When Jeff and I saw the $495,000 alcove studio, he thought the alcove was too small — “all I want is a queen bed, a lamp and a dresser,” he said.
Then we saw the $509,000 alcove studio, and at 11 feet, the living room really was too small, due to the way the windows broke.
We went up in price and the next place was gorgeous — a little on the edge of civilization, but a brand-spanking-new granite/marble condo. One bedroom, gigantic kitchen, smoking balcony. $615,000. Not quite right. And I don’t think it was the edge-of-civilization part that bothered him. It was that the intercom placement was inelegant, making it tough to put a chair in that place on that wall.
Then we looked at a place downtown that was flooded with sunlight, in a loud neighborhood, but magically in the back of the building so it was quiet. $620,000. The neighborhood is getting cooler — as in hip — by the minute, and the price included a kitchen and bath reno. I would have bought it, if I had been liquid. But my client? The little protrusions at the corners of the rooms bothered him. Again, furniture placement is harder if you don’t have a true corner.
I went to my sponsoring broker: “Nothing is ever gonna be good enough for Jeff. Ever.”
“Show him 555,” said Gil, who knows everything.
So off we go, new development. Of course everything listed in the $600s and $700s isn’t available, must be resales listed by other agents, of course the marketers update their listings every week, they must know, don’t they?
So we looked at an $815,000 — and at 18 feet, “living room too small,” says Jeff. And then they pull out the big momma $895,000, with a 24-foot living room, on a higher floor, with a Viking range. And he loves it. Loves it.
But unfortunately, his source of funds does not.
I am hitting this over and over again with my first-time clients. Sure, their aspirations are bigger than their budgets — whose aren’t?
But moreover, their aspirations are bigger than entry-level. I have owned four properties, making a quarter of a million in real cash gains and nearly twice that on paper, and I’ve never bought a Manhattan one-bedroom by myself.
Part of the trouble, I think, is price acceleration. If you have to put down three-quarters of a million dollars, you start to feel entitled that you can put your queen-sized bed and your sofa sectional in it.
But there’s something else at work too. In my day, when we walked to school 10 miles in the snow, you put a third of your gross income into housing and you got the best thing you could.
Now I have another client — let’s call her Jane — whose budget would buy her a really nice Manhattan studio. (And boy, do we have studios: jumbos, pied-a-terres, south view, garden view — end of commercial.)
I admit nothing I am showing her is as nice as my first place, which had a view of the Empire State — but still! Everything I show her is nicer than the Chelsea rental I lived in for six years, where a good day was one when the bathroom ceiling didn’t fall in. No appreciation, these kids. She turns up her nose at everything. When she points out she doesn’t want to live in just one room, I have a hard time holding my tongue and pointing out that I’ve lived in studios for well over 10 years. Three of those have been with another person, a situation that New York housing officials call “seriously crowded.”
Is it that she thinks that she’ll be stuck, that she’ll never be able to move up to a one-bedroom if she doesn’t start there? Maybe. The gap is actually smaller, percentage wise, than it was for me — I sold a $131,000 studio to buy a $500,000 one-bedroom, and today those prices would be $425,000 and $850,000, respectively. But in absolute terms, the idea of raising that extra equity — and the savings to go with it to charm the co-op board — is a killer.
I showed her another entry-level purchase. A one-bedroom Park Slope (that’s a nice, chic part of Brooklyn) condo, big kitchen, new appliances, bay window, prime neighborhood, $400,000 … and she just won’t get started. This is a place that she could own for the price of renting, yet even that argument doesn’t persuade her. And for Jane, renting’s no alternative: it’s going to land her in … a Brooklyn one-bedroom or a Manhattan studio.
Jeff’s rental situation is better, but not so great that he should stay put. Buying makes sense for both these clients, but they’re so dissatisfied … with everything. They feel they’re better than the “starter” inventory, and they just can’t make the compromises they would need to buy.
There will be no deals and no commissions from these clients. I’ve made my peace with that.
I only wish I could get them to make theirs.