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The Buyer Fuss Factor

08/08/2009, By E. B. Solomont

In brokering the sale of a Park Slope apartment this spring, Jessica Buchman learned just how picky potential homeowners can be in the current buyer's market.

The deal was almost derailed several times by a buyer who insisted — rather, demanded — that his dog receive approval from the co-op board before he would even consider signing a contract for the one-bedroom unit, recalled Buchman, a senior vice president at Corcoran who represented the seller.

After weeks of negotiating, the buyer submitted a full board package on behalf of his pooch, complete with photos and reference letters attesting to the dog's good behavior.

"It was excruciating," said Buchman, who typically sees only mentions of pets in buyers' own board packages. "There was more dealing with the dog than the buyers."

In fact, the buyer was so emphatic, she recalled, "I found myself having these really combative conversations about a dog. It was really unbelievable."

The contract was signed early last month, said Buchman, who noted: "The buyer may get turned down, but the dog has been approved to live in the building."

Although that situation is extreme, buyers not only have a newfound power in this market, their pickiness means that they are making new demands on brokers' time — and psyches — and many have inflated expectations of what kinds of deals they will get.

"There's a sense of entitlement of what they want," Buchman said.

The demands are bordering on outrageous, brokers said, with potential buyers insisting on unrealistic price cuts and passing on apartments for details as small as an unappealing fixture.

In a tough market, few brokers said they would turn away an overly picky client, no matter how frustrating they became. But some pointed out that even spending countless hours with a fussy client does not ensure a deal, and some sales only close after dozens of showings and re-showings of the property.

Indeed, some brokers say demanding buyers, fueled by media reports and market savvy, want the incredible deals they've heard about — even if it means visiting an endless array of apartments or throwing extras into closing contracts.

Julie Friedman, a senior executive vice president at Bellmarc Realty, noted that brokers are showing buyers three to four times as many units as they used to.

"The first-time homeowner who traditionally would have been OK with just a view … now wants a view, outdoor space, mint condition, extra closets, a washer and dryer," she said.

Recently, Friedman showed clients a two-bedroom apartment in Gramercy that she described as a "gorgeously renovated, sleek, sophisticated, high-end unit." But the buyer kept fixating on the window treatments and ultimately walked away. Friedman said buyers are looking for the elusive "better apartment for less money."

"People are now thinking they can buy something for $999,000 that was $2 million. They can't.

"When they realize what $999,000 buys, they're still disappointed," she said.

As a result, many buyers simply offer less money for apartments out of their price range.

Augustus Moy, a sales associate at the Real Estate Group New York, has been helping a close friend find an apartment since February.

"He's basically searching out the deal of the century," said Moy. His friend, who is looking in Bayside, Queens, has a budget of $350,000, but has made several offers for far less.

Recently, he offered $270,000 on a $350,000 one-bedroom at the Bay Club, a luxury condominium. "It's absolutely absurd," said Moy, who told his friend at the time, "I wouldn't be surprised if they flipped us the bird."

Indeed, the offer was rejected.

Buchman said she has buyers who also are looking for their "perfect" apartment: a two-bedroom condo with outdoor space in Brooklyn, for under $700,000. They consistently make offers almost 25 percent under the asking price, and when those are rejected, Buchman inevitably gets an e-mail saying, "Is it too much to ask, to get a two-bedroom, two-bathroom with outdoor space in Park Slope?"

"Nothing is too much to ask for," said Buchman, who said she feels too sheepish to tell the buyer otherwise. "But evidently we keep coming to this point."

Myrel Glick, a vice president at Prudential Douglas Elliman, stressed that buyers should be discerning up to a point because they are making a big investment. But, she noted that fussy buyers know no price limits. And in general, buyers on tighter budgets — and first-time buyers — are looking to take advantage of the market.

"They think this is their time. It was a seller's market for so many years," said Glick.

Still, the Brooklyn-based broker has broken the bad news many times to buyers looking for charming homes on quiet, tree-lined streets who think they will find their dream apartment for under $400,000. Recently, she showed a fussy buyer around 100 homes before the buyer compromised on location and found a house in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

Naomi Muramatsu, director of sales at Bond New York, recalled one buyer who kept her agents busy since the fall searching for a two-bedroom apartment in Greenwich Village for under $700,000. They showed him 50 apartments and he bid on three units, but offered 30 to 40 percent lower than the asking price each time. Part of the problem, said Muramatsu, was that the buyer initially wanted a one-bedroom, but after reading media reports about falling prices, decided to spring for a two-bedroom. But his budget remained the same.

There is a Catch-22 for brokers.

"If you put your foot down and you act gruff, you're not going to make a living," Buchman said. In the case of the dog-owning buyer in Park Slope, she said in the "old days," the seller would either dismiss the dog or tell her to find another buyer.

For their part, sellers are willing to comply. "If they let it go, they don't know when the next buyer is going to come," Muramatsu said.

Friedman, of Bellmarc, described another kind of "buyer arrogance" that demands repairs as part of the deal. In apartments where flat-screen televisions adorned walls, buyers want walls smoothed over.

"They think Picasso should come in and fix the wall. They want it skim-coated, they want it sponge-painted," she said.

"I don't mind discerning," said Friedman, but she noted that buyers today are "beyond discerning." She recalled a buyer who passed on a deal because a granite countertop had round corners, not square.

"When people say they're not buying a house because the corners are rounded, not square, that's not picky. That's a buyer who's not a buyer."

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