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Big Shack Attack

Frank Newbold, senior vice-president of Sotheby's International Realty in East Hampton, says he's never seen the market at this temperature. "This is the year of the eight-digit deal," he says. Newbold doesn't view the market as hypertrophied in the least. "It's funny -- or scary -- to say, but up until now, the Hamptons have actually been sort of undervalued, in a way," he says. "If you go to places like Malibu and Aspen and the major resorts of the United States, prices were always ahead of us. And this year, the Hamptons have caught up with a vengeance."

Indeed, expensive is being continually redefined on Long Island's East End.

"For years," Newbold says, "the most expensive house was Calvin Klein's house on West End Road, which had sold for $5.8 million. Then, when Larry Gagosian bought his house, Toad Hall on Further Lane in East Hampton, a few years ago, it jumped up to $8 million," Newbold says.

Among the moon-shot sales figures of this season are Wasserstein, Perella president Fred Seegal's old house on Tyson Lane in East Hampton, which sold this summer for $15.5 million. Sotheby's has gone to contract on the house on Southampton's Fowler Lane owned by the Blackstone Group's Pete Peterson for close to the asking price of $15 million. But then, they'd already installed him in his new $12.5 million place, formerly owned by Austrian financier Robert Osterrieth. The sale set a new record for Rose Hill Road in Water Mill's estate section, shattering the $8 million record that the sale of Adrienne Vittadini's house set a few years ago -- until last week, anyway, when Wall Street financier Jerry Unterberg bought a French-country chateau on eight acres alongside Mecox Bay for above the asking price of $15 million.

"Prices in the last two or three years for the most prime stuff -- and waterfront is the gold standard -- have doubled," Newbold says.

Here's what's left: Richard Avedon's Montauk shingle, a sunny but unspectacular four-bedroom squatting on a windswept bluff, is on the market for $12.5 million. David Silver, who operates Jerry and David's Red Horse Market with Jerry Della Femina, is offering up his waterfront, French-country "barn" -- as he has described it -- just up the road on Georgica Cove from Kelly Klein for $8.75 million. On Sagaponack Pond, Richard Ekstract's glassy, ultra-minimalist riff on a country house is an eight-acre whimsy available for $9.5 million.

"Last year, we thought prices weren't going to go up much further, but this year they're already up over 20 to 25 percent," says Myles Reilly, a well-connected broker at Cook Pony Farm in Bridgehampton. "I'm wishing I still had all last year's inventory. Especially the mid-range -- $850,000 to $2 million -- and especially in Bridgehampton. There are a lot of buyers in that market and very few sellers."

Jerry Seinfeld can certainly vouch for that; he's spent the past few months burning the soles of his Nikes in what has become an excruciatingly high-profile house hunt. Massapequa's favorite son made a play for Seegal's oceanfront East Hampton estate, bidding $14.5 million, and reportedly didn't even receive a polite refusal from Seegal's people. Seegal was apparently already in talks with avant fashion designer Helmut Lang, who upped the stakes by $1 million and clinched the deal.

Seinfeld met rejection again when he wrote a check for nearly $20 million to Lee Radziwill Ross for her house on East Hampton's East Dune Lane. Ross returned the check and decided to keep the place after all. The latest word is that Seinfeld -- tired of either the rejection or the publicity -- has dispatched his sister Carolyn Liebling to do the scouting for what will reportedly be a summer house for both of them.

"Anytime you bring an offer into a house right now, you're going to be competing with four or five other offers," Reilly says. "There's a two-acre lot I sold on Highland Terrace in Bridgehampton for $640,000 about three years ago. Everybody thought that price was ridiculous. But even though the land isn't on the market at this moment, this summer, I've given him offers for a million dollars. It's in a good location, but it's not even on the beach."

It helps to act quickly. One of the finest properties to screech onto the market this summer was the 6,800-square-foot 1993 contemporary on Quimby Lane in Bridgehampton that belonged to David and Penny McCall. The socially resplendent couple died in a tragic car accident on a relief mission in Kosovo; the house, built on land that was in the McCall family for a century, has water views of both Sagg Pond and the ocean. "It came on the market at $8.5 million, and the agent was booked solid with appointments. The house started being shown on Saturday. And if you didn't make an appointment by the Wednesday before, you weren't going to get one." The house sold at the asking price just before the first ads hit the local paper.

It's a golden afternoon, and Reilly is creeping down the back roads of Bridgehampton in his aquamarine Land Rover Discovery. The car pulls up beside an empty 40-acre parcel in Bridgehampton owned by an ancient family in these parts, the Toppings. Rows of potato plants stretch out toward the large estates to the south. "They keep their taxes low by putting it in an agricultural reserve temporarily," Reilly says. "It might be ten or fifteen years before they will sell it." Which hardly means the discussion is closed.

"Oh, they probably get calls from brokers ten times a week, easily," Reilly says. "Me included -- I send more letters than I can tell you."