Sunday, January 17, 2010

A Bit About Real Estate

I recently had a "Lucy Riccardo" scenario. I was to show one of my listings, a very high end important one, and went over before the buyers were due to go through to turn all the lights on. 10,000 square feet of lights to turn on, and I notice the owner, who left before I arrived, had thoughtfully lit a couple of scented candles. When I am done turning on all the lights, I realize that I left the brochure in my car and dash out to fetch it to give to the buyers when they arrive. I grab it and go back to the door. Which is locked, and the house key and my cell phone are inside the house. I had no idea this was a door that would just lock without a key. The seller has another property around the corner from this one, he's down sizing and already bought his smaller home. I drive over there, he's not there. I go back to my office because I have no phone, and call the grounds keeper (who incidentally, is a creepy lurker, he is often in the house when I show it, a shadow moving down hallways and in and out of rooms). I am able to reach him and explain my predicament, but he can't help me, he's two hours away, but he says he thinks he knows where the owner is, and he'll try to track him down and have him call me. The owner doesn't use a cell phone. The potential buyers have decided to wait to see if I can get them in the house. I'm stressing big time and feeling very foolish.

The seller calls me and I tell him what happened, and that not only are the buyers waiting, but more importantly, I've got every light in his house on and there are unattended candles burning. He is a forty five minute round trip drive, and I leave to go get his key. I get to his daughter's house, whom he is visiting, and he gets his key ring and hands me the key. Now mind you, I have been showing his house for the better part of a year, he trusts me to be in the house alone ( granted, with sporadic sightings of the lurker). I ask him, "When I am done, where shall I leave the key for you so you can get in later?" You know what he says? I'll tell you what he says. He looks me right in the eye and says, "Oh, don't worry about it, leave it on the kitchen counter, I've got a key hidden on the property." Seriously?

You learn a lot about people by being in their homes. I don't open drawers or anything, of course, but just by looking around. The seller of this house is very serious and dour, and his house reflects it. There is no whimsy about it at all.

Because many of the homes I am in and out of are large and historic, I sometimes get a negative vibe. Some houses just feel happy and all is well. Other houses not so much.

There are many stories of ghosts in some of these homes. There is one house I have listed that I am fine in except for one spot in an upstairs hallway, and I can't wait to get out of that spot. It just gives me a bad feeling. I sold Whoopi Goldberg her house here, and I remember on several visits before the closing she came and spent quite a bit of time in the basement. I finally asked her if there was something about the basement she needed more information on; how could I help. She looked at me and smiled and said, "I like to be friends with the basement. If the lights go out you want to feel good about your basement." Enough said.

There is the story about one of these large estates with people hearing flute music, and seeing the figure of a woman walking on the property. (Probably in a white flowing gown. Why is it always a white flowing gown?) Several people had the same experience. Upon the renovation of the house, the workers actually uncovered an old flute.

Many years ago, I was showing what is the largest home in the area I service, it is 27,000 square feet. I was always a bit on edge in the house, but I figured it was simply because it was so vast (and deadly quiet when you're in there by yourself turning on lights and preparing for a showing). I was showing it to this woman and we were walking down the main hallway and she stopped dead in her tracks and said, "Do you hear that? Where are they?" I said, "Who?" She said, "All the voices, it sounds like I just walked into a cocktail party." I heard nothing.

You know the thing about ghosts, if they do indeed exist, is why are they always like, an old Indian woman, or a man in a civil war uniform, (or a woman in a white flowing gown!) Isn't their some housewife with curlers in her hair strolling around post death checking on things?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Against The Wall

I am a real estate broker and this has been a very rough year, not for the faint of heart, that's for sure. I work mostly high end properties, so one or two sales a year are not unusual for me. I work all year for those one or two sales, full time, full out. I love what I do and I'm good at it. I've been a broker for 17 years, 15 of them in the office I currently hang my license in. There are four other real estate firms within a half a mile of my office. We are a small office, there are five of us, all women, and we do about 90% of the business that gets done. My single best day ever, I had back to back closings and closed 5,650,000 million dollars of property. I LOVED that day. The sense of accomplishment was awesome.

Real estate tends to bring out the worst in people sometimes, and there have been times when I know these people I'm dealing with are perfectly nice people, and the pressure and emotion just gets to them and they go off. I have been cursed at, hung up on, shouted at.... and I just ignore the bad behavior. The sellers and buyers I deal with tend to be used to getting what they want, and I rarely deal with first time buyers or sellers. These people are seasoned in real estate transactions. They don't like to be told no (let's face it, neither do I!). I had one buyer who had been at the property he had an accepted offer on numerous times with architects, designers, landscape people, sound engineers, etc. The sellers threw the gauntlet down, no more visits until he was in contract. So the next time he called me to arrange for yet another visit, I had no choice but to tell him. The language I heard on the other end of the phone would make George Carlin blush. The next time he called me, he was all sunshine and kittens and did not mention his tantrum at all. He has also been one of my biggest supporters, and I have sold friends of his their country properties. I had another buyer who was dinking around with negotiating, and he called me and said, "Ok, my wife gave me my marching orders, how do I get this done?" and we got it done. Funny stories.

