The Rittenhouse Review

A Philadelphia Journal of Politics, Finance, Ethics, and Culture

Sunday, June 02, 2002  

Marlene Ball: Real Estate Broker

With all due respect to Esquire and the women they love, TRR herewith introduces a continuing series, “The Women We Admire.”

The first honoree is Marlene Ball, a real estate broker in Westchester County, N.Y., whose specialty is not sales of homes in the upper brackets but rentals for the middle and working classes.

We found Ball in a remarkable piece by Matthew Purdy -- "The Rent Is an Arm and a Leg" -- in today’s New York Times. A divorced mother of three daughters, Ball has sold her share of homes in Westchester, probably best known for such toney enclaves as Bedford, Bronxville, and Chappaqua, and where the median price for a home runs around $450,000. Westchester’s not-so-hidden secret is that despite such exclusivity, the county has one of the highest rates of homelessness in the U.S.

From the start of her real estate career Ball found herself working the county’s tight rental market because, as a single mother, she preferred the fast cash that comes from rental fees over the lugubrious payouts associated with home-sale commissions.

It’s not easy work. The National Low Income Housing Coalition, according to Purdy, estimates that a person earning the minimum wage would have to work almost 26 hours a day to afford a two-bedroom apartment in the county, a feat even the county’s hardest-driving, hardest-hearted entrepreneurs cannot possibly achieve.

And what is on the market is often barely livable. Westchester has its share of Tudor homes, large estates, and weekend country homes, but that is a world largely to the north of the older and less hospitable environs of large portions of Yonkers, Mount Vernon, White Plains, and Rye. In these cities and towns, among others, that one finds old, decaying, and vermin-infested housing stock; high crime rates; and deplorable schools.

Ball’s clientele says it all. It took nearly a year for Ball to find a place for a mother of two earning $30,000 a year, and that was only after the client, with Ball’s help, found a public subsidy to help pay the bill. Another client, a driver, needed four years to find his $650 a month studio. Square footage: 200 or 225 square feet, depending on who’s measuring.

Above all, we admire Ball’s spirit and attitude:

“High-end people -- how can I say it? -- don’t know what it’s like to be on the other end.”

“When you work with poor people, you wake up grateful.”

“[Open houses are] such a waste of time, to sit around drinking coffee and say ‘Oh, that’s such a nice outfit.’”

So here’s to you, Miss Ball. You’ve won our admiration and respect. A small prize, no doubt, but one that is richly deserved.

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