September 1st 2011
Mann Report Residential
In mid July, Fred Peters posted a blog about the complexities inherent in a broker’s job “as well as the multiple pleasures.” He mused, “Our business involves strategizing . . . relationship management . . . aesthetics . . . negotiating skill, and it often involves being a strong hand within the softest velvet glove,” concluding, “There is no other work quite like it.” I love my work. It’s meaningful, challenging and satisfying. Over the years, I’ve had the privilege of providing service to hundreds of buyers and sellers with whom I’ve developed many very special connections. I’d like to tell you about one of my recent clients—a very special lady I’ll call Helena (not her real name) because it reads like a lovely love story.
Helena is an elegant, gutsy octogenarian who was referred to me by our mutual investment manager. She’s petite, small framed, but no pushover. Her blue eyes sparkle when she speaks, so you barely notice the lines on her silky cheeks and brow. She’s a lover of the arts, especially ballet. A widow for 29 years, she was interested in exploring purchasing options and also selling her Sutton Place South apartment that had been her home for 33 years. Her needs were very specific: she required a 2 Bedroom/2 Bath apartment close to her Club on East 66th Street with a washer/dryer, central air conditioning, a view of trees, monthly charges under $2000 for a budget of about $2 Million.
I was heading for a 10 day trip to Amsterdam and Prague so we set a first meeting for when I returned. She was clear, nearly apologetic. She said she didn’t want to waste my time and was not really sure she was either a buyer or a seller, and that she was “shopping around”—which I took to mean that she was interviewing other brokers also. When we met, it was love at first sight, and I made her a promise. If we could find her next home and sell her current one, I would do everything in my power to make the process easy for her.
Helena was adept at the computer and could easily navigate the listings I forwarded and evaluate their potential. Once we identified the building that matched all her conditions, I suggested that we bring in her designer to see how her traditional furnishings would translate in the modern light-filled space.
The new space had everything on Helena’s wish list, but the closets were not as generous as those she would be leaving, though there was ample space where more could be added. I measured in linear feet all the hanging, shelf and drawer areas in Helena’s current home so we would know how much more she would need to build in the new place.
Helena asked for an attorney referral, and I chose one who had previous experience at the condo where we were buying with the caveat that she would need kid glove treatment every step of the way, including personal trips to her apartment for contract review and signing.
Once contract negotiations were underway on the new place, I tackled preparing Helena’s apartment to show. She was a very willing participant in the process, and accepted nearly all my suggestions. Although at first averse to removing an old fashioned dark wood trellis in the kitchen’s dinette, she quickly understood how repainting the area would brighten the space. With the help of a building porter, I removed several accent tables and scatter rugs to her basement storage, repositioned a number of other pieces, and pulled out some pretty accessories from her cupboard. I bought new cabinet knobs to freshen the overall look of a kitchen that a new purchaser would probably gut anyway.
Helena was reluctant to hire a professional declutterer, so we started together to purge her closets of 33 years of accumulating belongings. For three days, we worked side by side tackling one deep closet at a time, creating separate piles for discards and give-aways. I repositioned the items on her built-in library shelves which were crammed with books and knick knacks to display them more artfully. Once she was on a roll and confident that she could continue on her own, she was quite industrious to complete the task by herself. She bought decorative baskets and matching hangers for her closets. Her daughter-in-law came to pack up the Minton china which was shipped off to a granddaughter. USA Shred collected three industrial size garbage bags stuffed with business papers, financial statements and tax returns. The handy man lifted one of the linoleum tiles in the Living Room to reveal gorgeous herring bone wood floors beneath. The windows were washed.
At the eleventh hour before closing on the new place, Helena panicked. Her late night email was fraught with jitters: “There’s no rest for the foolish people who decide to move. . . I’m not sure what I am doing.” I picked up the phone, and we talked through her anxieties which were legitimate—she needed guidance on moving her funds to close, and where would she put the wet mop when I showed her apartment.
We’ve closed on her new place, and are negotiating now on the sale of her Sutton Place South apartment. We’re close on that, but no cigar yet. “I’d like nice people to live here,” she told me. I’ve shared with her tips on moving and taken her shopping at Gracious Home where with my 10% discount, she purchased an assortment of door stops, bathroom and closet accessories, and new Bona products for her wood floors. She and I have a very strong mutual admiration society going. She calls me her “incredible special angel,” and to me, she’s an incredible model of courage. I so admire the strength of will it took to embark on this move at this stage in her life. At one point she reflected, “This is so much better than going to a retirement home.” At our celebration dinner after closing, I discovered that she was a foodie, and we shared a love of fine dining and wine pairing. What a joy to make a new friend and close two deals in the process.