Rental Dementia: The Last One Bedroom in Dumbo


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New construction condos were once again flying into contract, and if I didn’t get my shit together, another frothy wave of commission checks would pass, while I splashed around in the flat bath water of the rental market.


I was still reconfiguring a New Years resolution when the phones returned to ringing and the emails started popping in my inbox like spam for phony Viagra. These were seasoned and smart buyers too, the types who’ve seen everything on the market. I simply couldn’t show them anything new. Most had already done the tour months earlier, and were only now suiting up for another round of “buy the white box.” But this time they were serious.

Speculation as to why all of a sudden buyers began flooding open houses with checkbooks, calm hands and a fair amount of certitude is anyone’s guess. The Wall Street bonus theory is worn thin in my opinion, and I can safely say it wasn’t only the finance folk doing the buying. For every $1.5 million call, I got another on a sponsor unit for under $500,000. That’s not bonus money on the other end. Spencer wasn’t blowing his bonus, but then again he didn’t call. He walked right in off the street.

He had noticed a few pictures in the window and had wandered into our little office late one night. He was looking in the neighborhood and could spend around $3,000 a month. Not a bad client. We were discussing different options, when he first mentioned his initial interest in perhaps purchasing an apartment. He had even talked it over with his folks, and they’d lay out the down payment, if he could cover the mortgage. Interesting.

You don’t ever want to come off as a desperate real estate agent. Pathetic, pushy and grasping is no way to go through life. On the other hand, there are moments when you have to step up and put your ego aside—the moments that insist you were meant for more—and do your job. I grabbed a calculator and showed him what he would pay in rent over the next five years at $3,000 a month. $180,000. And then I started in about new construction. I even knew of a smart little neighborhood across the great divide we affectionately call Dumbo, where I thought he’d be more than happy.

So new was he to New York, he didn’t know Dumbo from Dyker Heights. No easy sale, as he was committed—like most newcomers—to Manhattan. Shit, he wasn’t even sure he wanted to buy a place yet. For all of my talking, guiding, rationalizing, educating and explaining, he left the office with a shrug and all I had to show for my effort was an email address. I sent a few listings before heading home.

A week later I got my response. He had thought it over and was now committed to buying instead of renting. When could we start looking? You can’t tell me 90 percent of this business isn’t dumb luck.

A few nights later we headed straight to Dumbo. The on-sight took one look at my young buyer and gave us a mild brush off. A month ago, they would have given us a foot massage to get us to look at their building, but now they were once again in the cavalier mode of sizing up the shoppers. Though after nine units sold in the past weekend, they could afford to be confident.

As the other shoe is always falling and gaining momentum in this business, I wasn’t at all shocked when he first broke the bad news. At 23 years old, he wasn’t yet authorized to buy his first apartment without his mother seeing it first. (She was also bringing the 10 percent down payment.) Therefore, it was my job to show him every possible unit, narrow the field to three or four, and fight off the other interested buyers until she arrived three weeks from then. Given every building we saw was unloading the last of their inventory like lottery tickets in Jersey, this was no easy task.

I showed him every available apartment in his price range from Midtown East to the Financial District. We spent the next two Sundays going to open houses and covered every Brooklyn neighborhood within a 20-minute commute. Finally the search was narrowed to two buildings in Dumbo. A solid week before his mother arrived with another busy open house weekend to get through, each building had roughly one remaining and workable apartment.

The biggest new construction boom in New York history and I was about to miss this deal by a week. His mother would arrive to my apologies of, “Sorry lady, you blew it. Dumbo is closed.”

As justifiably nervous as my young buyer was, he took a contract a full week before his mother ever arrived. We stalled until she brought the check, and he got himself one of the last one bedrooms in Dumbo.

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