The Nesting Instinct

“A good home must be made, not bought.” — Joyce Maynard

Some call it the nesting instinct, some call it the bubble phenomenon, and some call it much worse things. I call it fun to watch. I see it every time someone new moves into my upper west side condo.

A family closes on an apartment and eventually moves in. For me and for my staff, that’s when the fun and entertainment begins. They will complain to me, their new super, about anything and everything under the sun. Things I can do something about and things over which I have no control. I’ve gotten complaints about the noise from garbage trucks and other sundry early morning traffic. Complaints about the next door neighbor’s dog barking. About the ease with which one can hear the couple fighting next door.

Depending on the personalities involved and the time it takes for the new residents to get settled, they can make my life extremely busy and very, shall we say, interesting for me – for anywhere from a few days to several months.

With real estate prices in Manhattan spiking as it is in many neighborhoods, there has been an unusually heavy turnover in my building recently. Older owners are cashing out and moving on to greener pastures, younger ones are moving in.

The best thing about it all is this: I have seen it enough times to know that this soaring state of nesting is a very temporary phenomenon. It just SEEMS at the time that it will be forever. It never is. Like a hurricane, it eventually does blow over.

“When you respond to life, that’s positive; when you react to life, that’s negative.”   — Zig Ziglar

Moving day comes, and until they’re completely settled in it’s anywhere from a few days to a few weeks, depending on how busy the new residents are in their jobs and extracurricular activities.

They come and giddily introduce themselves to you on the day of closing or shortly thereafter, are in deliriously high spirits and want you to know that they will be the best residents you’ve ever known, will work with you and for you and put in a good word about you when they get on the board. They will work to make life great in their new building and you’re sure they will be your best friends for life.

After moving in, all bets are off.

Here’s the catch. Nothing is ever quite perfect, even with the wonderful, ideal apartment in the perfect neighborhood in the immaculate building in which I live and run. For most purchasers, it’s too easy to overlook the small idiosyncrasies and foibles or the too unfinished state of the home they have just bought. That is, until the day after move-in and the first mortgage payment looms. Reality hits them between the eyes and that tension headache creeps in as they anticipate writing that monthly maintenance check for the rest of their natural lives.

God forbid you are busy with the needs of other residents during this crucial time and cannot address their “emergencies” (anything they want done right now) immediately (yesterday). You will quickly become the villain, and fodder for complaints to your manager. This is the time to set aside all but the direst of emergencies and lavish all the warmth and attention you and your staff can muster to their needs.

Forget their possible buyer’s remorse, you can rapidly become sorry your paths have crossed, and in spades. You get to believing that these people are going to be impractical jerks, and are going to hound you to your grave, making unfeasible and unworkable demands on you and your hapless staff ad nauseum. You fear that your life will become a series of choices where on the one hand you are either catering to their needs and theirs alone, thus drawing the ire and disgust of all the other residents, or on the other, avoiding these nice new residents at all costs. In a year you will have to leave the building and take a job in New Jersey because you have had no time for anyone else but them, consequently everyone else hates you and will never smile at you again – OR tip you in any month ending in “ber”.

“You don’t really understand human nature unless you know why a child on a merry-go-round will wave at his parents every time around — and why his parents will always wave back.”  –William D. Tammeus

It’s the nesting phenomenon at work. It’s only temporary. This too shall pass. No one ever said being a super is easy, but it’s not impossible either. And most people, including your new residents, aren’t crazy. They’re just nesting.

It is human nature to fear change, and moving is one of the most life-changing experiences humans can put themselves through. For producing stress in a person’s life, it’s right up there with having a baby and starting a new job. I’ve heard it from more than one person, including from my own mouth, that moving is the worst of times in life.

Since your new move-ins are new to the building and to you, they don’t know you – not like the other residents know you. The long time residents understand that you’re a rational, caring person, and know that you will respond to their requests in good time. Emergencies – the real kind – will get taken care of immediately. The other “emergencies” will get taken care of also, but will take just a bit longer. But their needs will be met, they have not made a mistake taking an apartment in this building, the super is not a raging idiot who cares less than a whit about them and their problems, and their lives will go on and indeed, will get even better. It will take some time to realize this, but it does always happen. “This too shall pass,” as the wise man said.

It will just take some time. But how much time will be needed? Depending on the personalities involved, the time it takes you and your staff to accommodate, acquiesce and meet or exceed their demands will be very short and relatively painless, or it can become several excruciating months of hell. But if you can remind yourself during this time that this too will become routine to them, and therefore no more a matter of panic or complaint, you will do yourself and your staff a favor. Their life in your building does at some point become routine at last, and your life also becomes…well, boring again.

Sure, it’s nice to get everything as you like it in your apartment, your building, your life. But when you’re finished, what else is there? What’s next? You have to set new goals or your life will become stale and boring.

Because let’s face it, it’s these times that make it all worthwhile. After all, it’s rarely the goal – the destination – that is the most fun. It’s mostly the trip – the getting to the destination – that is the most rewarding.

Happy trails!

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