REAL E$TATE 2000: Who Needs to be a Millionaire?

What $150,000 Buys Now

In real estate, when you talk to brokers about “the good old days,” they tend to drop references to the last century – December 1999, to be precise. “The market price of properties has gone up 15 percent since January, across the board,” says Klara Madlin of the eponymous brokerage. “Studios that were once $150,000 on the Upper West Side are now going for the low 200s. If you want any kind of value, you have to head to the West Hundreds: We’re opening a Harlem office this month just to meet the demand.” Better hurry. “Manhattan Valley may be the only undervalued part of town,” says John Caraccioli of Halstead, referring to the area in the low Hundreds west of Central Park. “If you’re lucky, you may still be able get a one-bedroom there.”

Otherwise, for $150,000, five out of five brokers agree, below 100th Street, Manhattan might as well be Studio City. “The ones you can get at that price won’t even have an alcove,” says Madlin. “They will literally be a room.” Nan Schiff of Douglas Elliman agrees. “You’re not going to get a new kitchen,” she says. “In fact, you’d be pleasantly surprised to walk in and see a kitchen. There’s always going to be one obstacle to overcome: garbage cans outside the window, or you’re on the first floor and the light is compromised.”

Move farther toward the outskirts of Manhattan, and the story improves only slightly. “You’re trading space for location,” says Julie Jacobs, also of Douglas Elliman. “You can usually forget about outdoor space, although I did sell some studios with balconies at 1160 Third Avenue, between 67th and 68th, that fall around that range.” Once you see the prices in Brooklyn Heights, you may want to check to see if the Brooklyn Bridge is still there; they’re more in line with those of Manhattan. “For $150,000, I’d steer people toward Clinton Hill or Fort Greene,” says Cheryl Nielsen-Saaf of Corcoran. “Forget Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, and Carroll Gardens; there’s just a lack of inventory. Most of the properties in these areas are rentals to start with, unless they’re old schools or churches. Those structures are the only places that have studios. I’d say $200,000 is a better starting point for a small Brooklyn one-bedroom.” And as the distance widens between you and Manhattan, so does the space between your walls. “For 150, you can do a two-bedroom co-op in most of Queens,” says Helen Keit of First Choice Real Estate. “It’s too low for an attached house, but you’ll get yourself a nice-size co-op in a variety of buildings in any area.” Susan Goldy of Susan E. Goldy Real Estate has a similar assessment of the Bronx: “You can get a studio in a luxury condo building in Riverdale with plenty of amenities – doorman, swimming pool, central air, a river view – for $80,000. If you’d rather have space, you can get a one-bedroom or a junior four in most postwar buildings, but prices at top luxury co-op buildings get closer to $200,000.” To put it gently, $150,000 is the rock-bottom price it costs to become a property owner within city limits. At best, you’ll be sleeping in a recent-vintage townhouse on the South Shore of Staten Island. “It’s not going to be a great property,” says Jon Salmon of Salmon Real Estate, “and yet, you’ll still see 100 people at the open house. It doesn’t even matter if it’s a bungalow. You’d better be ready to buy it, or you’ll be homeless.”

Greenwich Village
450-square-foot co-op studio at 24 Fifth Avenue, at 9th Street.
Paid: $135,000; maintenance, $400.

Joel Odum owns a beautiful Victorian house. Unfortunately, it’s located in the Cleveland Park section of Washington, D.C. As an employee of the U.S. General Services Administration, Odum needs to spend more time in New York this year, so he set a limit of $150,000 and decided he’d find a studio. But he wasn’t up for sweating it out in today’s real-estate souk: “My goodness, you show up at these open houses, and there are dozens of people there clamoring and reaching and grabbing. It’s like a yard sale!” Brokers were equally disillusioning: “They would tell me things like ‘Oh, you’ll love the Upper East Side.’ But I don’t want to live there. ‘Oh, don’t worry, you’re gonna love it.’ If I’d seen one more wall with exposed brick, I think I would have put my head through it.”

Enter Nan Schiff of Douglas Elliman, who diagnosed Odum’s problem immediately. “Joel had to travel back and forth between D.C. and New York constantly,” says Schiff. “It made it impossible for him to land a place. At $150,000, you’d better have a check ready. If you’re not ready to make the deal, you’ll lose the property within an hour.” Schiff found a studio for Odum in a well-located and -maintained Art Deco building at Fifth Avenue and 9th Street, an old hotel that had been remodeled. “I described the space to Joel over the phone,” she says. When Odum liked what he heard, Schiff went in with an aggressive bid, secured him a pre-approved mortgage from a broker, had a lawyer immediately draw up the papers, and put together a package on Odum so stellar that the co-op board pushed all other interested parties aside.

The sixth-floor space has the feel of a hotel room – basic, with a tiny separate kitchen containing scaled-down appliances – but Odum doesn’t really care. “I don’t need a house; I just need a place to sleep and hang my clothes,” he says. He’s just three subway stops away from the office and a short walk away from two parks and dozens of restaurants.

Days later, when Odum finally passed through the place, he took one look and signed the final papers: “My friends said, ‘Are you crazy? Paying that kind of money without seeing it first?’ You bet! At that point, I’d done everything. I’ve asked strangers on the street if they knew of any places. People told me to give the super a hundred bucks to find out about empty spaces. Then Nan goes out of her way to find me a space that’s only $135,000! She treated me like I was Brooke Astor!”

Brooklyn Heights
600-square-foot one-bedroom co-op at 132 Joralemon Street.
Paid: $147,000; maintenance, $712.

“Since my wife and I moved from Minneapolis a few years ago, I still don’t think we’ve gotten over the sticker shock,” says architect Victor Pechaty. Pechaty and his wife, Dinorah, first settled into a 250-square-foot studio in Brooklyn Heights with an $1,100-a-month rent. “We loved the Heights,” he says. “We loved the architecture, and it had a real urban character. The apartment was fine, but when Dinorah became pregnant, we had to find a bigger place.” After a few months of scouting the neighborhood, the Pechatys found a street-level one-bedroom with bars on the window. “We would’ve been glad to take it,” Pechaty says. But the co-op board would accept a 10 percent down payment only if the Pechatys also put up a year’s maintenance. “We liked the place, but not enough to front that money. So we walked.”

A few months later, the couple – and baby Sophia – attended another open house. “We walked out of the apartment, straight over to the Realtor, and put in a bid for $145,000, $4,000 below the asking price,” says Pechaty. The seller met them in the middle. With deed in hand, Pechaty has already changed fixtures and some appliances. “But we can’t really remodel the kitchen,” he says. “There’s only a small stove, a refrigerator, a sink, and three small cabinets. There’s nothing there to remodel.”

