Skip to main content

Inman Real Estate Conference, Zen and a Shoebox

I just returned from Inman Connect in New York City, known as ICNY to conference-goers. It is one of the best real estate conferences in the country that are geared specifically for real estate agents and the industries that support us. It was a phenomenal conference with something for everyone. If you go with intentions wide open for growth and change, you never know who or what is going to impact you.

Disclaimer: This post is a brain dump. One of several, actually. Please join me if you have absolutely nothing else in the world worth doing.

I am ideation, a thinker. This conference made my head ping all over the place, kind of like this post is about to. I apologize in advance, but you might have to work to follow along. Even I have to work to follow along.

The Tour

While at INCY, my friend and super knowledgeable real estate agent, Nikki Beauchamp, set up a new construction tour of one of the most well-known and historic buildings in the area, the Woolworth Tower. You should read about it. This building is rich in history, and to see the artistic workmanship up close up close was a gift.

(Evidently, I do not do covert very well. I received a polite scolding for attempting to take pictures of the construction so you could see the details for yourself. I completely ripped off Heather Brown Ostrom’s photos for this blog since she is much better at covert than I.)

Architecture is Sometimes Emotional

Remember Woolworth’s? I think of Woolworth’s like the original Target. They sold everything, including tiny turtles in the pet department that came with a little plastic habitat complete with a plastic, green palm tree. (As if turtles live in chlorinated water under plastic palm trees.) I. Am. Sorry. That’s all I can say about those little turtles.

Woolworth’s also had what my mother called, the “lunch counter.” She used to take me there for lunch sometimes when I was a little girl. They served fantastic beef barbecue sandwiches. We would sit at that lunch counter on the red Naugahyde, swivel stools that were so high she had to lift me up to sit me on it. Today, you’d have to put a helmet on your kid to sit on those stools, but that’s another post.

Incidentally, Woolworth’s is also where I first saw someone arrested. When I was about eleven or twelve, my mom allowed me to walk there with a girlfriend for the first time. We were looking around, checking out the fringe purses, hamsters and our future bras and make-up when we witnessed the police take a teenage girl out of the store, handcuffed and all, for stealing some Maybelline Great Lash Mascara. To this day, I have never worn it.

Anyway, I hope you are connecting these dots back to Inman Connect and the tour of the Woolworth building in New York.

Inside the would-be lobby of the Woolworth Tower, it was cold, incredibly loud and construction messy. I felt legit in my blue hard hat perched atop all my fixer-upper knowledge. A screeching metal against concrete cacophony came from somewhere in the building. It was probably more echoes than progress as the building is empty and cavernous at this point.

I’ll be the first to admit that seeing ancient steel beams, chunks of fallen rock and exposed brick in a building that size and age was a little unnerving. I am seriously rethinking the architectural dig on my bucket list; especially if it involves either heights or depths.

There are no elevators in the building yet; there is, however, a “construction hoist”. For those of you with no hard hat experience either, a construction hoist is what you call an elevator when the walls are wood and chain link fence. Know what else I know?

The Hoist should be a B movie. It was dark, it swayed and jerked and was so loud you couldn’t hear each other talk. My friend and fellow agent, Heather Brown Ostrom, said it reminded her of an urban Blair Witch Project. I couldn’t disagree. Knowing how that ended, she took the opportunity to  say goodbye to her children, you know, just in case our hard hats didn’t work.

As for me, I was caught up in a more action-adventure role as our hoist sped past floor after floor of the open elevator shaft. I was repeating in my best Russian accent: “My name is Bond. Jane Bond.” Why Russian you ask? Because Russian accents were on my mind after ICNY. It’s true, I have a very healthy imagination, but it was surreal to know that open shaft was whizzing by right outside that chain link fence.

Once we landed, the hoist opened up on the 38th floor, about 450 feet up. I’m not sure what I expected, but it wasn’t this.

The listing agent was fantastic. She knew her building and the building’s history. She began explaining the gutted space we were now standing in was once occupied by the corporate-level executives of the Woolworth empire. (I saw Mad Men flashbacks just then, did you?)

The plan is to turn the old corporate offices into condos from the 32nd floor up. There are one or two condos per floor, depending on the floorplan. The walls dividing the old offices were gone, but walking around, it was easy to imagine. As we toured the unit, the builder had placed large, scripted text on the bare cement floor indicating what the intended area would be: Living Room, Master Bedroom, Kitchen, etc. It helped in imagining the space. All builders should do this in new construction.

