The Rules of Rejection

When 720 Park Avenue (shown in 1938) was new, it— like many other elite co-ops— was said to routinely reject applicants on ethnic grounds.Photo: The Museum of the City of New York/Wurts Collection

You spent weeks putting the best face on your co-op application—and you were rejected anyway, without a stated reason. In the grand secretive tradition of many New York buildings, you’ll never find out why. But right now, representatives for the New York State Association of Realtors (NYSAR) and the Manhattan Association of Realtors (MANAR) are drafting a bill that may change all that. If it passes the City Council, the legislation will give boards six weeks to act on an application (if they don’t, buyers are automatically approved) and require them to provide a reason for rejection if they say no. “We want to bring more transparency to the process,” says NYSAR’s Duncan MacKenzie.

And what a process it is. Applicants to co-ops can wait forever—lawyer Cheryl Dresner says she’s seen clients get stuck for four months—only to be bounced without cause. Most turndowns are over finances, but social differences are part of the calculus, too, and a few buildings are still said to say no on racial and religious grounds, as was common a few decades ago. (Even one’s celebrity can be an issue. Many performers—Melanie Griffith, Barbra Streisand, Madonna—have been snubbed by buildings that dislike entertainers, and Richard Nixon was famously rejected after his presidency ended.)

Most people watching the legislation’s progress agree that the six-week deadline, at least, is likely to be popular. Slow transactions leave buyers frustrated and complicate deals, says Prudential Douglas Elliman’s Suzanne Sealy; sellers are a wreck, too, with their next moves in limbo. But getting boards to account for their decisions will be tough, predicts Century 21 Kevin B. Brown’s Ryan Sherman. Though board members will think twice before rejecting candidates based on bias or hearsay, he says, the law could open them up to other legal actions. “They may have to use reserve funds to go to court, which is bad for the building,” he says. Nevertheless, new rules could bring sanity to a process that can seem painfully arbitrary; it may even make it—dare we say it?—democratic. “If you have a clear record and are a qualified buyer,” asks MANAR’s Laura Rubinfeld, “why be rejected?”

Bookseller Turns Buyer
Real-estate modesty in the Hamptons? Barnes & Noble CEO and vice-chairman Steve Riggio might be the king of the supersize bookstore, but his just-purchased house on Daniels Lane in Sagaponack will seem humble in comparison to financier Ira Rennert’s 29-bedroom megamansion down the street. All things being relative, however, Riggio still paid a whole lot for the place—$5.75 million, according to sources. His new abode is just a short drive away from the Bridgehampton estate of his brother, Len Riggio, who’s the chairman (and chief agent of growth) at B&N. A little further from Further Lane, Sony America honcho Rob Wiesenthal recently divested himself of the three-bedroom “cottage” he owns across the street from his Fairfield Pond Lane residence in Sagaponack. A source close to Wiesenthal says he’d bought it as a getaway for his mother, “but she didn’t use it much,” so he sold it to recently installed Paramount Pictures president Gail Berman for $3.5 million.

Triple Assessment
188 East 78th Street, Apartment 7AB
3,732-square-foot, four-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bath condo with 2,231-square-foot terrace.
Asking Price: $7.495 million.
Charges and Taxes: $6,024.
Broker: Toni Haber, Prudential Douglas Elliman.Though this 1999 condo (formerly two apartments) doesn’t have an address on Fifth or Park, our panelists say it’s gracious enough to draw a Gold Coast price.

Stacey Gero-Kanbar, Brown Harris Stevens: Similar high-end condos sell for $1,500 to $2,000 per square foot around here, says Gero-Kanbar. Because of the terrace and the amenities (cinema room, play space), she “valued it at the top of the range,” then subtracted a bit for the good-not-great views and the lowish floor.
Her assessment: $7.295 million.

Courtesy of Prudential Douglas Elliman

Michael Spodek, Halstead: “It’s a grand space and a condo, so you pay a premium,” explains Spodek. “It’s a little more refined than other condos built in the area in the same period.” He also notes that the unit next door is on the market, giving very deep-pocketed buyers the potential to own a full floor.
His assessment: $7.2 million.

Sue Marcus, Century 21 Kevin B. Brown: “It’s going to sell quickly,” says Marcus, who cited the huge terrace—“you could grow corn out there”—as well as the location, near schools and services, and the neutral décor.
Her assessment: $7.495 million.

The Rules of Rejection