It’s easy to feel helpless and vulnerable during your apartment search, tired of hoofing it from place to place, and being let down almost every time. On top of that, I was skeptical of my realtor, Angel, a 50-ish Asian woman who drives a Jaguar, when she first showed me the apartment I inevitably took.
Not unlike a character out of a real estate cartoon, Angel met me in front of a building she owns just down the street from the apartment she was renting me. She made it immediately clear how much of an over-sharer she is. “I rent my two-bedroom apartments for $2,000! You will get a good deal here!,” she squealed, before double-speaking. “I represent YOU! This is not my building, I work for the landlord!”
It was hard to know what was true and what was her poor attempt at salesmanship, or, even worse, if she was being dishonest. But, after seeing a few other places, I went ahead with it anyway. I needed a place, and my roommate, Will, had a strict deadline to get out of his place that was approaching in a matter of days. Angel was the only realtor showing us a decent amount of space at a reasonable price.
On top of the mountain of paperwork required, along with the deposit to secure the apartment, Angel was asking for a 15 percent fee. The condition of the apartment would have forced any other reasonable landlord to pay someone to take it off his or her hands. Will and I had entered the alternate reality of realty, where common sense has no effect on price, or anything else, really.
A few days later Angel arranged for Will and I to meet the landlord, Eugene, an African-American man at least over 60, and give him our deposit. When we arrived and handed him the money order he immediately fended off rumors that he was, in fact, the building’s landlord. Then we learned he is a talker. Standing in the empty, cold apartment, he told us tales of his 26 years driving a New York City bus (he has the belt buckle to prove it); how he’d come up North during the Great Migration; and how he represents the interests of a family down South, including this building. Regardless, Angel continued to refer to him as the landlord, and so does PropertyShark and ACRIS, where I learned he’s even paid off the mortgage.
Deposit down, we began to amass the ridiculous amount of information necessary to secure a (cheap!) place to rest our heads. On top of the nonrefundable $75 credit check fee, Angel required copies of our driver’s licenses, social security cards, last four pay stubs, an employment letter, three years of tax returns, a utility bill, current lease, birth certificates and proofs of citizenship. Oh, and three months of bank statements were optional. Having already had my identity stolen, I was skeptical, and gave her as few of the crucial bits of information as I could. Then I talked her fee down by 50 percent to just one month’s rent. I felt a little better.
A few days later I got a voicemail from Angel. “Someone else is interested in the apartment,” she said. “So if things don’t work out, we have a back up.”
As if the process weren’t soul-crushing enough, she attempted to crush me even further. It felt like a boyfriend who just wasn’t all that into me anymore.
Finally, we were set to sign the lease, which we did on the hood of Angel’s Jaguar in front of a bus stop on Washington Avenue. As Will and I were reading over the paperwork, Angel turned to my boyfriend, Brian, and remarked that she wasn’t certain she should hand over the keys just yet – she was unsure our money orders were real. (Obviously, they were.) He looked at her incredulously. Had she forgotten he was with us? She turned back to us, and like a spastic mother, began reminding us of all the things we needed to do now that the apartment was ours. She even shared the fact that Eugene had yet to pay her fees, and she refused to do any more work for his retail space downstairs. We nodded, thanked her, and entered our new apartment.
Will and I have sort of a good guy/bad guy relationship going with Angel now. Mostly I’m demanding and Will’s really nice. But what would be really nice is if Eugene replaced the thermostat that he’s removed from our living room, forcing temperatures down to the barely legal minimum.