Old Town, Staten Island
One-family two-story townhouse on a 16-by-100 lot.
Paid: $133,000.

Working as they do in the computer-support industry, Ann Marie Grenham and her fiancé, Peter Quadarella, are finding they’re busier than ever. They were renting a one-bedroom out in New Dorp, but now it was time to own something. The couple was prepared to spend no more than $150,000 on something with low taxes. “Good schools aren’t a concern for us yet,” says Grenham.

She would find houses in online listings in her price range, but by the time she called, the property was already sold. “And the few homes we saw, the exteriors were dreadful,” she says. Finally, the couple found a home nice enough to actually step inside; it was in Old Town, only a few blocks from a commercial area. “The house is white, and it has these two lovely large windows in front, one upstairs and one downstairs,” Grenham says. “We liked the large living room and kitchen opening out to the patio. Upstairs, there’s a large master bedroom in front with a smaller bedroom towards the back. And there’s a tiny attic for storage.”

Grenham and Quadarella paid $133,000, which was $12,000 under the asking price. Within three months, the two-story starter with a two-car driveway was theirs to keep. “It’s nice to have the driveway, but we’re a three-minute walk from Hylan Boulevard and all the shops and restaurants. An express bus gets us to work in about 35 minutes. It’s a breeze; we don’t even need our car anymore.”

What $300,000 Buys Now

For, you’ll be able to snare a separate room for your bed – the only question is how big a bed you’ll be able to have. “On the Upper West Side, you’ll get not much space – maybe 650 square feet,” says Roberta Moser of Halstead. “You’ll get more for your money if you go way east, like to York Avenue. But that far east, you almost have to take a bus to Lexington Avenue to catch the subway.”

Hop the train down to current hot spots like the West Village, Gramercy, or Chelsea, and the news doesn’t get any better. “You may find a one-bedroom,” says Michael Zembower of Douglas Elliman in Chelsea, “but at that price, you may not find a doorman building.”

Way south, you might still land a one-bedroom with a view. “One-bedrooms start in the low 200s in Battery Park City,” says Gary Seiden of Regatta New York Realty. “One with a really nice view of the harbor would bring you closer to $300,000.”

To bag other amenities like a doorman, a health club, or even a super who actually lives in your building, swallow your pride and think studio. “You can get a wonderfully grand studio for $300,000,” says Jackie Schwimmer of Corcoran. “They’re always available in pretty much any area. I sold an unrenovated alcove studio in a doorman building on the Upper West Side that was over 500 square feet. That’s more space than some one-bedrooms have, and a better location.”

But if you’re willing to compromise on location, “you can get a nice detached house in Bayside or Whitestone,” says Helen Keit of First Choice in Queens. “Those are two of the more desirable neighborhoods in the borough.”

Connie Profaci, owner of the eponymous agency in Staten Island, says great detached houses are available in her neck of the woods, too: “You can get a two-family if you’re interested in a rental or a very nice three-bedroom one-family on either shore,” she says, “maybe a 50-by-100-foot lot with a garage. You might even be able to squeeze out a four-bedroom in a handyman special.”

It’s when you reach the Bronx and Brooklyn that the space race gets frantic. “Riverdale would be tight for your budget,” says Susan Goldy of Susan E. Goldy Real Estate, “but you could find a three-bedroom in a high-quality co-op building without a problem. If you’re willing to look in Kingsbridge, you can still probably find a house in the high 200s, but I’m not sure how much longer that will last.”

This seems to be the mantra of every agent: Buy now before you get priced out. Like in Brooklyn, for example. The last 900-square-foot residential loft Helene Luchnick of Douglas Elliman saw go for under $300,000 in the city was in DUMBO in the fall of 1998. (Now even lofts in Hoboken are starting at $450,000.) “Pffft, forget Bay Ridge,” says Joseph Madaio of ReMax 1st Choice Realty, at Third Avenue and 81st Street. “It’s crazy here. We haven’t handled a house in that price range in a while. Here, they’re going for $400,000.” Apartments, however, remain a reasonable deal, partly because of the lengthy subway commute to the city; you can still get a two-bedroom co-op for under $150,000 in Bay Ridge.

In Brooklyn’s holy trinity (Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill), two-bedrooms are in short supply, but when they’re found, they’re $350,000, generally. Outside these communities, they can be located practically anywhere. “You may be able to find a three-bedroom in Fort Greene, but they’re hard to come by,” says Eva Daniels of Eva M. Daniels Realty. If you look hard enough, a handyman special of a house may be yours for the taking. “If you head into Bed-Stuy, Lefferts Manor, Canarsie, or Windsor Terrace, you might find a house, but $300,000 is the rock-bottom price these days.”

“Just a couple of months ago, I purchased two brownstones in Fort Greene for under $300,000 apiece,” says sculptor Ava Gerber. “The last one was owned by a bank that didn’t want to let me look at it. I told them, ‘Do me a favor, send someone down here and I’ll tell them if I’m buying the building,’ ” she says. “So they did, and I did.” Just be prepared to spend a little more to make your house an actual home. “When a guy at Home Depot asked me why I was buying a 30-foot ladder, I realized something,” says Gerber about her future renovations. “There are some things you just shouldn’t do yourself.”

875-square-foot one-bedroom co-op in the West Twenties, off Seventh Avenue.
Paid: $290,000; maintenance, $960.

Consider this a warning from Jack Eldon: “Anyone who thinks moving across the street is easy should try it sometime. You might as well move to Montana.” Eldon, a marketing executive at Disney, found himself circling yet another open-house listing in the paper – this one for an apartment in an 1890s building directly across the street from his one-bedroom. Only this was a significantly larger space that got considerably better light. There was already an accepted buyer; undeterred, Eldon placed a slightly higher bid, and the apartment was his. “My life was getting bigger,” says Eldon, referring to his decision to move in with his significant other, “and I needed a bigger space.” The apartment needed work, and it was slightly more than I hoped to pay, but I was optimistic.” The problem for Eldon now was unloading his old place. Michael Zembower of Douglas Elliman, the broker for the new apartment, offered to help. “Michael told me he could turn my apartment around in a week,” says Eldon. “Needless to say, I wondered if you could do any real-estate transaction in New York in a week. He put a listing in the Times for an open house. The listing said, ‘This apartment will be sold this weekend for the asking price.’ I bet him three tickets to The Lion King that he couldn’t do it. The next week, I was buying those tickets.

After Eldon sanded floors, painted, and brought in a cleaning service, the new apartment was almost unrecognizable, even to Zembower: “I told Jack, if he wanted to part with it, I could get him $350,000 without much of a hassle.” Eldon confirms the appraisal. “I bet against Mike once and lost, so I believe him.”

