Broken Chandeliers and Oven Fires: What Happens When a Real-Estate Pro Damages a Listing? - Kanebridge News
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Broken Chandeliers and Oven Fires: What Happens When a Real-Estate Pro Damages a Listing?

It was a total accident, and their worst nightmare

By ROBYN A. FRIEDMAN
Fri, May 17, 2024 9:34amGrey Clock 4 min

Have you ever accidentally damaged a client’s home?

Debby Belt, senior associate, Hammond Residential Real Estate, Chestnut Hill, Mass.

I was representing the seller of a four-bedroom Cape Cod-style home in Newton, Mass., just west of Boston. It was May 2016 and the house was listed for $929,000. It had a beautiful kitchen, with wood cabinets, granite countertops and stainless-steel appliances.

The house went under contract, and it was scheduled for a home inspection. I wanted the house to look pristine for the inspector and buyers, but the kitchen counters were cluttered, so I frantically threw things into drawers, and I put some glassware, baking tins and plates into the oven. When the inspector walked into the kitchen, he turned on the oven to test it without looking inside first. I was in another room at the time, but I smelled something burning, and then heard explosions as the glass shattered.

When I ran into the kitchen, I saw smoke and a small fire in the oven. There was broken glass all over the place, and the kitchen was smoky. Since it was a gas oven, it could have been much worse. The oven was damaged, and the seller wasn’t happy, so I gave her a $500 discount on the commission to offset any damage or credits she would have to give to the buyers. The buyers weren’t too upset, fortunately, because they were probably planning to update the appliances. The home ended up selling for $920,000 with the oven not functioning perfectly. Now, when I meet the inspector, we both still laugh about it.

Jeffrey Kahn, broker, Broker Associates Realty, The Villages, Fla.

In 1995, early in my real-estate career, I was representing the seller of a condominium in a luxury high-rise building on the ocean in Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, just north of Fort Lauderdale. My seller had the mistaken impression that the dining room chandelier was excluded from the sale, so she had it taken down just before closing and replaced it with a less-expensive fixture.

When we did the walk-through the day before closing, the buyer noticed that the original chandelier, which was about 3 feet wide and custom-made from oyster shells and glass on a wrought-iron frame, was missing and, since the contract said that the unit was being sold furnished with everything included in the sale we needed to rectify the situation. The buyer was refusing to close because she loved the chandelier, and my commission—about $30,000, which I was going to split with the other agent—was in jeopardy. The original chandelier was packed in a box on the dining room table, and to make the deal happen, I told the seller I would replace her chandelier with a comparable one if we would rehang the original.

It wasn’t a difficult chandelier, and I’ve done a lot of electrical work in my own homes, so I took down the one hanging from the ceiling. As I started to remove the oyster-glass chandelier from the box, a hairless Sphynx cat jumped on the glass dining room table and rubbed against me. I had never seen a cat in the apartment during the entire listing process, so it scared the heck out of me. I dropped the chandelier, which broke, and I ended up having to pay $8,000 for two new chandeliers and electrician fees. Thankfully, the unit sold for $978,000 and my commission was sufficient to cover the costs. I was just happy the glass dining-room table didn’t break because then my whole commission would have been gone.

Joshua Garner, real-estate agent, The Agency, New York City

In October 2022, I was representing the owner of a Classic Seven co-op on the Upper East Side that was listed for $3.1 million. It had three bedrooms and 2,575 square feet of classic prewar details, with 13 windows and high ceilings. It also had the most particular seller ever. She trusted no one but myself to open up and show the apartment, and it took no less than 30 minutes to prepare and close up each time. There was a written checklist I had to follow, in a specific order, that included the proper angle at which to pull the string for the blinds, how to pick up and strategically fold, stack and put away the series of white sheets she had laid out as runners to protect the bedroom carpets and wearing shoe covers and gloves. She would watch everything from Switzerland via her security cameras and would call me to correct the smallest details.

Prospective buyers were told not to touch anything and to stay on designated walking areas, which were placed a distance from the Ming vases. If they wanted to see the interior of a cupboard or closet, I would refer to myself as Vanna White and would respond to what they instructed. I always warned them ahead of time that she was probably watching and that anything they said or did would be recorded. Buyers would enter with their guard up, which made it difficult. One day, after a showing, I couldn’t get one of the blinds to lower properly. I panicked, but I notified her immediately, and she had a maintenance worker inspect it. The cord had come off the internal spool, and even though it was a quick fix, the seller was livid and ready to withdraw the exclusive.

The only thing that saved the listing was offering to pay $300 to fully replace the mechanism to restore it to new condition. Although there were incidents that upset her during other showings, thankfully, nothing else was ever broken. This co-op, which ended up closing for $2.95 million in October 2023, was the most high-stakes deal I ever worked on.

—Edited from interviews by Robyn A. Friedman 



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I.M. Pei was the confident visionary behind such transformative structures as the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong and the Louvre Pyramid in Paris, but he was also humble, and for years resisted a retrospective of his work.

