Strange and true broker stories

Brokers share their best and most bizarre stories

Dec.December 01, 2004 05:11 PM

From the first showing to the final closing, every apartment sale has a story, and some of them are real jaw-droppers.

The broker and her clients who received an unexpectedly snooty greeting from a surprise squatter. The luxury co-op client who got indicted for fraud before the deal closed. The real estate attorney with a sideline in kidnapping. The tranquilized dog. (Don’t worry, it’ll all be clear below.)

From farce to tragedy, there are a million real estate stories in the naked city, and The Real Deal has collected a few memorable ones. While some brokers were happy to recount their most outlandish moments on the job, other firms were more reticent or just saving their best stuff for the office holiday party. Discretion is one of the keys to success in New York real estate, but being able to tell a good story is often just as helpful.



Asher Alcobi, Peter Ashe Realty

In 2000, I had a big guy from a hedge fund, a 23-year-old wonder boy investor who had made millions of dollars. He grew up on a farm, invested from the age of 14 and by 22 was controlling $80 million funds. He had a well-known model girlfriend.

He fell in love with a $12 million apartment, a new construction, and put down 10 percent and then another 10 percent, so he paid a $2.5 million down payment. He faxed his financials and his background was checked; everything looked good.

Three days before the closing his picture was on the cover of the Post. He had been arrested for embezzlement of his client’s money. He used the money to buy a private jet and helicopter all in cash.

I had already been paid a $400,000 commission and another $400,000 was due. I was told I had to give the money back. Luckily, I put it in escrow until the trial was over.

He’s in jail now, and will probably go to Wharton Business School when he gets out. The developer is still in litigation over the money, though it looks like they might win and I’ll get my commission.”


Cindy Gise, Dwelling Quest

About a year ago, I took a sophisticated and wealthy gentleman to see luxury apartments. He picked me up with a limo and I showed him about six places, each more elaborate than the last. Money seemed to be no object.

At the end of the day he said he would take a place and was eager to follow up the next day. He offered to take me in the limo to where I was going but on the way needed to stop at a gourmet food store. He ordered thousands of dollars in prepared foods.

As we waited in line, police and FBI agents suddenly ran in and shouted for everyone to stand back. It turned out that my client was a high-profile fugitive and we had been followed all day by the FBI. I stood there stunned saying over and over, “I’m just the broker…I’m just the broker.”

As he was taken away in handcuffs, he slipped me his info and said he’d call me for an apartment shortly.


Timothy Melzer, Douglas Elliman

I had an open house at an exclusive at 160 Chambers Street. I had shown it the day before the open house and I kept hearing strange sounds that I thought were the people upstairs.

As we left, at the end of the open house, police were surrounding the place and an ambulance had arrived. I sold the apartment few days after. Apparently there was an incident between the attorney for the building and the sponsor. The attorney for the building had created a trapdoor in the floorboards and then kidnapped the sponsor and left him trapped with no food for two days. The man had broken out and called the police before we left.

When the lawyer was arraigned, all the judges knew him. I had heard he was a little kooky. The suspect was at my closing two months later as the representative for the building, dressed in a leather biker outfit complete with long hair and an earring.


Robin Liftman, Douglas Elliman

As the co-op board interview is such an important part of the approval process, I do my best to “prep” my customers on what they should and shouldn’t say at board meetings.

Basically, I tell my customers to play “Switzerland” and act completely neutral. My suggestion is that their questions should be limited to “What’s the best Chinese restaurant in the neighborhood?” and “What dry cleaner do you recommend?”

Imagine my surprise when an apartment owner asked how I could have let the buyer show off his gun that he carried in his sock at the board meeting.

Needless to say, I’ve added, “and if you carry a gun, please don’t take it out at the meeting.”



Daniel Roubeni, Metro Spire

Alexandra Roubeni, a residential sales associate at Metro Spire, was in the final stages of closing on a $2 million townhouse close to South Street Seaport.

Upon reaching the penthouse level during the final walk-through with her buyers, they discovered a squatter comfortably sleeping on an Aero-Bed.