West Village
650-square-foot two-bedroom co-op at 325 West 11th Street.
Paid $170,000; maintenance, $570.

“I wouldn’t say it was a dump,” says Kitty Sorell of Corcoran. “It was livable.” Sorell is referring to the two-bedroom apartment in the West Village she sold Kenna Thompson, an associate producer at VH-1. “It has crocodile walls – all the plaster was cracked. And the bathroom doesn’t have a sink. But there’s a big claw-foot tub, and a kitchen you can fit a kitchen table in. And you can’t get away from the fact that it’s a landmark building, with a great location.”

Thompson, who found the apartment via an online listing, took one look at the place and agreed to the asking price on the spot. “The same woman owned it for 23 years,” says Thompson. “She sublet it most of the time, so I guess no one really wanted to put any money into something they were renting.” Thompson has already brought in eight contractors to refurbish the woodwork, windows, and walls. “One guy told me he could do the job for $16,000,” she says. “He wanted to cover the floors with linoleum. But I said, ‘I’m not going to live in Mel’s Diner.’ Another guy said, ‘I’m not touching it for less than $120,000.’ Sorry, Mr. Park Avenue – that’s not happening, either.” Thompson has started to do a lot of the work herself. “I stripped away about a half-inch of paint from the window sills. It’s like an excavation. I’m seeing green paint, then pink, and I’m thinking, Yep, somebody lived here in the fifties.” Every day, Thompson discovers something new – an extra detail in the woodwork, a hiding space for valuables in the 115-year-old original wooden floor: “I bumped into something in the kitchen; this board flies off, and I realize the kitchen has one of those double sinks you see in restaurants. It just gets better every day.”

An elderly man came to one of the open houses; he said he grew up in the apartment with his five brothers and sisters. He walked around, touched some of the woodwork, gazed at the interior for a few moments and said, “Yes, this is exactly how it looked when I was here.” Be it ever so crumbled, there’s no place like home.

Central Park North
1,100-square-foot two-bedroom co-op at 1270 Fifth Avenue, near 108th Street.
Paid $300,000; maintenance, $645.

Like many other New Yorkers, Benjamin and Christine Anagnos looked at five apartments before settling on one; unusually, most of the apartments were in the same building. “It’s equidistant from our jobs,” says Ben, who’s director of finance and administration for a coalition of grant-funded hospitals, headquartered at Harlem Hospital. His wife does nonprofit work at the Association of Art Museum Directors. “They’re supposed to be building the Museum for African Art about two blocks north of here,” she says. “When they extend Museum Mile to include it, we’ll be a part of that. Fifth Avenue will always be Fifth Avenue.”

Fifth Avenue is also one of the few locations that allow a sixth-floor tenant to have a park view. “In our last place,” Christine remembers, “I knew what the guy across the way from us was wearing.” The Anagnoses weren’t in much of a hurry to move; they were paying $1,000 a month for a one-bedroom at 77th and York, well below the going rent. “We got a deal on it, and that was seven years ago,” says Ben. But when they found out from Jackie Schwimmer at Corcoran (the mother of one of Ben’s grammar-school friends) that an apartment was available at this Fifth Avenue location, they jumped. “It was kind of in a shambles,” says Christine. “There was no kitchen. But when we saw the view, we knew. Not to mention the size issue. I mean, if we’re going to start a family, there was no way we’d switch to another one-bedroom.”

Since their new apartment had been vacant and deteriorating for the past four years (it was sold by an estate), the Anagnoses were able to negotiate renovations into the deal. “We have some input in what they’re doing,” says Ben, “For example, they’re installing extra outlets and phone lines in every room. If we want to upgrade to DSL or fiber-optic lines, we’re ready to go.” Christine adds, “We also don’t have to figure out how much we need to spend to fix up the apartment. It’s built into the price. We’re going to have new floors, new kitchen, and new appliances. I won’t have to scrape the gook off of somebody’s old stove.” Ben, the M.B.A. of the family, checked into the finances and found out the building, erected in 1960, had just completed paying its mortgage. As he and Christine suspected, the corporation had remortgaged to upgrade the amenities. “They’ve told us that over time, they’ll be redoing the lobby, the elevators, everything,” says Ben. So is there anything wrong with the place? “Well,” Christine says, “one of the first things that occurred to me was, where am I going to rent a video around here? But after seeing the view and finding out how quiet the apartment could be, I thought, Who needs videos?

What $500,000 Buys Now

As little as five years ago, the $500,000 New York City home – whether a mint, oak-detailed brownstone on a prime tree-lined Park Slope street or a spacious loft in a turn-of-the-century factory building in TriBeCa – was a benchmark for upper-middle-class families. You might have wanted more, but you didn’t really need more. But nowadays, unfortunately, half a million is no longer a family-size number, unless you’re willing to ride a few more subway stops.

What it should buy you is a very nice one-bedroom in a name-brand neighborhood – but don’t get greedy and expect a Central Park panorama out your kitchen window. And adding bedrooms inevitably means subtracting something else: views, light, amenities, neighborhood. “I’ve got a 1,000-square-foot one-bedroom on Fifth, without a view, for $525K; a two-bedroom on 71st and Second for $490K; and a two-bedroom, two-bathroom in Carnegie Hill, prewar building, for $549K. I’ve also got a condo on 72nd and Third – it doesn’t have a lot of light, but it’s in a stellar location,” says Lisa Meyer of Stribling’s uptown office.

Downtown, the situation is similar – not too shabby, but not quite the apartment of your dreams, either. “I have a couple expecting a baby who are in contract for a 1,200-square-foot two-bedroom, one-bath loft on Hudson Street – it’s closing for essentially $550,000,” says Sean Murphy Turner, a Stribling vice-president downtown. “It’s beautiful, with barrel-vaulted ceilings, but it’s still a definite fixer-upper.” “We sold an 800-square-foot one-bedroom in the West Village with a fireplace and sunken living room for $550,000,” says James Ferrari of Benjamin James Associates.

The formerly budget-friendly East Village and the Lower East Side now deliver solid values but not bargains. “You can get a nice one- or two-bedroom in the East Village,” says Ferrari. “A very nice one-bedroom – 800 to 900 square feet, maybe a fireplace and some open space.” The Lower East Side is of course cheaper, but, says Steven Hauser of Susan Penzer Real Estate, “the problem’s that most buildings there are tenement buildings – they don’t have the details and features that a lot of today’s buyers are looking for.”

In fact, multiple bedrooms and period detail for under $500,000 in Manhattan can be pretty much summed up in one word: Harlem. “I’ve got a gorgeous two-bedroom, two-bath in the Grinnell, a huge 1911 apartment building in the West 150s on Riverside Drive, for $400,000,” says Willie Kathryn Suggs, the legendarily hyperactive doyenne of uptown real estate. “You don’t get an apartment in this building unless somebody dies. It’s got seventeen mahogany doors, a library, a maid’s room, loads of detail, the works.”

