I Am No Longer Ashamed of My Interest in Real Estate

I read some kind of article about how your favorite section of The New York Times tells a lot about you.  Some of the people interviewed in the article talked about how the op-ed page was their favorite; this showed how serious and intellectual they are.  Others — the rebels, the bon vivants — admitted their unhealthy, yet chi-chi addiction to the Styles section.

Nobody ‘fessed up to my own favorite section.  That’s because people like us lurk in the shadows.  Who wants the world to know you’d sideswipe a great-grandmother to get to the Saturday Real Estate Section?  Who wants other people to know you’re so superficial, so covetous, so lacking in gravitas?

Oh, hell, I don’t know.  All I know is, I’m sick and tired of being ashamed of my little addiction, which isn’t hurting anyone else, as far as I can tell.

Saturday morning comes — and if some lowlife hasn’t stolen our newspaper, it’s thick and fat and promising.  I glance at the headlines on the front page, then delve into the bulk of it.

The fact is, you shouldn’t make fun of the Saturday Real Estate Section if you haven’t read it as avidly as I have.  You have no idea how psychologically deep and searching it is.  There’s always an article about someone who’s searching for a great place and almost makes a bad decision.  Maybe he got dazzled by the rococo details — and failed to notice the rodent population.  Maybe she really thought a two-bedroom with five roommates was really going to work out.  Maybe they didn’t take into account that a dimly-lit apartment, however cheap, would render them psychotic in January.

Fortunately — in this venue, at least — they are saved.  They somehow find the perfect apartment that’s only slightly unaffordable.  They learn that, with ingenuity and hard work, they can create a dazzling refuge in what others might term a large walk-in closet that’s as cozy and claustrophobic as a postage stamp.  They realize that a fifth-floor walkup saves the expense of a gym membership.

Yes, but these little human mysteries and morality tales are only the appetizer course.  From there, you can learn about high-rise dwellers who are a little too involved in their neighbors’ lives, their cooking, their coming and going, their most intimate moments.  (Rear Window, it seems, may have been closer to a documentary than you’d suspected.)  You read about how having a big patio with upstairs neighbors may not be as idyllic as you thought it would be when partygoers above you hurl down cigarette stubs that immolate your patio furniture and suicidal cats slip from the 30th floor and crash onto your terrazzo.  You hear about the pain of neighbors who quarrel loudly, then reconcile even more loudly in the bed that’s a few feet below you.

Well, I could go on.  I could tell you how I linger over the color photographs of recently sold condos and coops, how I calculate the dizzying sales prices, how I peer into lives and places that I can see my husband and me fitting into oh-so-seamlessly if we were only billionaires.  But that would cheapen the experience and make me out to be a voyeur of lifestyle pornography.

No, as usual, I prefer a more flattering summary of my little obsession.  I am interested in the human condition.  The best way to understand life in New York is to go vicariously where other people live.

(Copyright 2010 by Ruth Pennebaker)

Read one of my favorite posts about Why I Hate Casual Fridays

19 comments… add one
  • musingegret Link

    “….go vicariously where other people live.”

    I do the same thing watching HGTV and the shows on House Hunting…..oh to have a $550,000.oo, 320 square foot pied-a-terre in Paris!

  • Donna Link

    Now I can confess my favorite part of the NYT:  not just the weddings section, but the wedding videos. 
    My recent favorite is the older couple, she a high-powered attorney and he a consultant on environmental engineering (All this is from my fragile memories so check for yourself.)  I loved the story of her wedding dress and how she came to buy it.  I think this is a  Sunday obsession is an extension of my favorite reading since 4th grade:  biographies.

  • Hmmmm. I’m tempted to dabble in your obsession and see what comes up for me. I assume this is the NY Times you reference and (fortunately) I have an on line subscription. I’ll check it out!

