Adventures in real estate, part 1: the broker from hell
My ex-boyfriend G and I have co-owned a one bedroom coop in lower Manhattan for the past 15 years. At long last, we put the place up on the market this past fall. Despite all the talk of a bursting "real estate bubble," after a few nail-biting months we found a buyer who came reaasonably close to our asking price, and we're all set to close on March 1st.
Though I've already chosen my new dream home in the Bronx near my current boyfriend and will go into contract this week, G-d willing, G is still searching. Time is of the essence--if he's not secured in a new place pronto, he'll have to hang at his sister's house in New Jersey while he continues looking.
This past year, G was diagnosed with myotonic dystrophy — a rare, congenital form of adult muscular dystrophy. His doctor told him he might not live past 65 and would probably need a wheelchair down the line. His condition is already starting to deteriorate — his manual dexterity is very bad and he has fallen many times because the disease affects his gait. He's now on social security disability, so his income is modest though sufficient to buy a place between 100K and 140K, tops. Maintenance has to be reasonable too, and the apartment must be wheelchair accessible, close to shopping and buses, and at least as roomy as our 800 square foot place in case he has to maneuver with a wheelchair down the line.
One would think that with the potential 5 or 6 percent commission to be made in a now-slower market that real estate brokers would be jumping at the chance to show G places, but some have been bewilderingly slow toeven return calls. So it was a refreshing change of pace when I responded to an ad for a place in Yonkers--just north of the Bronx and the city line--and the broker responded promptly and proactively to my inquiry. The adlooked promising, and the photos looked good, so we scheduled an appointment to see the place last Sunday through the broker, Debby Frank of Century 21.
Debby told me that since at least one offer was already in the works, we'd best see the place or another like it ASAP since units, though somewhat plentiful, went fast. But when I explained the wheelchair access requirement, she said it wouldn't be right for G since it was on a hill. (Later, looking again at the ad, I saw no evidence of any stairs, obstructions, or hills - and with a power chair, G would probably be able to maneuver just fine. Plus, the fact that the alternate URL for the ad included the word "teasers" might have meant something fishy was up, though perhaps I'm just being too jaded.)
Nevertheless, she assured me she had lots of other nearby units similar in size and price range to show us. Although she seemed very proactive and responsive—good signs in a profession where some brokers are deadbeats just sitting back and waiting for the commissions to roll in, which plenty did during the recent real-estate boom — I soon found she was rather
condescending and more than a little ditzy.
Despite leaving her a message earlier that morning to try and set up a time to meet, by the time Debby called me back to confirm at around 11 am she insisted on meeting between 1 and 1:30 in the afternoon (somehow she couldn't narrow it down to a more specific time, but called my boyfriend's at 1 pm to find out why I wasn't there yet). G had to rush out the door and take a two-hour bus and subway ride to get there, which is tough on him because stairs are already posing problems. (When we met the week before to see a place not far from my boyfriend's Bronx place, it took him him two and a half hours by bus and train, followed by a long walk to the place during which he fell several times.) I arrived at about 1:15, and Debby wasted no time in whisking us off to the first place she wanted us to see.
The woman looked to be thirty-something and appeared to be a typical suburban JAP, or Jewish American Princess. (Since I'm Jewish, I'm allowed to say that, and was pretty sure my Jew-dar was in good working order.) She'd lived in Westchester with her husband and children for the past 20 years. I'd imagined she took up real estate--a favored option for many a bored housewife with teenage kids-- to supplement her hubby's (probably) substantial income.
Procuring a real estate licence in New York is not too tough, though that may be changing now due to a recent push for more stringent professional requrements. As it stands, becoming a broker seemed to be, as the Geico commercial went, "so simple even a caveman could do it"--- and from all I'd read, passing the license exam was not terribly challenging.
My first hint that the woman wasn't quite "right" was when, after commenting on the proximity of the complex to such fast food places as Dunkin' Donuts, she expressed surprise that pizza was high in fat and admitted that she and her family practically lived off the stuff. So much for informed motherhood.
Things just got progressively worse as we drove down the highway and I quickly realized that we weren't in Kansas — or rather New York City — anymore. The 'hood was exactly the kind of strip mall monstrosity we both thoroughly loathed, but the real fun began when she showed us the first place on her list--the ground floor unit of a two-story garden apartment which had several steps leading up to the front door. This, after I'd told her over and over that G had to have wheelchair access in case he was chair-bound down the road. The apartment seemed cramped and the view depressing--and the toilet didn't work.
The second prospect was a high rise, but when we realized this involved steps to the front door as well as some in the lobby, she shit-canned that idea and we went on to the third. This was also a high rise complex. No steps this time, but the one and only elevator bank was out (most better coops have two), though they were in the midst of repairing it. Luckily the unit was on the second floor, so we schlepped up the one flight and after some impressive fumbling with the lock she showed us inside.
Though I'd specified repeatedly that G both wanted and needed 750 to 800 square feet minimum, this dump looked to be 650 tops and featured charming view of a fire escape in the bedroom. G got out his tape measure and quickly realized there was no way this was gonna work. The broker quickly tried to "get creative" by suggesting he could always put some of his living room furniture into the bedroom, and implying that the size was only off by fifty square feet at the most.
G joked that he could always suspend his sofa from the ceiling, but she didn't seem to enjoy his good-natured attempt at a bit of real-estate humor. She also kept asking when G's doctor had said he might need a wheelchair. This mystified me until I figured out her probable angle, which I've elaborated on in the e-mail below.
