This summer marked the 25th anniversary of the airing of the “Seinfeld” pilot. What was touted as a “show about nothing” may more accurately be described as a show about New York City and its inhabitants, filled with all their delicious quirks and foibles. And nothing’s more New York than talking about real estate.
Where else is it common — even acceptable — to ask someone what they paid for their apartment on the first meeting? More often than not you will be given an answer proudly, either because the person wants to boast about getting such a great deal, or humble-brag about paying a record high price. Urban legends abound about a rent-controlled tenant only paying $106 for a classic six on the Upper West Side or a co-op board interview so extreme it left the interviewee in therapy for the better part of a decade.
Ever the aficionados of “Seinfeld,” we watched every episode – yes, every episode — to highlight our favorite real estate moments. We do these things so you don’t have to.
1. Apartment envy: Early in the series, several episodes revolve around real estate. In the third episode Elaine has the quintessential New York renter’s problem: She is having roommate problems, so she asks George, a real estate broker, to try to find her a new apartment. When George instead offers Jerry an Upper West Side dream unit, Elaine asks Jerry if she can take his old apartment even though it was recently burgled. As Jerry is about to sign the lease, George gets apartment envy. Ultimately, the two decide — after flipping a coin for the place, no less — that they don’t want an apartment to come between them. They then offer the unit to a waitress. George, Elaine and Jerry are all miserable because of their real estate-induced angst. At the housewarming party thrown by the waitress, they overhear two people discussing another person moving, to which the three ask in unison: “How much is the rent?” But that was the 1990s. Surely apartment burglaries don’t happen anymore.
2. The importance of being insured: In the same episode in which Jerry’s apartment gets robbed, Kramer is baffled by how his friend doesn’t have renter’s insurance. How many New Yorkers also regret putting that off?
3. Astronomical fees: In season two, an episode ran called “The Apartment,” in which Elaine is once again depressed about her rental. When Jerry overhears his building managers discussing a neighbor who died, he offers the apartment to Elaine because of how affordable it is. He quickly starts having second thoughts about having his ex living so close, but doesn’t want to disappoint her. He is soon informed that the managers now want a $5,000 fee for Elaine to take over the unit. Jerry offers to lend her the money, despite his apprehensions, but is bailed out when the managers end up taking a $10,000 fee from someone else. Surely no one in our industry would accept bribes.
4. The homicidal broker: Early in the series, George is employed as a real estate broker. But he ends up arguing with his boss and quits, only to return to the job acting as if he didn’t quit (the scene here). He gets re-hired, but in true Costanza style, gets fired again because he tried to drug his boss. A New York broker would never do that …
5. Doorman vs. non-doorman: Well into the sixth season, Jerry visits Elaine in Mr. Pitt’s swanky building, where he has a rather awkward run-in with a chatty doorman (played by comic Larry Miller). Walk-ups never looked so good! Of course, in the real world, most New York City doormen are model citizens.
6. Co-op board interviewee from hell: George is excited about moving into a new apartment, but the board must first approve him. They opt to select an Andrea Doria survivor instead as their new tenant. George confronts the tenant and decides to compete with him for the unit. He requests to meet with the board, contending that his life is far more tragic than that of the selected tenant. George regales them with the many tragedies of his life over the course of hours, but in the end he loses the unit because another applicant bribes the Super. Of course, no New York interviewee could be this diabolical.
7 and 8. Renovations are never easy: Jerry has decided to renovate his kitchen cabinets, but his contractor can’t seem to take any initiative. Jerry implores him to use his own judgment and just get the job done, but in doing so, Jerry ends up with a design no one likes. He finally needs to pay $4,000 to redo the whole job. Obviously, renovations never cause such a big headache.