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Bigfoot of the Hamptons

Who’s the mystery buyer said to be scooping up handfuls of houses with lowball offers? An investigation.

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Have you heard? There’s a monster stalking the Hamptons. He’s a Bank of America executive, a hedge-funder, or a builder. He’s buying property, they all say, the way the rest of us go to Costco. He’s filling his cart with houses priced between $3 million and $4 million, and he’s offering something like half-price, or even less, up to $1.5 million apiece. He makes one offer, nonnegotiable, and he’s simply planning to park his $100 million, or whatever the total is, in East End real estate for a couple of years, until prices go back up and he can double it. Some say he wants to buy 30 houses, or fifteen, or twelve, and he’s been successful with three so far. Also, depending on who’s telling the story, he’s either in Bridgehampton or scouring the entire South Fork.

Let’s call him Bigfoot, after the mythical woodland creature, because he (and his bankroll) fall exactly between plausible and unbelievable. If he exists, he certainly is larger than life. Long-timers, weekenders, buyers, sellerseveryone has heard of him. (Several agents brought up the story to me unprompted, and a couple of weeks ago, New York reporter Andrew Rice even turned up a similar tale about a mysterious Manhattan apartment-buyer.)

The thing is, like the other Bigfoot, this guy does not exist. Or if he does, he hasn’t bought a thing. The Long Island Real Estate Report, a database that tracks the local market sale by sale, lists no two deeds filed since January from the same buyer in the East End. (The exceptions are a local firm that bought a bunch of condos from a Michigan developer exiting the scene, plus a few buyers who’ve assembled adjoining lots. The only way someone could be hiding would be if he had set up a separate shell corporation for each purchase, a highly unlikely scenario.) Of nearly a dozen brokers whom I interviewed, none has met Bigfoot or received an offer from him. Veteran broker Diane Saatchi had looked into the story herself, informally surveying East End agents, and says this: Almost all respondents reported hearing some variation of this story and said it was not true, a rumor, or could not be verified. Corcoran’s Ana O’Byrne says she’s had buyers ask to keep an eye out for great deals, but no one quite so aggressive.

This story has all the criteria of a budding urban legend. Elizabeth Tucker, a folklore specialist at SUNY Binghamton, rattled off the hallmarks: It’s told by a friend of a friend, it’s about something of tremendous interest, the numbers almost always are a multiple of three. She adds that stories like this tend to gain traction in times of stress. And in fact, a monstrous turn in the narrative right now almost makes sense. Bigfoot is a kind of hero for buyersIt gives them hope, possibly, that you can get something at 50 cents on the dollar, says O’Byrneand embodies disaster porn for local sellers. [People think,] if houses could be sold at 50 or 60 percent of their value, then that brings down the value of my home, says Patricia A. Turner, a UCDavis urban-legend expert who grew up in Sag Harbor and owns a house in Bridgehampton.

Where does this story come from, anyway? Urban legends tend to arise from the conflation of two or three events that happen around the same time. (For example, the widely repeated canard about Walt Disneythat he was frozen after his deathhas been traced to an unrelated story about cryopreservation that appeared in the press just after Disney’s obituaries did.) As it happens, Prudential Douglas Elliman’s Enzo Morabito says hedge-funders with plans to buy distressed properties in the South Fork approached him last fall, but nothing came of it. Another broker claims to have had two bottom-fishing buyers, one of whom sent out seven lowball bids for $2 millionto$3 million properties all at once. (Both were planning to make deals only with whichever seller took the bait first.) It’s entirely plausible that a game of telephone conflated these stories and turned a few opportunists into one big hairy ogre. An ogre that personifies the anxiety that the big-money days are gone forever. As one longtime broker says, What are we going to do with all the houses that were built? We should turn south of the highway into Colonial Williamsburg and say, People used to live like this.


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