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Gimme Shelter Hardcover – March 3, 2009

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Williams, a freelance journalist, provides a blow-by-blow account of the recent inflation of the real estate bubble and its economic—and emotional—impact on middle-class families like her own. The author paints a vivid picture of the crisis in New York City, where even with a housing budget of $400,000, she and her husband found only properties that provided less than 1,000 square feet of living space or were located under bridges or facing expressways or were in dire need of six-figure renovation. She provides cogent explanations of the recent financial crisis and foreshadows its still-developing repercussions, given that she is one of the millions who signed onto an Alt-A (not quite prime) mortgage. Her family's search for a home and their journey through the mire of the New York real estate market rises to affecting heights and is a compelling, clearly written story that will interest anyone seeking a personal perspective on the causes, depth and long-term consequences of the financial crisis and the ramifications of past and current policy decisions. (Mar.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* Williams had a young daughter and was considering having another child when the tinyness of the family’s Brooklyn apartment, the pressure of the New York housing market, and the house-hunting and -buying activities of friends all brought to a fever pitch her own desire to take the plunge into home ownership. Over a three-year period that included the birth of a second daughter, Williams discovered the alarming pace of gentrification in New York, the maddening inverse relationship between home price and mortgage rate (when one was rising, the other was falling), the dizzying array of elements that go into buying a home (from finicky co-op boards to snippy real-estate brokers and lenders), and the widening gap between those who can and do own their homes and those who don’t. Loath to leave their beloved Brooklyn, Williams and her husband looked further and further afield, pondering the similar moves their friends were making across the nation. In this engaging and personal look at the home-buying process, Williams takes the reader on an emotional roller coaster of fear and envy as she illuminates some of the market pressures that lie behind the nation’s current financial crisis. --Vanessa Bush

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1 edition (March 3, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1416557083
  • ISBN-13: 978-1416557081
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,835,560 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

62 of 72 people found the following review helpful By Alexandra Henshel VINE VOICE on March 9, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Gimme Shelter: Ugly Houses, Cruddy Neighborhoods, Fast-Talking Brokers and Toxic Mortgages: My Three Years Searching For The American Dream is the whole overblown title, which promises much more than is delivered in this surprisingly weightless book.

For 310 pages, Williams moans with the dreadfully self-conscious tone of the plagued priviliged, and it is not a pretty sound.

The book is not, as implied, a look at the greater collapse of the American housing industry or what have you- it is a great whine about how she (freelance writer for publications such as Salon) and her husband Jeff (on-and-off employed copy editor) couldn't afford to buy in Brooklyn's Carrol Gardens during the housing boom.

Considering that they had lived there for years before prices skyrocketed, it seems rather sour grapes of her how much she bitches and squeaks about those friends of theirs who did buy early and made mad money from their foresight, and what she has to say about those dreadful new rich people who priced her out of what she clearly felt was rightfully her cool neighborhood- well, you can practically see her stamping her little feet.

She did have the grace to realize, close to the end of the book, that what she and Jeff were doing by buying and tarting up a place in way way uptown Manhattan (Inwood) was the same thing the wealthy were doing in Carroll Gardens- gentrification, lady. The rock stars priced you out of your neighborhood, now you're doing it to the residents of Inwood Park, the immigrants and the elderly.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Someone Like You on July 11, 2009
Format: Hardcover
MBW can definitely write. There are some phrases in this book that made me laugh out loud. Like..."It's half-past get the BLEEP out of here" and "Once you get above 125th street it's all spanking and cockfighting, which is not as good as that might initially sound." And, the idea for the book is a good one: what's it like to be a middle-income (truly middle-income) family of 4 in search of affordable housing in New York City? It's a quick read but ultimately the book collapses under a mountain of minutia (I had lunch here, I told my husband this, my kid did this, it was sunny, it was cloudy), platitudes about New York and a sophmoric paint-by-numbers structure that goes something like this: 2 pages detailing her real estate or other neurosis-of-the-day, 3 pages on her search, a sentence or two of stats, a dash of sarcasm and then a quick annecdote about a friend's real estate quest. These annecdotes are interesting at first but by the 15th they blend together into meaningless uniformity: JL and BK loved New York, left New York and now live somewhere else, pay less and love it. Repeat.

Buy it used in paperback on Amsterdam and read it on a bumpy flight to Vegas.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Paula Span on March 17, 2009
Format: Hardcover
The yearning for a nest -- including a bedroom with a door -- is universal, but this enjoyable book is very specific. Instead of trudging through a national survey of how the real estate market overheated, we follow one middle class working woman and her family as they struggle to find a modest apartment for what is, in almost any other part of the country, a ridiculous sum. You'll laugh; you'll cry...
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Diane VINE VOICE on May 18, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Mary Elizabeth Williams, her husband and two daughters's search for a home in New York City is recounted in Gimme Shelter- Ugly Houses, Cruddy Neighborhoods, Fast-talking Brokers, and Toxic Mortgages: My Three Years Searching for the American Dream.

Timing is everything, and Mary Elizabeth and her husband started their search in 2003,at the height of the home buying insanity. After living in a cramped apartment with one daughter and another on the way, she convinced her husband it was time to look for a home of their own.

If there is anything harder than finding an affordable rental unit in NYC, it's finding an affordable condo, co-op or home to buy. Williams places her story in the perspective of the national experience. Many of her friends were buying homes across the country, and she tells their different stories- from San Francisco to post-Katrina New Orleans to St. Louis to Minnesota.

Williams and her husband lived in Brooklyn, and they loved it there, so it was there that their search began. She figured they could afford a $350,000 mortgage, but everything in that price range was awful, filthy with missing stairs, sagging porches and a home that had mushrooms growing inside the house.

Brooklyn was becoming as expensive as Manhattan, as Manhattanites were spreading over the bridge and making real estate prices skyrocket. Getting a mortgage was a scary proposition as well. While Williams and her husband had excellent FICO scores, they did not have the 20% required for a down payment.

No problem; this is where the creative ideas of mortgage brokers come in. They could get a no-doc loan.
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