Here in New York we’ve entered a not-so-brave new world of semi-normal. Forget about consistency—especially when it comes to viewing real estate. Many buildings on the Upper East Side allow brokers to show apartments with various limits. I’ve seen about half a dozen apartments since New York emerged from lock-down. In addition to making masks mandatory, all buildings have taken my temperature and required me to sign paperwork attesting to my health and absence of coronavirus contacts (perfectly sensible and appropriate).
Other buildings have taken precautions a step (or a leap?) further. In several apartments, the broker provided me with blue paper booties AND plastic gloves. Was I looking at a potential home or preparing to perform surgery? At one building on East 72nd Street, I was told that the board was so strict that I had to be pre-qualified to buy the apartment before I was allowed to even LOOK at it (!!!) As New Yorkers are decamping to second homes full-time, or relocating to areas with schools that will open in the fall, buyers like me and my husband are a precious commodity—if not a total oddity. An unusually warm and enthusiastic welcome has been provided by selling brokers.
Some of these selling brokers verge on predatory. At a building on East 75th Street where we had an appointment, a broker representing a different apartment pounced on us in the lobby. “As long as you’re here to see the apartment on the 12th floor, why not come see mine on the 20th floor afterward?” she suggested. “It’s a little more money but it has a 3rd bedroom and panoramic views throughout.” The broker whipped out her paperwork for us to sign before our own broker even arrived.
I looked at Howard. What else are we doing on a Sunday afternoon during a heatwave?
Needless to say, the first broker—with whom we had the appointment—was not a happy camper. Nevertheless, he one showed us his 12th floor apartment and then joined us to view the apartment on the 20th floor. First, he refused to provide paper booties. Then he whispered to me that the dark wood floors were cheap fakes, unlike the expensive and durable maple wood floors at “his” apartment on the 12th floor.
As it turned out, Howard and I didn’t like either apartment. If a gun had been put to my head, I would have chosen the one on the 12th floor (even though it was a bit small and Howard hated the doors). The three-bedroom on the 20th floor did not have “panoramic” views. The “city views” from our 9th floor apartment on Second Avenue are probably better. And that third bedroom? It was the size of a small walk-in closet—probably not big enough for a twin bed and claustrophobic for a crib.
Of course, the apartment we are most interested in seeing is at the extreme end of the precaution spectrum. We have wanted to see it for over a month, but the Board has voted to bar brokers. Until recently, no visitors except blood relatives and emergency repair people were allowed into the building. Now they have opened their doors to housekeepers, dog walkers and nannies. The apartment is empty and owned by an estate, so I couldn’t pretend to be the owner’s housekeeper or a dog walker. (Yes, I thought of that!) However, there is clearly no chance of infecting the owner of the apartment, because she died BEFORE the coronavirus. Then again, nothing in the world makes much sense to me anymore, so this is just another frustrating example.
Social distancing has created absurd and confusing situations. In my rental building with tiny elevators, there are 4 circular signs on the floor advising social distancing of six feet. This is totally ridiculous since the signs are about 2 feet apart. Unfortunately, there are only two elevators in my building. One of them is usually out of service because of garbage removal or tenants moving, which means you could grow gray hair waiting for a “safe” elevator to ride alone.
I can’t wait to move into a building with three elevators. I also can’t wait for a new president, a safe vaccine, and equal rights for minorities including my own daughter on the autism spectrum. In the meantime, I tell myself to be patient and stay positive. No easy task. For me, staying positive means having a goal and generating forward momentum. My version of the American Dream has always included purchasing a home. But it never occurred to me that I’d be looking for that home during an international pandemic. Life is paradoxical and full of surprises.
Speaking of surprises, someone nervy with an ironic sense of humor placed a mask on the sculpture of Atlas holding up the world at Rockefeller Center. I couldn’t help smiling at the sight. Perhaps there’s hope for humanity after all, even if we can’t yet see how to resolve the multiple crises engulfing us.
Buying an apartment in a city from which many people are fleeing may seem counter-intuitive. But if Atlas can wear a mask and stay put, so can we.