In Harlem, even the townhouse dream is very much alive. You can, for instance, get a twelve-room gut rehab on historic Striver’s Row for $440,000. “The building’s in horrible shape,” says Suggs. Well-maintained places are leaping over $600,000. “Several houses have closed for over half a million,” Suggs says. “As soon as it comes in, it walks. There’s no fear here, and there’s a lot of wealthy blacks who have a nostalgic longing for an area they’ve never lived in.”

Brooklyn Heights, at least in terms of real-estate values, is essentially an appendage of Manhattan. Elsewhere in Brooklyn, half a million can still – barely – get you a townhouse, though compromise is necessary. “You can still purchase a house in Park Slope,” says Aguayo & Huebener’s Roslyn Huebener, but it would be “in the South Slope, or in the Northwest between Fourth and Fifth Avenues. It would be a one- or two-family house in decent condition – you could get a house in perfect condition in the South Slope. We’re just selling a three-story brownstone in Prospect Heights to a couple for under $550,000 – it had some termite damage, which frightened a lot of buyers.” In the more prestigious North Slope, “you can still get two-bedroom condos for under $500,000.”

Fort Greene and Clinton Hill are no longer bargains, either. “The market’s changed so over here – some houses are up to a million, although we do have some things in the $600,000s,” says Fort Greene Realtor Eva Daniels. She recently sold a house on the Clinton Hill side of Fort Greene for $555,000. “It’s a very nice house, but it’s on the small side. And the top floor still needs to be renovated.”

More-adventurous shoppers (or anyone who just has to have a yard) may want to check out the way-outer boroughs. In Queens, half a million still means something, according to Helen Keit of First Choice Real Estate: a four-bedroom house in Fresh Meadows or Hollis Wood, a three-bedroom in Jamaica Estates or Little Neck. Nice places – but it’s a long cab ride to any Keith McNally boîte.

900-square-foot one-bedroom at 270 West 17th Street.
Paid: $475,000; common charge, $500.

Andraya Clermont is not your typical New York apartment buyer – she’s 18 and a student at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, where she’s studying forensic science. But since John Jay’s dorms are all the way out in Brooklyn, and since, she adds, “I have two dogs, and I didn’t want to leave them behind,” her mother took pity on her, opening the family coffers to buy her an apartment.

“I found this one on my first day looking,” Clermont says, although she looked at fifteen or twenty other places as well, just to be sure. It was priced at $459,000, but then, says Clermont, “all these people put offers on it at once.” Clermont – or her mother – didn’t blink. “It had everything I wanted,” she says. Most important, it could easily become a two-bedroom – which Clermont will need to accommodate her 23-year-old sister, who’ll be moving to New York once she gets out of the Army in August.

The Clermont family dormitory has the added benefit of being safer than Andraya’s previous digs. “I live on 13th between First and A,” she says, “and Chelsea is way cleaner. I don’t have to worry about drug dealers on every corner now.”

Hamilton Heights
4,700-square-foot townhouse at 465 West 141st Street.
Paid: $425,000.

Bradley Erickson thought he’d found the Harlem townhouse of his dreams (with the help of – who else? – the aforementioned Willie Suggs). He was already in contract when “three of the owner’s seven children filed a claim to the house!” he says. Unfortunately, Erickson had already told his old landlord he was moving out of his Chelsea one-bedroom. “My landlord wanted me to sign a one-year lease again – with a three-month notice of vacancy – so I told him to use my deposit as my last month’s rent, and bye-bye.

The service-oriented Suggs came to the rescue, putting Erickson up in a studio owned by one of her agents, which turned out to be around the corner from the house he eventually bought. “The agent was really nice – she still screams, ‘Bradley! Are you there?’ at me from across the yard,” Bradley says. “It was kind of frustrating, though; you’re trying to buy a 5,000-square-foot house and you’re living in a 225-square-foot studio.”

After three and a half months, the brownstone around the corner went on the market, and Suggs gave the first look to Erickson. He didn’t dally. “It was listed with the Department of Buildings as an SRO, eight units,” Erickson says. “But it wasn’t really broken up too much. It’s got four floors and a cellar.”

Is there a fireplace?

“How about eight fireplaces?” he says. “And there’s a patio and a terrace on the second floor. I keep on discovering new things – there’s mahogany paneling, beautiful doors, two staircases.” Renovations, he says, will take six to twelve months.

And how does he feel about his new neighborhood? “I like the volatility,” he says. “It’s a lot more untapped than Brooklyn. I’ll give you my standard line: I’m six-foot-four and I have a dog who looks like a pit bull! Do you think I’m scared?”

Then he discards the macho act. “To be honest,” he says, “I’ve gotten mugged in the West Village. I don’t feel that at all – I don’t have any hesitations here.”

Park Slope
1,700-square-foot two-bedroom co-op at 47 Plaza Street.
Paid: $445,000; maintenance, $1,500

On Fifth Avenue or Central Park West, an apartment in a building designed by the legendary prewar architect Rosario Candela is liable to run well into seven figures – if not eight. But Irishman Richard Gilhooly just got one for under $500,000 – overlooking Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza. Gilhooly, who works as a bond strategist, calls it “beautiful, old, and well preserved, with carved wooden elevators. There’s a nice marble entrance hall, and the 24-hour doormen are all very nice. It feels comfortable, personal, friendly, a lot like a Manhattan building.”

Gilhooly, who’s married with a young son, looked in Brooklyn for seven months before discovering this gem. “There isn’t too much on the market,” he says. “We had found a four-story house in the area but decided that it was too much work to take on. And actually someone put in a higher bid for this apartment after we did, but we had already closed the deal.

“The apartment’s generously proportioned, about 1,700 square feet. Forty-seven Plaza is a triangular building, so the kitchen is triangular as well, which makes it a very interesting room,” Gilhooly says. “There was originally a maid’s room bordering the kitchen, with a little bathroom, but that wall’s been knocked down and now it’s a laundry room.”

The apartment is in what is euphemistically called estate condition. “It pretty much needed a total renovation,” he says. “It had original wiring and needed work done to the floors, walls, details, and a lot of other things.”

The 360-degree views, however, needed no improvements at all. “That was a big selling point for us. From one side there’s the World Trade Center and the Statue of Liberty. From the dining room there’s the Verrazano Bridge, and from the front window there’s Grand Army Plaza and the monuments there.”

Candela’s 834 Fifth may be magnificent, but it’s got nothing like that.

