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New Age Closings

Think housing costs in New York City are high? Wait'll you get a load of the brokers.

Jeff Sharlet has an interesting article called "The Capitalist Spirit" in the January 24th issue of New York magazine that generally concerns itself with the rebirth of New Age spirituality in New York post-9/11, and that spirituality's relationship with this city's other perennial spirit, that of the entrepreneur. But in the midst of all it you stumble across something that, frankly, doesn't surprise me in the least.

"Sondra", here, is "Bhakti Sondra Shaye, née Shaivitz, B.A., M.A., J.D., guide, teacher, and adept member of the Great White Universal Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Light, ritual master in the High Council of Gor, universal Kabbalist, Reiki master, and metaphysician".

One of Sondra’s clients is a former telecom exec named James Hatt. Hatt moved to New York from London in 1999, and fell in love: with an American woman, the city, its opportunities. He bought properties, he sold them, he prospered. But then he’d picked up a million-dollar co-op in which someone had gone insane. Once he listed it for sale, the apartment sat on the market for seven months. Finally, says Hatt, a fellow real-estate agent said, “Look, there’s this woman you should try. A lot of agents use her. Nobody talks about it.” “This woman” sounded like an arsonist.

Okay, I don't who's responsible, Hatt or the author, but I do feel the need to get my chakra in order by taking note of a good laugh line when I see it.

Anyway, like I was quotin'...

But what Sondra offered, says Hatt, was a “cleansing,” a service she and other healers quietly supply for most, if not all, of the city’s major brokerages.

Yes, that's right. When a hot property isn't moving even in this current real-estate market, there's something wrong with it that needs to be fixed. Get your healer on the horn.

There’s no directory for this kind of work, but Jennifer L. Dorfmann, a broker for Corcoran, told me that when she sent out a query to colleagues asking for recommendations, she received half a dozen names in a manner of minutes.

Corcoran, for those who don't know, is one of the major property brokers in the city. And for those who haven't had the experience of looking for a place to live in this city, allow me to point out that most brokers and landlords here are tough as masonry nails. I ain't sayin' they're bad people or anything, but this is the Naked City after all, and nothing here will put the fear of God into you faster than a real-estate deal going bad. Property is no joke, you're runnin' with the wolves. These people aren't saps.

Sondra provided me with a list of brokers she works with at other firms, but their employers forbid them from talking about what some clients might consider hocus-pocus, even if the cleansing fee-usually around $250-comes out of the broker’s pocket.

Hatt sold the apartment two days later, and when he hired Sondra to cleanse a loft in Soho where the previous occupant had died, after it had sat unsold for four months, it also moved in a matter of days.

And another Corcoran agent, Jim Farah, as had occasion to use Sondra's services.

[Jim] sits with perfect calm as Sondra squirts holy water-tap, blessed by her, dispensed from a pink plastic spritzer-on the carpet, ceiling, and walls of a Kips Bay apartment he’s been trying to sell. It’s a one-bedroom in a doorman building, with an open terrace overlooking a dazzling, gold-domed church and the East River, and it’s priced very reasonably-$680,000-but it’s not moving. Farah, a sober, dignified man with neat gray hair, a black jacket, and a gray sweater, “baptized Episcopalian,” a former retail executive with no supernatural experiences, called Sondra. Now she’s standing in the living room, her eyes fluttering and her shoulders twitching as she calls in a full congregation of minor and major gods.

“Jim,” I whisper. “Does this-is any of this kind of, I don’t know, hard to swallow?”

Farah shakes his head and offers the best defense of New Age I’ve encountered. “Absolutely not,” he says. “To some extent, it’s a language of its own.” The terms, he says, may be peculiar, but the ideas at hand-that spaces reflect their inhabitants (“bad sex energy,” Sondra had diagnosed this property), that faith goes by many names, that all rituals, “true” or “false,” cohere around metaphors of our own creation-are perfectly ordinary.

Sondra slumps, hangs like a puppet on strings, straightens, and leaves the apartment. She needs to get some distance, so she can draw a magic circle around the newly cleansed space. Neither seller nor buyer will consciously budge an inch on the basis of this invisible shield. Farah, like most brokers, won’t even mention the procedure. I look at him, hands folded in his lap, waiting for Sondra to return. It’s then that I understand: He has purchased this spell, the details of which do not concern him, for his own peace of mind.

Yeah, I think that's probably about it. I think this is a variation on the old "there are no atheists in foxholes" trope. When there is as much money at stake as there generally is in a New York City real-estate transaction, I suppose it can feel a little bit like the fields of Flanders.

Show me the Money. Show me the Lord.


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