Furniture in the Burbs
A close friend just bought a house in Connecticut. Before he closed, the sellers did a virtual auction of all of the furniture in their house. While he didn’t buy everything in the house, my friend chose enough items, most of them high quality, as a starting place for what will be a multi-month dive into making the home feel great for his family.
It reminded me about yet another difference between Manhattan, and everywhere else. In a year in which we’ve seen the insides of a lot of deals this year, I saw it time and again: Each apartment seller became more stressed about the furniture than nearly any other aspect of the process.
I’ve heard it said that moving is among the most stressful things one can go through, only slightly below divorce and mourning the loss of a loved one. Of course, my team and I arrive on the scene as real estate professionals right at this moment. I’ve often said that we catch people at their most stressed, and moving is certainly one of the main components to the stress. It is leaving what is familiar and going to something new. Scary, to be sure, for even the most put-together people.
When people move, it may be of no surprise that that they are going to a larger or smaller space. At the very least, they are not moving to a carbon copy of where they were. In any situation, it is likely that furniture will be outdated or obsolete. In working with sellers this year, we have seen cross-country moves, downsizing from two houses to one, and, of course, estate sales. Among many, many, MANY others.
In the cross country move, the seller was proud of his contemporary designer furniture. But he still didn’t want to move it to California. In the downsizing situation, the sellers’ upstate house was becoming their primary residence, and was already furnished. In the estate sale, furniture had traveled from house to apartment, and the original owner had, well, no need for furniture any longer. It was up to her heirs to decide what to do with an apartment full of emotional keepsakes, and big wooden furniture.
Another seller had a big house in New Jersey, a home in Florida, and no need for another four rooms of furniture from a Manhattan apartment they no longer even visited.
Yet another estate sale was surprised that the over-the-top cost of rental cars meant that U-Hauls, which his building staff was going to have to use to haul away furniture, would impact the staff’s willingness to do that work. The supply chain has seemed to affect everyone.
I was approached with questions of this flavor:
“Do you have someone who can pick up the furniture I don’t want?”
“Do you have a company that will BUY the furniture I don’t want?”
“What the hell do I do with all of this furniture I don’t want?”
“Can I do a garage sale in my building??’
“The super wanted to charge me an outrageous amount to remove furniture and toss it. What do I do?”
“My building doesn’t want to allow in any non-residents because of COVID. How do I sell my furniture??”
What Changed This Year
Suddenly, in what has been the busiest market in 30 years, long before I even started in the business, buyers joined this chorus. Their questions were presented more sheepishly than the sellers’. It was all pandemic-related:
“Do you think the sellers would leave some furniture?”
“Are the appliances in working order?
“What are people doing these days to order furniture?”
Buyers have realized that, even if they’re doing a major renovation, that they may hit some major bumps in the road with shipping delays and supply chain issues more broadly. Maybe they will need to use that old fridge. Maybe they want to live in the space for a while before doing all the work. And lurking behind their concerns, is every delay story they’re hearing.
Personally, we have had a refrigerator delivery be delayed for nearly a year. The day before it was to be delivered, Pottery Barn Kids called me to tell me that my son’s new bed wouldn’t be delivered for SIX MONTHS! I used to joke that Restoration Hardware should be called “Frustration Hardware,” having had one tough experience with their customer service department. Now, it would seem that these issues are de riguer for everyone.
When is that bed going to ever come in? What if you’re left mid-renovation with certain items unavailable? The concerns have impacted buyers’ willingness to renovate, and, more to the point, increased their interest in buying, or inheriting, sellers’ furniture that they don’t want to take, anyway.
Let me say that before 2021, I had never sold an apartment with its furniture. This year, I’ve negotiated three sales that included furniture, and have three more pending as of this writing. In one case, a buyer is purchasing a part-time apartment, and is supremely worried about being able to source furniture in a reasonable period of time. In another, a buyer is expanding into a larger unit and fears, again, that his kids won’t have beds to sleep on. In another deal, buyers don’t want to shop for furniture while they perceive the pandemic rages on.
It’s part psychological, and very practical.
In short, no one seems to want to deal with furniture, whether they are buying or selling. Sellers, who historically discover that their used furniture has nearly no value, are able to, at the very least, worry a little less. And buyers can kick the can down the road a little by buying the furniture at low cost. It’s a situation in which “everyone wins,” and at the same time each side feels like they are losing. The sellers lose money they thought they could get, and buyers lose the freedom of creating their dream home right away.
Surely, though, the furniture wins. It gets some new owners and a new life, rather than being stacked in a sad warehouse like the end scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark!