The New York Times Real Estate Section Is a Magical, Awful Place

Sometimes people complain about how there is too much cynicism, snark and irony in the discourse. About how sincerity is dead. That’s not 100% true. There is a place where sincerity reigns supreme.

The New York Times Real Estate section.

There people say exactly what they mean to say with a total lack of self-consciousness or doubt. There truths are told without apology and with no thought given to judgment or cynicism. We are to take all that we read there at face value, as if it is merely information being passed on to us. Perhaps information that will prove useful or enlightening.

Take today’s column, about how it’s becoming increasingly common for children in Manhattan to be a part of their parents’ search for a new home:

A year and a half ago, Skye van Merkensteijn was shooting hoops with a friend who lives at the Aldyn, a condominium-rental hybrid on Riverside Boulevard with its own indoor basketball court, climbing wall and bowling alley.

Thirteen-year-old Skye was impressed — and envious. Well, his worldly pal told him, he just happened to know of an apartment for sale on the 21st floor.

Skye went home, jumped online and called up a video of the property in question — a 12-room spread with a hot tub and private 37-by-15-foot outdoor pool.

“When my husband, John, came home,” said Skye’s mother, Elizabeth van Merkensteijn, “Skye announced: ‘We’re moving and this is the place we’re moving to.’ ”

A bit presumptuous of Skye, I suppose. I mean, really. On what planet would a thirteen-year-old kid be driving the bus on the family’s search for a new home? And doesn’t that sound like a bit of an expensive place? Especially in Manhattan? Kids have no conception of money, right? Surely his parents would provide the voice of reason?

Mr. van Merkensteijn, an investor, told his son he couldn’t afford a $14 million apartment.

Thank you, Mr. van Merkensteijn! I presume afterward you had a nice talk with Skye about what things cost? 

Skye came along to the closing a few months later.

Oh.

If you think it gets better, it does not. We are later introduced to children who advise their parents about what real estate choices to make: “Patty,” Mrs. Haggerty said, “feels this is the time to buy.” Patty is the teenage daughter, and Mrs. Haggerty follows her advice.

The article features children doing recon on their friends’ parents finances, the costs of their Manhattan co-ops and the like. We have fabulously wealthy people saying things like “the idea that you could own a place like this in New York City was amazing,” without any acknowledgment that, no, almost no one can actually own a place like that in New York save themselves.

We have one family who, on the advice of their child, purchased the 2,296 square foot C-line apartment in lower Manhattan instead of the 2,277 square foot L-shaped as “the C line would be better because of his baby grand piano … Ultimately, he and his Steinway carried the day.” Anna just started taking piano lessons. I do hope her Steinway does not demand that I move. 

This sort of Times real estate column is not a novelty. Each week Times readers are introduced to people deciding between $3 million brownstones in Brooklyn and $5 million condos in Manhattan, talking about the tradeoffs involved. My favorite ones involve twenty-or-thirty somethings who are described as “artists” or “non-profit employees” making such choices. Sometimes they’ll mention, in paragraph 18 maybe, that the subject had recently received an inheritance. Or was the recipient of a trust fund. Sometimes, however, they won’t. They’ll portray that week’s real estate dilemma as one in which anyone could find themselves. As if the column were passing on relatable, teachable lessons for any of us who may find ourselves in the van Merkensteijn’s shoes, trying to decide if they’ll stay in their eight-room prewar co-op on Central Park West or move to the 14-room place on Riverside Drive with private pool and climbing wall. And it is ever so useful. God, I wish I had read this before I decided to move last year! Imagine how much better it would’ve been if I had asked Carlo to research which eight-figure residence was right for us before we took the plunge on our little townhouse!

But of course there is part of me that thinks, perhaps, this sort of thing is a bit too much to take. That, just maybe, this parading of insulated and deluded hyper-wealthy elites in what is supposed to be the Paper of Record is a tad untoward. That it’s somewhat tone deaf for the same newspaper which runs occasionally thoughtful editorials about the societal ills of income inequality in this country on page A-27 to portray the “problems” of these nomadic Manhattanites as something we are to take seriously and at face value on page RE-1, with no acknowledgment whatsoever that these are, by definition, the ultimate in first world problems.

An even smaller part of me than that has fantasies when I read this sort of article. Fantasies that, in a few years, Skye van Merkensteijn will come home from his freshman year at Wesleyan wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt and decide to excoriate his parents for their conspicuous consumption. Fantasies that, as he’s doing this, the real proletariat will storm in and take the whole lot of them outside and put them up against a brick wall to usher in the Revolution.

But then I realize that, just as the Aldyn has a climbing wall, an indoor basketball court and private pools for its residents, it probably also has some pretty damn amazing security as well. And that, really, nothing will ever, ever change.

Craig Calcaterra

Craig is the national baseball writer for NBCSports.com. He writes about things other than sports at Craigcalcaterra.com. He lives in New Albany, Ohio with his wife, two kids, and many cats.

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