Alison Rodriguez is the founder of Starry Writers, a content creation service for small and medium sized businesses. Her work mostly focuses on real estate brokerages, though more recently, they’ve also branched out into helping entrepreneurs in other industries find their voice as well. She enjoys the collaborative nature of the work: giving a voice to a business that is longing to sing.
Through much of her twenties, she worked within real estate and property management. She loved helping companies manage and grow their portfolios, including Yale University’s residential investment portfolio, a collection of rental units that she helped maintain a vacancy rate of less than one percent.
When she and Paul invited us into their home to ask a few questions and take a few photos, they couldn’t have been more welcoming. Paul stepped out at one point and returned with an assortment of cured deli meats, select cheeses, and a bottle of wine.
As the late morning fell into the early afternoon, Alison spoke about what drove her to began a career as a writer; and about a few of the hurdles and blocks that she’s experienced and overcome as a female entrepreneur. She helped teach a course at Rutgers: Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship, where she shares some of this knowledge with the students.
Paul chimed in from time to time, regarding their strategy for decorating the place; Sebas- tian offered a plethora of smiles, coy looks, and giggles; and Sasha and Samba welcomed us they best way they knew how ––– repeatedly curling up next to us on the couches, and holding their quiet and gentle demeanor the whole time. Alison offered anecdotes about how her optimistic nature has found a great sense of balance with Paul’s healthy-skepticism; insights into her writing process; along with a few glimpses into her life as a wife and mother in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
At one point, she mentioned how often she and Paul remind each other how lucky they’ve been: to have met each other, to have created a life where Alison can write on her own schedule, Paul can pursue his dreams as an attorney, and together they can both spend quality time with Sebastian. “Lucky,” she kept saying. “We’re so lucky.”
Paul: So I actually don’t even know what we’re doing today. I knew that Isaac was coming over to take photographs, and I was like, “Okay!”
Alison: And you know that I wrote, and you read the article.
Paul: Yeah, I read it.
Alison: He’s up to date on that. And I read it to him, and I was like, “What do you think?” And he was like “. . . Oh you know, it’s our story.”
Isaac: He said, “That’s about right.”
Alison: And I was like, “Oh . . . But it’s true right?” He knows all of the details.
Isaac: Well, what was it like writing the piece?
Alison: Yeah, so you gave us a deadline of what, February 28th, 29th - is it a leap year? It’s not. It was the 28th.
Isaac: I can’t remember.
Alison: So the first three weeks of February blew right buy. And I hadn’t even written a word. And then the day before it was due, I sat down and I wrote it.
Alison: Yeah. And then I just went back, and I re-read it, and I edited it a little bit, to clarify. But I don’t know what kind of writer you are, but I’m the kind who just writes, basically once, and that’s it. You know how there are some people who just --
Emily: Revise and revise.
Alison: And also people who really like craft -- I’m not a crafter, I’m a writer. Which is why I think I do my job well. And I can just bang out pieces. And so I was up until midnight writing that, and then I re-read it in the morning, and
I e-mailed it to you. So it was fun, it was a nice way to actually revisit - and I was thinking, “Man, we went through that,” was how I felt. I can’t believe --
Paul: I will say that you didn’t quite capture or emphasize how many places we saw, and how much work it was for you with your pregnant belly.
Emily: That was in there.
Alison: It was not pleasant. Because literally I was going into the City every day. And to get in from Weehawken ---
Emily: I was like, “Holy crap - that’s a schlep.” Alison: Yeah, it’s a pain. It was not lovely.
Paul: How many places was it, overall - over a hundred?
Alison: I honestly, I don’t even know. You asked the same question, didn’t you “So how many?”
Paul: I think it was over a hundred, we were estimating.
Alison: Because we would see ten in a day together, and so that was at least one day definitely every weekend. If not, two. And then I was going every day during the week.
Isaac: So if you see ten apartments, how do they not merge together? Or sometimes they do?
Paul: Quickly cull.
Alison: So the other story that I was thinking about including that I didn’t was that Paul and I - we had to move to New Haven for him to go to law school, and intelligently - you know that Maya Angelou quote, “When people show you who they are, believe them.” So I need to believe this part about myself, we are just a wreck about this stuff. We allotted one day to find an apartment and we set up three appointments.
Paul: We were on our way to Vermont for vacation, and we were like, “Oh, we’ll drive to New Haven, we’ll find an apartment, and then we’ll be on vacation, we’ll be set.”
Alison: It will just be done, right?
Paul: And we did!
Alison: Right, so we saw apartment number one - it was terrible. And then apartment number two - it was terrible, and we get into apartment number three, and I’m in the car with a host-dog, not even our own dog, it was Paul’s dad’s dog.
Paul: We went on vacation with my dad’s dog.
Alison: And so I’m in the car with the dog, Paul walks into the apartment and he’s like, oh yeah, we’ll take it. And the people are like, “Well, what do you mean, you didn’t even talk to your [at the time] fiancée, how could just say that?” And he was like, “Just wait, she’s going to say the same thing.” And he got in the car, and he said, “Oh, just check it out.” And he didn’t say anything, and I walked in and I was like, “Oh, we’ll take it.” And they were like, “Did you guys talk about it?” And I was like, “Oh, he said that?” And I was just really amused that that was the case. We just like a very similar aesthetic. So when we walked in here, we were just like, “Oh, obviously, this is phenomenal.” And the woman who was not happy about living here, because her bathtub had collapsed - she had all of these other calamities.
Isaac: You met her?
Alison: Oh yeah, she was not --
Paul: She didn’t want showings. She also didn’t want showings when she wasn’t here. So she allowed one showing while she was in the apartment.
Alison: Which is the only reason why we got it. It was the only reason why we got it. Because it was a terrible day, sort of rain, overcast, and no one was coming out, and there was only one showing, ever. Apartments fly in this neighbor- hood. But she wouldn’t let anyone in. And then it was a big hassle to coordinate, but I believe that’s the only reason why we ended up with the apartment. Because the apartment below, where they didn’t have those restrictions, they had fifteen applications after one showing.
Paul: Even while we were here, she gave us her number, and was like, “If you want to talk about all of the things that are wrong with the apartment, give me a call.”
Alison: We never called.
Paul: I’d rather not know.
Isaac: How much time you got? Let me give you a breakdown. That’s hilarious.
Alison: Yeah, so writing this really reminded me of just how horrible it was. It really wasn’t a pleasant process. To put this in perspective, Paul had been at the law firm for three years and then he had gotten a call for this job. He was really excited about it and accepted the job, and then we found out that there wouldn’t be health insurance for three months. I was pregnant. And it’s just standard, it’s how the City of New York works. It’s not because it was Paul, it’s not because I was pregnant, it’s just how the system works. And so suddenly it was like, oh my gosh, I need to figure out how to get insurance through the A.C.A. Because there are sonograms, and there are check-ups, and I can’t not have insurance - or if I went into labor early, or if I needed some kind of extra medical attention, there’s all of these things, you just don’t know. And so that was part of the reason why we were so delayed in finding the place, because I had to go through all of the insurance nonsense and I had to figure out, okay, do we do C.O.B.R.A. - okay, we don’t do C.O.B.R.A., how do we do all of these other programs - what’s covered by the hospitals? What doctor will take ObamaCare and then will take the new health care through the City of New York because I’ll switch over to that, so I don’t have to switch doctors? Which hospital will take both?
Emily: Maddening, I bet it was totally maddening.
Alison: It’s so obscene.
Paul: What’s actually shocking about that process is that no one could answer her questions.
Alison: No one.
Paul: It was like, “We don’t know if this is covered.”
