With her new novel, ex-Corcoran broker Jennifer Belle makes a play to be the poet laureate of the Manhattan apartment hunt.
"It's the poetry of the profession," says Realtor-novelist Jennifer Belle, explaining why the chapters in her new book, High Maintenance, have titles like gv prime/charming!!! and xxx mint pied-à-terre. "It's just found art to me."
To a certain extent, these phrases speak to New Yorkers' shelter obsession, the envy that makes even the happily housed scour listings and treat brokers like a kind of pushy urban priesthood. It's just that most Realtors -- divorcées starting over, driven immigrants, ex-actors trying to do something practical -- can't put them together eloquently.
In the early nineties, Belle was a college dropout with few marketable skills recovering from a live-in relationship. "I was so depressed," she says, "but I thought, If I'm going to cry all day long, I might as well just sit in real-estate school."
After 45 hours of that, Belle made $10,000 her first month. In 1995, she joined Corcoran ("the closest thing to organized religion I've ever had"), and a year later, she published her first novel, Going Down, about a woman who puts herself through college as a prostitute. Her new heroine is every bit as mercenary, just more empowered: Liv Kellerman, trophy wife turned power broker. And a poet of sorts. "Prostitution has garter belts and stockings," says Belle. "Real estate has that language."
Harvard's Marjorie Garber romanticized the field in last year's hot-and-bothered lit-crit book Sex and Real Estate, but in fiction the typical broker is usually a frustrated suburbanite -- think Annette Bening's character in American Beauty or Richard Ford's thwarted home-peddler in Independence Day. Belle's may be the first book in which real estate liberates. After using her job to semi-legally buy back her ex-husband's apartment, Liv eventually rejects it in favor of her dream loft on Liberty Street (wink, wink).
As for Belle, she quit the business in 1997 to work on a screenplay for Going Down, but she's holding on to her license. "When I'm old," she says, "I'm sure I'll want to do it again."
Why is Graydon Carter's country house still for sale? The editor of Vanity Fair put his huge five-bedroom, 1773 Colonial in Litchfield County on the market last year for $995,000 after he and his wife split (she moved to South Carolina). He bought the place in the late eighties; it was a wreck. But it's on the town green, opposite a pretty Congregationalist church, so it fit Carter's old-money affinities. He renovated it like an eccentric collector, with old subway tiles in the master bathroom, maps and antique fly rods on the walls. "The offers have been less than what I'm looking for," he explains (the price is down to $900,000, with Klemm Real Estate). "It's a bad time to sell right now, so I haven't even responded to any of the bids." But even this seems like an opportunity for him to schmooze: "I'd love to sell it to someone I like." He's keeping his rustic lakefront cabin nearby, so he can still paddle about with the several top Vanity Fair editors who've set up a kind of colony in the area.
285 Lafayette Street
2-bed, 2.5-bath, 1,780-square-foot condo. Ask: $2.225 million. Sell: $2.225 million. Charges: $1,213. Taxes: $310. One day on market.
Word had gotten around the building that the owners of this loft would maybe consider selling it once their renter's lease expired. "The same day I met with them to check the condition before we released the security deposit, I got a call from their neighbor saying he'd heard a rumor," says Douglas Elliman's Helene Luchnick. "I invited him over, and we struck a deal that night." A filmmaker with a Titanicscale budget, the new owner will rent it out for a year while deciding how to splice it to the 3,000-square-foot duplex Luchnick sold him two years ago. He'll now have 1,515 square feet of terraces -- very Hollywood.
250 East 40th Street
550-square-foot studio condo. Ask: $280,000. Sell: $295,000. Charges: $313. Taxes: $256. Two weeks on market.
The buyer of this studio is a lingerie model who grew up in Eastern Europe and had been living in the East Village. Now she's moving to the Highpoint, where her place has a little balcony with views of the Empire State and Chrysler buildings. The seller's broker was Charles Greenthal; the model was repped by Karen Tamir of Peter Ashe, who said her client calls the purchase "the fulfillment of her American dream." The guys in the building are probably saying the same thing.