Woken by the shriek of the prospective buyers, the unwelcome guest glanced at a small alarm clock next to his emptied liquor bottles and said, “Do you have an appointment?”



Philip Altland, Douglas Elliman

I had a buyer go to a co-op board interview with his dog. Their dog was badly behaved and yipped constantly so I was very nervous, and I told them to give the dog a Valium.

When the dog got to the interview, he fell asleep and at the end they couldn’t wake him up. The buyer had to carry the dog out. The co-op board didn’t think he would be a problem because he slept all the time.

Philip Altland, Douglas Elliman

I was showing an apartment with a large dog in it. There was a note in the foyer that said: “If you give the dog a biscuit, he won’t bite.” When I got there, there were no biscuits left and the dog started barking and snarling. I threw some Tic-Tacs at him and he was so distracted that we were able to escape.

Eric Hamm, Dwelling Quest

I had what seemed to be an easy rental a while ago. She was open to just about anything just as long as the building allowed pets. Quickly she chose one and moved in. A week later I got a frantic call from her saying that she was very upset as I didn’t follow her stipulation. I reminded her that the building did indeed allow pets. It turns out she had 32 carrier pigeons.


Scott Allison, Douglas Elliman

I had a listing at 1010 Fifth Avenue where the owner had gone to Florida for several months. About three weeks before he returned, I had an appointment to show the apartment.

Showings had been infrequent so the apartment needed a bit of airing out. I would open windows for some fresh air and close them before I left. It was March and I thought I had closed every window I opened but, unfortunately, I left the master bathroom window open.

I got a distress call from the owner about three weeks later. He returned from Florida to find his bathroom destroyed by nesting pigeons.

It appears the pigeons had found the perfect sanctuary to build a nest in his bathroom. Thankfully they had been confined to the bathroom since the bathroom door was closed. I could not offer enough apologies.

Stefani Shock, Halstead

Vasco Da Silva [a fellow agent] and I were showing a client an apartment. I had shown her approximately 25 properties and we finally found “the one.”

She was filling out an application when the doorbell rang. Vasco opened the door when a man in a canvas jumper holding a strange spray tank announced “Roaches!”

Vasco stated “Excuse me?” to which the man (obviously an exterminator) responded “Roaches!”

Needless to say, Vasco and I were horrified and the client continued her search elsewhere.



Philip Altland, Douglas Elliman

An elderly buyer keeled over and dropped dead at a closing. We called 911, but it was too late. I never got a check.


Philip Altland, Douglas Elliman

I was showing an apartment facing Central Park. While we were looking out the window, someone jumped out the window of an apartment above the one where I was and his body flew by as we gazed in shock.


Lynne Roberts, Bellmarc

I had a difficult seller who was not feeling well and had become ambivalent about selling.

One week after he signed the exclusive agreement, he took the apartment off the market. Three weeks later, he decided to put it back on the market.

Nonetheless, he clearly was not happy. He cancelled every single appointment for a week always at the last minute. He even called me Sunday at 11:30 a.m. to cancel the open house advertised in The New York Times to start at 12 o’clock. Brokers were angry, buyers were annoyed, and I was frustrated.

Finally, I was able to show the apartment, which happened to be terrific a triple-mint condition one-bedroom in the east 60’s.

We immediately got full-asking price, which was trumped by 20 percent over that all cash.

We accepted the offer. The contracts were just sent out…and the seller died. Now I am dealing with the estate and the deal is on life support.


Narrow Escapes

Philip Altland, Douglas Elliman

I was locked out on a fire escape in a Park Avenue building. This was in the days before cell phones.

I was trapped out there with a buyer for a long time and we were getting very cold. We finally dropped one of our shoes with a note in it down to the street in the hope that the doorman would see it. Instead, we hit someone on the head with it and it created a huge stir. We were finally rescued when the note was found.

Exercising an Option

Charles Hawkins, Halstead

My customer went into contract on a $1.72 million condo.

The condo had first right of refusal, and 29 days after signing contracts the unit above exercised first right and bought the apartment below them, the one we had the contract on, in order to combine the units. Neither I nor the seller’s brokers were paid.

