Eat Your Heart Out Donald Trump!
Hardly a day goes by when some neophyte doesn’t try to partake of my financial wisdom. Let’s see, there are Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, The Donald and The David. There aren’t too many of us left. The Carnegies, the Rockefellers, and the Mellons have left their fortunes to unworthy off-springs, so we are carrying the torch in today’s world. Of the four, only Trump and Sahud have devoted most of our talents toward real estate.
Donald and I made our entrance to the Atlantic City market at about the same time. He pushed to buy the new Hilton Hotel on the Bay, because one of the Hilton directors was found to be on the “Unacceptable List” of the NJ Gambling Commission. It turned out to be a distress sale and Donald was right on the spot. I, on the other hand, being of higher ethical standards, did not choose to be the beneficiary of ill-gotten cost advantages. I bought a new three-bedroom condo right on the beach in Brigantine (just over a small bridge from Atlantic City) for list price. Those were the early days of Atlantic City gambling, and there was no doubt that real estate values were going to soar. I was convinced that I had made a brilliant investment, while Trump was struggling to salvage a fledgling hotel.
So we proceeded to furnish our beach-front condo lavishly and awaited the onrush of guests, all of whom used it as a base for exploring the new Atlantic City. Our condo became a free hotel for friends and relatives, who graciously accepted the room and board, dashing off to the casinos with the last bite of free food still in their mouths. Judy served as cook and maid, with me as a non-handy handyman. Unfortunately, we were not blessed with as large a staff as Trump and wore ourselves out.
Three years later, with Atlantic City not growing fast enough for us, we decided to sell our condo. This took brilliant planning, since we were at the beginning of a real estate crash in Atlantic City. Four condominiums in Brigantine ceased construction and went bankrupt. It took several months to find a buyer for our elegant condo. We finally found one named Sal, from Reading, Pennsylvania, who was a close friend of the heavyweight champion, Larry Holmes. He was 250 pounds of solid muscle, with knuckles dragging. It didn’t take long for me to realize that he was not a Cum Laude graduate of Harvard. His raspy voice and snappy clothes were reminiscent of many cast members of “The Godfather.” With his close ties to the crooked boxing industry, I was convinced that if he wasn’t a member of the mob…..then I am Winston Churchill.
His “Wife” was an unadulterated “Bimbo,” with a shrieking expletive-laden speech pattern, chewing gum like a cow. She was definitely a “Moll” from central casting. She leaped off our ground floor deck to assure herself that we were really on the beach and brought three pounds of sand into out carpeted living room. Hopefully it will be her living room – full of sand.
While I was thrilled to sell the condo and lose lots of money, the closing was an episode of “The Sopranos.” Marie was screaming and cursing at the three teenage kids (of undetermined origin) and Sal was telling her to shut up. The payoff was even stranger. Sal handed over five certified checks from five different banks totalling the purchase price. So while Donald was wrestling with men of ill-repute at the Hilton, I was probably trading in stolen money.
Fast forward to 2005. One late October morning, over our usual breakfast of chitlins and hog fat, Judy turned to me and said, “We should sell our house and move into a retirement community.” The stairs were getting to be too much for us. The neighborhood had changed in 44 years and we hardly knew our neighbors.
I answered, “OK, but could you let me finish my breakfast and give me a few hours to work it out?”
She said, “Yes, but don’t procrastinate like you usually do.”
Ignoring the sarcasm, I set out to work. Google presented me with a Del Webb Pulte Retirement Community being built in a hamlet called Wanaque, New Jersey. This god-forsaken place was only 35 miles from our home in New City. Two hours later, we were in the sales office. Twelve minutes thereafter we wrote a binder check for $1000, with a 10% deposit two weeks later. The price was right and we could sell our house in the middle of a real estate boom in New City. Two houses on the block were sold for outrageously high prices. We called a realtor and she recommended we wait until we returned from Florida in the spring before putting the house up for sale.
But the drive from Florida must have taken longer than I thought. On our arrival, we saw three comparable houses for sale. The prices were the October prices minus $100,000. WWDD- What would Donald do? First of all, he wouldn’t have committed to a new place without selling the old one (although he didn’t exactly have the mark of success stamped on his casino bankruptcies).
As the saying goes, “When you have lemons you make Tortellini Alfredo,” (or something like that). So we put our house on the market for $5000 less than the other three houses.
Now all we had to do was wait for the thundering herd of buyers. Unfortunately, the hoof beats were few and far between. For every one of the nine viewers, we huddled in the corner of our den, like orphans in a storm and kept quiet, unless questioned. We heard doors opening and closing, shoes thumping and voices ringing as they walked right past us. Some visitors and agents were very complimentary about the condition of the 44 year-old house. There were obviously futile questions like, “Where is the swimming pool?” or “Why is the master bedroom so small?” or “What- no fireplace?” or “Why is the bedroom on the second floor?”
One Chinese engineer being transferred from Boston asked if we would throw in the baby grand piano. Little did he know that I would have been glad to even throw in five grandchildren and two dogs. But I played it cool and told him it was negotiable. He never came back. Word has it that he bought a much cheaper house.
Prospect number 9 gave me an opportunity to demonstrate my marketing skills. A Chinese UN employee in his fifties watched his adopted five year old daughter leap up the stairs ahead of him. As she ascended to the top, she saw our large deck and wooded backyard and shouted “Daddy I love it!” From then on I never took my eyes off the little girl, smiling, winking and holding my wallet in my hand. (She will be on my payroll forever). Mr. Moy made us an offer that night.
We settled on the price through the agents. There were three closing postponements due to hitches with this buyer. Visions of having to default on our condo flashed before us. I wanted to discuss the situation with him directly to better understand the status. But his lawyer and his agent held him hostage for fear that I might upset him.
When I finally spoke to him on the walk-through before closing, he was a nervous wreck. He had been through the same insecurities as us. In fact he asked if we could leave the front door unlocked so that the movers could enter during the closing. My answer, “It’s your house.”
In the meantime, Donald Trump came out of bankruptcy, and I began to ponder my next move. Perhaps we could build a casino in beautiful downtown Wanaque, in back of the garbage dump?