The happy residents of this beautifully appointed two-family rental on Newell Road are the beneficiaries of the idealism of the owners. The family connection doesn’t hurt either.
By Jennifer Kuhel
Idealism at 25 often seems naive to the older and wiser. So it’s a welcome surprise when an idealistic desire persists and becomes a reality, like it did for long-time Shaker residents Linda Rae and Drew Hertz.
In 1989, Rae and Hertz, a Shaker Heights High School graduate, were both studying at Case Western Reserve University – Rae, working on her master’s in electrical engineering, and Hertz, attending medical school – when they found a rental on the second story of a house on Chagrin Boulevard. Money was tight and the owner was sympathetic.
“He told us that someone rented him a nice apartment at a decent rent when he was young and he always wanted to do the same,” explains Rae, now 50 and a worldwide commercial president at Tektronix in Solon.
Rae and Hertz lived in the apartment for six years. And the kindness of their landlord left an impression.
“We thought we’d like to do the same thing,” says Rae. “We always thought we’d get a rental property and try to pay it forward and rent to students. We wanted to give someone a nice place to live with a decent rent in Shaker.”
The notion stayed with Rae and Hertz as they moved to a home on Sherrington Road and then to Brighton Road, where they live now. Then the convergence of need and opportunity presented itself in the summer of 2014, when they became the owners of a well-appointed two-family rental on Newell Road in Lomond.
The first tenants didn’t exactly fit the budget-conscious student model Rae and Hertz dreamed of 25 years ago.
But sometimes, there are exceptions worth making -especially when renters are a known quantity. Turns out Rae knows the renters of the upper floors of the home all too well: they’re her mother, Joy Borland, 73, and Shaker native Richard Mantel, 74.
Borland recalls her daughter sharing her pay-it-forward idea when she first moved to Shaker Heights from Florida in 1995, when Rae and Hertz’s first child was born. Borland didn’t give it more than a passing thought – after all, she was busy with her new life as a doting grandmother and continuing her work in retrospective media conversion (in layman’s terms that means converting library card catalogs to machine-readable media files). She became involved in local theater, acting in independent films, and then, working as a theater instructor at Cuyahoga Community College, which she does today.
At the time, Borland lived in a condo at The Barclay on Van Aken Boulevard, eventually sharing the space with Mantel after the couple met five years ago. Soon the condo began to feel crowded and by 2014, Borland and Mantel found themselves wanting more space.
Rae and Hertz, now a pediatrician, decided that it was time to start shopping for that two-family with Borland and Mantel in mind as tenants. The two-family house on Newell had been empty for a while, but both Rae and Borland could see the house was “the one” as soon as they walked in.
Step inside the second story entrance of the home and it’s easy to understand why. Even before renovations, the door opened to a large, open living space with a vaulted ceiling and details throughout. Beautiful wrought iron rails still graced the staircase leading to the third floor and the balcony overlooking the living room. All of the trim revealed intricate carving – on the built-in bookshelves, the fireplace mantel, and on the ceiling.
Good Bones and Beautiful Detail
Borland was smitten with the layout. Rae liked that it had “good bones.”
So the mother-daughter duo made a deal: Rae and Hertz would buy the home for $144,750 and Borland and Mantel would become tenants.
As soon as they took possession of the house, renovations began. Rae estimates she and her husband spent close to $100,000 turning the house into a quality rental, not just for her mother, but for a future downstairs tenant, too. Contractors refinished the floors, painted, knocked out a wall between the dining room and the kitchen in both units (a decision that opened up the airy spaces even more), hung new front doors, and installed new appliances, including a new furnace.
When it was done, Borland felt like she’d come home. “I just love the look of these rooms,” she says, rocking in the chair placed near what she and Mantel call the “Andrew Wyeth corner,” named for the “Lady of the House” print by the American realist painter that rests on an easel. “It’s a very gracious home with some beautiful detail. I love the neighborhood and we’re walkers, so we go to Gridley Park, to Fresh Market, to Heinen’s. It’s a very good place for us,” says Borland.
Mantel, a graphic designer and former illustrator of album covers, admires the transformation of the home, too. “No one builds homes like these anymore. This just grabs you.”
Borland and Mantel are quick to dispel any concerns over the fact that they have chosen to live on the second floor – a move many their age and older might find unappealing. “Some of my friends would ask me, ‘How are you going to be going up and down those stairs all of the time?’ I just told them it wasn’t going to be a problem,” she says. “The first few weeks, yes, we could feel it in our legs, but now our legs are stronger.”
The Finishing Touches
While the renovations to the Newell home initiated its metamorphosis, the furnishings and decor by Borland and Mantel are what gave the space a new life. Borland, a lover of books and libraries, uses a 36-drawer card catalog as a dining room buffet. She also has an old library magazine rack storing books in the loft overlooking the living room.
Mantel’s artwork hangs from the living room walls. His Grammy, won in 1968 for his art direction on the album cover for “Underground” by Thelonious Monk, is nestled among antique toys and family photos on a built-in shelf.
“I just love the look of these rooms. It’s a very gracious home with some beautiful detail.”
Borland and Mantel enjoy quiet nights on the back porch, where there’s comfortable seating in outdoor chairs and in a hanging pod chair. The master bedroom and the “insomnia room” – with its exercise equipment, two comfortable chairs, and a small television – are off the hallway adjacent to the front door.
Upstairs are a guest bedroom, a reading room, and office space for the couple. The rehnished floors are a dark wood marbled by a warm yellow grain. An original woodworking detail on the third floor loft wall mimics the look of Borland’s card catalog in the dining room below.
“Sometimes, I just sit in the rocking chair and think what a great place this is for us to be. We’re so grateful to Linda and Drew for providing the house and doing all the renovations,” Joy says. Mantel agrees. “We’re both in a better place than we were a few years ago.”
Back to Paying It Back…
Although the first floor apartment sat vacant for a few months, it wasn’t long before Rae and Hertz found the tenants they were looking for all along.
Last October, they welcomed 20-somethings Liz and Alex into the hrst floor space. Rae and Hertz knew the young couple because they had been renting Borland’s former unit at The Barclay. When Borland moved out, Rae and Hertz purchased the Barclay unit and intend to give it a facelift, much like the Newell home. Once the Barclay renovations are done, Rae and Hertz will seek another tenant to pay it forward.
While owning multiple properties anywhere might be overwhelming for some, Rae shakes her head and disagrees. Rae and Hertz’s Brighton Road home, the Newell Road multi-family home, and the Barclay condo are just Rae’s way of showing she believes in Shaker.
“One of Shaker’s greatest assets is its housing stock. It’s such a unique community,” she says. “We look at it as an investment in the community and an investment in one of the things that makes the community so special.”
Originally published in Shaker Life, Winter 2016.
Landlord Resources in Shaker
Purchasing a multi-family home in Shaker as an investment/rental property? Consider reaching out to the City’s Housing Programs Specialist Sharra Thomas, 216-491-1434. She can provide you with information on landlord training and can help you access valuable tenant screening resources.