Adam Langer: Real Estate Novelist

Adam Langer's acclaimed Ellington Boulevard exposes the minidramas surrounding the sale of a New York apartment. Committed to authenticity in his characters, Langer included in his research a stint in real estate school.

August 1, 2008

Your latest novel captures the perspectives of all participants involved in the sale of a Manhattan apartment. What inspired the story line?

LANGER: I came home early one day to find a real estate broker and two potential buyers in my apartment. The dog went crazy. My wife and I had been renting and the landlord said he wasn’t planning on selling it. Obviously there was a slight misunderstanding. What struck me was the idea of coming to your home and finding that it’s not your home anymore. Then two lightbulbs went off in my head: I’ve got to find another place to live quickly and this was good material for a book.

So did you find a new place quickly?

LANGER: I did. I ended up buying a place across the hall. What happens in the book is much more dramatic.

You tell a detailed story through one real estate transaction and every individual who was touched by it, even the pigeons nesting outside on the air conditioner. How did that come about?

LANGER: I wanted to see how many lives could be transformed through the sale of a piece of real estate. So it almost became a game to try to figure out how many people—and animals—would be affected and how much would change in everybody’s lives. What was everyone’s American dream? What does the piece of property represent to them? Is it to make money? Is it a home? Is it somewhere they live while they’re going from one place to another?

Real estate was booming when you wrote this. Were you concerned that a downturn in the market might make the book less timely?

LANGER: I was aware that it was getting close to peaking and I was aware that there was going to be some sort of crash. Even as everyone is converging on all of these apartments with their checkbooks and writing checks for $125,000, there’s an acknowledgement that this can’t last. I was writing in a particular timeframe when this real boom was happening. But I made sure not to tie it to a particular historical incident that would make it dated.

You believe that the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks actually increased peoples’ interest in owning property, right?

LANGER: In the immediate aftermath, it cost us our sense of security. But I also believe it contributed to the real estate boom. People hunkered down and developed a greater appreciation for the idea of a home. Everyone wanted to get on the bandwagon. The real estate frenzy wasn’t just about trying to make money.

What did you get out of your real estate school experience?

LANGER: It’s a much harder job than I thought. I used to think, “Well, I’m not a bad people person. I can talk to people if this writing thing doesn’t work out.” I assumed selling homes wouldn’t be that difficult, but at real estate school the competition was insane. And people made a lot less money than I had thought. We were told to expect to make nothing in the first six months. And then if you can make $20,000 in your first year, you’re doing okay, and then, maybe, you can double that in your second year. And this is in New York.

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Wendy Cole

Wendy Cole is the former managing editor of REALTOR® Magazine.