For Sale

Many years ago we put our apartment up for sale.  After living in it for less than a year, we were pretty much fed up with it. Having made a down payment on a bargain we had stumbled upon (and bubbling with creative ideas how to transform it into our dream home), we were anxious to get our matchbox on the market hoping for a quick sale to be out and on our way as soon as possible.

Anyone, who has ever sold an apartment, knows what a horrendous experience it can be. You need not only patience – lots of patience – but thick skin and nerves of steel. In order to fully understand what we went through and why I am telling this story more than thirty years later, I need to tell you more about the apartment for sale and the neighborhood in which it was located.

I’ll start with the neighborhood. It was a brand new complex for young couples on the outskirts of Tel Aviv made up of 18 colorful high-rises erected in three rows surrounding what eventually would become a park and a shopping center, but at the time was no more than a public dump. In those early days, the neighborhood was so isolated there were no shops or public facilities within walking distance and the only people passing our way were prostitutes on the one side and Bedouins on the other. At night we would sit and watch the pick-ups across the highway. Lights on … lights off … lights on and drive away.

The apartment was tiny – a standard 2-bedroom with an alcove which ran parallel to the corridor. According to the blueprint of the apartment, the alcove was intended to be a dining area, but that didn’t make much sense, because it was as far away from the kitchen as it possibly could be in an apartment that size. We decided to convert this undefined space into a study closing it off with a partition, but we never got around to completing the task. That was one of our problems. We were good with the big stuff, like tearing down walls …, but as hard as we tried, it was the finishing touches we struggled over. So, we were left with what one might call a “hole” in the wall.

The color scheme we had chosen for our little nest was also not exactly the run of the mill. While the living room remained white, the master bedroom was purple to match our lilac bed, the kids’ room was bright turquoise with a red and white built-in wardrobe and the toilet was … shocking orange. Yes, indeed. It was shocking.

Another unique feature of our apartment was the kids’ room. Because of its miniature size we maximized the space by converting the top of the wardrobe into a bunk bed. Actually, it was really cool. I don’t know if today I would rush to let a two-year old sleep on the top of a wardrobe, but at the time we were fine with it and would watch with pride as our toddler scrambled up the ladder.

To complicate matters, our flat was not the only one in the complex up for sale. In fact, there were another three in our building alone. And, at one point, rumors had it, there were something like 19 apartments on the market.

No sooner did our carefully worded ad appear in the newspaper classifieds (in a pre-internet age), when the phone began to ring relentlessly. Let me remind you, newspapers reach the newsstand and are delivered at your doorstep at the crack of dawn. People had no shame or sense of time. It took us a while till we realized that many of the callers were not potential buyers, but our neighbors in the broader sense of the word, who were also considering selling their apartments and were out there testing the water: checking what we were offering and for how much. The callers were ruthless with their questions: how many built-in wardrobes were there, what kind of renovations had we made to the apartment, were we leaving an air-conditioner, a built-in oven and/or dishwasher? (None of which we even owned!) More than anything, the anonymous inquirers wanted to haggle over the price and sale-terms even before they had seen the apartment. No matter what our response, it was never good enough, and time and again, when our honest answers did not meet their expectations, they would simply hang up even in the middle of the sentence.

For weeks it was a never-ending parade of people trampling through our home from early morn till late at night. We were so desperate to sell the apartment we were willing to accommodate any and every whim. Just come! Weekends were the worst. It seemed that apartment hunting had become a popular summer past time for many who had no real or immediate intention to actually close a deal. Young couples would show up making their way from room to room as if they already owned the place examining every inch and challenging every item in our home. Why are the counters made of Formica and not marble? How come you don’t have wall to wall carpets? And then they would leave informing us that they couldn’t make any decision until their parents returned from their holiday abroad.

Every visitor claimed to be an expert on modern living and real estate offering us unsolicited recommendations what we needed to change in order to improve our chances of selling the apartment.”You know,” they would tell us, “the people on the third floor are including a four-door wardrobe made of oak … and across the road their kitchen is brand new – not the standard one supplied by the contractor … and they also redid their maintenance balcony …maybe you should consider that!”

At least half a dozen times we were convinced that the sale was in the bag. People would express interest and even go as far as to schedule a second visit for the next day. Anxiously we would wait for their return, but they never showed up – not even a phone call. With each disappointment we would apprehensively reevaluate our situation, making changes based on what we had been told and even going as far as to lower the price. At one point  the price we were asking was so far below the going rate, it was not only pathetically ridiculous, but actually looked suspicious. But, we were so desperate, our self-confidence in the dumps, we were willing to do anything – even sell ourselves cheap.

But, even that didn’t work! One by one, other apartments were selling, but ours remained without a buyer. “We only need one,” we kept telling ourselves, but that one buyer was nowhere to be found.

Finally, I decided enough is enough. If no one is interested in buying our apartment at the inconceivable low price, we might as well bring the price back up to what we were originally asking and felt our apartment was worth. Moreover, no more renovations. No more feeble attempts to meet the expectations of people who weren’t interested in buying our apartment anyways! We were leaving everything just as it was – take it or leave it!

And that was when we sold the apartment with the incomplete study and a hole-in-the-wall, with a bunk bed on the top of a wardrobe, with colorful bedrooms and an orange toilet!

Call it timing. Call it sheer chance. Call it what you may. What I learnt from the experience went beyond real estate and fickle buyers. It taught me about myself. It taught me to accept myself for who I am and demand the price I believe I am worth. Like our apartment, there have been those, for whom whatever I have had to offer, has never been enough. There have been those, who have continually challenged my quirkiness pointing out to me every flaw and what I need to do to fix them. But, at the same time, there have been those who have accepted me and even liked me for who I am and just the way I am.

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