I had one couple fly out for the weekend from their home base in California. We had discussed the inventory at length before they arrived, and I had everything lined up they wanted to see. There was one property they omitted, and I thought they should see it. "Are you sure you don't want to add this property?" "We are sure, we're not at all excited about that house." Ok, fine. We see everything they wanted to see, spent all day reviewing. It had started to rain, everyone was getting burned out on looking at property, and none of the properties were right for them. I suggested, just for fun, they see the house they were not excited about, they walked in and said, "This is our house." I had another buyer not even get inside the house when he announced he was buying it.

That being said, most transactions are not so cut and dried, and there is always, always a time when the proverbial shit hits the fan. I am involved in such a transaction right now, and have a lot riding on it. Every communication is critical at a time like this. We have not had a closing more than two million dollars since 2006, and I have an offer of over four million dollars on a property, and it's a highest and best proposition; take it or leave it. It's also cash, which is huge because jumbo mortgages right now are very difficult if not impossible to obtain.

The listing agent on this property is also my office mate, and she appears to be on the brink of a nervous breakdown. I have had this offer on the table for more than a week, and there have been countless emails and conversations with the sellers; the pressure is intense. She only has a few years under her belt, and has never had a deal of this magnitude. I just keep telling her never let them see you sweat. People react to confidence. She is taking the sellers out this afternoon to look at rental properties so they know they have options to move into and can take their time looking to buy a smaller property in the community. One of those properties happens to be my listing, and I've asked her to show it last. I'm going to surprise the sellers with a little visit and see if I can get this done for everyone's sanity.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Best Laid Plans

So last night I had four girlfriends over for the evening. My husband rarely travels on business, but he was away last night, so I planned a girls night. I had everything planned out and had the day off, so I was looking forward to attending to every detail leisurely. Until the power went out for five hours due to high winds here. Living on a mountain basically, we lose power every so often, usually for a brief time; no big deal. I had polished all my silver over the weekend - I thought why not, I'll be ahead of the game for the holidays. So at least that was done.

I don't know, I am a bit of a study in contrasts I think. I can happily eat off a paper plate and drink beer out of a bottle, but other times I get all girly and have to pull out the good stuff, and honestly, very little pleases me more than fussing about my house getting ready for guests when I'm in that kind of mood. So I did what I could without electricity, I put new candles in candle sticks and hurricane shades, I set the table, which included a mini pumpkin at everyone's place setting, and God help me, I even had fall colored, maple-leaf shaped shiny confetti that I sprinkled on the table cloth, and topped it with little pumpkin colored votive candles. China, crystal, silverware, linen napkins.... check.

If a man had been around, he might have concurred that either I had bought something ridiculously expensive or he was going to get lucky. I don't really operate like that though. I once went out before we were going to a cocktail party a couple of years ago because I needed pantyhose. I hate pantyhose, but it was winter and I was wearing a black dress..I needed to wear some. So off I go, and I pass a store that has a huge banner announcing it's having a big sale on coats. I thought you know, I should go in there, I could really use a new trench coat. I go in, and I see a bunch of people milling around some roped off area, so of course I have to see what the fuss is about. Huh, a whole section of fur coats on sale. You know what happens next. So I am standing in line waiting to pay for my gorgeous brand new ankle length fur coat, and it occurs to me this might be a shock when i return home. I was, after all, going to buy pantyhose. So I call home and say, listen, just so you're not surprised, I just bought a fur coat. He is not surprised.

Anyway, so mid afternoon yesterday I'm starting to get antsy about the power still being off. I was still in my pajamas because I couldn't blow dry my hair anyway at that point, and I'm beginning to consider that dinner is going to be hot dogs on the grill. The power comes back though, and all is well. By the time my first girlfriend arrived at 6, I had even had time to have a half a glass of wine and relax for a few minutes. We had wine and appetizers in front of a nice fire I had going in the fireplace in the living room, then dinner in the dining room. No shortage of talking, but that's a given when you get five women together.

