Diary of a First-Time Buyer

Open house time (a.k.a. the sound of my heart breaking)

By Elle Bee  | September 24, 2012 - 10:29AM

Week No. 2 of my search:  Wanting to avoid another blind side, I decided to contact an agent whom I’d interviewed for a real estate story some time ago. He had offered his services should I ever be in the buyer’s market. I sent Sidney an email and received a prompt response. His suggestion: send links of listings I liked and based on that, he’d generate an open house schedule for me.

It wasn’t hard to find aspirational but practical apartments. I sent several links sourced from Craigslist in Harlem and the Heights, and the next day I had his listings. I looked them up online before deciding on four open houses for Sunday.

Chris, a friend miraculously willing to view every apartment with me, met me at the first address -- a one-bedroom, one-bath prewar for about $300K on Riverside Drive near 157th Street, incidentally catercorner from the previous week’s disastrous viewing.

Upon our arrival we were confronted with a sign-in sheet and a dilemma: Whom do I sign in as my broker? I didn’t have a formal relationship with Sidney yet, and by signing in with him, am I legally committed? To what, exactly? What, if any, kind of financial obligation would I have?  Neither of us knew, so I left that portion blank and we entered.

The apartment was furnished or, rather, “staged” with West Elm-style furniture that was neither offensive nor engaging—just enough to guide the imagination without impressing upon it. People skirted around us, peering inside cabinets and closets.

One smartly dressed couple surveyed the living room, working in tandem with a tape measure and notebook. Another bedraggled pair looked like they couldn’t afford a pop-up storage shed (we would see lots of such curiosity seekers over the next several months).

Though it seemed spacious, the entryways, doors and windows broke up the contiguous wall space; I couldn’t mentally position my surface-hogging furnishings — a piano, Art Deco secretary and some 150 square feet of books.

“How often do you play the piano or read?” Chris asked me. Her practicality has helped me dodge many a bullet over our 23-year friendship, but suggesting I jettison some books or my piano hurt.

An agent approached us.

“Hi, I’m Richard, can I show you around?” said the young, friendly-but-not-polished agent. Not (overtly) a shark. After we looked around, he offered to show us another apartment around the corner. This, we would learn, was Realtor M.O. 

 He escorted us around the corner to 835 Riverside Drive, a condominium in mid-conversion. 

We entered a museum-quality lobby: Italian marble walls and floors, stately pillars and etched details. Richard said he lived in the building and that it was comprised of friendly long-time renters and new owners. All good.

But the one-bedroom apartment on the second floor was anti-climatic.The bedroom walls were painted brown, and with the white-covered bed stuffed in like a huge marshmallow, it reminded me of a giant S’more. I couldn’t figure out if the rooms were small or if the furniture was oversized.  I pulled aside the dark curtains for the view. Brick wall. Dealbreaker.

But we didn’t want to deflate poor, eager Richard, who obviously got stuck with the lemon listings, so we took his card and promised to be in touch. As we boarded the elevator, we saw a posting for another open house in the building. We looked at each other, shrugged “Why not?” and hit 6 instead of L.

We entered apartment 6A via a long dark corridor, the end of which opened into a bright, open space. The large room was split by French doors, two windows on each side of the separation faced treetops and open sky. A broad street provided an ample canyon so the building across the street was more a backdrop than a nosy neighbor.

It was romantic and gracious like a shabby-chic Paris loft in a gentrified enclave. A grand piano filled half of the dining room, filling me with joy. The bedroom was large, well-lit with a makeshift closet. The kitchen and bathroom were wrecked, but that didn’t dissuade me. Such potential! Such a fixer-upper! Such great bones! My brain filled with real estate jargon and I believed every word.

Then we noticed the floor. I grew up in 19th century houses where lopsided floors were part of the quirky antique charm. But the floor in my pseudo-Euro charmer was so sloped that a ball could roll from one end to the other, picking up a pretty good clip.  I asked an agent for an estimate on fixing it. He was rushing a couple through; I could see they had a checkbook.

“I don’t know, $25,000? $50,000? You’ll have to come back with your contractor,” he said.

Crack. The sound of my heart breaking. And it was only apartment No. 3.

We turned to leave. The agent rushed up behind us, voice dropped, “But if you wait  five minutes, I can show you something special on the fourth floor.”

I just didn't want to be railroaded into seeing other places, not without proper agent representation, so we scurried out the door before being taken on yet another detour.

It was only on the subway we realized that we had missed the rest of open houses on Sidney’s list. Next week, I vowed, I would not come without an agent of my own.

Next time: “J’adore the Heights"

Elle Bee is a lifelong renter currently in the process of buying a Brooklyn apartment. She'll take us behind the drama in her new bi-weekly column, Diary of a First-time Buyer.

Related posts:

My Big Fat Board Interview column

What I learned from 150 apartments before I finally bought one

Here are 7 things your lawyer should tell you when you buy a condo or co-op in NYC (sponsored)

A single guy reveals why he took the co-op plunge -- and how he basically lives for free

Unraveling NY real estate spin--one white lie at a time

To pass your co-op board interview, read this first

16 things I wish I knew before buying this place

A NYC real estate lawyer reveals the 14 biggest surprises for first-time buyers (sponsored)

Confessions of a preconstruction buyer

The 7 worst places to live in a building

Your next place: 9 questions that separate the New Yorkers from the rookies


Brick Underground articles occasionally include the expertise of, or information about, advertising partners when relevant to the story. We will never promote an advertiser's product without making the relationship clear to our readers.