock with such fluidity and expertise that it almost sounds like they’re speaking another language.

Why are Newton Oldfather ’06, Scott Schnipper ’06, and Cory Sylvester ’06 so wise in the ways of the home? Because they own the one they’re living in. They share a deed to the house and a bank account, and they collect rent— from their housemates during the school year and from track-goers in the summer.

It all started three years ago, when a casual idea turned serious. Oldfather, a government major, and Schnipper, a business and economics double-major, knew the real-estate market in Saratoga Springs was thriving. They also knew they wanted to live off-campus, and it seemed foolish to throw money away on rent when they could be investing it. They teamed up with Sylvester, an economics major they say is “a genius when it comes to finance.”

After looking at a dozen houses, the three decided on 46 State: it needed work, but not so much that it would overwhelm them; the location was perfect—close to campus and town; and the neighborhood felt familial. They scraped together a down payment (from summer-job incomes and small inheritances), got a mortgage, and purchased the 1886 house for $425,000. “We didn’t have any idea what we were doing,” says Oldfather. But “we learned very quickly.”

They moved in in May 2004 and started renovations right away—with their own hands. “We had a base knowledge,” explains Oldfather, who has done construction work. “We got how-to books at Borders; we went to the hardware store and asked questions,” adds Schnipper. And when an inspector showed up, he complimented them on a job well done.

Of course there were small disasters—like having to redo a hardwood floor they’d laid (“we spend at least an hour freaking out” when something goes wrong, Oldfather admits). But the freshly painted, cleaned-up seven-bedroom house is a big improvement over what it had been: a five-bedroom with a “terrible attic,” deteriorating floors, and “hideous wallpaper.”

And there’s something to be said for having friends as landlords and tenants. Among these housemates, “there’s no friction,” says Schnipper. “Our biggest fight is probably over ‘Why didn’t you clean your dish?’ and it stops there.”

Adapted from a story by Michelle Kim ’06 in the October 7 Skidmore News.