Pei, a Chinese-American architect who died in 2019 at 102 , would always protest any suggestion of a major exhibition, saying, “why me,” noting, too, that he was still actively at work, recalls his youngest son, Li Chung “Sandi” Pei. A decade ago, when Pei was in his mid-to-late 90s, he relented, finally telling Aric Chen, a curator at the M+ museum in Hong Kong, “all right, if you want to do it, go ahead,” Sandi says.

A sweeping retrospective, “I.M. Pei: Life Is Architecture,” will open June 29 at M+ in the city’s West Kowloon Cultural District. The exhibition of more than 300 objects, including drawings, architectural models, photographs, films, and other archival documents, will feature Pei’s influential structures, but in dialogue with his “social, cultural, and biographical trajectories, showing architecture and life to be inseparable,” the museum said in a news release.

As a Chinese citizen who moved to the U.S. in 1935 to learn architecture, Pei—whose full first name was Ieoh Ming—brought a unique cultural perspective to his work.

“His life is what’s really interesting and separates him from many other architects,” Sandi says. “He brought with him so many sensibilities, cultural connections to China, and yet he was a man of America, the West.”

Facade of the Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© South Ho Siu Nam

Pei’s architectural work was significant particularly because of its emphasis on cultural institutions—from the East Building of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha, Qatar—“buildings that have a major impact in their communities,” Sandi says. But he also did several urban redevelopment projects, including Kips Bay Towers in Manhattan and Society Hill in Philadelphia.

“These are all places for people,” Sandi says. “He believed in the importance of architecture as a way to bring and celebrate life. Whether it was a housing development or museum or a tall building or whatever—he really felt a responsibility to try to bring something to wherever he was working that would uplift people.”

A critical juncture in Pei’s career was 1948, when he was recruited from the Harvard Graduate School of Design (where he received a master’s degree in architecture) by New York real estate developer William Zeckendorf.

With Zeckendorf, Pei traveled across the country, meeting politicians and other “movers and shakers” from Denver and Los Angeles, to Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Boston, and New York. “He became very adept at working in that environment, where you had to know how to persuade people,” Sandi says.

During the seven-year period Pei worked with Zeckendorf, the developer fostered the growth of his architecture practice, supporting an office that included urban, industrial, graphic, and interior designers, in addition to architects and other specialists, Sandi says.

When Pei started his own practice in 1955, “he had this wealth of a firm that could do anything almost anywhere,” Sandi says. “It was an incredible springboard for what became his own practice, which had no parallel in the profession.”

According to Sandi, Chinese culture, traditions, and art were inherent to his father’s life as he grew up, and “he brought that sensibility when he came into America and it always influenced his work.” This largely showed up in the way he thought of architecture as a “play of solids and voids,” or buildings and landscape.

“He always felt that they worked together in tandem—you can’t separate one from the other—and both of them are influenced by the play of light,” Sandi says.

View of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, on the mesa, in a photograph commissioned by M+ in 2021.
© Naho Kubota

Pei also often said that “architecture follows art,” and was particularly influenced by cubism, an artistic movement exploring time and space that was practiced in the early 20th century by Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and the sculptor Jacques Lipchitz, among others. This influence is apparent in the laboratory at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo., and at the Everson Museum of Art in Syracuse, N.Y. “Those two buildings, if you look at them, have a play of solid and void, which are very cubistic,” Sandi says.

Yet Sandi argues that his father didn’t have a specific architectural style. Geometry may have been a consistent feature to his work, but his projects always were designed in response to their intended site. The resulting structure emerged as almost inevitable, he says. “It just was the right solution.”

Pei also intended his buildings “not only to be themselves a magnet for life,” but also to influence the area where they existed. “He never felt that a building stood alone,” Sandi says. “Urban design, urban planning, was a very important part of his approach to architecture, always.”

After he closed his own firm to supposedly “retire” in the early 1990s, Pei worked alongside Sandi and his older brother, Chien Chung (Didi) Pei, who died late last year, at PEI Architects, formerly Pei Partnership Architects. Pei would work on his own projects, with their assistance, and would guide his sons, too. The firm had substantial involvement in the Museum of Islamic Art, among other initiatives, for instance, Sandi says.

Working with his father was fun, he says. In starting a project, Pei was often deliberately vague about his intentions. The structure would coalesce “through a process of dialogue and sketches and sometimes just having lunch over a bottle of wine,” Sandi says. “He was able to draw from each of us who was working on the project our best efforts to help to guide [it] to some kind of form.”

The M+ retrospective, which will run through Jan. 5, is divided into six areas of focus, from Pei’s upbringing and education through to his work in real estate and urban redevelopment, art and civic projects, to how he reinterpreted history through design.

Sandi, who will participate in a free public discussion moderated by exhibition co-curator Shirley Surya on the day it opens, is interested “in the opportunity to look at my father anew and to see his work in a different light now that it’s over, his last buildings are complete. You can take a full assessment of his career.”

And, he says, “I’m excited for other people to become familiar with his life.”