What $800,000 Buys Now

Sha Dinour, managing partner of Triumph Property Group, shakes his head as he clicks through listings on the computer screen in his brokerage’s sparse Flatiron office. “Eight hundred thousand dollars won’t get you what it would have just four months ago,” he says. “In January, we closed on a penthouse loft on West Broadway in SoHo for 825. It’s a nice condo – prewar, two bedrooms, two baths, skylights, 1,300 square feet with a 670-square-foot roof terrace. But it needs a lot of work.” Today, he shows me a 2,700-square-foot condo in Chelsea’s flower district for $775,000. “It’s half the entire floor, but the windows face the back of other buildings. It all depends on what you want, but you’re definitely going to have to be willing to give something up.”

So what’s out there for $800,000? Try a 2,300-square-foot co-op on Lafayette Street in SoHo for $850,000. “It’s got two bedrooms and two baths, but you can feel the subway going underneath the apartment,” says Dinour. Three bedrooms? “It’s highly unlikely you’ll find a three-bedroom for that price downtown,” he says. What about four? “Look in Hoboken,” he says with a shrug.

“The range downtown is anywhere from 1,000 square feet to 2,700 square feet,” says Dinour, “but 1,500 square feet is the breaking mark. If you get lucky, you’ll get that with a view. Go anywhere above it and you’re going to have to compromise the view or the amount of space,” he says. “It’s harder to find a prewar downtown because there’s always a premium on them,” agrees Rob Anzalone of Fenwick-Keats. On the other hand, he says, “you could find a very pleasant, sunny two-bedroom, two-bath condo in a prewar doorman building on the Upper West Side. There would be no view of the park or river, but you’d have a separate dining area or maybe even a formal dining room.”

On the East Side, says Rob Sussman of Goodstein Realty NYC, “you might get a one-bedroom condo on Fifth Avenue with park views and a full kitchen, but you’d have to go all the way east to York Avenue to get a three-bedroom.”

Dreaming of a townhouse? Dream on (except if your dream is Harlem). Dexter Guerrieri, who specializes in townhouses on the Upper West Side for Vandenberg Real Estate, says he recently sold two properties near 105th Street on Manhattan Avenue for about $875,000 each that were never officially listed. “They went in a heartbeat,” he says. “Otherwise, it’s been a number of years since I’ve had anything in this price point.”

In Brooklyn Heights, finding an $800,000 place “is a fight,” says Kevin Carberry, owner of Carberry Real Estate. “There’s a lot of buyers, and little availability.” He knows of a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath with full living room, dining room, eat-in kitchen, and two fireplaces on the parlor floor of a brownstone that might be on the market soon – “but it won’t start at less than 875, and it doesn’t have any outdoor space.” What about a townhouse? “For 800?” he asks incredulously. “Not right now.” Townhouses can still be found in other Brooklyn neighborhoods in that price range – but even in formerly bohemian Fort Greene, the $1 million mark has been broached.

2,270-square-foot condo loft at 195 Hudson Street.
Paid: $790,000; common charges, $1,200.

To most people, 2,270 square feet of completely unfinished space for almost $800,000 wouldn’t sound that appealing. Unless you’re Tom Klinkowstein. “It’s an architect’s dream,” he says of his new sixth-floor TriBeCa condo. A Web-design consultant and professor of digital design at Pratt Institute, Klinkowstein wanted a place that would serve as a showcase for his own vision, his own talent (as does his current SoHo loft, which has been featured in interior-decorating magazines like Elle Decor). “We didn’t want an aesthetic pushed upon us,” he says. Klinkowstein, 50, bought the loft space with his girlfriend, Elizabeth Gillett, 38, a designer of fashion accessories. “We started out modestly – looking at around 300,” he says. “We couldn’t find anything we liked.” It wasn’t until Klinkowstein and his architect walked past the building at 195 Hudson that he saw something that inspired him. “We didn’t want anything traditional-looking, and the windows from the outside were exceptional – large and done in a way that’s not sentimental,” he says. “I like things that look very clean and Bauhausian.” For now, the space has nothing more than concrete walls and floors and a kitchen and bathroom that meet only minimal legal requirements. Susan Barrie, his broker at Douglas Elliman, quips: “You have to have vision to be able to appreciate this place.” Klinkowstein’s aesthetic for his new loft owes something to his childhood dream of being an astronaut. “Imagine the space station from the movie 2001. Something contemporary and futuristic that won’t look silly in ten years.” His plans include elevated bedrooms and offices, neutral colors, and an “undulating wall of see-through material separating the living space from the guest space.” Klinkowstein estimates the renovations will cost him another $250,000 to $400,000, pushing him over the million-dollar mark. The couple hope to move in by the end of the year. A wait, he says, that will be well worth it: “We have a plain slate to work from, which is what we wanted.”

Wall Street
2,350-square-foot, three-bedroom condo near the New York Stock Exchange.
Paid: $805,000; maintenance, $1,956.

The buyer of this property, a 35-year-old lawyer, looked for only a few weeks before landing this apartment in the heart of the financial district, and made an offer immediately. “I really liked the place and knew that with the market the way it is these days, if you find something you want, you have to take it,” he says from his current residence in Brooklyn’s Boerum Hill. Wall Street’s lack of grocery stores and laundromats is a downside, he admits – “but there are plenty of restaurants that deliver.”

With three bedrooms and two baths laid out over an entire floor, the apartment not only has the kind of space he was looking for but also lets in lots of light. “I hadn’t thought of Wall Street as a residential area before,” he says, “but the location is great and the apartment has some of the best views I saw in my range.”

Morningside Heights
3,500-square-foot townhouse at 128 Manhattan Avenue, between 105th and 106th Streets.
Paid: $875,000.

Hugh Cosman and his wife, Mariko Gordon, had no choice but to look for a new place to live. The couple, along with their two small children, were keeping house in two small, adjacent one-bedroom apartments, and they soon expected Gordon’s mother to join them. “We basically live in one apartment and sleep in the other and kind of streak across the hallway from one to the other,” says Gordon. The two embarked on an apartment search that lasted, off and on, upwards of two years. “The more we looked, the more we got depressed,” says Cosman, who learned quickly how to discern the losers directly from the ads. ” ‘Rambling’ means poorly laid out. ‘Estate condition’ means the place needs extensive renovation,” he says, laughing. Of the twenty properties they scrutinized, one was especially memorable. “It was on 157th and Riverside Drive, and it looked like a crack house,” Gordon says. “You could look up straight to the top floor since each level had rotted through, and there was even a bathtub hanging from the plumbing on the ceiling.”