In short, the meeting was a total time-waster for all involved and left a bitter taste in my mouth concerning the moral bankruptcy of bad real estate brokers in particular, and humanity's perpetual greed and dishonesty in general.
I'm a big believer in karma, and when Debby prattled on about how she was going to give her car to her son after he got his license — but not before he got lots of lessons — I couldn't help but envision her precious child in a DWI down the road. Not that I'd want it to happen, but I've found that sooner or later, bad things do happen to bad people.
She also had no clue about our Lower East Side Manhattan 'hood, but mentioned that her parents (and thus, I assume, she) used to live in Coop City in the Bronx before moving to Florida. I concluded that she was probably one of those folks who live an hour's ride or less from the "city" (or, as the ad said, 25 minutes), but almost never ventured there.
Most likely, I mused, she was deathly afraid of having any contact with "colored folk." My suspicions seemed confirmed when I asked about the safety of the 'hood and she reassured me by saying: "But of course, this is Westchester!" She probably assumed that we were desperate to leave the melting pot of Manhattan for whiter pastures up yonder, no matter how small and depressing the quarters might be. Never mind, Debby dahling.you couldn't pay me enough to live in your seemingly lily-white, strip mall-infested, gilded suburban ghetto.
After a depressing evening spent ruminating on the darker side of humanity,, I decided to dash off an email to Debby in the wee hours of Monday morning, and forwarded it to G as well. It's pretty self-explanatory.
Forward: RE: Our meeting yesterday.
"I just sent this to Debby the Ditz. I just couldn't resist. I know it's unwise to burn one's bridges, but hers is one bridge I never intend to cross again - unless we go through with our plan to go back someday to run her down and power-chair her sorry ass into oblivion." (Just a joke, folks.)
To: Debby at Century 21
RE: Our meeting yesterday
"After our meet-up yesterday, I feel compelled to tell you that I was extremely disappointed. It was a total waste of time for you, me, and G, and involved a two-plus hour subway ride, which is bad enough considering he already has problems maneuvering stairs.
I'll try to be mercifully brief:
After giving G and I very little notice — and after I'd tried to contact you at least once earlier in theday to confirm time and place — you were miffed at the fact that I did not arrive at 1 pm sharp when you yourself could not seem to commit to a definite time, but instead insisted on saying 1-1:30. Is your time so much more valuable than ours?
After going over G's financials again and again with you in painstaking detail, I thought we were on the same page. Basically, G would be able to afford his monthly expenses... .and if not, all sorts of fail-safe measures would be in place so he could always pay his maintenance. After all that, you still kvetched about 'stupid' members of the board who just wouldn't 'get
it.' All I can say is if the board members are that clueless, I wouldn't want to live in their development in the first place. It doesn't bode well for their management style.
After chastising me for reminding you that G needed wheelchair access, the very first place you showed us had steps leading up to the building. In general, your condescending attitude and reluctance to listen instead of talk over me was disconcerting to say the least.
Why did you so tactlessly inquire as to when exactly G would be confined to a wheelchair? Was it perhaps to try to convince us that this could be a 'starter home' for G, and that if and when he needed wheelchair access he could always move again?
After leading me to believe that the apts you would be showing me would be 800 square feet and up, I quickly found that this was not at all true. Aside from the fact that G would like more space (just because who wouldn't), he would have considerable difficulty maneuvering around in such a cramped space in a wheelchair. He would likely not be able to access the kitchen, and the hallways and foyers were narrow as well.
I'm sure that with all your years of experience, you knew good and well that the square footage was much less. Looked to be 650 at most - certainly more than a foot or two off, or even 50. The apt I am buying was advertised as 750 square feet right up front, to avoid wasting everyone's time — and I didn't need a measuring tape to confirm this. We've lived in an 800 square foot space for 15 years, and we're not blind —nor were we born yesterday.
The neighborhood and complex were also drab and depressing. We are city folk, and we were not interested in a low-rent version of the 'burbs. Asking G if he had a car after all I'd told you — including the fact that we don't — seemed a tad bizarre to me.
know you've been in the business awhile, but I also know that there are all levels of real estate brokers. Some put the bottom line first at all costs, and some have compassion and insight.
Tell me: would you live there? Would you want your parents to?
Was the ad I originally saw just a come-on? If so, that's reprehensible.
I'm sure you're very successful and you certainly don't need to make another sale based on dishonesty. As I said, it was a total waste of everyone's time.
In a word: what were you thinking?
No reply is expected or desired; just food for thought."
They say revenge is a dish best served cold. However, in this case, I'll take mine piping hot and still steaming. Who knows; maybe Debby will get fired, go back home to her probably one-mill plus mansion, and learn how to cook her kids a decent meal in the interest of their cholesterol levels at the very least.
In addition to posting this on my personal blogs and cross-posting in on Blogcritics Magazine, where I do a feature series entitled"New York Stories," I also left a comment over at my favorite snarky New York real estate blog Curbed, but this kind of routine fleece job is undoubtedly so rampant that the world-weary, jaded Curbed editors and readers probably found it a total bore.
Nevertheless, verily I say unto you:
Let the unscrupulous, greedy, money grubbing, dishonest broker beware: Hell hath no fury like a native New Yorker taken for a chump.