Surviving the real estate game
By Anderson Cooper
Editor's note: Anderson Cooper anchors CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360°," which airs weeknights at 10 p.m. ET. He also is a regular contributor for Details Magazine. This article was published in the August 2005 issue.
Everyone says buying your first apartment makes you feel like an adult. What no one mentions is that selling it turns you right back into a child.
I know ... it's a seller's market, especially in Manhattan, where I live. Interest rates have never been lower, housing prices never higher. But, the truth is, that only adds to the pressure.
It's easy to be optimistic when you buy the place. You're taking a stand, making a commitment; your potential profit seems boundless.
When you sell, however, you have to face reality. Suddenly your fate is out of your hands, and the pressure's on.
Everyone expects you to make a killing; anything short of that seems like a loss.
I've never been all that attached to any place I've lived. When I was a kid, we used to move every four years, and every two years my mom would redecorate, so even when we weren't moving, it felt as if we had.
After college, I lived in a series of nondescript rentals. Dingy studio apartments, empty except for a mattress and, so I could eat cereal in the morning, a bowl and spoon.
When I came back to New York, I actually took a room in an elderly woman's apartment. She was seriously ill and had nurses around the clock. All night long I could hear her oxygen tank hiss. I moved out after a week.
I bought my apartment three years ago, after months of searching with my real estate agents, Dorothy and Eileen, two lovely ladies who work as a team. They are that rare combination of sweet-and-honest and tough-as-nails.
I toured one apartment with Eileen and kept mentioning to the owner how much I liked the place. "Stop being so positive," Eileen whispered out of the side of her mouth, teeth clenched in a frozen smile. "Don't let him know how much you want it."
A week after I put my apartment on the market, New York magazine ran a cover story essentially saying the real estate bubble was about to burst.
Sure, interest rates were still at a 30-year low, but Alan Greenspan had murmured something about overheated markets, and everyone in New York knew he was talking about us.
For the first time, Eileen used the word "softening" -- as in, "There's been some softening of the market."
That's like when your parents tell you they've put your old dog "to sleep," instead of the more accurate "We killed the dog 'cause surgery was too expensive."
Eileen suggested we lower the asking price, so we did. Within a few hours a couple of Web sites announced I'd instantly lost a bundle.
New Yorkers are predatory about real estate. When they sense softening, they move in for the kill.
We began to get offers far below the asking price. I couldn't sleep. Throughout the day, I kept calling Eileen, at work, on her cell, even at home. Then I'd call Dorothy.
Selling your apartment in New York is like dating a manic-depressive -- you get used to cycles of elation and despondency.
Every time someone would come to see the apartment, there was the thrill of the date. You want to be presentable, so you clean the place up, make sure it smells good, put on some mood lighting and mellow music.
Eileen and Dorothy wouldn't let me stay in the apartment when people were visiting, so I'd pepper them with questions afterward, devouring every morsel, every tidbit of information. What the suitors looked like. What they said. How long they stayed in the apartment.
The excitement doesn't last long, and it's followed by days of anxiety and, ultimately, despair. Rejection is inevitable, of course, but it's hard not to take it personally.
When I got an offer about 10 percent below the asking price, I jumped at it, grateful to get out before the bubble burst.
"You don't want to leave money on the table," Eileen cautioned me, and I agonized all night about what she meant. Was she saying I was leaving money on the table? Or did she simply mean theoretically one doesn't want to leave money on the table? In the end, I decided not to worry about the table at all.
I once had all these fantasies of being a real estate mogul -- driving hard bargains and making a fortune. Selling my first apartment made me quickly realize I'm no Donald Trump.
Even if I cover the whole place in gold glitter, I'm not going to be able to retire at 40, and I'm never going to get shtupped by a model named Melania.
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