“We’d sort of given up,” says Gordon, when they got a call from Vandenberg’s Dexter Guerrieri about a townhouse on Manhattan Avenue. “I saw it and called Hugh from the backyard,” Gordon says. “We went back that night and talked to the neighbors. Then we made an offer the following morning.” Built in 1886, the house has its original woodwork and one of the original mirrors, Cosman says. In fact, the story goes, the seller’s mother bought the house in 1948 from a Communist who kept printing presses in the parlor – at least until the FBI came looking for him. “It’s just got tremendous soul,” Gordon says. Cosman estimates he’ll spend somewhere between $50,000 and $100,000 more on renovations. “But if you’re buying a place your kids can grow up in,” Gordon says, “you don’t mind paying market top.”

What $1,500,000 Buys Now
BY CARL SWANSON”What can you get for $1.5 million?” says independent broker Patricia Burnham, calling from her car on the way back from the Asian Art Fair at the Park Avenue Armory. “Not even a one-bedroom on Fifth Avenue. I recently sold a penthouse on Fifth – a one-bedroom – for almost $2 million. It wasn’t even that big. It’s probably the size of your apartment.”

People who don’t require penthouses should at least be able to get a two-bedroom for that much these days, maybe even with a maid’s room – what’s known as a “classic six” in industry parlance. You can still find them on Sutton Place, with balconies. But times are tough on the Upper East Side. “One-point-six million dollars would have bought you a 1,600- square-foot two-bedroom at the Empire,” a new condo building on East 78th Street, says Alexa Lambert of Stribling & Associates. “But they’re gone. And that’s on Third Avenue, where everybody said they’d never live – a block away from the subway and near Lenox Hill Hospital.”

“You used to be able to get a modest classic six on Park Avenue for that much,” says Corcoran senior vice-president Scott Durkin. “Not anymore. You get maybe 1,500 square feet. It would get you a five-room condo on the West Side. But the real bang for your buck these days is in lofts. You’re getting more space, and they’re laid out more like an apartment; the days of the single big room with one bathroom and a futon are over. And most of the new loft buildings have doormen.”

Over on West 27th Street, two-bedroom, 3,000-square-foot lofts have staked out this range. In TriBeCa, you can get a brand-new 2,600-square-foot loft in Cobblestone Lofts ($1.6 million, even if it does overlook the Holland Tunnel entrance plaza). At 158 Reade Street, you can buy an 1,800-square-foot townhouse that once illustrated a piece in New York Magazine about urban pioneers. “An architect bought it and renovated it. Then it was $120,000 in what was known as the butter-and-egg district,” says the broker, Stribling/Wells & Gay’s Bruce Ehrmann. Now it’s $1.45 million: “The story of that house is the story of this neighborhood.”

But if you want to live in certain rarefied-lifestyle zones in the city, your eye is going to have to adjust to the charms of the $1.5 million one-bedroom apartment. “You can still get an incredibly stylish one-bedroom at 32 East 64th Street,” says Kirk Henckels of Stribling & Associates. (That’s the building Mike Wallace used to live in.) “Two fireplaces. Feel like you live in Paris.”

What if West End Avenue is more your arrondissement? “Ai-yi-yi,” says Emma O’Brien, who works the Upper West Side for the Halstead Property Company. “A six-room in excellent condition on West End Avenue in the Eighties. That’s not quite a million-five, but it’s pretty close. Or a seven that needs work.”

But not on Central Park West, where, according to Brown Harris Stevens’s Elizabeth Sample, a classic six “on the side” of the building, meaning not overlooking the park, is going for well over $2 million. For views, hie hither to a postwar high-rise, says O’Brien, and you’ll get change back for your million and a half: “You can get a two-bedroom condo with open city views at Two Columbus Avenue or one of the Millennium buildings.”

But a townhouse on the Upper West Side at that price is pretty difficult, unless you think you’ll outlive the passel of rent- stabilized tenants occupying the building’s apartments. If you want to live by yourself, “Murray Hill’s your best value, just because there’s some inventory,” says Jon Capobianco of Alice Mason Ltd. “But it’ll be a small house, probably 3,500 square feet. And there’s nothing on the Upper East Side. Even the smaller houses on East End Avenue are all selling for $2 million. It’s tough all over to find a townhouse for 1.5.”

The values are even worse downtown, says Capobianco. “It’s very hard to find them, and they’re very small houses, mostly unrenovated,” he says, citing one such house currently for sale on Gay Street for $1.6 million.

Queens is a better bet. The broker for a five-bedroom house on the market in Forest Hills Gardens brags about its enormous, state-of-the-art kitchen. And Brooklyn’s not shabby, either, although things are getting a bit tight. “In the central Slope in a prime location, you should be able to get something for $1.5 million,” says Anna Hamlin of the Park Slope office of William B. May Company, “and you probably can. But the pathway to it will be tortuous.

“It used to be that $1.2 million was the prize amount,” she continues. “And that was up until recently. You can’t do well at 1.2 anymore. You have to go to one and a half. And you might get a home in great shape. Or not. It depends on the seller. You might have to put $500,000 into it.”

Co-ops in Park Slope aren’t yet up to that level, she says, although there are some in Brooklyn Heights that are (there’s one on the market at $1.45 million at 2 Montague Terrace, with three bedrooms and “lovely partial city and water views”).

You can barely spend that much in Harlem, says broker Willie Kathryn Suggs: “That’ll get you 54 Hamilton Terrace. When Bishop Tutu’s in town, he stays there.” It’s seventeen feet across with working fireplaces and twelve-foot ceilings, “the most expensive home uptown,” she says. That’s $1.2 million. Just try not to think about how “they paid $280,000 for it in 1992 and didn’t do shit to it but sand the floor.”

Upper West Side
Four-story, 3,500-square-foot townhouse on West 88th Street, off Amsterdam Avenue.
Paid: $1.33 million.

Architect Paul Gleicher of the Gleicher Design Group and his wife, Lisa, a television producer, were living in a classic six on 72nd Street and Riverside Drive. They’d bought it for $388,000 after its former resident died of old age in 1992. “It was sealed off with police tape,” remembers Lisa, “and full of cockroaches lying in the surrender position.” They gut-renovated the place and lived there until they had another baby. It was then that they started feeling guilty about her growing up in a six-foot-wide maid’s room.

“We started looking and looking and looking,” says Lisa. “And quietly put our place on the market.” It had pink ceilings, yellow walls, and green hallways, but nevertheless the couple ended up presiding over a bidding war, all offers at or above the asking price. “People were hyperventilating, they wanted our apartment so much,” she says. It went for just under $1.5 million.

“While all that was going on, we found a brownstone on West 71st Street that was asking $1.8 million,” Lisa continues. “It had no architectural character at all. We were going to turn the top floor into a rental.” The only problem was that one tenant wouldn’t leave. The seller assured them that he was on his way out. Lisa called and found out that he was indeed fourteenth on the waiting list for senior low-cost housing, but that he’d be there for years. “I could not, in my heart, kick him out. But he was so scary – and his apartment so disgusting – I didn’t want to live with him.”