I am fortunate enough to have some wonderful old sterling silver pieces from my grandmother, her mother, and HER mother. Some of them are engraved with the various ladies monograms. I love that I own a piece of my ancestor's history, and I often wonder about them when I pull out what were once their treasures, to use. I bet they'd be happy that I use them regularly and keep them polished. I was thinking last night as I was hand washing them after everyone left, who's going to take care of them and enjoy them after me? I can't really picture either of my kids polishing antique silver, but I'd sure like to think one of them would love it and take care of it. On that note: use the good stuff.

Friday, October 2, 2009


I went to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band at Giants stadium at the Meadowlands in New Jersey this past Wednesday. I first saw him in 1986 in St. Louis, Missouri, when I lived there (unfortunately - that I lived in St. Louis- not that I saw him) I was a few months pregnant with my son, who is now 23, and the concert was so long I kept hoping he would stop so I could go home and go to bed, but I was loving the concert so much I didn't consider leaving for a second. Women in their first trimester get pretty sleepy.

Anyway, I have seen Bruce numerous times between then and now, and I always enjoy it. We have gone the past couple of times with some of our oldest and dearest friends, Steve and Patrice. They live on Long Island and we meet up, tailgate in the parking lot and enjoy the concert together. We've gone to several college reunions with them (Steve and Tom were once room mates and graduated together) and a long weekend with our respective kids in Vermont. I think as you get older, you appreciate long time friendships that have stood the test of time.

Usually for these get togethers we run like a finely oiled machine. We have tables, chairs, tablecloths, grills, a vast array of snacks and drinks. This year not so much. Steve and Patrice have had a lot on their plates recently which I will not go into here. I really don't have an excuse of any kind, the date just kind of got here.

It was all good though, and the company is what is most important, of course, it just wasn't what is typical of our tailgating. We had plenty to eat and drink, but not a chair to sit on in the parking lot. It was a chilly evening, in the fifties, but the one thing we did have in abundant supply was outerwear. Patrice brought an entire trunk full of coats, fleeces, sweatshirts, etc. I burst out laughing when I opened the trunk and saw it all. We joked that maybe we could each sit on a pile of jackets.

We had champagne, and I brought along champagne flutes, because the champagne was Veuve Cliquot, and you really shouldn't drink that out of a plastic beer cup. It's just wrong. Beside which, I had a New Year's day brunch a couple of years ago, and I went to William Sonoma to buy champagne flutes, because I certainly didn't have enough for the thirty or forty people we were expecting. They had some on sale for some ridiculous price, like two bucks, so I asked how many they had. They told me 40 so I just bought all of them. So if they got broken, I've got about 38 more at home.

We went on opening night for this leg of them playing the Meadowlands, and there is something magical about seeing Springsteen in his "home" stadium. The powers that be are building a new Giants Stadium, and the existing one will be torn down, and he opened with a song he had written for the occasion called "Wrecking Ball." He ran through the entire Born To Run album, in order, which was great fun.

We had a drink in the parking lot and let some of the traffic clear out and got home around 2 am. It was pretty windy that night, and for a moment during the concert I looked around, the breeze ruffling everyone's hair, the music cranking, and I'm not sure when I've had a better time on a beautiful autumn evening.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Have They No Dignity (Or Shame)?

People behaving badly recently. Serena Williams put on quite a show at the open, walloping her tennis racquet against the court and unleashing a profanity laced tirade to the line judge. I know, I know, she's an athlete, she's competitive, she wants to win. Unacceptable, period. I tell you what though, I wouldn't want her to be pissed at me, she looks like she could kick some serious ass. I am uncomfortable with confrontation, which is sort of funny being I'm a real estate broker. I am competitive in that arena and have a bit of an alternate personality that kicks in business wise. In fact, there are other real estate brokers who would prefer not to mess with me too much business wise. I don't throw fits or tirades though.

Then we have Madonna, who gave a "tribute" to Michael Jackson at the Video Music Awards recently. What should have been about Michael Jackson turned out to be all about Madonna. Go figure, huh?

And the current ass of the week has to be Kanye West, who interrupted Taylor Swift as she was attempting to give her thanks and accept the award she had just won at the VMA's. He felt it necessary to grab the microphone from her and give props to Beyonce. I think Beyonce is great, I'm a fan, and so are lots of other people because she went on to win an even bigger award later in the evening. She graciously brought Taylor back on stage, but the moment was gone for her.

I think the commonality in all this is when you behave badly, it only reflects on you. I like my idea having an ass of the week. And I'm glad Serena Williams won't read this. She'd make me cry.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

September 11

It was a Tuesday, a Tuesday that we shouldn't really remember at all. Beautiful fall day, crystal blue, cloudless sky. But what happens on a beautiful September Tuesday normally? You get up, drink your coffee, shower, get kids off to school, go to work, or stay home and run things there; ordinary - unremarkable stuff. Life. Get up the next day and do it all again. Only, of course, the unimaginable happened.

