Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dear Real Estate Agents:

She did warn me: "I SAID NO PICTURES, MOM!!!"

Before I get into our subject du jour, I must exclaim to the world two glorious facts :

My baby girl is one year old as of April 14th, 2009! And...

Her blood lead levels came back as low as the test can read! Constant mopping and cleaning and nail-biting paid off, I guess! You can read more about that debacle at Dave's awesome blog, which is extra awesome because he's got some pretty darn sweet things to say about yours truly. He's a keeper.

I'd meant to post a photo essay of our day together, Stella and I, but she's in a NO PAPARAZZI period right now, meaning whenever I get the camera out, she starts to attack it, leading to pictures such as those at the top of the page. (In case you can't read it, her shirt says "Made in California, but I'm a Brooklyn girl." My awesome friend Lisa Hamre had it made up after we went to her California wedding exactly one year and nine months ago...) Suffice it to say, we had a wonderful day together.

OK. Now onto other, less Stella-centric items. The Brooklyn Family is looking to move...again. This apartment, albeit HUGE, comes with way too much drama: a building manager who uses obscenities when we dare ask him to follow the law, lead-based paint that chips constantly and must be mopped obsessively, and an upstairs neighbor who might just be building a bomb (at the very least, he wears anvils for shoes and vacuums at 3am).

What with the stock market tanking and the NYC real estate bubble finally popping (YIPPEE!!!), we have decided it's time to at least consider buying.

Now, one would think that real estate agents everywhere, including NYC, would have to really be busting butt trying to make money right about now. Houses and apartments are no longer selling/renting themselves, so that means it's time to bust out the charm if you're an agent. Otherwise, however will your bread get buttered?

Before I go any further, I must give a shout-out to two real estate agents I know well who exemplify the type of professional nature and enthusiasm that I think it'll take to succeed in the current market. Jasmina Nikolov, a fellow mommy in my Kensington mommies group, has lovely apartments to rent and buy, and she's also quite knowledgeable, personable, and extremely professional. She even brings cookies and lemonade to open houses! Additionally, my sister-in-law, Sharon Rosano, sells gorgeous homes built by her husband in New Canaan, Connecticut. Again, she's professional and smart, as well as personable and charming (and generous with the hand-me-downs from our nieces).

But where those ladies succeed, countless others, in New York City, at least, fail. Where Jasmina dresses professionally and greets her open housers with a smile, other agents are late for their own open houses and show up in dirty jeans and t-shirts. Where Sharon returns phone calls promptly and answers questions honestly, other agents list properties on 65th Street in Brooklyn as "South Park Slope" and don't ever return phone calls.

For those who've followed the Brooklyn Family blogs for a while now, you'll recall Dave detailing our prior disappointment with real estate agents. But that was over a year ago, when NYC was still in a bubble and people literally brought cash deposits with them to open houses, just in case they liked what they saw and didn't want to lose the place. I really would have thought that now, with places sitting on the market for months and routinely coming down in price by $50K here and another $50K there that agents would have gotten the point: you have to work for your money now, buddy.

After going to an open house last weekend, though, I know that's not true. Dave, Stella and I trudged out into the pouring rain to see a reasonably priced three bedroom apartment up the street. We arrived, wet and cranky, but hopeful that this would be the place. The building seemed nice and we already like the area, so it had a lot going for us.

Although we were right in the middle of the 1-3pm open house window, nobody was there. Dave called the office's number, and they told us to try the buzzer again. Nada. We called again and asked for his number. They said they spoke to him and he stepped out, but would be there soon.

Someone let us in and we went to the second floor, where our possible future home was situated. We waited and waited, and 10 minutes later, Dave called again. As he was dialing, I heard a voice say, "I'm coming!"

Up waltzed a guy who looked like he just woke up. He was disheveled and wet, his hair untidy and his eyes droopy. He told us he had to go get some water, because he didn't trust the tap water in this apartment. Wow. Thanks, buddy! We're sold!

He let us in and the place was...OK. I mean, size-wize, it was great -- a real three bedroom! But it was dusty and dirty. The agent's pack of cigarettes was out on the kitchen counter, along with previous water bottles he'd run out during open houses to purchase.

Not only was there dirt from the agent's time there, but apparently the previous owners left in a HURRY. There were dishes still in the dishwasher, a magnet from an ancient trip to Florida on the refrigerator, and moldy trash in the trash can. Were they on the run from the law? Was the mafia out to get them? It was intriguing, but also gross.

However, Dave and I were still in because, as nasty as this was, it was big and well-priced! I know I can clean (I mean I kept lead out of my daughter's blood despite paint chipping around us like snowflakes).

But then we came to the second bedroom -- the one that would most likely be Stella's room. And guess what happened? The upstairs neighbor began blasting techno music at the highest possible volume.

