In a housing market desperately short on inventory, with prices spiraling toward the heavens, sellers can demand almost anything these days. They can even take the toilets.
Toilets, particularly expensive self-cleaning ones with bidets, are among the hot items ending up on moving vans, as sellers flex their muscle to squeeze the most out of a sale. Sellers are taking their appliances, too, and not just high-end Viking stoves. They are claiming midrange refrigerators, stoves and dishwashers to avoid shopping for new ones at a time when such items can be back-ordered for months. Then there are sentimental demands, like fireplace mantels and backyard fruit trees; one Manhattan couple insisted on keeping the sink where their daughter learned to brush her teeth 50 years ago.
Buyers, beaten down from relentless bidding wars, shrug and slog along. What else can they do? This is a seller’s world and we’re all just living in it.
“Look, sellers have become more greedy,” said Chase Landow, a salesperson for Serhant in Manhattan. “Good inventory is rather tight and they know that they can control the show.”
In June, the nationwide median home sale price was up 25% year over year to $386,888, while the number of homes for sale was down 28% from 2020, according to Redfin. The homes that hit the market last month moved fast — a typical one sold in 14 days — and 56% of them sold above the asking price.
Even in Manhattan, where the market was slow to recover from the pandemic, properties are moving quickly again, with the number of sales surging 152% in the second quarter of 2021, and the median sale price up 13% from last year, according to a Douglas Elliman report.
With so many buyers knocking, sellers know that if one balks, another one will be waiting in the wings, probably with a better offer. Comedians on TikTok and YouTube paint a comically grim picture of the desperate buyer — throw in the family dog, or pay college tuition for the sellers’ children, and maybe they’ll consider your offer.
Landow recently informed some clients, the buyers of a $15.5 million apartment in the Carlton House on East 61st Street, that the sellers wanted to take the kitchen cabinets. All of them. “The question is what the hell do you do with them?” Landow said. “I have no idea, which is why it’s all very odd.”
The sellers were willing to wait on their custom bamboo cabinetry, which the buyers actually hated, until the buyers renovated the kitchen, agreeing to come back and claim them during demolition. So the buyers relented. “This market is so bananas, you want to do what you can do to keep the sellers happy,” Landow said. The deal closed in early July, bequeathed cabinets and all.
In any market, it is not uncommon for buyers and sellers to spar over light fixtures, window treatments and appliances, with million-dollar deals sometimes unraveling over items that cost a few thousand. Generally, anything affixed to the walls — cabinets, sinks and toilets — is considered part of the sale, with removable items like light fixtures and mounted flat-screen televisions falling into a gray area that gets hammered out during contract negotiations. If an item goes, it is usually replaced with a contractor-grade equivalent. But ultimately, a contract can include whatever terms a buyer and seller agree to.
And this year, buyers are agreeing to some doozies.
In East Hampton, the sellers of a $2.2 million house decided they wanted to keep a pair of fruit trees, even though removing them left two gaping holes by the swimming pool.
Even the sellers’ agent was confused. “Where did that come from? The buyer freaks out, it’s going to ruin the landscaping,” said Yorgos Tsibiridis, an associate broker for Compass, who represented the sellers in the deal. The trees, about 6 feet tall, were a gift to the sellers’ children from a grandparent and, it turned out, a deal breaker. “She said, ‘Nope, if they don’t allow me to take them with me I’m canceling the contract,’” Tsibiridis recounted.
And so, a landscaper showed up recently and dug up the trees in time for the closing, which is expected to happen in a few days.
There are other factors at play beyond power grabs. Housing is in short supply, but so too are appliances, furnishings and building materials, as the global supply chain continues to sputter through the pandemic recovery. As sellers part with their homes, some of them look around and realize that they may not be able to replace the items they’re leaving. So, why not take them?
During the negotiations for a two-bedroom co-op in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, the sellers insisted on keeping the kitchen appliances and the washer and dryer. If the buyers wanted them, they could pay $10,000, a premium for secondhand Samsung appliances. The buyers were livid, as the demand was not mentioned in the listing for the $430,000 apartment.
“They felt it was very petty and cheap to throw it in there at the last minute,” said Jack Chiu, an associate broker with Douglas Elliman representing the buyers. He said they would have altered their offer had they known the appliances were excluded. “It hit them from left field.”
The buyers considered other apartments, but had gotten this one after winning an eight-way bidding war, following eight months of disappointments. “They were just so tired because they were outbid so many times,” Chiu said.
They agreed to let the sellers take the appliances, and signed the contract. The buyers have started looking at appliances so they don’t move into an apartment with a stripped kitchen, but their first priority is securing a loan and getting approved by the co-op board so they can close in September.
Other demands are purely sentimental. On the Upper West Side, a couple who have lived in their co-op apartment for decades looked at the Sherle Wagner sink where their now 52-year-old daughter learned to brush her teeth as a toddler, and couldn’t part with it. The decorative pedestal sink is hand-painted pink and green, and shaped like a seashell. “They know they have the upper hand,” said Sheila Trichter, an associate broker with Warburg Realty, speaking on behalf of her clients. “They know they are being absurd, to a degree. They know that they are asking for a lot.” The couple, moving to Florida, hope to install the sink in their new home.
The buyers agreed to the demand, but instead of accepting a contractor-grade replacement, they asked for a credit toward the cost of a new one. “It’s all been friendly-ish,” Trichter said.
And in Monroe, New York, Amy Wilhelm, a salesperson at Corcoran Baer & McIntosh, was stunned when her client told her that she wanted to take the toilet in the main bathroom. “When I picked my jaw off the floor, I said, ‘I guess we could do that,’” Wilhelm said.
The self-cleaning toilet lights up and the lid automatically opens when you walk in the room. But the seller wanted it for a deeply personal reason: Her husband, who had recently died, had wanted the toilet so much that he had jokingly filled a toilet fund jar. “This toilet was their running joke,” Wilhelm said.
The seller disclosed her plans in the listing, turning the fixture into an oddity at the open house. Prospective buyers “were just so amazed by it,” Wilhelm said.
On June 1, just days after the house was listed for $549,000, the seller accepted an offer, well over the asking price. It was one of six.
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