Having resided in an 800 square foot Lower East Side Manhattan coop for 15 years, my ex-boyfriend G and I have at long last decided to sell, split the proceeds, and each get a place in one of the outer boroughs, since Manhattan would be out of the question based on what we’d each have left to work with after a 17 1/2 percent flip tax and broker’s and attorney’s fees.
After about two months on the market, we found a buyer who agreed to pay 450K–30K less than our asking price, but a fair deal nonetheless, especially since we’d purchased it for a whopping eight thousand dollars free and clear. Though our particular building only dated from the early sixties, the older buildings in the complex were originally designed, if memory serves, in the 1930s or ’40s and were specifically tailor-made for working and middle class folks longing to own a little slice of the American dream pie via a spacious Manhattan apartment at a modest cost.
A few years after we bought in, the Board of Directors elected to go “private,” and prices were soon brought up to market rate – steep, but still a bargain for Manhattan. This, by the way, is happening all over the borough – to the point where lower and middle class housing in Manhattan and even Brooklyn is rapidly becoming as extinct as the T-Rex.
We will close on the downtown place on March 1st. I’ve already picked out a new one-bedroom Bronx coop, and hope to close on that a day or two after. G is still looking around and experiencing a bit of frustration, since if he doesn’t get a place within the next three weeks or so, he’ll have to stay with his sister indefinitely,
Perhaps a little more backstory is in order here. After working in the same office for 15 years, G became ill and now receives a modest income from social security disability. Nevertheless, his credit score is decent enough and he could cover his expenses with some left over each month, if his monthly maintenance was 500 dollars or less. He’s already received two pre-approvals from two mortgage brokers — the only hurdle would be to convince the coop board of the apartment he chose that he would never default on his maintenance payments.
G and his sister had met a month earlier with their financial adviser, who devised a plan to augment G’s modest disability income. He would take out a 100K mortgage, and take 100K cash from the sales proceeds of our old place and dump it in a high yield (10 percent or more) Fidelity trust fund. His monthly mortgage would be paid from the trust automatically. This would leave him with ample funds to cover his monthly expenses with a few hundred left over. In emergencies, he could draw interest from the trust, which would count as additional income in any case.
Although the trust plan was theoretical until he closed on a place, his sister could co-sign as a guarantor for the mortgage and/or maintenance payments if need be. We had a letter from our management company to the effect that we had paid our maintenance on time for the past 15 years without fail, and G’s financial advisor could put together a report on the prior ten year’s performance on the Fidelity trust they selected. With his $160,000 proceeds from the sale of our place, he would put down a maximum of 40K as down payment and take out a 100K mortgage. His price range would be 100K-140K, and he was looking for a place at least as large as our old one.
This past year, G was diagnosed with myotonic dystrophy — a rare, congenital form of adult muscular dystrophy. His doctor told him he would probably not live past 65 and, in all likelihood, would eventually be confined to a wheelchair. 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.
I’ve been scouring Bronx coop apartment listings for G for the past few months, as well as helping him prepare materials for mortgage brokers. Since I know the ‘hood well, it seemed like a wise idea, and I wanted to give him the opportunity of a second opinion. So far, I’ve accompanied him to one showing in the Bronx. That one got screwed up because it took G two and a half hours to find the place and take a bus and one or two trains to get there. I was late too due to a snafu at the ATM machine.
Nevertheless, we chatted with the super (who told us the unit was overpriced) and a friendly resident who gave us the lowdown on the building and neighborhood. The super gave us his number and offered to arrange for us to see the place at a later time. Although I’d left several voice mails for the broker — courtesy of the super’s wife, since I didn’t then have a cell phone at the time — we never heard from him again, save for one message on G’s machine when he returned home saying that he’d been waiting for us for ten minutes.
Meanwhile, I’d continued to send G new listings as I saw them online, and came upon an ad for a 900 square foot one bedroom in Yonkers for 139K, supposedly with a large balcony and pool. Yonkers, NY lies on the northern border of the Bronx, and is part of the wealthy suburb of Westchester. Though it was near the maximum of G’s price range, and was not in New York City proper, it looked like a fabulous deal on paper (or rather, on screen).
