Bedbugged! The top real estate story of the year

By Theresa Braine  | September 1, 2011 - 9:37AM

Bedbugged! is a weekly column by journalist and bed bug survivor Theresa Braine. For more, click here.

Since returning to New York from Mexico and fighting bed bugs, I have often fretted that I am not a fan of this city; that I stay because I love my family, not because I love the Big Apple.

I simply cannot believe that housing is what it is. Not only is the rent too high, especially for too little space and often shoddy service, but we must cohabit with the six-legged variety of bloodsucker as well.

For a while this made me feel as though I had lost some of my “New Yorkerness”—that between being away for seven years, and then spending much of my first year back feeling as though I’d been hit over the head daily with a shovel, I’d lost that sassy New York edge that we pride ourselves on.

But recently it occurred to me that perhaps the opposite is true. My bed-bug experience has turned me into more of a New Yorker than ever: For the first time in my life I am, like every self-respecting Big Apple dweller, obsessed with real estate.

I guess, bed bugs or no bed bugs, it was only a matter of time. It’s what we do here. But bed bugs and real estate go hand-in-hand. An obsession with them is a completely logical extension of a fixation on living space, since that’s what they invade.

Bed bugs are now everywhere in New York, from bohemian Williamsburg lofts to the Upper East and West Sides to the top luxury hotels. They have infiltrated our offices, movie theaters and gathering spaces. People nowadays ask their real estate attorneys to help them guard against buying bug-infested condos.

“To say that some people in the city have become obsessed with bed bugs is an understatement,” Jerry Feeney, a real estate columnist and lawyer wrote in The New York Daily News awhile back.

He said clients tell him, “‘I don’t care about the finances of the building, of the maintenance increases coming, I just need to make sure they are no bed bugs in this apartment…. I will move out of the apartment if I see a bed bug.’ ”

This is a bit extreme, though understandable given what's out there in terms of news, hype, misinformation and other assorted reading materials. 

Last year I wrote a story for the Daily News’s real estate section on how to apartment hunt in the bed-bug era. With more and more people moving as I did to escape infestations, the number of pre-infested apartments is increasing. Thanks to recent laws, landlords must come clean about infestations dating back a year.

But as I said then and say now, bed bugs are not really what you’re looking for. An informed, methodical approach on the part of the landlord; that's what you want.

If maintenance seems to slide in your building, bed bugs are another reason to reconsider moving there, even if the building isn’t currently infested. The level of open-mindedness and promptness exhibited by a landlord or management company on regular maintenance issues will most likely be reflected in their handling of bed-bug issues.

Thus the bed bug story is a real estate story in many ways, since at some point nearly every building in the city will have dealt with the pests, if only as a threat. The epidemic is sparking real estate lawsuits as well as legislation. It is changing people’s ways of looking for apartments, and the criteria upon which those apartments are judged. It is changing how we furnish our places. 

So it is that I comb to figure out where I might live next, all the while comparing the most promising-looking places to the Bedbug Registry. And I obsess about what mover I’ll choose when the time comes, how to ascertain that the truck is bed bug–free, or if it’s possible to do so.

I stress about how and when to get my stuff out of storage (though on top of that are my worries about how to rid my belongings of the residual fumes of mothballs and No-pest strips). I even wonder whether prospective landlords will be spooked if they learn about my bed-bug history (though I prefer to call it expertise), and reject my application out of hand. 

Then I remind myself that though we can’t stop the critters from crawling, we can all educate ourselves to be vigilant, deal with the issue in a levelheaded manner and, together, reduce their chances of overtaking the New York real estate that we all hold so dear. 

Theresa Braine is a NYC-based journalist and bed bug survivor whose work has appeared in the NY Daily News, People, Newsday and other outlets. Bedbugged! is her weekly column about life in the trenches and climbing out with your sanity intact. 

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