Monday, April 7, 2008

The Great Apartment Hunt Pt. 4: Cash Only!

That night we waited in our apartment for Lauren to drop by and pick up the deposit. “I’m going to be in the neighborhood anyway,” she said, “I’m visiting friends in the Village.”

She came by at 8:00 p.m. and we buzzed her up. It was altogether way more intimate than the usual interactions with brokers. I mean they usually show you a place to live, rarely do they see the place where you live.

After the usual positive comments about how she loves our cats—seriously, almost every woman who visits us has to say this, it’s like a commandment—we got down to business. Sure, $1300 seemed like lot to write off for her broker’s fee, but it was worth it. We hadn’t found anyplace as nice on our own, and now we’d have at least one item on our never-ending list of pre-baby things to do taken care of. I wrote up a check and handed it to her.

“Oh, yeah, I don’t take checks,” she said. “Cash only.”

Cash only? I’m sorry, is this a drug deal? I’d never heard of a broker who only took cash. We sure didn’t have $1300 in greenbacks in our apartment. And if we ran to the ATM it would take us like six separate transactions to get out that amount. (Think of the fees!) Plus, weren’t we presumably going to pay the rent with checks? If so why wouldn’t our check be good enough for her broker’s fee?

“Really?” I asked. “That’s kind of odd. Why don’t you take checks?”

“That’s just not how we do it,” Lauren answered, clearly growing impatient to go out and get her drink on. “I can give you my broker’s number, and you can check that. Trust me we do this all the time.”

The broker’s number was another concept I hadn’t heard of. Apparently it was some kind of licensing deal where if she runs off with the money we have some kind of proof that she is a broker and did something we didn’t like. I didn’t know whom we would call if that happened, or what they could do, but some reassurance, I supposed, is better than none. Also, we had the name of her brokerage firm, too, since she’d given us a business card. Although every time I called the office they just told me to call her at home anyway. Where I would get voicemail: “Hi, this is Lauren, thanks for calling!”

We couldn’t do the deal that night, which made our hearts sink. New York apartments pretty much vaporize if they’re out on the market for a hot minute, so we had to get the cash to her within a day or so if we wanted to have any kind of shot. But this all seemed kind of weird to us.

Once Lauren left to go party downtown we looked up everything we could find online about either her, or her brokerage company. A few meager hits came up, telling us almost nothing about her. The brokerage company also yielded maybe two to three hits, and, again, told us nothing.

The next day we visited a friend of mine that lived in Edgewater, N.J., named Craig. He and his wife were scheduled to leave for a long trip in a few weeks, as he had gotten a job overseas. They had a nice-sized two-bedroom apartment, and also, it turned out, might need someone to occupy it for the duration of their time away, which would be at least a year, but more likely two. If another family member didn't need it the apartment would be available. That was all we needed to hear. Sold! Or, I guess, rented!

So now we had still didn’t have a place to live, yet, but two promising ventures. Especially because with the Edgewater place we’d be about 15 minutes away from my Mom, who could help in the baby-sitting and grand-mothering departments.

So now with two hot leads on our hands, we weren’t quite sure what to do. If Craig’s place came through, and we gave Lauren $1300 cash we were screwed. But if we gave her the money and somehow neither place came through, how easy would it be to get back our cash? She could’ve blown it on scrunchies and bubblegum by then. We tried to buy a few days time with Lauren. The Edgewater place looked like a 50-50 proposition, but we were willing to gamble, because the payoff was so strong. Amazingly, though, Lauren’s apartment was still on the market by the end of Sunday, and even through that Tuesday.

What happened next is probably pretty predictable. Craig’s aunt and uncle realized that it made sense for them to have a place available for their occasional visits to New York. He tried his hardest to convince them, but they couldn’t be swayed. So, game over. Next we called Lauren back. Now it was Thursday. And by now the apartment had been rented. We were back to square one.

We consoled one another that it was truly strange to expect potential renters to hand over $1300 in cash to an amateurish broker of not much repute, aligned with some little-known real estate firm. I mean, really, should we hand the cash over in a brown paper bag just to complete the desired organized crime effect? But there was no getting around it, we were bummed.

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