Reel Estate

What 5 Flights Up gets right—and what it gets wrong—about real estate

Share this Article

When a movie or TV show is set in New York City—and if the people making it are savvy—real estate becomes part of the story itself. In Reel Estate, we look at some of the more memorable domiciles to grace the screen.

The basic gist of Five Flights Up (which opens in theaters tomorrow) makes enough sense: After decades in their eponymous fifth-floor, south Williamsburg walk-up, older couple Ruth (Diane Keaton) and Alex (Morgan Freeman) start to think about selling in hopes of moving to a smaller apartment that'll be easier on the knees and cashing in on the neighborhood's rising prices.

Unless you're particularly into hearing Morgan Freeman spout platitudes about "hipsters" and how "nothing on the news is new anymore," the real estate-y scenes are far and away the best part of the movie (particularly Cynthia Nixon as Ruth's over-eager broker niece Lily, who's helping them sell the place). We got a sneak peak ahead of its premiere, and without giving out too many plot details, we kept tabs on where the movie hits—and where it misses the mark—when it comes to the New York City market:

What it gets right:

  • Back in the day, Ruth and Alex got their apartment for dirt cheap. Though the flashback scenes weirdly seem to  meld the 50s, 60s, and 70s into one amorphous back-in-the-day lump, at any point during this period, this place would have been a steal.
  • Creeps and looky-loos show up to the open house. Maybe they wouldn't be quite so central-casting wacky in real life, but yep, this would happen.
  • Lily hassles Alex to move his artwork (or "clutter") out of the way for showings. She's just trying to do her job, guys.
  • Lily tries to horn in on a potential commission. When Alex and Ruth go to see a potential new place without her, Lily gets pissed, and jumps right in to try to co-broke the deal. 
  • Ruth is impressed by one couple's buyer's "love letter" to the apartment. It's a risky move, but when it works, it works.
  • That south Williamsburg walk-up. That marble hallway and staircase looks exactly like the interior of every apartment building we've ever been to in the neighborhood.

What it gets wrong:

  • Ruth and Alex hang out at their own open house. See all those scenes in the trailer of Ruth and Alex mugging at each other and chuckling at the freaks that showed up to view their apartment? It's because they're lurking around while prospective buyers are there. No decent broker would have let this happen.
  • Everybody keeps saying "the market wasn't what it was a couple of years ago." Sure, things have calmed down a little since 2012, but not that much, and especially not in south Williamsburg. And we doubt this is the small talk their twentysomething neighbors would make in the hallway, either.
  • They seem to have private roof access. Unclear how Ruth and Alex managed to secure the roof of their large building all to themselves for gardening and parties, unless it's some kind of got-there-first thing. We'd like advice on how to pull this off.
  • The same creeps and looky-loos show up to open houses all over the city. We get that this happens, and that people might be looking at various neighborhoods, but when Ruth and Alex run into more than one group in areas as disparate as the Upper East Side and Williamsburg, and are looking at spaces with massively different vibes, it's not quite believable. Buyers may not be as borough-centric, or even neighborhood-specific, as they once were, but they still are searching within certain parameters.
  • Ruth and Alex are forced to write a buyer's love letter. Like we said, these are risky. No seller's broker would ever insist on one.
  • Buyers deliver their bids themselves without brokers, and directly in the homes of sellers. In what planet would this happen? Good NYC brokers would deliver and accept the bids themselves, not have the clients interface with each other directly. Also, don't get us started on how Lily handles a bidding war...


Reel Estate: "You've Got Mail" (and a suspiciously nice Upper West Side rental)

A cheap illegal sublet is totally worth a pervy landlord in "apartment troubles"

Reel Estate: Kimmy Schmidt actually has a pretty great apartment

Reel Estate: Empire lets Chicago stand in for Bushwick

Also Around the Web