MANHATTAN — Two yoga instructors planning to move in together bickered when viewing the $3,500 a month two-bedroom in the East Village real estate agent Eydie Saleh showed them.
Saleh knew they wouldn't last.
"It was clear they didn't get along," said Saleh, of Mirador Real Estate. "He was kind of condescending the way he talked to her. I could see she was getting more frustrated."
Agents are privy to a lot of personal information when they work with house hunters. Besides peering into their financial lives, brokers often are unwitting observers of how couples make big and intimate decisions. Because of that, many feel they've become adept at predicting whether a couple will make it.
Saleh's assessment was spot on.
The yoga teachers split a few days after beginning their joint apartment search. Then Saleh found the woman a small studio nearby for $1,375 a month.
"She was happy," Saleh said.
Here's what brokers look for when determining whether a couple's foundation is weak or strong:
1. Is the couple looking for a studio?
Two people confined to a tiny space? It won't work, said Jennifer Restivo Evans, of Mirador Real Estate. Such an arrangement "can try the patience of any couple."
"You're adults," Evans said. "Get real."
On the flip side, Evans worked with a woman recently who moved out of the apartment she shared with her long-time boyfriend. She got her own studio for "some more alone time" since she had never lived on her own and thought the experience would help strengthen their relationship. The couple plan to tie the knot and were so optimistic about the experiment that the boyfriend acted as the woman's guarantor on the apartment, Evans noted.
2. Are they being supportive?
Some moments of kindness between couples have warmed brokers' hearts.
Karen Talbott, of Corcoran, was showing homes in Brooklyn Heights to a couple that had been married nine months. When the wife was momentarily out of earshot, the husband whispered to Talbott, "Whatever she likes, we will buy. If you see her light up, let me know."
When the husband stepped away, the wife asked Talbott, "Do you think he likes anything? I just want him to be happy."
A few weeks later, they both responded positively to a newly-built condo overlooking the water and made a "seamless deal," Talbott said.
3. Do they both really want to be in New York?
It's very telling when one person in the couple is committed to being in New York and the other is unhappy about the move.
Warning signs were apparent when Cecil Weeks, an agent with Miron Properties, helped find an rental for a British couple in Frank Gehry's swanky 8 Spruce Street.
The man was transferring here for work; the woman was leaving her career, friends and family in London and "was clearly not happy about it even though they were being shown some 'stellar properties.'"
They were among the first occupants in the new tower and one night, when her husband was traveling for work, the doorman joked with the woman that she was the only person sleeping in the 77-story building.
"She was alone in an empty super tower in a city she didn't really want to be in," Weeks said.
They split up about 18 months later and she returned to London. The man worked with Weeks again to find another apartment when his lease was up.
4. How does one half of the couple feel about the other half's pet?
If there's a pet involved and one member of the couple isn't into the other's Fido or Fluffy, odds are the relationship is doomed, several brokers said.
This goes the other way, too. When the non-pet owning half of the couple embraces the other's animal, it's often a sign of a strong union.
Julie Park, of the Level Group, recounted a story about one particularly solid couple she worked with. The husband, looking for a home while his wife was at Harvard law school, found the TriBeCa loft of his "dreams." He thought his wife would love it, too, so he put in an offer, which was accepted.
There were no signs of cats at the showing, but the wife, who has a serious cat allergy, felt their presence when she visited for the inspection.
"We had to rush her into the stairwell and almost give her an EpiPen," Park said. "You could tell by her reaction that even doing a remediation wouldn't cut it, and the husband knew it."
He readily let go of the $1.6 million apartment to make his wife happy. They later found something more suitable in NoMad, Park noted.
5. Are they going to showings together and compromising effectively?
When someone in a couple is looking at the space on their own, that's sometimes a red flag, some brokers said.
"When your client's 'loved one' is never present during apartment showings, including the lease signing — talk about being 'unavailable,'" said Mirador's Aramis Arjona.
Then there are the couples that collaborate well, brokers said.
One couple, for instance, who looked at more than 20 properties in one day was able to make a speedy compromise even though the man wanted to live Downtown and the woman wanted the Upper East Side, Kateryna Rybka, of Miron Properties, said.
"Instead of being annoyed or anxious, they talked it out and made a quick decision together to move Downtown just hours after seeing one of the properties," she said.
6. Are they living above their means?
Housing is expensive in New York City. Economists tend to consider rent a burden if it's more than a third of a household's income, and when some couples sign leases for something that stretches them thin, it can be a stressor on their relationship, brokers said.
Park helped a married couple find a high-end rental about a year ago. Though a reach for them financially, the husband didn't make a "peep," deferring to the wife, who was "the boss," Park said.
"They signed a two-year lease, moved in their very expensive furniture and even hung a chandelier in the unit," Park said. "But after the first year, almost to the day, both of them emailed me simultaneously and unbeknownst to each other about breaking the lease."
The months-long dual correspondence was stressful for Park who had to play a "bit of therapist" and then "referee toward the end" when they fought over the security deposit.
"Some people are committed to a certain lifestyle and will do anything to maintain it, even if it stretches them thin financially," Park said. "My mom calls it 'champagne taste but a beer wallet.'"