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Transparent Motives

Co-op sales will likely become a matter of public record any day now. What will the neighbors say?

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New York's most desirable co-ops (clockwise from upper left, River House, the Dakota, 740 Park Avenue, and 834 Fifth Avenue) are famously discreet about sales. A new law may change that.  

The phones started ringing almost immediately, says Diane Ramirez, president of Halstead Property. “It’s caused quite a bit of chatter on all levels,” she confirms. The source of all the agita: the bill working its way through Albany that would make public the sale prices of co-op apartments—the bread-and-butter of most brokerage firms—was working its way through Albany. Most upset are clients who are “very private, wealthy, or well known,” adds Ramirez, though they’re not the only ones. Whether people pay $700,000 or $7 million, adds broker Michele Kleier, “they like their privacy in New York. They like to keep their secrets.”

For as long as co-ops have been around, buying-and-selling details have remained undisclosed. Since a co-op is sold without a deed, it’s been a convenient way for celebrities and other figures who dislike publicity—or, occasionally, whose finances are a little shady—to keep their purchases to themselves. Online databases list the transfers but not prices. But now, says Greg Carlson, spokesperson for the Federation of New York Housing Co-operatives and Condominiums, “the Department of Finance wants to make all real-estate transactions transparent,” largely to make sure tax assessments are appropriate. Supporters say the measure, should it become law, will level the playing field for buyers. (It’s awaiting the governor’s signature, which could come at any moment, and will likely be retroactive to January 2003.) “Disclosure is good,” says real-estate attorney Steve Wagner. “If I was thinking of buying in one of these buildings, I would want to know what my neighbors paid.” (Right now, buyers rely on their brokers to gather intelligence, especially in the most exclusive buildings.)

The law is unlikely to affect prices or influence many buying decisions, says Gregory Heym, chief economist for Terra Holdings, the parent company of both Halstead and Brown Harris Stevens. The uproar, Ramirez agrees, may be not about loss of privacy but loss of fun: “To some degree, it’s going to take away the cocktail-party discussions over what [people] paid.”


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