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Foxtons: The Sequel

The lowball brokers came to Manhattan in 2002—and flopped. One new business plan later, they’re back.

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If there’s ever a city for second acts, New York is it. No wonder Foxtons, the New Jersey–based real-estate firm that earned a reputation for being, as one broker put it, “cheapo, cut-rate,” is staging a comeback. When it came to New York in 2002, Foxtons promised sellers reduced fees—as small as 2 percent, compared with the usual 6 percent—for no-frills service that had owners hosting their own open houses. Mea culpa, admits the new CEO Van Davis. “The [old] model was failing.” This time around, Davis says, Foxtons is full-service, glammed up with a Website that includes floor plans and tours for every listing and a glossy magazine showing off many of its properties. Many agents will make rounds in Mini Coopers, probably a better advertising device than the Foxtons street-cart umbrellas that once dotted the city (pictured, a holdout on the East Side). This time, Foxtons will charge 3 percent. “We’ll do everything our competitors do, but for less,” he adds.

Them’s fighting words. “Nobody’s going to co-broke with them for 1.5 percent,” responds Bellmarc Realty’s co-owner Neil Binder, explaining that splitting such a small commission isn’t incentive for his agents to show Foxtons properties, limiting their exposure. Barbara Fox of Fox Residential Group wonders how well Foxtons brokers can work our uniquely labyrinthine market. “It’s not always what you know—it’s who you know,” she explains. “They may not understand the nuances of co-ops and the board-approval process.” And in the super-luxe world, says Jed Garfield of Leslie J. Garfield, “people with significant assets would feel more comfortable with a more established company.”

“A prudent customer will always shop,” counters Davis. And he may have a point: In the average Manhattan sale of about $1.2 million, that 3 percent discount saves a seller $36,000. But “saving on the commission isn’t the most important consideration for me,” says one financial analyst who’s in the process of selling her midtown apartment and buying downtown. Getting top dollar and making a deal happen are what matters, she says, and for that, she has placed her faith in an agent from Corcoran, citing its superior market presence. “Is Foxtons well-known enough?” she asks. “Will people automatically check their Website like I do Corcoran’s?”

Movers
Wait Till You See the Kitchen
More renovations are in the cards for celebrity chef Bobby Flay, the Mesa Grill and Bolo impresario who recently overhauled the former JUdson Grill on West 52nd Street into the brasserie Bar Americain. The Iron Chef America star and his new bride, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit alumna Stephanie March (soon to be seen in the Brad Pitt–Angelina Jolie vehicle Mr. and Mrs. Smith), recently bought the apartment directly below his sleek, 1,630-square-foot loft at the Chelsea Mercantile for $1.5 million. “We’re going to break through and make it a duplex,” confirms Flay, who says the couple looked at other downtown apartments but decided to stay put and expand. “I’m an original tenant,” he explains. “I love the building, the people who work there, my neighbors.” Besides, the Chelsea branch of Whole Foods is an elevator ride away.

Triple Assessment
111 East 30th Street, Apartment 1C
Two-bedroom, 2 1/2-bath, 1,689-square-foot duplex condominium.
Asking Price: $1.595 million.
Charges and Taxes: $2,528.
Brokers: Julie Friedman and Lewis Friedman, Bellmarc Realty.

Our panelists agree: This Murray Hill duplex is no ordinary apartment. It’s got multiple levels, a greenhouse, and an airy downstairs that’s more suburban than urban. No wonder it’s drawn several offers—none accepted yet—in just four weeks on the market.

Jeff Silverstein, Dwelling Quest: One of the apartment’s assets, says Silverstein, is the garden off the greenhouse. Though it’s open to the rest of the building, tenants rarely use it (there’s another on the roof). “You essentially have it to yourself,” he says. “But you’re not paying for private outdoor space.”
His assessment: $1.595 million.

Lauren Berger, Gumley Haft Kleier: Berger was keen on the lower level’s open plan. But the space is decorated to “a specific taste, and the baths are dated,” she says. “If you don’t like it, you’d have to do some work.”
Her assessment: $1.585 million.

Brian Kelley, JC DeNiro: Kelley was pleasantly surprised by how quiet and bright it was. “Once you’re in here, you don’t feel like you’re in a doorman building,” says Kelley. “It feels like a house.” But he does point out liabilities: a northern exposure and a ground-floor location.
His assessment: $1.555 million.


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