New York City house tours vs. cellphones

New York’s house tour season is in full swing.

There’s a voyeuristic thrill in walking through a beautiful home, particularly a historic one. There are the original details, the wainscoting, moldings and mantels. But more so, it’s seeing how people live.

New York’s house tour season is in full swing, taking in some of the most gorgeous homes in tony brownstone neighborhoods, attracting neighbors and tourists alike.

One neighborhood not participating this year is Brooklyn Heights. After 31 years, the Brooklyn Heights Association pulled out because it was wary of privacy issues, particularly visitors snapping shots of residents’ personal spaces on cellphones and then posting them on the web. I can’t imagine it will be too long before other neighborhoods do the same.

When my neighborhood in Crown Heights North started a tour three years ago, a few longtime residents had reservations. Many remembered the bad old days when crack houses and gunshots were part of the canvas of everyday life.

The concept of letting strangers into your home was not only foreign, but also bizarre. Now, gentrification is sweeping through all of New York City like a flash flood through a desert canyon, and while it was cute for locals to see your refinished fireplace, ipe wood deck or Jean-Michel Basquiat original, when the whole world knows about them, it can be scary.

I remember the last tour I went on. A refinished town house caused a stir because it was the first property to break the $2 million price ceiling in Crown Heights. The Corcoran Group was keen to get as many feet through the doorway as possible and welcomed people snapping photos with their smartphones.

Most important, the home was not staged. There were no bookcases or record collections to glance at, no artwork, no pianos and sheet music. It was a little soulless. I realized then that it’s not the house that makes a house tour special, but what’s inside.

Clutching the brochure the Realtor gave me as I left, I also realized that it would just be a matter of time before the term “house tour” becomes a euphemism for an open house.


Jeff Vasishta lives in Crown Heights.

Jeff Vasishta