Then “we opened up the paper one day and there it was,” the brownstone they ended up buying, from Vandenberg’s Dexter Guerrieri. “It was thirteen feet wide, and nobody wanted to see it.” But since “there was really nothing under $2 million on the Upper West Side,” they had a look.

“It’s in horrible shape,” she says, “beautiful, but there are holes in the ceiling. It’s completely dilapidated, unlivable. And divided up into apartments, which because of the hallway brings some of the room widths down to nine feet.”

On the other hand, her husband was intrigued as an architect. The building is 66 feet deep. All the kids will have their own bedrooms on the third floor. The parlor floor has eleven-and-a-half-foot-tall ceilings, a bay window, and an onyx fireplace mantel. The oak wainscoting is still intact on the winding staircase.

The big problem is going to be the cost of the renovation. The building needs a new boiler, electrical system, plumbing. “It’ll take six months,” she says.

In the meantime, the family might move out to Long Island to live with their in-laws. “Worst-case scenario,” says Lisa, “we do it and then we go broke and sell it.”

Upper East Side
Four-bedroom prewar co-op in the Seventies, between Park and Madison Avenues.
Paid: $2.1 million; maintenance, $2,900.

“We had friends in apartments like the one we wanted,” says the buyer of this elegant co-op on a side street in a non-power building. After her daughter was born, she and her husband started looking – intending to pay “under a million,” she says. They’re both successful attorneys, with commensurate expectations: They wanted to move from their newlywed two-bedroom in a boxy sixties building to a seven- or eight-room prewar apartment.

“We were looking for a place to settle down for life,” she says, then sighs. “I didn’t know how tight the market was. As we looked, it just got tighter and tighter. We bid on seven apartments. Seven!” This was frustrating. Isn’t life supposed to be easier when you’re making good money? “I know partners at law firms who can barely get apartments to accommodate their families,” she says.

But they figured they’d never see their kids if they moved to the suburbs. So they stuck it out, bidding on apartments they didn’t really want, marveling over the weirdness of the market.

“One of the apartments was burned – the whole apartment had been gutted by fire,” she says. “You could smell it. You could see it on the walls. It was awful; paint was falling on us. You could see the bed mark. It was like a ghost on the walls.” They didn’t bid, but in the end, “it went for $1.2 million and it was only a two-bedroom.”

Finally, one morning, their broker, Gene Fein of Stribling & Associates, called them from the kitchen of a brand-new listing and said, “Come now!” “We dropped everything. We made a bid that was trumped by one or more people. And it went to sealed bids. In that process, we came in second.” But they weren’t going to let that stop them. “We spent the entire week trying to identify the sellers so we could find someone who knows them to vouch for us. Their broker wouldn’t tell us, appropriately.” Finally, they figured it out. “We wrote the sellers a letter saying who we were, and found a person who knew them and had them call.”

That worked. The buyer sounds happy but a bit shell-shocked by the experience. “Our parents would be horrified, knowing what we paid,” she says. “We’re at the top of our profession and are working-class zhlubs, apparently.”

Flatiron District
2,200-square-foot co-op loft on Fifth Avenue in the Teens.
Paid: $1.1 million; maintenance, $2,258.

When Jamie LeFrak, the 26-year-old grandson of Forbes 400 fixture Sam LeFrak, returned from working in Los Angeles, he actually considered living in one of Grandpa’s trademark middle-class apartment projects. “We have a big one down in Battery Park City I thought about moving into,” says the young developer. “I think I just wanted to buy an apartment after having spent no more than two or three years in any given place for the last ten years.” LeFrak City, in Queens, was presumably too inconvenient.

Back when he was growing up on the Upper East Side (“Where else, right?”), he thought the Flatiron district was the place he wanted to live. “That was in the early nineties. The prices at the time were really inexpensive.” But after Princeton, a master’s in civil engineering at MIT, and a stint as project manager on the Hollywood & Highland entertainment-and-retail development (which includes the Premiere Theater, future home of the Oscars), he discovered that the neighborhood, like so many others in New York, was undergoing “some kind of luxury shift.”

He browsed lofts and more conventional prewar apartments in the Flatiron district for about a month with Sotheby’s broker Stephen McRae. “I didn’t look that long, but I’m a real-estate guy,” he says. “I know what to look for.”

Lofts seemed the better value. “I still can’t understand why someone would pay more for lower ceilings,” he says of some prewar apartments he looked at on lower Fifth Avenue.

Funnily enough, he ended up going back and buying the first place he saw – a 1981 conversion of an 1898 building that used to be “some kind of textile factory and then was a place where tailors would sell their custom wares. One of my construction supervisors said, ‘This is where I used to buy my suits in 1952.’ ” The previous owner “was obviously an investment banker who worked all the time. There was a couch. And a bed.” And a 600-square-foot landscaped terrace. “Coming from California, being cooped up in a box seemed a little bit depressing,” he says.

Meanwhile, McRae keeps getting offers to sell the place for substantially more than Lefrak paid for it. But he isn’t budging: “You flip the apartment, and then where do you live?”

What Buys $3,000,000 Now

Three million was where the quite luxurious was supposed to begin – shelter for people with the money and need to live among the couture addresses. For the past few years, it’s been the cutoff for Stribling’s annual Luxury Market Report, but for next year, “we’ve given serious thought to raising this number to five or six,” says broker Kirk Henckels.

“This may sound ridiculous, but a $2- or $3 million buyer is not a high-end buyer,” declares Corcoran’s Sharon Baum. “It only gets you seven rooms on Park,” explains Michele Kleier of Gumley Haft Kleier. “You certainly don’t get a spectacular eight-room for $3 million anymore.”

“In what condition? That’s the kicker,” Baum says. “You could, if you’re willing to do work, look at 2,500-square-foot apartments in the East Seventies and Eighties in any sort of prewar building. You could probably get an eight-room for $3 million. But it would need everything.” That’s Park. What about Fifth? “Forget it,” she says.

There’s a perfectly rational explanation for why, when you go from seven and a half rooms to nine, it’ll cost you an extra million and a half. “When you go from three bedrooms and a library to the four and a library – it’s not that you’ve just picked up another room,” says Neil Binder, principal of Bellmarc. “The hallways get wider; you pick up extra maids’ rooms whether you want them or not; the galleries get larger,” explains Baum. “That extra room – it’s the most expensive room you can imagine.”

