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Search and Destroy

A centralized site for apartment-shopping on the Web? Sounds great—to everyone outside the business.

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On October 17, Century 21 Kevin B. Brown relaunched its Website, with a twist: When a user visits c21nyc.com to run a search for, say, one-bedroom apartments in a given price range, the site offers not only Brown’s listings but also links to all his competitors’. Brown had created what amounts to a makeshift multiple-listing service, in almost the only American city without one. Sounds like a good thing, right? Not in the vicious world of Manhattan realty. Within 24 hours, “we got a call from another firm questioning the wisdom of our actions,” says Brown, the firm’s principal. Within days, his links were blocked by Brown Harris Stevens, Warburg Realty, and Halstead.

To date, every formal attempt to start an MLS in New York has ended in squabbles. (The Manhattan Association of Realtors has a system, but most of the big firms don’t participate; brokers have a private network called ROLEX.) To see everything, buyers and sellers would have to visit hundreds of Websites. “We’re supposed to be a service industry,” says Brown. “Why should you have to go on a treasure hunt?”

Why, indeed. Exclusive listings are coveted assets, and agents don’t split commissions if buyers come straight to them rather than through a rival broker. Moreover, since final sale prices aren’t posted, owners have little information. This lack of transparency is a ruthless agent’s dream. “Say a property’s worth $1.2 million,” explains Jeff Wolk, co-founder of Fenwick-Keats. “A broker would say, ‘You can get $1.4 million.’ [The owners] would immediately like that broker because they’re being told what they want to hear. Three or four months go by, the price is cut—and [that broker still] has the exclusive.”

But, as Webheads always said, information wants to be free. Warburg’s president, Frederick Peters, notes that nearly everyone posts ads on newyorktimes.com, and New York’s site conducts multiple-Website searches as well. As for Brown’s claim that he’s only trying to help consumers, “I’m sure he knew,” says Peters, “that making his site a portal to mine with an explanation that buyers could use his agents to view my listings, while perfectly legal, would not make me enthusiastic.”


Movers
Malcolm in Manhattan Is this a clue to the fate of Fox’s critically acclaimed but perennially underviewed Malcolm in the Middle? Sources say the show’s lead, Frankie Muniz, has recently been spotted apartment-hunting in the East Village. (He lives in L.A., where the series is shot.) Apparently, the 19-year-old actor has taken a shine to Astor Place, Charles Gwathmey’s curvy luxury development, where he’s seriously considering the purchase of a three-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath for himself and his fiancée, Jamie Gandy. (They met in New Orleans earlier this year while filming his not-yet-released thriller, Stay Alive.) According to the building’s Website, three-bedroom apartments have “spa baths,” media rooms, and far-from-middling views from three exposures. No word yet on where Muniz, a car buff, will keep his wheels if he decides to head east. His brokers, Michele Kleier and her daughters Samantha and Sabrina, declined to comment.


Triple Assessment
229 East 79th Street, Apartment 7B
800-square-foot, one-bedroom, one-bath co-op.
Asking Price: $675,000.
Maintenance: $867.
Broker: Lauren Cangiano, Halstead Property.


Courtesy of Halstead Property  

Ambitious asking prices are so eight months ago. And just before this co-op came up for sale, an apartment in the same line of the building had its price cut to $685,000—that’s how Cangiano came up with such a modest number. Besides, she adds, “it’s caution for the market right now.” But her fellow brokers are more optimistic—sometimes six figures more so.

Julie Friedman, Bellmarc: “It’s a comfortable but modest building with value in its low maintenance,” says Friedman. “Traditionally, prewar one-bedrooms come with air-shaft views, and this is bright and sunny. [But] you need someone with vision to see beyond the ‘older widow’ décor.”
Her assessment: $800,000.

Dorothy Schrager, Warburg Realty: “I like it. I might have someone for it,” says Schrager. “It’s very difficult to find a one-bedroom in a prewar building in this neighborhood that allows for pied-à-terres, and there’s value in that.”
Her assessment: $849,000.

Joan Finkelstein, Fox Residential: “Even though it’s prewar, the space isn’t grand. It doesn’t have a sunken living room or a fireplace,” says Finkelstein. “But it does have original beams and high ceilings.”
Her assessment: $725,000.


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