Lowering the Boom
In the weeks before Christmas, all through the town, hardly a buyer is stirring, and the brokers all frown.
Nobody's panicking -- yet. But as a year that started off in an unforgiving blood sport of bidding, flipping, and backstabbing winds down, brokers are finding themselves adrift. "The phones aren't ringing off the hook," admits Diane Ramirez, president of the Halstead Property Company. Off the record, brokerage heads say that there is no way they're going to say anything to spook buyers.
On the record, they'll just observe that there's a "general hesitancy in the market," as Bellmarc principal Neil Binder puts it. "A bit more of a reservation for people to take the plunge."
Brokers blame the general unsettledness of this holiday season -- NASDAQ, the Middle East, the attenuated presidential election -- rather than the storm clouds of recession. "It would be impossible to not recognize that in times of fluctuation people are inclined to hold back," says Ashforth Warburg president Fred Peters, carefully. "We've experienced a particularly slow fourth quarter."
"I almost think that we were on a roller-coaster ride that was going up, up, up, and we plateaued," says Ramirez. "The froth has come off the market," says Douglas Elliman development director Andy Gerringer.
Brokers who spent much of the year playing giddy peacemakers between buyers ("If there was any negotiation, it was up," says Peters) are now hoping for salvation from Alan Greenspan and his hints that interest rates might go down. The presidential fuzziness made matters even worse -- "I've had sellers who won't counterbid because of it," says Kirk Henckels, director of Stribling Private Brokerage. "This is a totally psychological market, and this isn't helping."
"The big sales aren't being affected," says Elliman's Dolly Lenz. "If it's over $10 million, people aren't hesitating. But I'm finding that under $2 million, people are holding off. It's that horrible standoff market. I can do well in an up market or a down market. It's when the sellers are ready and the buyers aren't sure -- that's when you get killed."
On the Move
Exit the Highwayman
Interior designer Waldo Fernandez, who's decorated for Elizabeth Taylor, Warren Beatty, and Sean Connery, is finally getting off the highway. He sold his summer cottage, at the intersection of Route 27 and Georgica Road in East Hampton, for $750,000, through Sotheby's. Fernandez bought it in the early nineties after visiting his pal La Liz in the Hamptons and deciding to go bi-coastal. "He bought the least expensive thing in the Estate area and used it in the summer," says a broker. In pre-fabulous times, the property was home to a pony corral popular with local kids. Fernandez remade the old shingle house and added a pool. But how noisy is it? "They did extensive landscaping and there's a stockade fence between you and the highway," says a broker. "It's surprisingly not so bad." Rumor is the buyer's a bit hearing-impaired anyway. Fernandez, who usually lives on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, bought a house in a quieter Hamptons precinct.
77 Prospect Place
3-bed, 2-bath carriage house. Ask: $899,000. Sell: $1.2 million. One week on market.
A Douglas Elliman broker and her husband, the director of photography from Survivor, owned this carriage house, which had been re-façaded in an urban-renewal effort back in the seventies. Unfortunately, that meant it looked like an "ugly Staten Island project," says Corcoran's Andrew Van Dusen, who represented the sellers in an alliance of competitive brokerages that would make Richard Hatch proud. His clients had given it a complete makeover, and when they decided to move to California, seven bidders were beguiled by its thirteen-foot ceilings, oak floors, and private garden; fellow Corcoran broker Mimi Derti's won. The others were voted off the island.
Upper East Side
422 East 72nd Street
3-bed, 31/2-bath, 1,900-square-foot condo. Ask: $1.495 million. Sell: $1.45 million. Charges and taxes: $2,300. Three days on market.
Thirty-one floors above York Avenue, this pad, in a late-eighties tower called the Oxford, came "complete with a tenant," says Douglas Elliman's Dolly Lenz. Her client, a big shot at Citigroup who was already an Oxonian, wanted to buy a bigger place. "Apparently he wants to use it someday himself but not now, so he wanted it leased," she says. It's a corporate apartment. The view ("You expect a view at this price?") is of other condo towers.