I was in a car with my boss and my associate headed to New Jersey for a meeting with our website designers. I had not turned on tv, and as we happily chatted and listened to music in the car, we had no idea what was going on. Until we got to the top of a hill in Bergen County, New Jersey, and when the sky is clear, as it most certainly was that day, you can see Manhattan unfold like the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. A giant cloud of smoke. We are not terribly concerned. Huh, must be some fire. Wow, hope people are ok. We have no idea it's the World Trade Center.

We go to our meeting, and the news is starting to break. One of the web designers says, "Something is going on in Manhattan, they think a small plane may have accidentally hit one of the twin towers." That's a shame, wonder how that happened; casual concern all around.

Then the air changes, someone from their reception area comes in and whispers to them. They look at us and say, "We have to turn on the tv, something bad is going on." So we sit, riveted, watching what is going on, speechless, and trying to understand the scope of it. It is then the news starts looping the crashes, first one, then the second. The first time this small room of people see the first plane hit, there is cringing. When we see the second plane come in, the sun sparkling off it, and careen into the second tower, the realization starts to hit us. It's amazing how quiet a room full of people can be when their brains are working to try to process something so absurd and implausible as two planes, BAM! BAM! rocketing into the twin towers. We are glued to the tv, just disbelieving. There is no meeting. We get in the car to head back up to the Hudson Valley, and already there is just a mass exodus out of the city. People are on their cell phones, some are crying. There are absurd decisions to consider - my associate was to cover the office that day - and she looked at me and asked, "Do I sit in the office?" I told her to go home.

As I learned that one of the hijacked planes took off from Boston and literally followed my beloved Hudson River right down into midtown, all I could think was that they flew over my house, and Marymount, my college, and my husband's alma mater, the United States Military Academy at West Point. They used my Hudson River to navigate their way, in our bright New York sunshine, to cripple my city and wreak unspeakable havoc, carnage, and fear. New Yorkers are a lot of things, but fearful is generally not one of them.

I think more than anything, we didn't know what to do because it was unprecedented. And we were powerless to do a damn thing about what was going on. Phones start ringing. I am located, on a great traffic day, about a 45 minute drive from Manhattan, so lots of folks in this general area work and commute to the city. We lost two residents of our tiny town, one a young firefighter, a childhood friend of my brother's, and one a middle aged, wealthy business man. Terrorists don't discriminate. All told, 55 people in the lower Hudson Valley lost their lives that day. People are calling friends, neighbors, taking roll call. Then the planes hit Pennsylvania, and the Pentagon. Surreal.

As New Yorkers, we take great pride in our city, and this was (and remains) intensely personal to us, just as I'm sure it was, and is, to the residents of Pennsylvania and Arlington. People that could get out of the city tried, and it took hours upon hours for them to get home that day. We heard stories of people spared by fate, too. An attorney friend of mine, whose office was at the World Trade Center, was called unexpectedly to meet a client for breakfast that day. A friend of my daughter's parents had an argument that morning, and her father missed his train because of it.

Although that was eight years ago now, I don't still don't think we are far enough removed from it to register it fully. (Someday, and please mark my words, there will be a movie made about those days events, maybe Spielberg is genius enough to do it with the dignity and honor it deserves) And yet we're close enough to remember, mourn, and recall exactly what we were doing that day.

From all the images fired at us in the following days - flyers posted looking for loved ones, the American Flag being raised at ground zero, people covered in ash and soot literally running for their lives, there is one image that still haunts me. As the heat became so intense that people started choosing to jump to their certain deaths rather than remain in the inferno - one couple, a man and a woman, jumped together, holding hands. Did they know each other? Were they co-workers; lovers? Were they strangers who had never seen each other, and fate threw them together, and they decided it would be easier to have a companion to hold their hand as they dropped to their deaths? There is a story there.

But in the end, like the Whos in Whoville, who stand shoulder to shoulder together after the Grinch steals their Christmas, we came together. As families, friends, neighbors; as communities, as states, and as a country. What should have been a forgettable Tuesday in September, will never, ever be again.

Friday, September 4, 2009


I was thinking about the seven things people generally don't know about me, and I have come to realize just how quirky I am. How about this: I have two dogs, one is a 90 pound labrador retriever whose main job is to shed hair all over the house, and in particular, my wool, oriental rug in the living room. I also have two long haired cats who do not go outside (except on a leash on my deck, which is another story altogether). One is a purebred persian in full coat. I vacuum several times a week and I love my Electrolux Oxygen vacuum. However, when I get out of the shower, I go OUTSIDE to comb and detangle my wet hair, so I don't get any hair in the house. I do this all year, except on the coldest/snowiest days. Go figure....