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Apartment Therapy

It’s tough—but not impossible—to sell your place when it reminds people of a hospital room.

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Fern Cohen’s studio was a steal, even for Rego Park, at $115,000. Other brokers were telling her agent, Tim Leonard of Citi Habitats, that they were giving the 425-square-foot, L-shaped apartment (pictured) away. But they had no choice. After several months—and price drops, from $140,000—they still had no nibbles. The reason? Cohen has amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (a.k.a. Lou Gehrig’s disease), which made for some difficulties. “It has been tough to stage the apartment,” she writes in an e-mail. “Even though I’d moved some little-used medical equipment into basement storage, prospective buyers have been greeted by a hospital bed, a cough-assist machine, a breathing machine, and a folded manual wheelchair.”

You can scarcely sell an apartment these days without some primping; many brokers repaint and refurnish. But if a seller requires extreme care because of age or illness, the apartment will almost automatically put off buyers. “It’s a mortality issue,” says Bellmarc’s Lewis Friedman, who had clients bolt from an East Side co-op that contained medical-waste bins, bedpans, oxygen tanks, and a hospital bed with the patient still in it. “People don’t want to look death in the face when they’re about to make a big purchase.”

Corcoran’s Lawrence Comroe tells people what they’re going to see before they walk in. “It prepares them for anything that might put them off.” He discusses the equipment using the same low-key manner he would in pointing out a fireplace or dining nook. Bellmarc’s Scott Saunders hires a cleaning service to keep apartments spotless—he says infirm sellers often, understandably, let those chores slide—and pays particular attention to odors. Homeyness is the ultimate goal, even if that means tossing a colorful throw on a clinical-looking bed.

After numerous open houses, Cohen and Leonard moved her less-important gear out and moved her bed away from the door so apartment-hunters wouldn’t see it the moment they arrived. Last week, they signed a sales contract. The buyer? A doctor. “He was able,” says Leonard, “to see past all of the equipment.”


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