All’s fair in love and war, as the saying goes, but does the same ring true for love and real estate?
When a couple is looking for the perfect apartment, whether they’re renting or buying, tempers flare, blood pressure rises, and the cool, calm and collected partner you once knew becomes more red-faced than a quarrelsome Donald Trump.
These maniacal meltdowns are more common than you’d think, says Halstead’s Ivana Tagliamonte. “A lot of times, (couples) bicker in front of you,” she tells us. “I’m always really surprised that couples who seem to get along beautifully will put their fights on public display.” We've broken down some of the most dramatic stories of relationships on the rocks.
LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Surprisingly, the arguments aren’t always about money.
Tagliamonte says one of her clients purchased a beautiful loft in the Financial District. The wife loved it, but the husband was absolutely miserable and hated the neighborhood, despite their high-end property. “They moved to Greenwich Village,” she says, adding that they lost a considerable amount of money in the process. “He didn’t care what the new place looked like or how big it was.”
Needless to say, they also spent some time living apart.
A BRIDGE TOO FAR
Broker Janice Silver of Bellmarc has seen it all, but the craziest couple she remembers had her acting as a real estate spy.
“A woman I knew was getting a divorce and she wanted me to secretly appraise her apartment while her husband was home,” she tells us. So Silver came up with a ruse and said she was a member of his wife’s bridge team.
But the husband, a lawyer, was immediately suspicious. “He looked at me and said, ‘Are you a broker?’” Silver didn’t get to scan much more of the apartment before she left. A month later, and Silver became friends with the wife as she went through a particularly nasty divorce.
The husband then decided he did want to sell their place, but Silver lost out on the sale “because he thought I was a bridge player, not a broker.” The house sat on the market for more than a year.
LOST IN TRANSLATION
Jesse King of Citi Habitats has had to deal with cross-cultural snobbery, too. He was working with a married couple, an American wife and Polish-born husband who were moving to New York from London, and sparks flew with them, too.
“They wanted to live in the West Village because it felt European,” he says. But with European charm comes small apartments and big price tags. The first, a $3,200 two bedroom on Bedford was deemed “too small,” so King directed them to a $3,650 place with an elevator.
She liked the new place, but the husband didn’t. “That’s when the wife started berating the husband in front of me, telling him he grew up in nothing more than a shack in Poland.” The two were supposed to meet with King the next day for another showing, but they canceled. “I imagine they got divorced,” he says.
WALK OUT OF A WALK-UP
For Paul Zweben of Douglas Elliman, there’s also been the matter of strong opinions. “I’ve had buyers walk into a building and the wife looks at the husband and says, ‘The lobby’s disgusting, why would you bring me here?’ before walking out,” he adds. “You witness a lot of things.”
Zweben says he once worked with a couple with a preschooler and another child on the way. He showed the growing family apartment after apartment, but the desperation was growing, since they needed to close on a place before school started and the baby was born.
In this case, Zweben says it’s good for the husband to make some concessions. “Maybe he wanted to live on 72nd St. and now he has to live on 92nd,” he says.
SKELETONS IN THE CLOSET
For Todd Stevens, a 14-year veteran with Douglas Elliman, the arguments weren’t marriage-ending chaos storms. Rather, he’d see couples bicker about the trickiest of Manhattan commodities – closet space.
“For some reason, closets seem to be the biggest point of conflict,” he says. “I’ve heard wives joke about sticking their husband in a closet.” Or a wife will announce that the three biggest closets will belong to her, and the linen closet goes to him.
KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON
Stevens also had a couple whose home purchase kept getting delayed. While the wife remained calm, the husband’s temper grew worse each day. "He threatened to come after me, he said he'd sue me," Stevens said.
It turned out the threats were idle, and the buyer had bigger problems afoot – when the sale did go through, the couple ended up calling it quits.
When you’re selling a home that belongs to a couple in turmoil, prepare to see some dirty laundry—literally. Silver had clients who were trying to get rid of their home, but the husband didn’t want to sell. His solution for showing disdain? “He was really mad and left a big pile of dirty underwear on the floor,” Silver said. “I had to use rubber gloves to shove it under the bed.”
She managed to sell the property, but says she now brings rubber gloves with her to every job, just in case.
Citi Habitats broker Angel Dominguez says one particular couple wouldn’t fight in front of her, but behind closed doors, all bets were off, as the girlfriend was ostensibly extremely mean and controlling. “The guy a hot mess,” she says.
Still, he decided to make a down payment on a Murray Hill condo for $15,000 before she made a stink and demanded that he buy something better for her, meaning that he had to forfeit the money put down. “It was a total soap opera,” Dominguez remembers.
Tagliamonte says there are some pretty severe ultimatums too. “I was working with a husband who wanted to leave the city to get more space, but the wife didn’t. She said, ‘We’re not leaving, or I’m leaving you.’”
The problem? He wanted the space afforded by suburban living, including a space for his own “Man Cave.” But it turned out to be a hollow threat. “They moved out to the ‘burbs,” she says. “And he got his Man Cave.”