Every couple of hours last Sunday night I woke up to change the bowls of ceiling water that were filling up in my apartment. It looked like the urine of a severely dehydrated person. The apartment above had a leaky radiator and fat drops were coming through the ceiling. Plop, plop, plop. I tried to pretend the drops were the sounds of a soothing sleep app, but even my tired brain could not accept such pathetic subterfuge.
Mostly I was cursing myself for taking this apartment when I could have rented one from Denise. She would have had the leak fixed immediately.
Real estate agents have cycled through my life for decades – but none was as committed, strange and, in her own way, stressful as Denise.
It was two weeks before the Sydney lockdown. A woman identifying herself as Denise rang me out of the blue when I was at a restaurant. I shouldn’t have answered the call (I was having dinner, it was late, I didn’t recognise the number, it was a phone call). She immediately started talking as if she knew me and was carrying on from a previous conversation. I needed to see an apartment in Rose Bay – and she’d show it to me later in the week. She had a good feeling I was the right tenant. “Who are you?” “Denise.” I didn’t know any Denises. “I am the agent for Rose Bay.”
A couple of weeks before, late at night on my phone, I had blitzed the property websites and indicated interest in about 30 different flats. I had no idea what the Rose Bay place was. I didn’t even know I had been looking in Rose Bay. In fact I had seen an excellent apartment close to the city and had verbally accepted it. “I’m sorry,” I told Denise. “I am really close to signing a lease elsewhere.”
Denise made a sound like she had been mortally betrayed by her closest friend, like I had stabbed her in the back. “No! You must look at this! You are very special, I can tell. I know the owner, he would love you!”
I had to laugh. I’d seen some weird real estate tactics but they were mostly of the negging variety. None of them had ever love-bombed me before unless they were wanting to offload something that was truly decrepit. Wanting to get Denise off the phone, I agreed to inspect it even though I had no intention of taking it.
Ten minutes later Denise rang me again. Her tone was urgent.
“You’ve got to promise me you will not inspect another property or do anything until you have seen Rose Bay!”
“Promise me you won’t look at anything else!!”
“You can’t make me do that!”
“I am holding this for you.”
“But … I don’t want it!”
“You must see it then.” And on it went.
Afterwards I thought how weird. I had been inspecting apartments all week and, at best, the agents were polite and helpful, but there was always an air of coolness around them – as if ultimately they didn’t really care about you. Denise was disorientingly different.
The day of the inspection came around. It was nasty outside, with sideways slanting rain, a low, gloomy sky. I didn’t want to go to Rose Bay. I had more or less decided to take the other place, and had even put down a holding deposit. I told Denise this over several days, in several phone and text conversations.
I begged her to release me from the promise to see the Rose Bay apartment. And in return, Denise begged me to at least view the property, give it – and her – a chance. What’s more, she had spoken to the owner and he agreed to give me a “special price for a special person”.
“I am not special, Denise! I think you have the wrong person!”
I gave several friends Denise’s details and the address of the property “just in case I don’t make it out”.
I was not the only one with trust issues. Two hours before the inspection, Denise rang to make sure I would not ghost her . She had dropped her child off to daycare and was driving 90 minutes from her home to Rose Bay – on her day off.
“No. Please. Don’t go to all this trouble. I’m 95% sure I’m going to take another place.”
“Well, 5% is better than nothing. I will get your 5% to 100%. You will love this place.”
I took an Uber to Rose Bay with a heavy heart.
My heart sunk even further when I saw Denise, looking so hopeful. She was standing in the rain, on her day off, wearing heels, a suit and a silk scarf in front of an apartment that I knew I would never live in.
Down the stairs we went. It was a dark day and the flat was in the basement. It was 11am and Denise had turned on every light quite quickly, as if I would not notice the flat was essentially a cave. Adding to the tension was a fire alarm that kept beeping.
Both Denise and I ignored it and just talked over it, but it gave the apartment all the ambience of an air raid shelter.
“I will fix this!” said Denise, when the beeping became too annoying to ignore.
In each room, Denise would look at me with intensity and said, “I’m going to get your 5% to 100%.”
By the time we’d got to the kitchen and I’d desultorily opened and shut a few cupboards and marvelled at the dimensions of the fridge cavity, both of us knew I had not fallen in love with this apartment.
It was time for Denise to give up on her campaign. Instead she tried a different tack – she was going to take care of me better than any other agent I’ve ever had in my entire life.
She began her pitch: “I will help you transition.”
“To this apartment. To Rose Bay. Other real estate agents, the big ones, with the franchises – they don’t care. They are all over you to sign a lease, then you move in and you never hear from them again. They just shove you in! I will make sure you settle in here, that it is smooth.”
No other real estate agent had offered to help me transition. I was touched. Maybe all my problems in previous houses were because there was no one to help me transition. I became aware of a lack I had never before named. I felt the 5% expand to a higher level … Maybe I could be happy here? Denise was watching me like a hawk. She could sense the shift. But drilling from the floor above broke the mood. The fire alarm continued to cry. No.
Denise saw that she was losing me. She was talking as fast as an auctioneer now, but making less and less sense with each pitch. I could move in whenever I wanted. And I could have a three month lease, a one month lease – whatever I needed. “Why would I move all my stuff in here for a month?” I asked, confused.
I told Denise I would be a terrible tenant, that at the last place I didn’t get my bond back. That I had illegally sublet it.
We walked back up the stairs and into the rain. She took down the sign and the flag.
I took the coward’s way out, telling her I’d think about it. She kept texting me for a while, telling me that she would hold the apartment for me, until it became obvious it wasn’t going to happen.
I took the apartment closer to the city and moved in the day the city shut down. This week, as I lay awake at 4am, the roof leaking, I allowed myself to feel some regret.