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If there is something New Yorkers seem to know a lot about it is loss and longing—of the real estate variety. Spend time at any dinner party and eventually you are sure to be regaled with tales of apartments bypassed now worth millions, bidding wars lost, or maybe the biggest horror of them all: a rent-controlled apartment left behind for good.
If you want further proof of this Gotham phenomenon, it was highlighted in a 1990 Seinfeld episode called “The Robbery.” When Jerry’s apartment is broken into, George, then a real estate agent, offers him an amazing two bedroom on the park with a fireplace, walk-in closet, and backyard. It's so amazing, in fact, that upon seeing it, George wants it for himself. As is the norm, hilarity ensued and none of the pals got the unit. They are left lamenting “the one that got away.”
Similarly, I chronicled my own Seinfeldian tale of real estate regret here several years ago—and it smarts no less now. Not one to suffer alone, I decided to revisit this topic and asked my fellow New Yorkers for their tales of real estate regret. Grab your tissues.
Tom Cruise ruins everything
“In 2012, I began looking for an apartment to purchase. I was very interested in 114 East 13th St., #10C. It is such a great space. It needed to be reimagined, but the light was fantastic—very hard to find, especially near Union Square. On top of it being a great space, I'm sure as a doorman/elevator condo near Union Square, it has appreciated very nicely since 2012.
I was interested in it when it came to market, but the seller quickly accepted an offer. The listing agent contacted me a few weeks later and said it was back on the market. When I asked why, she said the potential buyers got freaked out when they found out Tom Cruise owned two of the four units on the floor. It's a nice building but not ‘Tom Cruise-nice’ so I was skeptical. I asked how many times the seller had seen him. She said once in like seven years. Sure enough, a few months later, I saw this on Curbed: Tom Cruise Sells American Felt Building Condo For $3M!
It was at the very, very high end of my budget, and I believe they ended up prioritizing cash buyers so it probably was never happening regardless, but that is definitely the one that got away.
To beat myself up, I looked at the recent sales and #7C sold last year for about $1.8 million, and it doesn't have the west-facing windows, I assume because it doesn't clear the adjacent building.” –James W.
“This still gives me the night sweats. Right after 9/11 I was offered a studio at The Impala at 404 East 76th St. for $80,000. It wasn’t going to have any fixtures (like no stove, fridge, bathtub) but I still kick myself for not making that happen.
It was offered to me through a friend who worked for years in a very big landlord's office. She even offered to loan me the down payment—or maybe it was the whole amount she offered to loan to me. My mother had just died that year, and I was about to get a buyout on my apartment from my scofflaw landlord at the time (that's another long story), so it was very appealing, but I was scared I would run out of money and not be able to install a toilet. It was a bad time for me and not just because of 9/11.
I should have gone to see that apartment—it would have made it all feel like a real possibility, being able to envision it. Even then, they had other similar units in contract for about $300,000. My friend kept telling me, ‘You're so stupid!’ and she was right! That apartment would trade for between $650,000-$700,000 today.” –Janine Y.
Open kitchen, closed mind
“In 2000, there was a large junior-four duplex with two spacious terraces that I sold to my client, but regret I not purchasing for myself. It was in a great Midtown location with full service. I rejected the unit because there was an open kitchen, but now open kitchens are all the rage. It sold for $889,000, but now is valued at $1.7 million.” [Sigh.] –James L.
I could have had a key to Gramercy Park
“I found an amazing sublet opportunity for an apartment on Gramercy Park with a key for $2,850 a month. It was a studio on the top floor in an elevator building with a virtual doorman and a view of the park. The tenant decided she wanted to break her lease, and so I was then put in touch with the property management company. That meant a broker fee for no reason. And on top of that, I am currently freelancing, thus having irregular sources of income, and they wanted three months security, first and last month’s rent, and the broker fee. It went from move-in costs of a $2,850 deposit plus first month’s rent, or $5,700, to $19,380! Out of principal, I could not justify it. But it was a large studio with a dishwasher, closet space, rooftop, everything! Breaks my heart!” –Sarah B.
The day of atonement
“I’ll never forget it. It was a unit at The Element, 555 West 59th St., with a double-access balcony. I looked at it three times. It was new construction at the time with every amenity possible in the building, and I asked the agent to just give me the day [Yom Kippur], and I would sign leases right after the holiday was over. Instead, she rented the apartment to someone else, and I still regret not just signing the papers that day. I already had the checks and everything!” –Brad S.
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