Len Usvyat is a city planner – working in New York and commuting from his home in Philadelphia. He talks rehab (of his old house!) and the smackers it takes to remodel historically significant homes.

1. How did you get interested in city planning?  What do you love about cities?
I think I needed a career switch or another degree or something like that. My good friend is a city planner and I always enjoyed hearing about it. So I thought I could go to school for finance (my background is in accounting) or something much more interesting like city planning. Of course, what’s there not to love about cities?! They are perfect for attention-deficit-disorder people like myself.

2. You bought a house in Philadelphia after living in NYC for years. How did you finance your home? savings? loan?
I was fortunate to buy the house during the times when the banks were giving out loans to everyone… so, we hardly put down anything when we bought the house.

3. How do you manage the costs of remodeling an old house?  Did you seek out many referrals from general contractors?
Those costs are tough. Particularly, because you could really get a return on your buck if you do things yourself. The drawback of doing things yourself is that you HAVE TO DO IT YOURSELF. And, after a while, you get really tired working on the house… Philadelphia does have some really good programs for people who want to remodel their houses.

My boyfriend Chris is excellent at searching around for referrals, so we have been pretty lucky although we had some odd ones come in. In the era of internet blogs, it’s pretty easy though to find decent contractors; one thing I have to say, I should have never trusted by initial judgment – some of our best contractors ended up being guys who scared the hell out of me at start.

4. Do you have any tips to share with other people who are rehabbing a turn of the last century house?
Unless you love history, buy an apartment. And, if you do appreciate history, contact me (at a small fee, of course). In all seriousness, there is a lot and a lot of beauty in old houses. And, they were built like a rock! Our house is 160 years old and to this day it amazes me how solid it was built. Not to mention, they used to do everything by hand!

5. How do you save money while commuting between New York and Philadelphia?
I work for a company in NYC, so they generally cover the commute costs. And, nowadays, there are so many nice options – other than the usual suspects of Amtrak, NJTransit/SEPTA, Chinatown buses, there are also Boltbus and Megabus. Philly to NYC for a buck!

6. Do you and your partner always see eye-to-eye on finances?
Finances are a pain, particularly when you are spending lots of dough on house renovations. We don’t always see eye-to-eye but we’ve survived.

7. When you were a kid, did you get an allowance?  What would you buy?
I grew up in mother Russia – there were no allowances at the time. But if I did, I’d buy foreign gum. YES, foreign chewing gum. I think when I was growing up, there was some obsession in Russian kids for foreign chewing gum.

8. What is the one personal item that you always splurge on?

Going out for drinks and travel (and taxis).

9. What is one thing that you feel is always overpriced?
Tuition. WAY overpriced.

10. If money can’t buy happiness, what can it it buy?
Stuff and lots of stuff. Stuff that may appear to substitute for happiness.

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Read other Queercents interviews in the Ten Money Questions archive.