Diary of a First-Time Buyer

A home visit from a private investigator, board interview bombshells, and other signs I'm in trouble

By Elle Bee  | January 28, 2013 - 10:31AM

On a Thursday about two weeks after Karen, my broker, delivered my co-op board application, I received a phone call from someone introducing himself as Kingsview Co-op’s private investigator.

I had a fluttery chill in my chest. Had I misrepresented something in my board application? Had my accountant taken too many deductions? Was I on Candid Camera?

The P.I., speaking a fine Brooklynese, informed me that all Kingsview applicants were to undergo an interview with him, where he would conduct a home visit, look at current bills and take a few pictures. He insisted this was the longtime and proper protocol, and urged me to accept a 7 a.m. appointment on Monday.

Seven a.m.! I attempted a cordial protest.

“I have a tight schedule. It will work in your favor if you can meet at this time,” he said.

And so I agreed. I called Chris, my long-suffering apartment-searching friend. We agreed on two things. One, this seemed highly irregular—almost comical. Two, my current apartment needed triage.

In preparation for moving, I had been collecting boxes and bubble wrap, currently forming a lopsided tower in the large foyer of my apartment. I had also been slowly culling my possessions, and had corners in both the living room and bedroom dedicated to items for eBay or donation.

As a wine writer, I had some 250 bottles—professional samples and collectible—lined up along shelves, the floor—any free space not occupied by books, newspapers and magazines. In short, my place looked as though it housed an alcoholic literary hoarder.

Chris came over on Saturday and our first order of business was to pack up all the wine.

“I don’t need this guy from Bensonhurst reporting back it appears I have a drinking problem,” I said pragmatically. 

Somewhat reorganized, my apartment looked more like a work in progress than a train wreck when Joe arrived Monday morning.

He barely looked at the bills I laid out neatly on the table. The stack of 1099s confused him: He didn’t understand how, as a freelancer, I derived my income. He seemed to accept my word. He took a few pictures and left within 20 minutes.

Four days later I received notice of my board interview.

I arrived at the Kingsview complex basement-level community room at 6:30 p.m., greeted by someone who seemed not to know I was expected.

“Wait here,” she said, shutting the door again. After 10 minutes, she retrieved me and I entered a fluorescent-lit hell. The committee members sat in a U-shape around the table, with the board president at one end; I was to sit at the other. My application binders were opened in front of each person, my financial life laid bare.

“Hi y’all,” I said. Dang, what was up with that Southern-inflected greeting?

Miss GP, the board president, introduced herself and her members. Two people smiled at me. Out of 12.

I was asked to introduce myself, which I did in simple terms.

“I’ve been a New Yorker for almost 20 years, living mostly in Manhattan but lately in Astoria for the past seven years. I’ve spent a lot of time in this neighborhood with friends who live here, and also as a journalist who covers community development and historic preservation.”

I filled in a few details about my pastimes, what kind of neighborhood I sought and how I thought I could contribute to the Kingsview community. They, in turn, asked me why I wanted to live in Brooklyn and in Kingsview particularly.

They wanted to know what historic preservation meant, if I was worried about clients, getting paid every month and my future. Someone asked if I ever thought about getting a job with a company. Miss GP asked what kind of business I conducted in my apartment and what exactly did that involve.

I was stumped by her last question. “Do you mean how do I do my job or what kind of work I do?”

“I mean, what EXACTLY does it take to do your job,” she said somewhat indignantly.

“A desk. A computer. A phone. A lot of patience,” I said, somewhat deadpan. And added a smile.

As my mother would say, butter would not melt in Miss GP’s mouth. 

“What do you know about us?” she asked, arching an eyebrow and peering over the top of her glasses.

I paused and recalled their web site, which looked like a PTA newsletter, and had not been updated in recent years.

“I know you’ve been a community since the 1950s and I think the only other thing I read was in a real estate article in the New York Times,” I said.

Miss GP wanted to know what I had read. I explained it was just a mention in “The Hunt,” a weekly feature about an apartment search, and the prospective resident didn’t pass the co-op board.

She made a sound somewhere between a snort and a guffaw. “Well, he was a dissatisfied customer,” she said. 

After reviewing the rules and regulations (no pets, no weekend deliveries), Miss GP got into financials, and here our paths to homeownership diverged. Not like a fork, but like a ripped-open zipper.

Contrary to all documents prior to the interview, I learned that the maintenance was $745 and not $643 as advertised. Though utilities were currently included, that wouldn’t be the case for much longer.

If I wanted an air conditioner, that was an additional $35 per month—all year ‘round—and I could have only one air conditioner. I would have wanted two—one in the bedroom and the living room, but was told that the building's electric hadn't been updated and running two units at once would blow the circuits.

The co-op’s underlying mortgage (previously unrevealed to me) added another $45 per month to the nut. And the kicker: they required me to put a year of maintenance in escrow.

“Do you have any questions?” Miss GP asked.

Yeah, I thought, “WTF?”

Recalling my best job interview form, I asked a few boilerplate questions, we concluded the interview, and thanking them, I ran into the August night. I bought a Red Hat beer at a bodega and plunked myself down on the first bench I saw. It was in a tiny pocket park triangle in the midst of the intersection of Fulton Street and Flatbush and Dekalb avenues.

I drank the beer from the bottle (still in bag) and called Chris.

“How did it go?” she asked.

I took a long swig and said, “I am f*cked.”

Next: The denouement

Elle Bee is a lifelong renter currently in the process of buying a Brooklyn apartment, recounted in her bi-weekly column, Diary of a First-Time Buyer.

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