Here, take a look: NOTE: HOLY SHIT! As I was adding the URL for this listing, I took a good look and noticed that part of the URL actually said “teaser.” Here’s part of the URL, with teasers (my edit) in all caps: http://www.century21.com/buy/property_detail.aspx?TEASERS=property-detail-pic+Property+Detail
Although we both think the ‘burbs are a nice place to visit, we’re both city people to the core. However, the photos looked great, the size was larger than our old place by 100 square feet, and the maintenance was reasonable. Moreover, the ad proclaimed easy access to local shops as well as Manhattan via express bus, so I contacted the broker, one Debby Frankat, Century 21 Woolf of Yonkers, NY (yes, I’m outing her here in the interests of justice and moral decency) for a showing.
She told me that at least one bid was already coming in, so we’d best see it ASAP. When I explained the wheelchair access factor, 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 this just fine anyway.
Nevertheless, she assured me she had lots of others similar in size and price range to show me in a number of coop complexes nearby. 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 not all that bright.
In any case, we met up with her yesterday. G had to take a two-hour subway ride to get there, which is tough on him because stairs are already posing problems. (While trying to find the first place we saw the week before, it took him two and a half hours by subway, followed by a long walk during which he fell several times.)
The woman looked to be thirty-something – what I would classify as a typical suburban JAP, or Jewish American Princess. (Since I’m Jewish, I’m allowed to say that.) She’d lived in Westchester with her husband and their teenage children for the past 20 years. I’d imagined she took up real estate to supplement her hubby’s undoubtedly substantial income, which many a bored housewife tends to gravitate to once the kids get older.
For one thing, as the Geico commercial goes, it’s so simple even a caveman could do it – and passing the license exam is not terribly challenging. There’s been a recent push to add more requirements for obtaining a real estate license, since in its present form it’s rather poorly regulated and prerequisites are minimal.
We met up at 1:15 and she started driving us around. My first hint that the woman wasn’t too bright 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: the ground floor of a two-unit garden apartment which had several steps leading up to the front door. This, after I told her over and over that G had to have wheelchair access in case he was chair-bound down the road. It was small and 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 place. 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). They were in the midst of repairing it.
Though I’d specified repeatedly that G both wanted and needed 750-800 square feet or larger — in other words, at least the size of our old place or close to it — this looked to be 650, tops. G got out his tape measurer and realized there was no way this was gonna work. The broker then tried to bamboozle us, 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 – a total lie, and she knew it, or else she was as stupid as she looked.
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 angle, which I’ve mentioned 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 about the moral bankruptcy of bad real estate brokers, in particular, and humanity and its endless greed and dishonesty in general. I’m a big believer in karma, and when she prattled on about how she was going to give her car to her oldest after he got his license — stressing that he would have lots of lessons — I couldn’t help but envision her precious son 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 the Lower East Side of Manhattan, but said her parents (and thus, I assume, she) used to live in Coop City in the Bronx before moving to Florida. In other words, she was probably one of those folk who live an hour’s ride or less from the “city” (or, as the ad said, 40 minutes, or was it twenty?), but never goes there.
She’s probably deathly afraid of having any contact with “colored folk,” and when I asked about the safety of the ‘hood, she reassured me by saying: “But of course, this is Westchester!” Never mind, Debby darling. You couldn’t pay me enough to live in your allegedly lily-white, strip mall-infested, gilded suburban ghetto.
So I decided to dash off an email to her and forwarded it to G as well. It’s pretty self-explanatory. To: G From: Elvira 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 to oblivion.” (Just a joke, folks.)
To: Debby at Century 21 From: Elvira 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 the day 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 without touching the trust, 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. I 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. I will be sending out emails to snarky NYC real estate websites and blogs such as Curbed, who eat this kind of stuff for breakfast, to see if they’d like to post a link.
Though my two personal blogs have only a modest amount of visitors, Blogcritics has millions, and Curbed has many as well. Who knows; maybe Debby will get fired, go back home to her doubtless two-mil mansion, and learn how to cook her kids a decent meal in the interest of their cholesterol levels at the very least.
Let the unscrupulous, greedy, money grubbing, dishonest broker beware: Hell hath no fury like a native New Yorker taken for a chump.