Alison: And I would be like, “Okay, is a sonogram covered?” And it would be, “We don’t know.” And I would think, “You are the insurance company.” I broke things down for them, and they were like, “Don’t know,” And I would be like, “Would you check?” And it would be, “They don’t know either.” Who knows? Who knows? Literally, no one knew. It was an insane process, and thank God I had the flexibility with my schedule to make phone call after phone call after phone call, but it took weeks to just organize healthcare. And so I got that done, and then Paul got the call -- you can apply for a waiver to not live in the City, and so Paul applied for it because we lived three blocks from his ninety-year-old grandparents who we helped take care of, and we legitimately do. I would go over and help clean, I would cook with them, I would help.
Paul: We still go over almost every week.
Alison: Yeah, and I still do now, but now it’s a schlep out from Brooklyn, and so we applied for the waiver, and said because we take care of them, can we please stay? And then the answer was no, and so that was the phone call that Paul got while we were in the O.B.’s office for my four month check-up, and that’s when I started crying - and that’s the beginning of the story. So that was sort of the trajectory. And you only have three months to move in. So if you don’t move in within three months, you can lose your job.
Emily: Oh my God, so stressful.
Alison: A little bit. And then Paul’s mom, who is very lovely, was saying, “Oh, so what’s the theme for the baby room?” And I was like, “The theme for the baby room?”
Isaac: What’s the theme?
Alison: Oh, you know the theme, for the baby-room, you know it’s a very common thing, you’re doing like, animals, or space - or a Safari, or whatever thing. And I was like, “A theme?”
Paul: That was actually a very common question.
Alison: It’s a very common question. We got it all the time. And we were like, “Forget a theme, man!”
Isaac: I would like to have a room, the theme is “a room.”
Paul: That week I think there was an article in the New York Times about how so many people with one bedrooms will use the bathroom to put the baby in, because they just don’t have space, and they don’t have anywhere else to go.
Alison: Yeah, so they’ll put in basically a fold- down changing table in the shower. And then they’ll put the baby in there. Because as I put in the article, I get why people die in their apartments. This is really hard to go through. And, I get it, you’ve got kids, it’s hard to find a place.
Isaac: Well, it sounds like you were very optimistic at first, do you remember a specific time where that wavered, where you thought, “This is going to be a little bit more difficult than I thought it would be.”
Alison: So I was really amped about the place that we thought we were going to buy in Crown Heights. And I just thought that’s going to be awesome, we’ll have just maintenance fees, we won’t have any overhead costs in the sense of a mortgage or rent, and that would be amazing financially. But when that fell through, I was sort of like, “Oh, no. We’re in a lot of trouble now.” Because then it was the end of February, and we had just a little more time to move-in, and so - I didn’t even start looking at apartments until you definitely got the line that we weren’t getting it. And I hadn’t considered neighborhoods, I hadn’t considered rent prices -- not any of that, so it was kind of suddenly like, boom - go find something, now. So that was sort of a dark time, in terms of finding a place. And I wouldn’t say I ever lost my optimism. We could have moved into a million places. There were a bunches of places where they were saying, “Two dogs, no problem, we’ll take you.” But we’re really fussy. We’re very particular about where we’ll live with just aesthetics, which is funny because I definitely put in there that we’re not.
Emily: Well, is there a flip-side too, where you know there’s a wealth of options, that if you just keep looking, and if you just stick with it, that you’ll eventually . . .
Alison: That’s how I felt. I felt, yeah, it’s horrible, and yeah it’s grueling, but I really just believed that we’d find the right place. And I remember I was talking to this one agent, and it was a weekend, and we had gone to see about ten places again, and there was this one place that was so terrible. It was literally, as I described it, it was the awful apartment next to a highway that was super expensive. I think it was $2,900 and it was maybe a little bit bigger than this place, not much - but the whole thing just looked like a train-wreck. And I asked her, and this is not actually that far from here, it’s right over the B.Q.E., and I asked her, “Hey, so are they going to do renovations before?” And she was like, “Oh, no, you can hire your own handyman.”