The Hamptons Real Estate Horror Show

A good friend who used to be a real estate broker for an upscale agency in East Hampton (and who is not one of the book’s two anonymous authors) says that the stories in The Hamptons Real Estate Horror Show (iUniverse), some laugh-out-loud hilarious, are “absolutely true.” On the back jacket someone is quoted as saying, “Boy, I envy you; you show a couple of houses, you get a huge commission. What a racket.”  But to judge from the anecdotes here, East End brokers, particularly new and inexperienced ones, tend to be treated with disrespect, if not downright nastiness, which affects their livelihood, if not  sanity.

At some agencies, newbies feel the force of old hands who rule with arrogance and dispatch. Too green to be suspicious, the newly licensed can also be had. Shrewd lawyers representing either buyer or seller (or worse, both sides working in an unspoken collusive dance) can negotiate an unsuspecting neophyte out of a full commission. It’s like poker, a seasoned colleague explains, if you don’t how to play the game, you can get screwed. In fact, experienced brokers can also get screwed, the difference being that they’re cynically used to it and even anticipate trouble, heralded here with an ominous “uh oh!”

If a prospect shows up hours late (if at all), new arrangements have to be made with owners (and sometimes can’t be). Customers lie (usually about pets) and make inane demands at the last minute that quash the deal. Gushing promises to rent or buy are not infrequently followed by inaction and silence. Special requests often turn on whim, wanting to see one more house, the one that’s “more than perfect,” because it may be bigger. To judge from many of the prospects who turn up – at least in this book – many of the women exude bimbo, their husbands, new money and no class. As the authors write in an Epilogue, times have changed since the ‘80s when they started out. “The Hamptons’ then weren’t ‘The Hamptons,’” just a string of small villages. Enter the excessive ‘90s when more people “wanted a house that looked like the ones in Architectural Digest.” Yes, the sellers got it and jacked up their prices, and many clients became investment buyers, “ with houses “just another item in their portfolios.”

Of course, the authors know from their combined 50 years of experience in the real estate business (“we’ve been around the block” – an appropriate enough use of that expression) that there are some wonderful people out there, “but they don’t make for interesting stories.”  One must so believe, mainly because so much of what’s reported here seems unbelievable. Query from renter – your office is in the village? “Yes why?”  A favor: “Would you go to Citarella and get me a half-pound of flounder?” Another calls to say his wife was awakened by birds at 5:30 a.m. What should the broker do? “Have them eliminated.”  Then there’s this: she loves it, he thought so, but when she sees the kitchen, she screams, “No Viking Range? Forget it!” To which he replies, “But honey, you don’t cook.”

Occasionally, there’s opportunity for manic release.  A group of top brokers is being feted, and they talk about their success.  Out of earshot of their managers, one colleague turns to another and says, tell them, tell them why you’ve been successful. “I pee on the property.” “You what?” we shouted.  “Yeah, I pull down my pants and pee on the property. You know – I mark it. It works! Try it.”

The book is well written. Dialogue rules, but the authors also do neat description:  Of a trio of young models who drape themselves together around a railing, they write: “Seen from a distance, arms in the air and feet turned out in a collective plié, they look like a flower arrangement, or an exotic vine growing up the fence.”

It all ends on an upbeat note. They authors hope that when the recession is over, “things might return to what it used to be like at this end of Long Island.” It’s still a beautiful place, the light, the beaches, the geese flying by, the swans, the windmills, and just maybe “a house can once again be just a nice place to come to, and this, a nice place to live.”

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