One of my favorite parts was the determination and collaborative efforts of the developers and designers to maintain the look of the era. Much of the old, ornate architectural artifacts, particularly from the ceilings, and especially from Mr. Woolworth’s office, were harvested and in the process of restoration to be used in the newly reconfigured space. It was an incredible opportunity to step back in time.

Aside from the exquisite architecture, the most impactful thing to me was the lifestyle. In comparison to the homes we sell here in Rochester, Michigan and beyond, many units are smaller. One floorplan offered is one bedroom, 1290 square feet, listed for $4,575,000 and go up to four bedrooms, 6000 square feet, listed at $26,400,000. (Anyone?)

Touring the smaller unit emphasized the magic that elevated ceilings bring to a small space. To me, taller ceilings seem airier, it feels like they manufacture sunlight and oxygen all on their own.

Maybe it’s because we have very few tall residential real estate buildings around Rochester, but I instantly found myself pulled to the closest window, completely taken over by the view. I’m sure it’s not even the best view in NYC, but it was captivating to me.

It’s odd: I find tall, cityscape lifestyle both personal and anonymous. It’s weird, in an appealing kind of way. Through the large window on one wall of this unit, I could wave to the guy who was standing at the window of his office in the World Trade Center. I was thinking if I lived there, I’d probably get to know his coming and going habits and he would know mine, yet we would never know each other’s names. As I’m typing this, it occurs to me that it isn’t any different in the suburbs. Our backdoor neighbor is 50 feet away, and we still don’t know their names. Instead of personal yet anonymous, it’s personal yet detached. We have built an arm’s-length community, myself included. But, that’s another post.

The Zen: Through the windows on the other wall, I watched mesmerized by the city in constant motion. Without the sounds of the city: horns, traffic, construction, engines, etc., something happened to the bustle below me. The steady stream of cars and yellow cabs on the bridge, careening from one lane to another seemed logical and orderly from this elevation. The water view was stunning, city lights, green parks, skyscrapers and people walking, over each other, New York style. The Zen effect of observing this silent bustle was an oxymoron in motion. It was as if New York City has somehow relegated chaos to the street level. It became serene. For a two-story, green space girl, I was shocked at how undone I was by the elevated cityscape view. I loved it.

After the Tour

I thought about how complicated simplicity can be.

I had heard about the small apartments and condos in New York City, but touring this luxury space made it real. One floorplan offered in this building is 1290 square feet. 1290 Square Feet. It made me wonder where people in NYC put their stuff? Then, it made me wonder why I have so much stuff. And that’s when it became personal.

The Guy and I live in a pretty simple home. As real estate agents, we have seen many gorgeous homes occupied by unhappy people. We know from experience that a beautiful house does not create a happy life; rather, it’s a happy life that creates a beautiful house. Size does not matter to happy, folks.

We are thinking about making a move or maybe building a little something. This 1290 square foot unit has my mind pinging all over the place now about space. How much space do I truly need? And then, how much space do I want to need? Have you ever thought about it?

It makes me think exactly like my clients have to. Compared to many, I have Much, I know; but have had a lot More. Bigger, newer, grander, etc. I found More to be too overwhelming to manage. I am tired of the responsibility of it all. Now I’m thinking about simplifying further. If I go smaller, my house might qualify as a shoebox to some. Maybe I want to live in a shoebox. Are real estate agents allowed to live in shoebox houses? It’s a complex decision. We real estate agents don’t get any short cuts in the decision department. We have to sort it all out like everybody else.

My shoebox would look something like this:

  • I’d like a great kitchen that is easy to clean and roomy enough for a couple of lazy chefs.
  • I need an intimate gathering space for great conversation and no big screens. It’s ok if we are knee to knee.
  • A restful bedroom with a well-organized closet.
  • A nicely appointed bathroom with a big shower, no tub; I don’t care what real estate agents say.
  • A place for our weary traveler friends to lay their heads.
  • A green space to walk my pups. There. I’d be happy.

I’m thinking about a smaller space and how liberating that might be. After that tour, I think I’m ready.

Thank you, Inman Connect and New York City, for creating an environment to think and grow in many different ways. You were a fantastic host. I got some good business tips out of it, too. Special thanks to Nikki Beauchamp for putting this amazing tour together.

Real estate conferences aren’t personal–until they are.