Since I just sold a unit in an apartment building, my next project was clear: drop 200 pieces of direct mail on that building, celebrating my greatness. I am the slowest person in the world with direct mail, since I believe everything has to be just so, and since I don’t have the graphic abilities to do a really slick piece I settled on a heart-to-heart letter, which meant I made a little package with each one and hand-addressed them. I got 40 pieces out last week, before I got distracted by writing assignments and other possible clients, so all I can do is hope to get 200 pieces of mail out by Thanksgiving — which I know is disgracefully slow.

But my lapidary care is effective: while I know only 38 pieces of mail got delivered (my trade-secret gimmick apparently couldn’t go through a standard mail sorter) I got one phone call. It was from a woman who had lived in the building for 30 years, in four different apartments, and who had received 30 years’ worth of direct mail but liked mine for a number of reasons, one being that I had taken the care to address it to her and her husband and give each of them the proper last name.

So I chatted with her, and found out that she “didn’t really want to sell just now” — but wanted to see what the apartment was worth. So I said great, I’d love to take a look. Even if she didn’t want to list, I really wanted to specialize in the building so it would help me to see as many apartments as possible.

When I went to meet her, I found just the kind of place I’d like to sell: a home. Prewar details, two bedrooms for the kids, a gigantic 24-foot dining room (Midwesterners please remember we’re in New York) that could become living/dining, and a living room that could be converted into a gigantic master bedroom. The kitchen needed to be updated, sure, but who doesn’t love a project? The only thing that kept it from being worth a fortune was that it had only one bath.

If the owner had been ready to sell, I would have talked my way past that. But as she was showing me around the place, I asked her why she wanted to sell an apartment that she so clearly loved. And her answer was that she had rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune disease, and that she was afraid that she would become disabled and was preparing for that eventuality.

Now autoimmune disease is a really sore subject with me, because when I was a teenager my dad had a pretty rare one and ended up paralyzed. It wrecked him; it wrecked the family. The illness was hard, the recovery was hard, and I think one of the few things that helped him along was coming back to his house where things were where he wanted them, even if he was in a wheelchair.

But how do you tell a stranger they need to be sick at home? I went the direct route, saying, “I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but if your health is going to get worse, you need to be in your own home.” I am not one of those Patch-Adams-is-going-to-make-everything-better people, but we do know that autoimmune diseases have an emotional component, and we do know that there’s no human being on earth who digs the stress of moving. I told her if she was feeling really energetic she should put in an extra half-bath now, so that her kids could have a $1.5 million apartment to sell later, but that she shouldn’t sell it now — it’s worth $1.1 million to somebody else, but priceless to her.

So now I have an ally in the building, somebody who trusts me because I walked away from her business. I guess that means I have to get the other 160 pieces of direct mail out, huh?

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