Can Extremely Rich New Yorkers Feel Pain? The New York Times Investigates


We’re all told that money can’t buy happiness, but even the youngest child will question the veracity of that statement because, well, you know what money can buy? Literally everything else. And also, let’s face it, sometimes it can buy happiness too. And so it is with great skepticism that most of us greet a New York Times headline like “From Townhouse to TriBeCa, The Hard Way,” because, well, if someone is able to afford to live in either a townhouse or in TriBeCa, how “hard” could that way actually have been? Don’t people who live at that level of income have enough of a buffer due to their vast resources aka piles and piles of money? Or is everything we thought to be true actually a lie, and rich people suffer just like you or I? Let’s find out!

The Times article tells the harrowing tale of a New York couple on the hunt for a home in which to raise their brood.: “As their family grew, Benjamin Berkman and Boji Wong knew they would need more space than they had in their two-bedroom Battery Park City condominium.” Well, that’s relatable enough! Oh, not the part about living in Battery Park City (who does that?), but the part about needing space. We’ve all been there, right? Where we haven’t all been is in the position of Berkman and Wong (he discovered Maroon 5; she’s an admissions officer at the elite Friends Seminary private school in Manhattan) with what happens next, namely, when instead of doing what we would do when realizing that we have to move (curl up in the fetal position and cry), they looked for places in Lower Manhattan but couldn’t find any, so instead “opted for a $1.7 million townhouse in Cobble Hill.” You know, as one does as long as “one” is extremely wealthy.

So where’s the hardship? Well, after a year-and-a-half spent gutting and renovating the townhouse, the home burnt down in a fire, leaving the Berkman-Wong family up shit creek without a paddle. Or we guess the more apt analogy is that the Berkman-Wong clan was now up a creek full of gold coins a la Scrooge McDuck and with a paddle encrusted with diamonds, but whatever. The point is that this family was having a hard time! Sure, they were able to afford to rent a space in TriBeCa, and, sure, they had just so happened to quadruple their insurance coverage just prior to the fire but, more importantly, they were looking for a new home in TriBeCa, but “even with a budget in the $4 million range, they found little inventory.” Which, you know, we’ve found the same thing! Only that was when our budget was more like $1,200/month, but whatever.

You’ll be happy to hear, we’re sure, that eventually the Berkman-Wong’s sold their rebuilt Cobble Hill home for $3.75 million (turning a cool $2 million profit), and bought a TriBeCa condo for just $3.795 million. So it’s a happy ending to a universally relatable story, right? And it totally proves that even when people are enormously wealthy, they have a difficult time too! Sure, they’re protected by inordinate amounts of savings and the safety net provided by having similarly privileged family and friends (the Berkman-Wongs stayed with family during their condo-buying odyssey), but, you know, when their homes burn down, they suffer! Yes, they’re protected by being coincidentally over-insured, but that’s not really the point, is it?

Oh, wait. Yes, it is. It is the point that they’re protected by their money. Here’s the thing: Money can’t buy happiness, but it sure as hell can buy comfort. Money can take away stress. Money can put a roof over your head and food in your children’s mouths and can afford its possessors the luxury of looking to buy just the right home instead of settling for whatever they can afford in whatever neighborhood hasn’t been completely gentrified yet. And so while there are probably many, many things that money can’t protect people from experiencing “the hard way,” well, house hunting in New York City is not among them. Not even a little bit.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen

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