SCENE: A big conference table at which everybody is mad.
This is a long-sought-after closing, and it has been a bear. First, let me give you some background: buying and selling a Manhattan apartment isn’t like buying and selling a house. In addition to the buyer, the seller and the lender, there’s another party — the other people who live in the apartment building, who collectively form a corporation to represent their interests.
In addition to showing up with a loan, a Manhattan co-op buyer has to satisfy the requirements of that corporation — generally by submitting an application package to a board of its representatives, and jumping through some hoops specified by the managing agent hired by the corporation to run the building.
So let’s picture a big conference room, with a big table. We were scheduled to close at 2 p.m., but it is mid-afternoon now; the bank is running late. Tempers are, to put it mildly, high. It is as though the half-a-dozen experienced real estate professionals in the room have not read a single newspaper headline that we are having a credit crunch. I am the buyer’s agent, and we are at the 30-day outside limit of our “on or about” closing date, so the one thing I don’t want to happen is an adjournment for a new closing date.
First, it would put us in default. Even if the seller ignored the default, I’m sure my client would be hit for at least $500 in extra attorneys’ fees. Plus, the bank is Countrywide. I know we’re not reading newspaper headlines here, but they’ve already jacked their rates severely, post-commitment. Who’s to say what their lending posture would be in a week? My objective is to close today, and my brilliant strategy is to stall, stall, stall — to herd everybody into this room so that they’ll feel stuck and wait for the bank to come through.
I have succeeded in my quest, so I am facing six people who would like to kill me.
Around the table are the seller, who has never met me, but wants her money; the seller’s agent, who is convinced I am an incompetent vacuuming up half of her rightful commission; my buyer, who has spent four months trying to spend his hard-earned money on an apartment and being met at every turn by Eastern Bloc-like bureaucracy; the managing agent, who had scheduled this closing more than a week ago and is hopping mad to hear that there are delays; and the buyer’s attorney, who should technically be on my side, but who has already suggested that we adjourn the closing.
Oh, and my angel of light and goodness, the bank attorney.
Why is she my angel? She wants to close. I want to close. That makes us partners in wanting.
But it doesn’t make the bank not late, and she becomes the flash point for everybody who is mad about the slowness of the deal.
She’s just the lawyer. She’s not the reason that the docs are late and that the money is late, and she explains this to everyone in the room, oh, 20 times. She alone of everyone in this room seems to realize that an adjournment is to be avoided, that it will cost my client hundreds of dollars, if not a thousand.
She works her butt off. The bank docs are late, so she comes to the table without docs and gets the docs e-mailed to her; then she does the HUD-1 summary statement; then, although the money is late, she makes sure the money comes over. She’s exceptional at managing the workflow, making sure that she does a piece of the deal at a time so that she can give the other lawyers and the attorney papers to work with.
Everyone else at the table rewards her by consistently calling her the wrong name.
By “consistently” I mean they can’t remember her name, which is Gloria; by “the wrong name,” I mean these suave older men chivalrously change it up, because they are so well-mannered.
“Are you done with that, Carol-Anne?” “Well, we can go through those docs, as soon as Jane is finished with them.” “Mary, wait, it’s not Mary, is it, can I see that HUD?”
She is very gracious about it, even as the cell reception in the conference room is bad, even as she’s told the landline phone in the conference room won’t work, even as she has to consistently beg for access to fax and e-mail.
The money moves, finally, a little after 4 p.m. Then we wait and we wait and we wait for the wire to fund.
At this point, there is no one person in that room who wouldn’t, if they had impunity, throw a haymaker at someone else.
But the person with the most justification, in my eyes, is smiling the most. She just rolls her eyes and calls every 15 minutes to see if the money has moved.
The joke is that it doesn’t; we finally throw everything, keys and checks and stock certificate, into a big escrow pile so that we can all leave. The wire posts the next day, and the attorneys sort everything out, and the seller’s broker (a woman who has stayed on the sidelines in the Carol-Anne fray) graciously messengers me my check.
But I don’t think anyone sends a note to Gloria.
I tell the mortgage broker — who has, in effect, hired her — of her awesomeness in a post-mortem call. To his credit, he’s a little shocked when I tell him the wrong-name stuff. Maybe he’s younger? Maybe he’s a great guy? Maybe he’s sitting in a less antagonistic place? I don’t know.
There’s a new show on TV that’s getting great word-of-mouth. It’s called “Mad Men” and people love it because it’s about Madison Avenue in the ’60s, when men were hard-drinking, tough-nosed men and women were in their place as Carol-Annes.
Women, in particular, keep recommending it to me, and I think it’s because they recognize that we haven’t come a long way, baby, after all.
Alison Rogers is a licensed salesperson and author of “Diary of a Real Estate Rookie.”