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Love the Place. You, Not So Much.

Apartment-hunting can turn loving couples into screaming banshees.

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The couple couldn’t agree on anything. The husband wanted the Upper West Side, says their broker, Michele Kleier of Gumley Haft Kleier, but the wife preferred the Upper East Side. He loved prewars; she longed for sleek and modern. He specified an apartment big enough for lots of kids; she cared more about a building’s amenities, especially the gym. He couldn’t keep the appointments she’d make, and sometimes the arguments grew so intense Kleier found herself playing referee. But in the end, there was nothing she could do to broker a lasting peace. “I knew they were getting divorced before they did,” she says. (She wound up helping each find a separate place.)

That’s an extreme story, but apartment-hunting can test any relationship. The things couples argue over most—money, marriage, kids—are, in New York, especially bound up with housing. “It’s so expensive, no matter what your price range, that it makes people nervous,” says Jaarmel Sloane of Sloane Square NYC. Halstead’s Brian Lewis says that many times, “all of a couple’s baggage plays out in the middle of the apartment.” No one’s immune: “I could take Dr. Phil and his wife out, but if it’s real estate, they’re going to fight. There will be trauma.”

Location, prewar versus postwar, price; one couple had a standoff in the middle of an apartment because the co-op had no playroom, which the stay-at-home dad desperately wanted. Writer David Breitkopf says when he and his partner, Steven, bought a weekend house upstate, “we had philosophical issues about money. He had more than me, and I had to feel comfortable about buying.”

When tempers flare, and they do—Lewis says shopping with one twosome “was like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”—brokers often act as mediator, reminding couples of their must-haves and can-live-withouts to help them focus on the task at hand. But JC DeNiro managing partner Christopher Mathieson prefers to stay neutral. “I’m like Switzerland,” he says. “I let them duke it out.” Customers who prize discretion, however, make a point to squabble post–open house. “We spent a couple of sessions in therapy over it,” says Breitkopf. “Which was good, because we had an objective third person.”


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