Real-Estate Fable: Loose Lips Sink Co-ops!

Two years ago, learning that a developer planned to erect a high-rise whose shadow would turn our classic six into a tomb, we sold our co-op. The real estate bubble will burst, my husband and I thought. Let’s rent and get back into the market. (Stop laughing!) Starting last January, we devoted every Sunday to that soulless time suck, the open house, patiently waiting for our five-minute spin through overpriced coops. We were outbid six times.

By now, it was spring. We were sick of sacrificing weekends to fruitless searches and decided to give it a rest. Our broker, however, was a dog who’d found a particularly tasty bone. He’d spotted a listing that hadn’t even made it into the computer system and named a building whose architecture I’d always admired. The best part? The co-op promised a glorious view of what, for me, is hallowed ground: the Central Park Reservoir. I rushed to meet him.

The place hadn’t been painted since my 10th birthday. I’d be afraid to pee in the bathroom. The owner, an Alzheimer sufferer, sat sadly in a chair, but I’d like to think she was comforted by the view, because it was heavenly. One peek out the window-which is exactly what I got-and I decided this hovel was my destiny. I called my husband. “Make a bid,” he said. “You see it,” I insisted. We set an appointment for the following day.

The next morning, I went running with a close friend. Fueled by my excitement, I ran faster than usual, describing the apartment in enthusiastic detail. She knew the building well-one of her boyfriends lived there.

Later that morning, minutes after my husband saw the co-op, we bid the asking price. Hours later, our broker called to tell us someone had bid after us. Would we raise our offer? We did. We didn’t think we were getting the deal of the century, but we loved the apartment. Two days later, the broker called to say that our bid had been accepted. The listing broker thought us the perfect buyers. Contracts would be drawn!

But there was more: The other bidder was someone from within the building, someone who’d heard about the co-op not through a broker, but another source. Someone who was now raising hell because he hadn’t gotten a chance to outbid us. He thought we might know the guy.

Yes, he was my “friend’s” boyfriend. As my buddy tells the story, she was so excited that we might move into “Seymour’s” building that she called him to share the news. Little did I know, but Seymour was hoping to downsize. Through his doorman, he tracked down the listing broker, who was still in the building after showing the apartment, and-accompanied by my friend-saw the co-op.

This is where it gets icky. Seymour-abetted by my friend-broke three rules governing human behavior in New York City. First, there’s the Golden Rule. Next, there’s the Tenth Commandment, the one about the ass: Thou Shalt Not Covet (thy friend’s privileged information-i.e., a listing known only through a broker). Third, there’s The Rule of Loehmann’s. I’m sure you know it: If there’s only one pair of Marc Jacobs pants in size four and I put them on my dressing room hook, you don’t get to snatch them while I try on the size six.

Why didn’t the broker allow Seymour the chance to top our offer? The answer is that since the owner was ill, the broker couldn’t make a big tzimmes with an open house. She wanted a quick, quiet deal; we could buy this apartment with the cash from our last sale, but Seymour would need to first unload his big apartment. Also, we learned, Seymour’s persistent calling started to annoy her. Brokers have feelings, too.

We signed our contract, submitting it with the down payment and paperwork as thick as a brick. (Note to President Bush: If you really want to find Osama, put a New York City co-op board on the case. They can find out anything.)

July 4 came and went. The summer dragged on. Our broker cautioned us against taking a vacation far from New York, since we could be called for an interview on a day’s notice. Labor Day came and went. The season changed. Still no interview. (Or vacation.) Everyone got cranky-both brokers, the seller’s representative and (I can assure you) us. But co-ops can govern however they choose. Forget the fact that most shareholders wouldn’t be able to buy into their buildings at today’s prices.

Finally-four months after I first saw the apartment-we got our chance to go before a firing squad. “Do you play any musical instruments?” the board wondered. I assured them that we had no talent, none. “If you move into the building, we suggest you get new windows right away.” This sounded promising. Our broker expected to learn our fate the next day, but time marched on. Meanwhile, we bumped into almost every board member at our synagogue over the High Holy Days.

A week later: R-E-J-E-C-T-I-O-N.

Co-op boards never offer buyers explanations, so we did our research. We found out that the board thought we fit the profile of the building to the point of being a Woody Allen stereotype, and we weren’t turned down because of finances. Our Deep Throat told us we were rejected because someone from within the building had messed with the board’s collective head. Turns out Seymour had convinced them that if we bought the apartment at the price that had been set, exceeded and accepted, it would downgrade the value of everyone else’s co-op shares. With a sense of collective greed or responsibility-take your pick-the board bought into this thinking.

What have I learned? Beware co-ops? That’s tricky if you like prewar.

Our city is bluer than I’d thought? Perhaps. “A co-op board can meddle with a price?” an Italian friend asked, shocked. “Your country is socialist!”

If you find a good apartment, zip your lips? Bingo. I was a fool to tell anyone-even a friend-about promising real estate in this white-hot market.

 Did Seymour get the apartment after all? There is justice, because the answer is no. At the co-op board’ s insistence, the apartment was relisted at a higher price-which Seymour couldn’t afford!

But there’s an even happier ending. After our deal crashed, we found another co-op to buy, and this time, I kept my big mouth shut. At our interview last week, the board all but welcomed us with champagne.

We closed recently, and we expect to entertain a lot in our new apartment. But two guests we won’t be having are Seymour and my “friend.”