It was a sign from above. That is not the place for us. Or anyone, really, who doesn't feel like having a fight with a fellow owner over proper stereo volume.

I'm not surprised that we didn't find an apartment at one of our first open houses of this round of the real estate cha-cha. But I am floored by the agent's behavior. If you are a real estate agent in NYC, please read and consider the following:

The market has changed. You can no longer forget to return phone calls, show up late, step out of your own open house for some water, neglect to clean an apartment before a showing, wear dirty clothes, speak unintelligibly on the phone, or be a rude a-hole to possible buyers/renters. You have to actually earn your money like the rest of us now. It's not fun, I know, but you can do it!

Oh, and if you have a three bedroom in a decent neighborhood for a good price, go ahead and give us a call!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

This Time Last Year... this is what an overdue pregnant lady looks like. Not so glowing...

Over-sentimentality runs in my family. We're the Southerners who sit and talk about the good old days, knowing full-well those good old days were laden with their own worries. My mom used to pull out the photo album with me, and even if it were a trip to Disney World from a year ago, we'd sit together and cry, remembering the fun we had and finding it hard to believe it was all in the past.

Living in New York has cured a lot of my nostalgic tendencies. Up here, if you start to reminisce, someone will probably look at you like you're crazy and point out all the crap that was going on at that time that they're glad is in the past. This is a much healthier way of being, because you get to live in the moment, sometimes the future, instead of being stuck in "what was then" land.

However, now that Stella's birthday is a mere five days away, I can't help but remember this time last year. Not with fondness exactly, because being pregnant and overdue is not fun for anyone, but with disbelief of how different my life was back then and how I had no clue what I was in for. Here are some memories:

I was almost a week overdue, expecting Stella to come any moment, having no clue what her gender was.

I was having contractions every day, but they weren't regular. I called my midwife probably a total of five times and had Dave swear to attach his cell phone to his body at all times.

I ate every spicy food known to man and even made and ate Eggplant Parmigiana Alla Scalini's, a recipe from an Italian restaurant in Georgia that women swear sent them into labor. It was delicious, but didn't work.

I had a nightly dance party, literally jumping up and down to punk music and country music, hoping to make Stella's head descend into my pelvis.

I drank all the herbal teas and took all the herbal supplements they tell you will "get things moving." The only thing I didn't do was castor oil, because my midwife forbade it.

I went on long walks in Park Slope and gave people dirty looks when they stared at my ginormous belly and said things like, "WOA" and "good luck, honey."

I ate my weight in Nutella. No small feat.

I didn't sleep, because I was too uncomfortable, and I nearly killed the people who said things like, "get your rest now -- WHILE YOU CAN!"

I made 4,000 dishes and froze them all so we'd have something to eat. This includes about 4 dozen muffins that I gave to my neighbors (and ate myself, of course).

I reorganized our 550 square feet of living space about 550 times.

I stalked pregnancy message boards and became angry at folks having their babies BEFORE their due dates.

I worried about my baby when she didn't move. Then I'd get a fist in the crotch or a kick in the ribs and smile.

I wanted a beer and some sushi VERY BADLY.

I resented people who told me to "enjoy this time, because babies are much easier in than out." (They were wrong. I much prefer my baby out. She's much easier to cuddle that way.)

I still had five days before I would meet the love of my life.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Stinky Face

Sometimes, when life is stressful, the smallest stuff can REALLY crack you up. Or maybe this really is that hilarious. You be the judge!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The Upside of Labor Pains

When life gets tough here at Brooklyn Baby Manor, I often repeat this mantra: "If I survived natural labor, I can survive anything."

First, a disclaimer. I'm not one of those moms who had a natural labor and then is all judgmental about people who go the medicated route. As you know from this blog, I tend to be moderate when it comes to parenting. The same applies to labor.

But for a myriad of reasons I won't bore you with, I decided a natural labor was the only way for me. I told my midwife and Dave to ignore any pleas for medication, which is a good thing, as I began to ask for it the minute I felt the pain. In my own words, "I didn't know it would hurt THIS much!"

But everyone refused. Everyone, that is, except my mom, who hated seeing me in pain. But thankfully people knew to ignore her, too. Is there anything more fun than being in the worst pain of your life and having people ignore you and your mommy?

But there are many benefits to a natural labor. One of them is that recovery is a breeze. Another is that the risk for interventions such as c-sections is greatly lowered.

But my favorite benefit is that now, no matter how rough things get, I can always look myself in the mirror and remind myself that if I endured pain that I was certain would kill me, I can do anything.

Anything, like deal with recurring lead paint worries and a building manager who is, how shall I say it, a bit uncooperative. (For those who are interested, we get her lead levels retested on April 16th and we'll keep you posted. Any prayers/positive thoughts for low levels are so welcome!)

I can do it. Because I pushed a baby out with no medicine. And somehow, I managed not to kill anybody. Or even swear.