I thought I’d never say it, but: I am so sick of learning new things.
When I started out, everyone said one thing: specialize. New York is a big place; you’ll want to get identified with one particular area.
Well, that sounded good. I went with Chelsea, a midtown Manhattan neighborhood, because I wanted to work for a particular sponsoring broker, and he specializes in it, and I’d lived there before, so I felt a connection to it. But honestly, I have no idea how to grab clients who are interested in my particular neighborhood.
I’ve tried blogging, chat boards, and running a column in a local paper. Nothing. You want to know what people on chat boards want? They want to know how to work the different little gizmos in their overpriced new-construction apartments that the selling agent never bothered to explain to them, so they ask strangers. Blogging brings other bloggers, who are very nice, but are like those co-workers who can spend an hour talking about “Lost” at the watercooler: they eat up your day. Shoppers at an open house — who you would think would at least be interested in the area — already have their own agents, or turn out to be the least financially qualified people on earth. So far, good ol’ traditional direct mail seems to be the best approach, although I’m holding off on my next campaign ’till my sales listing closes and I can do an announcement postcard.
So I work with my friends, and my friends are being blown to the four corners of the earth: and me along with them.
That means I have a ton of homework to do, trying to absorb new neighborhoods incredibly quickly. I feel like I’m new to my own city, and I’ve lived in this metro area for 18 years, covering it as a journalist for two. But the middle/professional class is being priced out so quickly, that by the time my writer-married-to-an-architect clients get a sense that a neighborhood is where they want to live, we have to go through sticker shock all over again.
Let’s say, just for kicks, that my clients had two kids and therefore wanted three bedrooms and some outdoor space, but they were looking to spend a million bucks.
Priced out of Manhattan, where they currently have a rental deal? Sure, OK, we’ve all spent the past five years dealing with that. But Brooklyn Heights, nope, priced out of that, lets check the spillover to Cobble Hill: Cobble Hill’s pretty nice but, sorry, after we drive around and check out listings it’s clear you don’t get much for a million.
We try further into Brooklyn in a neighborhood called Park Slope, 10 and even five years ago the refuge of the stroller mom; of course my clients are priced out. Agents show us stuff in Windsor Terrace, the nearby spillover neighborhood they pretend is still Park Slope, and wrongly assume my clients are too stupid to see the sneakers hanging up in the sky as a sign that you can buy drugs here. You wanna know what’s a bad day as a real estate agent? When you take your friends to see a million-dollar house and the wife shudders.
So the next step in our campaign — and my assignment for today — was Riverdale, another traditional “inner suburb.” I explore and find out that Riverdale has five areas, four of which have skyrocketed past my clients’ budget. So I start looking in North Riverdale, the under-a-million refuge, but it took me all day to go through maybe 150 listings and come up with 10 that I thought were worth presenting. Honestly, I’ll be happy if the couple likes two of the listings. Since I’m still clueless about basic agent-should-knows like “where the grocery store is” and “where the dry-cleaner is.” I’m praying I pick that up on the fly.
Then it will be on to Westchester, where I might possibly lose them as clients since I will be leaving the New York City metro area bounds. (For you West Coast people, the metaphor is that I had wanna-be San Francisco buyers that spilled over to looking at the East Bay, and then suddenly started trekking out to Cupertino). I will then feel like I wasted unpaid weeks on my friends, so I might, out of stubbornness, just join the MLS up there to see what’s what. (I will also have to condition my buyers to $20,000 suburban tax bills; it’s not for nothing that when I was a journalist I coined the term “Taxchester.”)
But I’ll have to figure all this out, because I am so out of my depth, so far from my home. I am currently exercising discretion based on taste, and pre-screening by talking to other agents, so I guess my reporting talents are worth something. But I am so far from being able to exercise any discretion based on experience. I miss having a center. Because I am, so far, far from Chelsea.