In the classically over-brokered South Fork (there are some twenty real-estate agencies in East Hampton alone), real-estate agents are increasingly spending their seven-day weeks cold-calling strangers who happen to own particularly attractive houses. Reilly estimates that cold-calling accounts for 30 to 40 percent of his business this summer.
"A lot of buyers are very focused -- they have to be on a certain street, they have to be on the water. Cold-calling is often the only way to find anything for them," Peter Hallock says. "Some people might be annoyed, but their first question is always 'Well, what do you think it's worth?' "
Even last year's pale-faced pachyderms have become this year's bargain. Just last week, Hallock sold a house off Gin Lane in Southampton for $4 million; the same price fetched no serious interest as recently as last summer. "The house," Hallock says, "just grew into the price."
Land scarcity has led to one of the more defining Hamptons-real-estate trends in recent memory -- the teardown. "It used to be, if you bought something to tear down, people would say, 'Oh, you must be from California,' " Frank Newbold says. People who can't find open land to build on are simply buying lots with houses already in place and razing them to build the palaces of their dreams. Deference to scale is rarely a consideration.
The most at-risk houses for this sort of treatment are the gray contemporary-style houses that went up -- particularly in Bridgehampton -- during the last Wall Street boom in the eighties. "We're selling all these contemporaries for a million dollars," says Reilly. "People paint them white, spend the summer there, have their architect design something, and by the next summer, they've got something new." This is how a three-to-four-bedroom house in the 1,800-square-foot range surrenders to a hulking six-bedroom, 5,000-to-6,000-square-foot behemoth. But even Reilly applauds trading in a dreary, dated house for a more interesting postmodernist statement or a more traditional, if hulking, Hamptons shingle with its signature gambrel roof.
Minutes later, the Range Rover is back on Montauk Highway. It veers off onto ultra-exclusive Georgica Road and stops at the corner of Jericho Lane.
"This is the teardown of the moment," says Reilly, pointing at a small, cottage-style ranch house on 1.6 acres that is -- or was -- the last great opportunity to live on Georgica Road with something less than a champagne budget. The property just sold for $1.29 million. "There's no land in Georgica right now of this caliber. Great trees. And it's an acre six: that's enough land for a big house, pool, and a tennis court -- which would make it a $4- or $5 million property right there."
Reilly laughs. "I actually had one client who wanted to move this house to his property to be his pool house."
Developer Tom Raffo admits that this year, he just purchased his first teardown house. The land, three acres in Water Mill with an enviable view of Peconic Bay, is currently home to a seventies contemporary. Raffo is planning to yank the house down in the fall and build a 5,000-square-foot shingle English-country-style house.
Teardown fever knows no social or economic bounds. Even on Southampton's old-money Meadow Lane, CS First Boston's Andy Stone recently bought an Italianate stucco palazzo with both ocean and bay views for nearly $10 million that he's already moved up from the ocean and is expanding beyond recognition.
Of course, teardowns are meeting with condescension throughout the Hamptons, even if they're slowly being accepted as a way of life, says Tina Fredericks, the real-estate agent best known for selling Ron Perelman the Creeks in 1993. On East Hampton's West End Road -- home to Steven Spielberg, Kelly Klein, and Courtney Sale Ross (widow of Time Warner boss Steve Ross) -- Alfred Lerner, chairman of the MBNA bank, bought a French Norman house for $6.8 million that he ripped down right after the deal closed. In its place, there is now a huge, baronial seaside estate with a red-tile roof. "The thing looks like it belongs on the Lido in Venice," says Fredericks. "It betrays a total disinterest in our natural beauty. It's just too much ego and money working in combination."
In the midst of this mayhem, fissures in the traditional definition of a Hamptons status property are suddenly visible. It is no longer social suicide to buy north of the Montauk Highway in places such as the Northwest Woods, where Sean "Puffy" Combs bought a modern house last year near Donna Karan's.
"The whole north-south thing is out the window," says Newbold. "It's sort of like those old rules about not drinking red wine with fish."
Myles Reilly says he's selling houses in the Northwest Woods for over a million dollars where there weren't even any houses three years ago: "The land has nearly tripled in price. Even in the Springs, where it's more of a local area, they're selling their houses for the threes and fours. And I never thought I'd be saying that."
The only wide swaths of prime land available are off the well-trampled path. In Montauk, there are 100 acres of prime oceanfront property with a $17.5 million price tag. It's beautiful, but regrettably, it's in Montauk. And for the Hamptons powers-that-would-be, Montauk is a scary journey from social hubs like Loaves and Fishes, Sagaponack's Ron Perelman? priced market.
Until very recently, prices in Noyac -- Sag Harbor's woodsy if down-market neighbor on Noyac Bay -- were cooled by a Siberian breeze, relatively speaking. Steve Kroft, of 60 Minutes, and his journalist wife, Jennet Conant, did their best to warm it up for the A-list by buying a house there last year; others will doubtless follow. Sotheby's is currently offering a lovely wooded 315-acre parcel called Bayberry in Noyac via a sealed-bid auction. "Three weeks before bidding will close, we've already got several bids above the $35 million asking price," Newbold says cheerily.
Noyac isn't the only emerging market in the Hamptons. "North Haven is getting more popular now that we have a vaccination for Lyme disease," says Sag Harbor broker Tara Newman of the style-challenged island north of Sag Harbor. "I think people started to decide that even a Lyme-disease scare would be better than having a neighbor build a 29-bedroom house next door."