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Bidder Up!

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REALTY BITES: Bidder Up!
In the rental market, life imitates eBay.

It's that time of year again -- delta Shuttle -- loads of freshly minted M.B.A.'s and law-school graduates are pouring into Manhattan, seeking shelter appropriate to their aspirations. Most of their problems are familiar: A $100,000-a-year beginning associate doesn't want to lug his Coach briefcase to the fifth floor of a walk-up. Only this year, brokers say, apartments are regularly renting for more than the landlord asked. "It's happening more and more frequently," says Marge Pearson, director of residential rentals at Douglas Elliman. "It's 'I want this apartment, and what's it going to take?' " She recently saw two bidders tussling over a $9,000 two-bedroom off Central Park West get outbid by someone offering $500 a month more. A few blocks over, Corcoran's Scott Stewart had a client close the deal on a prewar West End Avenue three-bedroom by paying $1,000 over the $8,000 monthly rent. "It's suddenly about who's going to pay the most, take the apartment the soonest, and require the landlord to do the least amount of work," says Benjamin James Real Estate president Douglas Wagner. He recently watched a prewar co-op at 24 Fifth Avenue that was advertised for $2,600 bid up to $3,500 before the owner decided to accept a $2,800 offer from the applicant who seemed most likely to pass the co-op board. It's worst for new grads and others without local rental histories, some of whom are asked to pay for a full year up front. "I can think of half a dozen in the last three weeks," says Wagner. "Just so they can get the kind of apartment they want in Manhattan, they're having their parents front twelve months in advance." Mom!
CARL SWANSON

Attention, Kmart Shoppers
Rosie O'Donnell is buying cutie-patootie West Side house.

It looks like talk-show host and former Kmart pitchwoman Rosie O'Donnell is taking to heart the slogan of her "Chub Club": "Eat less . . . Move more." In December, she moved out of Helen Hayes's old house in Nyack to a white Victorian in a gated community in Greenwich, citing security concerns. A mere six months later, she moved back to Rockland County, to a hilltop home in Valley Cottage. At the same time, she was looking to move in Manhattan, where she's been living in the Grand Millennium apartment building overlooking Lincoln Center. Now, real-estate sources say, she's buying a $6 million house off Columbus Avenue in the Eighties. It's in move-in condition, "very open and airy and sunny," says Corcoran broker Anne Snee, who sold the place last in 1997 for $1.75 million, when it was divided into four units. She says the buyer "ripped it to smithereens" to create a one-family home complete with a two-story atrium overlooking the garden. Its proximity to two things will appeal to O'Donnell: the local police precinct house, for security, and the Rose Center for Earth and Space, in case her three kids want to see stars that haven't been on Mom's couch.
CARL SWANSON

Big Deals

Harlem
543 and 545 Manhattan Avenue
Two 3,300-square-foot brownstones. Asking: $1.325 million. Selling: $1.3 million. Time on market: six months.

These brownstones aren't a matched set inside -- No. 545 retains all of its weighty 1886 woodwork, whereas its renovated neighbor has exposed brick walls and the like. Still, the new owner won't have a hard time if he wants to combine them; he'll just have to reopen the bricked-up workmen's doorways between the two that date back to their construction. He's buying the pair through Douglas Elliman's Jan Hashey for his kids, a Columbia grad student and a dancer. Elliman's Todd Marsh, who represented the seller, knows No. 545 especially well: Ten years ago, when it was still an apartment building, he rented there.

Chelsea
126 West 22nd Street
Two-bath, 2,200-square-foot condominium loft. Asking: $775,000. Selling: $775,000. Charges and taxes: $1,300. Time on market: one day.

The banker-and-lawyer couple who purchased this condo needed space and were willing to trade a lot for it. Choosing this half-floor in the new Chelsea Flats development meant losing the doorman and other amenities of their nearby postwar co-op. It took a while, too. Too late to bid on another apartment in the building, they grabbed this one when it came on the market; they made their offer in December but just closed. "They counted on the market rising," says their broker, Mark Mahler of DG Neary (the building's new offerings are listed with Corcoran). They were right: Asked to speculate on what the place might list for now, Mahler begs off, then guesses: "Who knows? Nine-fifty, maybe a million."
CHRISTOPHER BONANOS


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