Rental Dementia: No Expectations

Written by Brian Carter on . Posted in Opinion and Column, Posts.

My last appointment of the day turned out to be a big jovial Irishman who loved to talk. As he went through what seemed his entire history, I stood in the increasingly dark and empty apartment, looking out of the large windows. Three stories below, the clock-watchers were already hurrying home. It was just after 5 o’clock and without any plans for the evening, I didn’t mind listening. He told an interesting story, and although it would have been better over a beer, I wasn’t about to rush him. He seemed sincerely interested in the unit, and he should have been. It was everything he wanted: an alcove studio, doorman, elevator, new kitchen, in a great neighborhood with plenty of amenities and a hundred bucks under his limit. But that’s the bitch of this business. What they say they want, and what they eventually rent is rarely the same apartment. You just never know, and you can’t trust a goddamned thing they tell you.

I’ve heard, “I love it, I’ll take it,” a thousand times only to have my emails blocked a day later. I’ve had people cancel a lease signing an hour before going to the table. “Clients” routinely re-schedule appointments, or don’t show up for them at all. On the promise of a check coming by the end of the day, I’ve skipped back to the office and waited for hours. It never seems to make it. First you get smart, and then you get jaded. In other words, you can’t ever get your hopes up, and absolutely nothing is certain until every last check clears. Like a budding Buddhist I’ve learned to expect nothing, and say, “Om,” to the approaching emptiness.

I didn’t know what direction this guy was headed in, the share in Hoboken, the no-fee place on Worth and Broadway, or with any luck, the apartment we were standing in. As he weighed his options, he kept coming back to the same story. It was all about starting his job as a trader without a great education, about building from the ground up, and how his humble beginnings shaped who he was today. No matter what subject I tossed him, whether great restaurants, pets, the value of a doorman, or grimy strip clubs near Wall Street, it all seemed to come back to growing up the son of a cop in Brooklyn. Somehow his history was making this decision all the more difficult.

Where he came from, to spend over $2200 a month on rent was criminal, a waste of money and akin to showing off. In his old neighborhood the difference between need and want was no laughing matter. Ruled by need, wants were the fodder of other fanciful people. In other words, if you didn’t need it, you never thought of it, because there would never be a good enough reason to consider anything beyond your endless list of unmet needs. It was a simple and perhaps outdated view of the world, especially when you were still young and designing a future in Manhattan, where everything you wanted was readily available. The question was not could be afford it, but rather, did he need everything that came along with it.

It’s these brief encounters with total strangers that often make the job engaging. Normally it’s an overblown sense of entitlement that kills a deal. It’s the litany of unrealistic expectations that make it so frustrating. $3,000 a month is a lot of money … just not for an apartment in Manhattan. They expect them to be larger, closer to the subway, with better appliances, on a better block and in a better neighborhood. It’s out there. They just can’t afford their wish list.
The more they spend, the more they expect. But I’ve seen the same reaction from mogul and student to $1,600 a month studios and $8,000 a month lofts. “Is this all I get for my money?” And yet here was a guy saying, “I’m not sure I need all of this.”

What you think you deserve, what you expect to get, and what you are willing to settle for makes all the difference in the rental market.

And so I listened to his stories and watched as his internal debate revealed its conflict all over his large and perplexed face. He’d look out at the view, marvel at the beautiful women on the street and shake his head before asking again what exactly he would need upfront. Over and over he’d say he could afford it, it was just …, and then shake his head and stare again through the window.

We shook hands on the street, but then realized we were taking the same train back to Brooklyn. I didn’t say another word about the apartment, or the neighborhood, or anything related to business. If he wanted it, he’d call, and I certainly didn’t expect him to rent the first and only apartment I showed him. That would be silly. I learned a long time ago, not to expect much from this business.