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Distraction Pricing

Why put an over-the-top number on an apartment? Sometimes it works.


Illustration by Peter Arkle  

The owners, in Europe for a chunk of the summer, gave Corcoran’s Wendy Sarasohn her mission: They weren’t around anyway, so why not offer their Fifth Avenue classic ten for $22 million? The price was inflated (this was in 2002, when it was worth about $16 million), but no matter. They were trophy sellers. “They don’t really need to sell, so why not?” she says. The most fantastical number has surfaced at 15 Central Park West, where an apartment is reportedly being “quietly shopped around” at $150 million. Two other units carry asking prices of $80 million–plus and $90 million. That’s $15,000 per square foot, more than double the record of $6,500, says appraiser Jonathan Miller.

Go-for-broke pricing is, for sure, a way of creating buzz: That $150 million listing has turned out to be anything but quiet. “Some people put these huge prices out for the publicity, and that publicity gets them buyers, and then it goes for 30 percent less,” explains Prudential Douglas Elliman’s Leonard Steinberg. It’s an ego boost for all concerned, too. “There’s cachet in being the owner of the most expensive apartment,” adds Elliman’s Suzanne Sealy. “What they’re not telling anybody is what they’re willing to take.” That $90 million broker, Brown Harris Stevens’s Felice Gross, insists that her client is just waiting for his moment: “He’s only a seller at a certain level,” she says. “Under a certain price, he’s not interested.” Besides, “the buzz was there before we priced.” And if the market will bear it, why not? “Pricing is an inexact science,” says Brown Harris Stevens’s Richard Wallgren, a co-broker on the $80 million listing. “When you’re dealing with such a rare commodity, just like a piece of art, the comps don’t exist. In the global market, the price is in line.”

Not everyone is enamored of this maneuver. When one owner demanded 30 percent more than veteran broker Michele Kleier thought his Park Avenue duplex was worth, she declined the job. It took more than a year to sell, and in the end brought something close to her original estimate. “You get a lot of curiosity seekers. Why bother?” she says.

Well, because sometimes reality catches up to the wild number. “When I brought a buyer to 15 Central Park West, it was priced at $3,600 per square foot, and I reminded him that he was paying more there than at other buildings,” says Elliman’s Tamir Shemesh. “So who am I to say it’s impossible?”


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