The Closing

by

08/24/2006

200 E.7th St., New York, NY 10009

Neighborhood: East Village

We found it. After two years of wasted Sundays touring sad places in forgotten boroughs, my wife and I had finally found a place we liked, a place that was affordable.

Well, maybe we didn’t like like it. It was a six-flight walk up that the real estate broker called a “handyman’s special.” My wife called it a “common man’s nightmare.” The linoleum floor were scarred and peeling. The bathroom was Superfund nasty. Throughout the place, it looked like someone, frenzied from hot chocolates, had kissed the wall with dirty lips.

And maybe “affordable” was too strong a term. The mortgage and maintenance meant we would have to cut back—a lot. But it was in the East Village, on Third Street between Avenue C and D—our neighborhood. The area we’d resided for over a decade. The area we wanted to stay in.

We made an offer. The owner, Mrs. del la Cruz, accepted.

Then the trouble began. Before the contract was signed, Mrs. del la Cruz changed her mind.

“She wants more,” the broker said.

“How much?” we asked.

Taking a deep breath, she said, “Three thousand, two hundred, forty-three dollars and twenty-nine cents.”

I looked to my wife, then to the broker. “You’re joking, yes?” It wasn’t the fact that Mrs. del la Cruz wanted more that surprised me, it was the odd number.

“I don’t know where she got the number,” the broker said. “But that’s the number she wants.”

Why she didn’t ask for four thousand, or even five, I don’t know. My wife and I discussed it and we agreed. “Sure,” we said. A day, then three, then a week passed. I called the broker.

“What’s going on?” I asked. “Are we going to contract?”

“I don’t know,” she said. “I’m having problems talking with the owner.” Apparently, Mrs. del la Cruz had lost her ability to speak English. “Each time I try to talk to her, she acts like she doesn’t understand me,” the broker says. “She spoke English just fine just a few weeks ago, but now…”

The broker promised to get us an answer in a couple of days. Two weeks later, we get a call. “She wants more money,” the broker said.

“How much?” we asked.

“Seventy-five thousand,” the broker said.

The apartment next to Mrs. del la Cruz’s, an apartment that had been renovated and had all new appliances, had just sold. Mrs. del la Cruz wanted the same for her place.

“No,” we said. “Impossible.” The deal was off. From that moment on, my wife and I referring to Mrs. del la Cruz as “Mrs. del la Greedy”.

Three weeks later, Mrs. del la Greedy’s husband made a surprise appearance at the broker’s office. If we were still interested, they would sell the place for the originally agreed upon price.

“Great,” we said. “We’ll buy.”

But there was more trouble. Mrs. del la Greedy and her husband were legally separated and his name wasn’t on the mortgage. He had no say in the matter. Two more months passed, with Mrs. del la Greedy slowly, slowly lowering the price.

Finally, we reached an agreement. Battered and crusty, we stipulated in the contract that Mrs. del la Greedy had to remove all her kitchen appliances from the condo. We didn’t want to have to deal hauling them down the six flights of stairs, and we planned on getting new stuff anyway.

March 1 was the closing date. The bank fumbled through the necessary procedures, taking longer than expected. March 1 came and went. April crept up. And then our mortgage was finally approved.

At the closing, Mrs. del la Greedy spoke fluently in English. “I need ten dollars for the keys,” she said. We took the keys and told her to talk to our attorney. “I want ten dollars for the keys,” she insisted. We told her no.

On the way out, the broker, who was at the closing to collect her commission, said, “I have to tell you this. I’m showing another place in the building last week and Mrs. del la Cruz was there, cooking. I asked her what she was doing. ‘I have no refrigerator, no oven,’ she said. ‘They made me get ride of them.’” For over a month, Mrs. del la Greedy had been living without a kitchen.

Brilliant, we thought. She had it coming to her.

After the closing, we went to look at our new place. It was dusk, near night. The city was the brown-black color that the city gets. Entering the condo, my wife hit the light switch. Nothing. She tried the bathroom light. Nothing. We tried all the lights.

“Maybe it’s a fuse,” I said.

But it wasn’t the fuse; it was the light bulbs. Mrs. del la Greedy had taken every single one of them with her.

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