And as the months whip by, it’s getting even more expensive. Alexa Lambert of Stribling is working with a couple who were well poised to snare a nice eight-room in Carnegie Hill when they started looking last fall. Now they can’t touch it. “They looked at a place at 1160 Park Avenue; I think the listing was 2.975. And it was on for a month or so. But by the time they got their act together, there were multiple bids. It was a nice apartment. But we’re talking about three bedrooms and no library!”

Okay, even multimillionaires can live without a library, but $3 million should earn you a fairly gargantuan apartment. And it does, reassures Corcoran’s Lisa Lippman. “You can get a four-bedroom, four-bath, well-renovated, 3,000-square-foot apartment at the Ansonia with views,” she says. “But the same apartment on Central Park West could cost over 4 million.”

That is, if you could find it.

“Three mil would buy you a nice ten-room on West End Avenue or Riverside Drive. But there aren’t any available,” she says before remembering 190 Riverside Drive, just now converting: “There’s a nine-room there for $3 million.”

What about townhouses?

“Last year, 2.5 might have been an appropriate price for a house in Carnegie Hill east of Park,” says townhouse broker Leslie J. Garfield. “Now you’re talking 3, 3.5.” Cross Park, and things get worse. “Fifth to Madison starting in the Sixties and going way up through Carnegie Hill is a $5 million market for a single-family,” he says, “which might need work.”

Down on Sutton Place, “you could buy a townhouse, possibly,” says Jessica Ushan of Charles H. Greenthal. “But it would be small. Or you could get a large apartment – close to 3,000 square feet, with spectacular views.”

Over on the Upper West Side, says Dexter Guerrieri of Vandenberg Real Estate, “the last eight townhouse sales I’ve had range from $875,000 to $3.5 million. One went in the 5’s last year, but, in general, we don’t go that high here.”

In February, a 25-foot-wide, five-story townhouse in Brooklyn Heights with views of the harbor and Wall Street was in contract for $2.9 million, says William B. May’s Chris Thomas. “Right now, that’s the market top. The range in Brooklyn Heights runs between 1.5 and 3.”

Downtown, most of the new loft spaces come in under $3 million, though sales at that price are becoming more and more common in the established co-op buildings on lower Fifth Avenue.

“Three and a half is what you have to spend to get a family-size loft downtown,” said Helene Luchnick of Douglas Elliman. “In SoHo and TriBeCa, that would buy you a renovated 3,000-square-foot loft in a new conversion.” Luchnick just had a contract signed for 5,800 square feet at 114 Liberty Street – an area some brokers call “TriBeCa South” – which is to say that it’s on the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel side of the World Trade Center. It went for $3.025 million.

“Right now, if you’re in that budget, you’re looking at very fancy new-conversion lofts – wine cellars, twenty-foot ceilings, incredible finishes,” says Lisa Strobing, of Bellmarc’s downtown office. “A year ago, $3 million listings weren’t that common,” says Ken Malian, Douglas Elliman sales manager for TriBeCa and Flatiron. “And now we’re seeing them everywhere – even in the financial district.”

Or for that amount, you can flee the shadows of Wall Street for the life of a country squire in the Bronx. In Riverdale, you can buy what’s described as a 10,000- square-foot “extraordinary English Tudor,” with outbuildings, for $2.9 million.

Upper East Side
5,500-square-foot brownstone in the East Eighties, off Fifth.
Paid: $3.375 million.

“It was a two-year search,” says the buyer of this house, clearly still angry about it. “We lived on Fifth Avenue. We had a beautiful duplex, and we got a call from a broker: ‘Do you want to sell?’

“We lived in the back. My husband always wanted a park view. He said, ‘Let’s take the money and run.’ “

A financial consultant, he had a plan: to rent while they were looking. They didn’t think they were being unreasonable. “We wanted only 2,500 square feet – that’s small for a family apartment,” she says.

But that plan soon went awry. “Nothing came on in the two years we were looking. And if it did come on, you had to be the first one in, or you had no shot. Then it would go to a bidding war and sell for a million over the asking price.”

There was the battle for 930 Fifth, where Woody Allen used to live. “Three-point-five for a 2,000-square-foot classic six. That’s on the small side for a family.” Then the co-op board asked for $12 million in liquid assets. And they didn’t have that.

One day, she saw an ad for an apartment at 1120 Fifth Avenue for $3.8 million. The broker hadn’t taken her by because the building has summer work rules and only a certain number of apartments can be renovated at a time. So they wouldn’t be able to do work until 2001. “She said, ‘I wish I could say you could live in it till then, but it’s unlivable.’ “

There was the battle of 1115 Fifth. “A nine-room was coming on, with views, at $3.8 million. Turns out they actually had an offer at full asking price, sight unseen. They eventually upped it to $7.2 million.”

They opened a second front on Central Park West, but that was worse than Fifth Avenue, she said. “In the El Dorado, it was over $4 million for a park view.”

“We looked at one at 285 Central Park West, kind of considered a B-rate building; Kevin Bacon lives there. But a beautiful building. For $2.5 million. We were on vacation. When we came back the next week, it was 3.5. And then the broker said the board wants three times, liquid.”

She got herself brokers at Elliman, Brown Harris Stevens, Corcoran, and Stribling. “You need a broker in every firm,” she says. “Brokers don’t co-broke the good stuff. They keep it in-house for a week. You’re not seeing what they’re hoarding.”

In the end, it was Lisa Lippman, her Corcoran broker, who found this stucco townhouse with lots of original detail – even if it was sliced into six apartments. They’ll convert it back to one-family use. “We were the first ones in, and it was an estate,” she says. “The owner had died. We got lucky. Very, very lucky.”

Park Avenue
Nine-room, 3,200-square-foot prewar co-op.
Paid: approximately $3 million; maintenance, $2,500.

“When we sold our apartment, it was for what we thought was a very high price,” says this thirtyish mom about her old place, a 3,700-square-foot co-op at 1175 Park Avenue. Happy with the money her broker, Michele Kleier, got them ($2.5 million), the family shuffled into a rental. “Michele found us a big apartment – expensive, but we have a big family, three children.” That was a year and a half ago. And as rental limbo stretched on and on, “things got more expensive,” she says. “And there’s no turnover; people just aren’t moving.”

Then there were the co-op boards to contend with. “There’s so much money out there, and so much of it is Wall Street,” she says. “The figures and the money people have is like candy.” Even if you have the two to three times liquid assets, because of the boards, “you still don’t know if you can get in or not.”

They finally were tipped off to this place, which she describes as “clean, with beautiful wood floors. But we’re gutting it,” she says. It’s on a high floor, looking out – their old apartment faced the back. So after trying to wait out the market, they ended up paying more for less space and still had to renovate. It’s not that bad, though: “I would definitely trade space for light again,” she insists.

REAL E$TATE 2000: Who Needs to be a Millionaire?