I Really Didn’t Need to See That

Nearly every apartment-shopper has had it happen. You’re walking through a new place. You like what you see. And then … something goes awry. Terribly, uncomfortably awry.

Broker Samantha Kleier Forbes tells this story: She was taking clients through a very chic Upper East Side co-op when she brushed against a desk, jostling the computer’s mouse and awakening the screen from its sleep mode, revealing a hard-core fetish-porn site. “I think we’re done here,” the buyers said quietly—and bolted.

The deal-killers are not always quite so dramatic, of course. Prudential Douglas Elliman’s Darren Sukenik saw open houses at a downtown loft sputter when lookers encountered a wall full of Republican memorabilia (including pictures of the owner with George Bushes senior and junior). “I finally had to tell him to take the stuff down,” he says. Klara Madlin lost what looked like a promising deal when the owners of a Hell’s Kitchen one-bedroom forgot about a showing and greeted her in their pajamas, yawning, at 11 a.m. The buyers “couldn’t get out fast enough,” she says.

Showings can turn on even smaller offenses: unmade beds, strewn laundry, dead plants. One uptown broker has a listing completely free of art and photographs—the seller likes her walls pristine—and buyers get so curious that they forget to pay attention to the rest of the place. “If one thing sets them off or says, This isn’t me, then it’s over,” says Sukenik.

Oddly, none of these enthusiasm-killers has anything to do with the apartment. (Unless you think a porn-loving seller leaves an aura, that is.) The only loose connection to reality may be when buyers are so cautious they’re scrutinizing spaces for potential problems with the deal or the seller. “[They ask], ‘Is this the kind of person you want to do business with?’ ” explains Jeff Gardere, a clinical psychologist and broker at Prudential Douglas Elliman. (He once had a showing derailed by a wastebasket full of used feminine-hygiene products.) “People can’t help but make assumptions about one’s personality [from what they see] and how it would affect them.” His advice: When it comes to prepping for showings, think “squeaky-clean, drama-free, distraction-free. So both sides can focus on the transaction.”

I Really Didn’t Need to See That