I had been pushing and pushing to follow a senior broker-salesperson around, and I finally got my wish.

My firm’s partners picked someone who’s truly one of the good guys, the kind of agent that has a helpful tip for every newbie. I’m going to show you the underside of his day. But I’m an ink-stained wretch with a conscience, so I’m going to change a detail or two to protect a deal, and protect the anonymity of this agent: Let’s call him Mr. Success.

First off, we agree to meet in the office at 10. He actually shows at 10:30 (have you ever met the agent who could get anywhere on time? I never have.) and first thing, he mentions the paper. Our firm’s press agent, who is a friend of mine, got a great placement in the local paper about one of our firm’s properties, a restaurant that’s for sale.

One eensy problem: the paper indicates, wrongly, that the restaurant is closing.

So job one of the day is press management – trying to find and kill the reporter; trying to get the publisher to run a big screaming correction; trying to find and kill the press agent; and reassuring the seller that the firm’s in control despite the fact that customers have stopped coming.

This, frankly, I am familiar with.

Then we take a drive into Newark, N.J. Mr. Success grew up in Newark and now sells property in the city, even though he’s “made it” and moved to the ‘burbs. He told me his aspiration is to stop selling so many multifamily investment properties and to start selling more single-family houses, which makes me think I’ve started at the wrong end of the business. I thought investment properties would be more fun, and more lucrative – and Mr. Success is giving me the report from the trenches that they’re harder.

We go to City Hall. In Newark, you can’t sell a multifamily property without a certificate of occupancy (C of O), and they don’t last that long. So if you buy a house and decide to sell it a year later, your old C of O’s not good anymore, and you have to get an inspector out again. The wait for an inspection is a solid two months; of course, the inspector’s probably going to find some defects that need to be cured. Then you get the inspector out again, with another two months delay.

As a shortcut, many sellers take a hearing with the city and ask for a temporary C of O, so they can close sometime before Judgment Day.

Some lenders (like Bank of America) won’t take a temp C of O, so the game for a hard-working agent is goosing the inspection calendar, making sure work gets done, finding a favorable lender.

It was imperative that Mr. Success move an inspection up; his deal had to close by the end of the month or he was going to lose it. So here we were in the bowels of City Hall, where a harassed clerk controls the housing of a quarter of a million people using only a day planner and a bottle of Wite-Out.

Mr. Success was charming. He somehow managed to establish that he and the clerk had both sent their kids to the same school – no mean feat since she was generally on three phone lines at once. Her calendar was booked solid, but she remembered some arcane clerky detail, moved things around like a sliding-tile puzzle, and bingo! An earlier inspection.

Mr. S. then had to go to the bank, and he asked me to baby-sit his double-parked car. What happens when you sit in a car in downtown Newark? I got approached by a 15-year-old who looked like a hooker; I didn’t even roll down the window. I just did a dumb show:

Look, lady, I’m not from here, I’m from Jupiter; whatever you want, it’s not worth your time to convince me.

On the drive back to the office, he’s calling lawyers, updating them about the deal. I ask about the one thing I didn’t understand – why try so hard to move an inspection date up by just two weeks? It’s the buyer, he said. She has to close by the end of the month.

Can’t she just extend her mortgage commitment by a couple of weeks? I suggested.

No, she’s an investor, he said. They ran her credit at the beginning of the month. Then she bought a house. If they run her credit again, they’ll find that house, and they won’t let her buy this house.

Of course, I thought. We’re out here in the Wild Wild West. I gave him the smile I’d just practiced: whatever you want to do, it’s OK; it’s not worth your time to convince me.


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