To add insult to injury, my customer (the unsuccessful buyer of the condo) also pulled his $3.5 million co-op exclusive which I was selling off the market and decided to stay where he was.

Such is the life of a broker. Six months down the drain.



Eric Hamm, Dwelling Quest

I had gotten an exclusive and was eager to work with a gentleman who was very concerned with the proper showing of his apartment.

He went over and over the details of the apartment and was very particular about how things worked. I assured him I understood everything.

At 2 a.m. the morning of the showing, I got a frantic call saying that he required me to see him at 8 a.m. before showing the apartment, so he could give me an instructional class on how to use the blinds. I assured him we had been over it and I felt completely comfortable opening and closing them.

He said he couldn’t sleep thinking about it and could not rest until I agreed to take his tutorial again. When I went over the next morning, it turned out that they were the most basic blinds on the market.


Philip Altland, Douglas Elliman

A couple was selling their apartment and needed the money from it to buy a new one. They lived next door to the Libyan Mission and the day their buyer was to sign the contract, the U.S. attacked Libya.

Their buyer pulled out of the deal so they lost the first apartment, but I found them another. Their old apartment closed in the morning and the new one was to close in the afternoon.

All of their things were in a moving van in front of the new building, but the bank had sent a paralegal to the closing instead of an attorney.

She looked at the documents and announced that we could not close. The building’s proprietary lease only had 10 years left on it and the bank had given a 30-year mortgage. We explained to her that proprietary leases are automatically renewed, but she didn’t want to hear about that.

The husband was an Australian whose face turned as bright as his bright red hair. I thought he would have a heart attack.

It took three weeks to straighten out the mess and the buyers had to move to the wife’s parents’ house in Brooklyn with all of their belongings.


Unknown Substances

Adelaide Polsinelli, Besen & Associates

I was showing a building and we were all walking down the stairs to the basement. The buyer carelessly tripped over an uncovered container that was on the steps.

It was full of some sort of liquid.

In his anger he then kicked it. The liquid splattered everywhere.

By the time we left the building, he was wincing in pain. We looked down and saw part of his shoe was missing.

The liquid turned out to be some kind of acid and it had eaten through his shoe, sock and his foot.

Meanwhile the rest of us had holes forming in our clothes, including our coats and shoes. I never saw that buyer again and I will bet he was very careful going down steps from then on.


Structural Surprises

Joanne Kennedy, Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy

This was a classic case. A developer bought and gut renovated a brownstone. The ground-floor garden-level apartment entrance under the stoop had been redone, too.

We went to do the walk-through before the closing and realized that there was no way the buyer’s furniture would fit through the door, nor was there a way to get it through the back.

The only things that would fit were items that could be carried in your arms like pots and pans. A table, bed, etc. just would not fit.

The closing was adjourned, the developer chiseled away at the door about a foot and a half and when it was done, we inspected and it closed.

That’s why an inspection is important before the closing. The saying is, “you own the problem after the closing. Before the closing, the seller owns the problem.”


Unreasonable Demands

Susannah Scott, Bellmarc

I recently had a deal from hell my manager said was the worst she had ever heard.

A customer was buying a studio in a building with a very difficult board. He passed the board. He later took one hour for the final walk-through of the 400-square-foot studio. He asked every question that could be asked. On the way to closing, that was to take place in the building, he announced to me and the listing broker that he required a washer-dryer in his apartment.

He was told that washer-dryers were not permitted in the building during the board interview, and had signed a statement accepting this.

His request was reported to the managing agent. He was reinterviewed by the board and rejected.

He then filed a complaint with a city or state or federal agency claiming he was handicapped and entitled to a washer-dryer. I still do not know the outcome.

(The reporter for this story also contacted Corcoran, Brown Harris Stevens, Stribling & Associates, William B. May, Fenwick-Keats, Gumley Haft Kleier and JC DeNiro & Associates for their own contributions to the litany of nutty New York real estate lore. All declined to participate or said they didn’t have any stories.)

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