Have you ever been annoyed that, as someone who is single, there are some hard things you can’t defer? That’s probably true for everyone in some way, but for us singles, there are some decisions we have to make and hard conversations we have to have because no one else has skin in the game. At the same time, they’ve also provided an opportunity to learn and grow.
Let me give you an example.
A couple of years ago, I was looking for a new apartment. My wee studio served me well, but I believed I could upgrade to a one-bedroom, sacrifice some amenities, and pay less. I won’t take you too deep into the circle of hell that is New York City real estate. Just enough to give you some context.
First, renters have no leverage. It’s super competitive, and if you find an apartment you like, chances are at least three other highly qualified applicants have seen it that same day. So whatever they ask, you sort of have to roll with. Tenants need to prove their annual income is 40 times the rent. You might be asked to provide 2 months security deposit upfront, immediate move-in even though you have a full month left on your other lease, and any number of other hoops.
Second, many apartments are rented via 2 middlemen–management companies on the landlord’s side, and a broker on the tenant’s side. The broker gets 15% of a year’s rent as their commission. I believe the laws around this have changed, but at the time of this story, that was the reality.
We could have a whole conversation about how housing insecurity uniquely affects singles, or about the fact that, as a twenty-eight-year-old adult human person, the management company required my father to act as a guarantor even though my income alone met the requirements for a strong applicant. But we’ll save those juicy tidbits for another day. Today’s story is about learning to stand up to a sketchy broker.
We’ll call him Brad. Brad showed me a handful of apartments in my neighborhood, none of which were anything to write home about. That is, until the 87th and Columbus Ave apartment. It was a corner apartment. One-bedroom. Good space in the living room and the bedroom. Lots of windows overlooking a small park. It was a fourth-floor walk-up, which wasn’t my favorite, and the closet space wasn’t awesome, but it checked all the other boxes. Or at least, I thought it did.
I started getting a weird feeling when Brad insisted there was laundry in the building, but we couldn’t find it. It turned out that the laundry room was in another building owned by the same landlord about a block and a half away. He also insisted the super lived in the building. He did not.
Then, I wanted a particular move-in date, which he said wouldn’t be a problem. Until after I handed in my application and the application fee. He called and said, good news, the move-in date was the same day as the move out of my studio apartment. Oh, and by the way, they suddenly wanted an extra month’s security deposit. Even though both my income and my guarantor’s income exceeded the requirements.
This was not what we’d agreed upon. When I asked why, he said they needed to change the grout in the bathroom, and as far as the extra security deposit, it must be because my guarantor was out of state. We were ten days from my move-out date for my studio. I didn’t see how it would take that long to change the grout in a bathroom that small. And I didn’t see what my guarantor’s location had to do with the price of bacon in Arkansas.
“Well, I mean, do you know what grout is?” he asked.
I took a deep breath. “Yes, Brad, I know what grout is.”
“Well it’s the plastic stuff they put around the tub, and, you know, it takes time to dry I guess,” he mansplained anyway.
Knowing full well that’s not what grout is, I said, “Brad, I know what grout is. Can you please ask the management company why it’s going to take them ten days to re-grout a bathroom that size?”
He got cagey, explaining that the guy at the management company wasn’t very nice and he didn’t want to call him again. Even though communicating with the management company on my behalf was part of his job. I asked if he could give me the guy’s number so I could call him myself and ask. He gave me the general number for the company.
I called and had a conversation with the guy, who was brusk and impatient. But he explained that the apartment needed to be painted, the floors refinished, and the kitchen needed some work in addition to the work in the bathroom. I thanked him and said that made a ton of sense.
I’d looked at at least 35 apartments by this time, many with different brokers and some without. I liked this apartment and could deal with the tight turnaround for my move-in. What I could not abide was the idea of giving Brad thousands of dollars for not doing his job. I probably could have negotiated, but I was so annoyed by that point, I didn’t want to give him any money.
Even so, I agonized over the decision. While I had friends and family to advise me, I was the only one who would be directly affected by my decision. And, as the most conflict-averse person on the planet, I had to have a lot of conversations I would have rather deferred to someone else. Except there was no one else.
While the situation ratcheted my anxiety up to 15, looking back I also think it exercised relational muscles. It taught me to stand up for myself, that my gut and intuition were worth listening to, and that I got to choose who I gave my dollars to.
Throughout this process, I had to ask for, and insist upon, what was important to me. I had to learn where I was willing to compromise. There wasn’t anyone to defer to or to go along with. I had to set boundaries with pushy brokers and advocate for myself. It was stressful and I made a lot of mistakes. I learned what was reasonable and what wasn’t from them and from me.
Around these parts, we talk about what is both hard and great about being single. This is a prime example. I was in a situation where I got to choose between uncomfortable growth and giving a lot of money to someone I didn’t want to. With thousands of dollars on the line, I chose the former. Now that I own and run my own business, the skill and feeling of empowerment I learned in that situation have been invaluable. I wish I could have learned it a different way. I wish I’d had a teammate with as much at stake. But I also can see that it was an important skill for me to learn.
Mayhaps you’re facing a difficult decision about which it seems like nobody else has skin in the game. First, I’m sorry. That’s a hard thing. I hope you can give yourself the grace to feel your feelings and learn as you go. Second, ask God to help you see, in the midst of all that’s hard, the invitation to grow and who you can ask for help.
I walked away from that apartment, not because I didn’t want it. It was a great apartment. But because I didn’t like the feeling I got from the people I was being asked to give a whole lot of money to. When I let Brad know, he was upset, as I knew he would be. He sent me several less than amicable texts about all he’d done for me and trying to win me back. I held firm and started working with a broker team who treated me with respect and listened to what I wanted. They worked extremely hard to find me a good place and get everything done in time for me to move in. I signed the last form and paid the last dollar to iron-clad solidify my current place less than 24 hours before I had to be out of my studio apartment.
If you’re wrestling with a challenging relationship or work situation or living situation that’s inviting you to stand up for yourself, remember that you have a choice in how you respond. Consider what’s important, where you’re willing to compromise, and where you need to be heard.