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Caveat Realtor

At the high end of the market, fake buyers are a real problem.

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In retrospect, Bellmarc’s Fran Kaback says, she should’ve heeded the warning sign: The customer, supposedly a CEO with $6 million to spend, used a Hotmail account. When they met at the Ritz, his “bad teeth and pleated tan leather pants” gave her pause. But Kaback knew not to judge someone by his wardrobe: Millionaires have materialized out of nowhere before, and agents have netted commissions from them. He asked to be shown around, and she hired a driver to take them to ten properties. “I never saw him again,” she says.

It’s not the first time faux buyers have taken brokers for a joyride, and not likely the last. More malign than the classic indecisive perpetual shopper, these people are curiosity-seekers who represent themselves as something more. And they drive brokers nuts. In high-end sales, where open houses are verboten and showings are only private, fakers go to elaborate lengths to get their foot in the door. Broker Michele Kleier had a Versace-clad European woman pick her up in a chauffeured limo; the client even sent roses on Kleier’s birthday. The rappers who wanted Corcoran’s Sharon E. Baum to find them a $10 million condo always had a conservatively dressed “manager” in tow. The gentleman who wanted Prudential Douglas Elliman’s Suzanne Sealy’s Upper East Side eight-room had legitimate-seeming financial documents. Hotmail notwithstanding, they all passed basic sniff tests, too; most were represented or referred by seasoned brokers—or, in the case of the British phonies who asked Julie and Lewis Friedman to show them a Trump condo, paid their own way. (Between showings, Kleier’s pseudo-client bought baubles from Madison Avenue stores, where the salespeople seemed to know her.)

Most submit offers, but when it comes time to sign, they fly the coop. “We were completely dumbfounded,” remembers Sealy. The Friedmans heard that the Brits had employed the same m.o. all over town, and Kleier later learned her “customer” left without paying her hotel bills. “I never could figure out what she got out of it,” says Kleier. Maybe she was crazy, or lonely, or both. (Remember Kevin Spacey’s talking about the elderly couple in Glengarry Glen Ross: “They just like talking to salesmen.”) Or maybe it was like fantasy camp for New York’s biggest game. “There’s this kind of sport where people go to brunch, then open houses,” says Sealy. “But [these people] take it to the nth degree.”


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