They say that time is money; I know I’m ahead of the start-up game in one respect, which is that I know that money also equals time.

I have always thought of my savings as providing me with a certain number of months where I don’t have to make money flipping. The miscalculations I have made are twofold. One is that I had imagined my part-time income from PR gigs would be higher; the other is I thought I significantly underestimated the cost of some repairs out at the house (for those of you who are new to the column, I have a house with tenants out in the country, and this girl’s getting not a new mink but a new roof for Christmas).

Anyway, at this point I had hoped to have six months of video game life left, and right now it looks more like four. That’s just terrifying, the prospect of running out of money in March, so I start to develop yet another line of business: being a buyer’s rep.

This, to me, seems very much like my old job – I have to use my research skills to come up with a huge haystack of information, and then dig through it to find the needle that makes a cranky rich person happy. My first assignment comes about kinda accidentally – I heard a Big Media Exec. speak, I wrote him an e-mail saying I liked his speech and could I buy him lunch? And it turned out he wanted a summer rental in the Jersey hills.

After pointing out the very happy coincidence that I actually had a license to go hunting for Jersey rentals, I asked why he didn’t already have a summer place. “I e-mailed a bunch of Realtors once,” he said. “But nobody called me back.”

So I vowed, first, to be the most calling-backest person he’d ever met. I started with a rule that has served me well in journalism: when you’re in trouble, make 10 phone calls.

Most news stories these days are reported off the basis of three phone calls, and if you know a housing market really well – in terms of what inventory is available and what inventory’s probably going to be available – you can probably do that in three as well. But I was too inexperienced for that, so I called 10 agents.

Four called me back, and I lined up three showings for him. Then the second challenge (and I know this one from journalism, too) was shutting up.

Here’s Big Media Exec. – he rubs elbows with what I’d call first-name celebs, people I come home and watch on TV. And I’m bursting with questions: What are A and B and C really like? How much money do they make? Who’s nasty and who’s nice?

Can Big Media Exec. make me a star?

None of these, unfortunately, are askable questions. I settled for floating into a cone of silence when he was on his cell phone (which was most of the time before and after the showings), only occasionally stopping to ask a question, fawning only when I was presented with his obvious toy, an $80,000 sports car. (And even then, I felt good taste prevented me from asking the pressing question, which is what it was like to have sex in an auto that cost more than my first co-op.)

Part of my role-playing was shaped by my own experiences of driving around with Realtors, when I’ve found that the constant nattering about this restaurant and that tennis club just made my head hurt. I tried to remember the style of Gil Neary, the DG Neary broker who sold me my first two co-ops; Gil would tell me something about a building, and then fade into the background while I reacted to it. I realize now that what he was doing was listening, and I tried to imitate it.

At the same time, I tried a third business tactic: infusing the house-hunt with a spirit of adventure. The rental is a surprise Christmas present from Big Media Exec. to his wife – sweet, no? So I try to make sure that romantic impulse spills over into the shopping itself. Every house we see, we make up a narrative of the people who must have lived there before, guessing who made the decision that causes each room to look the way it does.

The rental I think he’ll take has a steep and twisty driveway. In the summer, it will be perfectly fine for the $80,000 sports car to make its way up. But every time he looks at it, he’ll remember slipping on the frost in his city shoes, nearly breaking his neck so he could find just the perfect gift to put under the tree for the one he loves.

***

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