  • Winston Link

    Ruth, that seemingly harmless addiction– and your changing attitude toward it– is a dangerous mix.  The next step in your tumble into shameless depravity is field glasses.  Have you a pair already?   If your answer is in the affirmative, you have become a full fledged Peeping Abodist via your covert excursions through the Realty Pages.
    I didn’t just fall off a moving van, I know what really happens.  You follow leads in the co-op listings, quietly disappear after the dinner hour, board subways to the targeted neighborhood.  There, you slink into the shadowy streetscape, feeling unobtrusive in your leather coat, long-johns peeking above fur lined boots, and boldly hoist your camouflaged field glasses. You scan row after row of windows, finally spotting that tray ceiling trimmed in rococo bead work.   Your mouth becomes dry as you wait for the inhabitants to cross the window.  You ache for a cup of steaming cocoa.  Ah-ha!  There’s the madam of the house now!  Her lipstick is coral and bleeds at the corners of her drawn mouth.  And there appears the master at her side, passing madam a drink.  A drink no doubt concocted from a pre-mix, as his shirt collar is imperceptibly frayed– imperceptible to anyone not armed with 500x lenses.  Madam whirls and laughs.  So, it is indeed trash capitalists who dwell beneath that exquisite ceiling, not feeling, not caring!  You fairly pant at the heinousness of such travesty!  You make your way home and to your secret diary, remembering to stop in at the local deli and pick up a loaf of pumpernickel which you know will wordlessly explain to your unsuspecting husband your absence.
    You must get help, Ruth!  Truly, your only recourse now is to visit City Hall by the harsh light of day and throw yourself on the mercy of the Registrar of Deeds.  Godspeed and Good Luck!

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    Winston, how did you know all the seedy details?  You must be stalking me.

  • Marina Budhos Link

    I do exactly the same thing.  And I’m never ashamed of it.  I shuffle in, bleary eyed, get my coffee, and Marc hands me first section, book review, and real estate.  The last comes first.  I’m obsessed.  It’s alternate lives and fantasy writ large.  Besides, in NY, what’s the point of all that density without wondering about the people and the decor?

  • Winston Link

    Merely a trained ear and a thick case history portfolio.

  • today at lunch someone told me the bottom is going to drop out of real estate, even New York , in summer 2010.  If you have cash, there WILL be bargains.

  • I don’t read the real estate section but do love House Hunters.  I worked for two years doing relocation in Paris.  What fun that was, living vicariously through clients, whose companies were paying for apartments real people can never afford!

  • Hello.  My name is TexasDeb and I am addicted to seeing the insides of other people’s houses.  I am fighting a nasty HGTV habit but I have been clean 18 hours…
    I will not deny stopping – on occasion – to pick up a flyer just to get a peek at the listing photos for houses on the market in my neighborhood.
    I will admit  – I spent a good 20 minutes s l o w l y crawling through the online video tour of a particularly “interesting” redo down the street that went up for sale less than a year after the reno was completed.
    I have avoided hitting the hard stuff – mainlining out of the newspaper – and am positive I can stop any time I want to (want to….want to…..).

  • My daughter and I are so addicted to real-estate voyeurism that it has inevitably passed to the next generation. I think my little  granddaughter Isabella was about three when she first uttered the words: “Open house! I want to go to open house!”

  • Ruth – me, too. First comes real estate. Then, Styles. Only when I’m feeling centered and like all is good with the world am I ready to tackle the real, hard news.

  • Chris Link

    I’m a real estate (AND a wedding) voyeur.  The NYT Vows has been a must for eons; I saw the Will Ferrell photo bomb long before it hit the news elsewhere.
    I knew the habit was bad when I bought a book with floor plans from a number of swanky NY abodes.
    I assume you do read The Real Estalker?  If not:
    He covers more than just NY – the comments usually provide links to more photos and such.

  • Winston Link

    My God,  this comment section is getting creepier by the minute!
    Is this a blog– or True Confessions?
    I feel a TV series unfolding:  The Dark Side of Open House.
    Guaranteed to make Desperate Housewives seem like
    a Shirley Temple film-fest!!!

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    Calm down, Winston.  This is highly therapeutic.

  • Winston Link

    Therapeutic?  Yeah, and what would Kinsey say to that?

  • My interest in real estate ebbs and flows, but I have a soft spot in my heart for looking at Eichler — midcentury modern – homes. Sigh. 🙂

  • I love to read the real estate section, however ours sounds nowhere near as exciting and fun as the NYT.

  • Take heart, Ruth–your addiction is mild. I read not only the stories but those adds comparing condos to works of art (the word “masterpiece” keeps appearing). I particularly love critiquing floor plans of the mega-rich. An entire floor on the upper east side and no his-and-hers dressing rooms?

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