Pick Up a House on Your Way Home

Photo: Donald Bowers for New York Magazine

In the bizarro world of Manhattan real estate, where astronomical prices lead not to disbelief but to bidding wars, it should be no surprise that some buyers make moves purely on instinct. So it perhaps should also be unsurprising that three good-size firms—Brown Harris Stevens, JC DeNiro, and Halstead—are opening new or expanded storefront offices in the next few weeks, part of what appears to be a burgeoning trend. The hope, say the brokers, is that compulsive shoppers will pause between the croissanterie and the Banana Republic and consider—or even buy—a place to live. “You need a physical presence, and it’s best to be on the ground floor and have people walk by and see what you have,” says Christopher Mathieson, managing partner at JC DeNiro, which has branches in Tribeca and Chelsea and, as of this week, at 81st and Broadway, where three of four corners are now occupied by real-estate “stores.” (Fenwick-Keats and Corcoran hold the others.)

Most of the country does its house-buying this way, but only a scattered few such offices have existed till now in Manhattan. “It was always up on the fourteenth floor, tucked away,” says Diane Ramirez, president of Halstead, which opened its first ground-floor office on the Upper East Side in 1984. (Back then, she adds, Halstead was the only company that marketed to passersby.) Other firms are realizing, however, that in pedestrian-friendly, real-estate-mad Manhattan, a window full of achingly glam listings serves much the same function as the displays at Barneys or Saks, and those companies want their own. Mathieson says agents at JC DeNiro’s Chelsea headquarters often represent clients who haven’t planned to sell but who, after stopping in on a whim, wind up listing with them. Hall Wilkie, president of Brown Harris Stevens, says weekends are so busy at the firm’s Madison Avenue site that his brokers “get a lot of foot traffic that translates into sales”; the firm just hung out a shingle at the corner of North Moore and Hudson. Besides, storefronts put a friendly face on a hard-edged profession. “You have your neighborhood grocery store, bakery, dry cleaner, and, now, broker,” says Ramirez.“Smart move,” responds Roslyn Huebener, principal broker at Aguayo & Huebener in Brooklyn, where business has been done this way for ages (along Seventh Avenue in Park Slope, you can barely go two blocks without seeing a shop window full of brownstone listings). If Manhattanites need any advice about this type of outreach, she says, they’re welcome to “come in and see us sometime.” Her storefront office is open seven days a week.

Counting Crow Counting His Dough?
Just months after finishing the Cooper Square loft he bought for $2.4 million, Counting Crows front man Adam Duritz is cashing out and packing up. Neighbors say he’s quietly put his apartment on the market and that actress-singer Mandy Moore has stopped by for a look. (Moore could have just been making a social call, though, as the two, rumored to be dating last year, are friends.) Duritz’s rep, Christine Wolff, denies that he’s looking to sell.

Inspiration Point: Dr. Bernard Berkowitz, author of the best-selling seventies self-help book How to Be Your Own Best Friend, and whose fans include Neil Simon, has enlisted Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy’s Katie Rosenberg to sell his ten-room prewar on East 68th Street for $3.5 million. Berkowitz has lived in the apartment for decades, but says he’s heading to the Upper West Side to be “closer to someone special.” (His own second-best friend?) Rosenberg, for her part, describes the apartment as a “mansion in the sky.”
—Deborah Schoeneman and S. Jhoanna Robledo

Same Space, Different Place
Hudson Views Outdo Hudson Heights
Prevailing wisdom would dictate that the bigger the apartment and the higher the floor, the pricier it would be. But the reverse is true with these similarly laid-out two-bedroom co-ops in Hudson Heights. Why? The slightly smaller space on the ground floor, listed for $36,000 more than the other, has unobstructed views of the George Washington Bridge from its living room and master bedroom; the one on the third floor offers much less spectacular vistas. Besides, it’s decorated in what broker Gus Perry euphemistically describes as “Miami chic,” meaning whoever buys it will need to spend money to exorcise the ghosts of Crockett and Tubbs.

Haven Avenue and 181st Street, Apt. 3H
The facts: Two-bedroom, one-bath, 867-square-foot co-op.
Asking price: $439,000.
Maintenance: $763.
Broker: Gus Perry, Stein-Perry Real Estate.

Haven Avenue and 181st Street, Apt. 1L
The facts: Two-bedroom, one-bath, 818-square-foot co-op.
Asking price: $475,000.
Maintenance: $725.
Broker: Peter Simoes, Stein-Perry Real Estate.

Pick Up a House on Your Way Home