Family overcomes heartwrenching adversity to buy $4 million home in Manhattan

Today, in the New York Times Real Estate section, is a story that will tear your very heart out. It is the tale of Boji Wong and Benjiman Berkman and their incredible struggle to purchase a home in Manhattan. It is titled “From Townhouse to Tribeca, the Hard Way.”

And boy is it ever.

When Boji and Benji–who by the way is the man we can thank for discovering Maroon 5–were first married, they lived in a two bedroom condo in Battery Park. However, once they started having kids, they realized they needed a larger home.

Tragically, they could not find a “suitable” place in Lower Manhattan, and thus had to settle for a $1.7 million, four story townhouse in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn.” As most of us do.

“We had a lot of friends who were doing the Brooklyn thing, and I was into it,” said Mr. Berkman, 40, who works in the music field. “Every time we went out there, we kind of enjoyed it.”

Of course, this bargain townhouse needed to be entirely renovated from top to bottom, which took over a year and a half to do.

As they prepared to move to the Cobble Hill house, Mr. Berkman grew concerned about insurance and quadrupled their contents coverage, joking with the agent, “What’s the worst that could happen — the house burns down?”

The day before the family’s scheduled move, workers were making one final fix to the air-conditioning. The control panel was in a dressing area near the master bedroom. Workers moved a lamp that was regulated by a timer. When the bulb went on, clothing ignited. The house was destroyed in the ensuing fire.

The insurance company declared a total loss, but covered the cost of rebuilding, along with living expenses. Without such coverage, “we would have been ruined,” Mr. Berkman said.

“Once the proverbial smoke clears, it really does make you realize what’s important,” he said. “You can lose all of your stuff, and it’s all replaceable. The most valuable thing to me are my kids and family.”

And in no way would that be easier to say if they had lost any money or things that they could not afford to replace in said fire. It is, of course, not like that ever happens to people.

I simply thank the lord that this couple had piles and piles of money to cry themselves to sleep on every night.

As if this were all not enough to break your heart into a thousand little crumbly pieces, their real estate woes continued.

While the rebuilding began, the couple rented temporarily in a small TriBeCa co-op building. To keep their options open, they began looking for a three-bedroom to buy in the neighborhood. Even with a budget in the $4 million range, they found little inventory.

“I was not interested in a fixer-upper at that point,” said Ms. Wong, 39, a lawyer who is now an admissions officer at her alma mater Friends Seminary in Manhattan.

I know that pain well, Ms. Wong. None of the $4 million dollar homes I ever look at are even somewhat acceptable.

They saw a sunny, move-in-condition three-bedroom with around 2,200 square feet in an eight-unit co-op. The place had plenty of built-in shelving as well as basement storage. The listing price was $3.375 million, with monthly maintenance of around $1,000.

The couple were heartbroken to lose it in a bidding war. It sold for $3.58 million; they had been outbid by $10,000.

OH GOD THIS IS THE SADDEST THING EVER. My heart weeps for these people. How do they even find the strength to go on living?

The family looked and looked all around New York City for an acceptable home within the $4 million dollar range, a place for their family, a place where their children could happily walk all over the kitchen table barefoot because the maid will take care of that later. It took them five long years.


They overcame overwhelming odds, people. And then finally, one of the places they had loved, a sunny three bedroom condo in TriBeCa, came back on the market for a mere 3.795 million American dollars! Pocket change!

“I said, ‘What’s the catch?’ ” Ms. Wong said. “Why are these people, after winning the bidding war, wanting to sell? Is something wrong with it? After all the real estate trials and tribulations I had been through, I knew better than to get excited about it.”

But it turned out, beautifully, that the sellers just wanted to move to the suburbs, so then Wong and Berkman bought the condo and lived happily ever after.

I share this story–so very deserving of an entire New York Times piece–with you today so that, you know, if you have a bad day in the near future, you can think about this. Think for a moment of the horror of not being able to find a suitable $4 million home in Manhattan, and remember this family’s strength in overcoming all of this adversity and pain. I know it will inspire you as it has me.

Image: NY Times