Buying Blind

Realty Bites: Buying Blind
Caveat empty lot, warn brokers.

There’s been a rash of instant resales in the condo conversion of the former Westbury Hotel at 15 East 69th Street. This is something of a trend in new buildings: 515 Park Avenue isn’t even open yet, and the place that former PolyGram Recordings chairman Alain Levy bought for $11 million is already back on the market for $16 million. These days, most new construction all over town sells out before it’s done. And some of those who buy from floor plans get real-life apartments that aren’t the way they pictured them. “In all of the landmarked districts downtown, one can’t buy any other way,” says Bruce Ehrmann of Stribling, Wells & Gay. “And yes, it’s true, there’s a risk” – even if the developer shows you the views, the faucets, and the granite slab that’s going to be your countertop. “When you see the finishes, they’re tiny,” says one broker. “And they’re ugly when they’re giant.” And there are always things you can’t quite picture: Brokers say some buyers were startled at how low the ceilings were in the Westbury. Others say preemptive buyers at the Sienna, at 188 East 76th Street, were surprised they couldn’t get a king-size bed into the bedroom. Buyers at 166 Duane Street found “the floors weren’t what were promised – and they started warping immediately,” says another broker. Then there’s the fact that most new buildings open months late. Ashforth Warburg’s Jane Bayard says her daughter is stuck waiting on the Empire, at 188 East 78th Street. “They thought July,” she says. “Now they’re saying the fall. But they’re being quite vague.” Still, in this market, “I encourage people to buy from floor plans,” says Michele Kleier of Gumley Haft Kleier. “Why not? There’s not been one that you couldn’t resell for more money.”

Rupert Murdoch Gets His Price
After a year, the mogul sells his Hampshire House vacancy.

Hampshire house is no place for the New Rupe. Murdoch split from his wife Anna in 1998, married the much younger Wendi Deng last year, and moved to a $6.5 million penthouse at 141 Prince Street. In the early nineties, Murdoch and Anna had bought a twenty-fourth-floor, 3,400-square-foot aerie in the Hampshire House, on Central Park South, for $2.65 million. She decorated it. Hampshire, which is also a hotel (there’s maid service), “caters to a more mature crowd,” notes a broker, and residents include Tiger Management’s Julian Robertson and Placido Domingo. Now, after a year on the market, the Hampshire place has sold, for around its $5.5 million asking price. It has a huge master-bedroom suite with a dressing room-gym that Anna used and a view that goes right up the park through big single-pane windows. It’s “impeccable,” attests a broker who’s seen it. But it just didn’t sell – there’s a $7,293-a-month maintenance fee, and the board rejected one buyer. “It was very shocking to have a board turn down there,” says one broker. The sale is said to be a record for the building.

Big Deals

223 West 19th Street
Three-bedroom, 2.5-bath, 2,325-square-foot loft. Asking: $1.35 million. Selling: $1.35 million. Charges and taxes: $1,748. Time on market: six weeks.

This building’s sudden 1999 growth spurt – from three-story Chelsea carriage house to seven-floor loft building – says plenty about the neighborhood’s boom. “We matched the new brick to the old,” says Douglas Elliman’s Helene Luchnick, who sold this apartment from floor plans. “You can’t tell where it changes.” The buyers are a foreign-born art dealer and his wife, who were expanding as well (she had a baby just before they moved in). The sponsor kept the new top floor for himself. And no, he’s not worried about its toppling over: “He owns a steel company,” says Luchnick. “He supplied the structural steel himself.”

Sag Harbor
Madison Street
Three-bedroom, three-bath, 3,200-square-foot house. Asking: $1.7 million. Selling: $1.45 million. Time on market: five months.

Marvin Hamlisch, the composer of A Chorus Line, recently had the one singular sensation of selling two houses. First was this Italianate-style 1860 house he lived in and renovated with his wife, Terre Blair. They bought it for $780,000 in 1998 and added a library, antique wash basins, Jacuzzi tubs, and A/C. The buyer is role-playing photographer Cindy Sherman, who also bought some of the couple’s furniture. (Tara Newman of Sotheby’s represented both camp devotees.) Hamlisch also sold an oceanfront spread in Westhampton Beach he’s owned since before he was married for about $2 million (through Norma Reynolds Realty). Real-estate sting accomplished, the couple is going to take the money and run back to the city.

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Buying Blind