By Christine Haughney
FOR years, Michele Kleier, a real estate broker on the Upper East Side, knew why one of her most persistent clients was calling even before picking up the phone.
The client, a former high-ranking fashion executive and perpetual volunteer at her children’s private schools, was checking the price she could get for her nine-room co-op in a prewar building. When the market reached a high, she told Ms. Kleier, she planned to divorce her husband, sell the apartment and live on her share of the profits.
Last year, Ms. Kleier delivered the long-awaited news: Manhattan luxury apartments were at a peak. The client went through with her plan. Now the woman calls from her new condo in California, raving about the weather and the distance from her ex-husband.
“She felt that she couldn’t walk out on him until she had the money to move away and buy something on her own,” Ms. Kleier said. “The real estate market allowed her to buy her freedom.”
The first story did not instill in us much faith in mankind or womankind or humanity, for that matter. Yes, financial security is important. These days, it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of very important. We should probably add a rung to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to incorporate financial security (somewhere between shelter and self-actualization, by our estimate). But waiting for home value to top out before divorce is on the ‘cold and calculating’ end of fiscally responsible. Sure, it benefits both parties equally if the value can be maximized, but there’s still something not so wholesome about it. It’s like flying a kite at night or hugging someone covered in Crisco (long story). Perhaps this trend happened because real estate is so, well, real. There didn’t seem to be a spate of high-value divorces, necessarily, during the stock market boom of the late ’90s. Were we just more innocent back then? Did the stock bubble (or September 11th) make us all into a bunch of jaded, money-grubbing j-holes? Doesn’t it seem like the display of wealth has become more outrageous in the last handful of years? We think this can all be traced back to MTV’s Cribs. We’re not sure how to prove it, but that show and The Real World will later be seen by anthropologists (and anthro-apologists) as the downfall of western civilization (a Chinese History Course in 2055: Western Civilization Dominance: The Battle of Thermopylae through Real World/Road Rules Challenge).