Dead Men Moving
Trying to dig up a good apartment by looking through the obits? Arthur Bernhardt turns over the grave news daily.
Remember Billy Crystal's apartment-hunting riff in When Harry Met Sally? "What they can do to make it easier is to combine the obituaries with the real-estate section. Then you'd have 'Mr. Klein died today, leaving a wife, two children, and a spacious three-bedroom apartment with a wood-burning fireplace.' "
As it turns out, someone's already made the connection. Since 1973, retired court reporter Arthur Bernhardt has published "The Bernhardt Report," a daily list of new filings at the Manhattan and Brooklyn surrogate courts. "I just list whatever is in the will," says Bernhardt, who sells $75 monthly subscriptions to auction houses, antiques dealers, and, of course, real-estate brokers. "I'm just doing a job. There's nothing glamorous here."
A recent edition was full of great finds. The unfortunate demise of Nancy Dawson could mean that her 164 East 72nd Street co-op (represented by lawyer Carolyn Wollen) may soon be on the market. If you want something closer to the park, the law firm of Craner, Satkin & Scheer is handling the disposition of the late Illae White's seventeenth-floor co-op at 240 Central Park South (along with assorted "furniture, art, glass, crystal, and china").
Brokers admit that they scour the reports. "In our business, everything is either death or divorce," says Kirk Henckels of Stribling Private Brokerage. "If the deceased lived in a nice building, you make contact with the lawyer for the estate."
Lawyers are mostly annoyed by the practice -- "Real-estate brokers are just a half-step up from the oldest profession," complains one -- but it sure beats the old days, when brokers would send flowers, hand out business cards at funerals, or literally chase ambulances.
"Twenty years ago, if I saw an ambulance in front of a nice building, I always followed up with a call or letter," admits Barbara Fox of Fox Residential Group. "I got more than one apartment that way."
On the Move
House and Tome
If you ever had any doubt that pulp pays, two recent real-estate transactions will put your English-lit snobberies to shame. Trash-TV producer Douglas Cramer, who teamed up with Aaron Spelling to launch The Love Boat and has lately been bringing Danielle Steel's novels to the tube, just bought a $10.2 million townhouse at 115 East 87th Street. It's four stories tall, just renovated, limestone-faced, and built in the 1870s. He just bought his current pad, where he's neighbors with Lee Radziwill in a co-op built by robber baron Jay Gould at 160 East 72nd Street, for $3.5 million in 1997. Brokers say it's not yet on the market. Meanwhile, Stuart Woods, author of high-life page-turners like L.A. Dead, sold his place in Litchfield County and is moving to a classic six at 535 Park Avenue, a 1915 Emery Roth-designed co-op. It's getting a face-lift at the moment, according to Margo Goodale of Charles H. Greenthal.
Upper East Side
39 East 79th Street
3-bed, 3-bath, 2,400-square-foot co-op. Ask: $2.5 million. Sell: $2.25 million. Charges: $1,991. Three and a half months on market.
Over a 1924 lunch at the Colony Club, divorced etiquette expert Emily Post announced her plans for an Upper East Side co-op built specifically for her and a hand-picked group of society peers. She had a list of buyers before coffee. The apartments still hew to her Colony worldview: This one has two maids' rooms with adjoining baths (the smallest servants' quarters allowed by Post's plan) as well as a servants' dining area -- today an "eat-in kitchen." Naturally, Corcoran's Sarah Bond refused to reveal anything about her seller, saying only, "Discretion is of the essence in this case, I'm afraid."
Upper West Side
190 Riverside Drive
3-bed, 4-bath, 3,700-square-foot condo. Ask: $3.65 million. Sell: $3.65 million. Charges and taxes: $2,475. One day on market.
When this prewar building went condo last year, its owners decided to turn some of the apartments -- chopped up into one-bedrooms in the sixties -- back into three-bedrooms. After five arduous recombinations, it dawned on them that buyers might be willing to buy now and convert later -- with their own money. A finance exec with a family bought these three sixth-floor one-bedrooms, says Douglas Elliman's Iva Spitzer, and is halfway through re-creating a rambling spread.