Realty Bites: Nailbiter
For contractors, it’s a seller’s market.

One reason Tommy Hilfiger is selling his $20 million place at 820 Fifth Avenue (assuming he’s not just broke) is said to be that renovating had just become too much of a hassle. But at least the contractor would take his calls – less and less the case for people without their own fragrances. “They only do large or sexy jobs,” architect James Sanders says of the best contractors, adding that “it’s getting more and more difficult, it seems, by the month” to find one. Especially since, as Douglas Elliman’s Andrew Gerringer points out, these days lofts over $1 million are more likely to be sold unfinished. Uptown, new buildings are chintzily appointed on the assumption that it’ll all end up in the Dumpster anyway. “I don’t particularly want to look at anything that’s not a $1.4 million job,” says contractor Steven Lamazor, whose company, Taocon, has quadrupled its business in two years. Since many co-ops restrict work to the summer, the contractor-hunting season’s just begun. “Everybody’s overbooked,” says Lamazor. And the work is becoming more complex. “The whole culture has become so design-conscious right now,” says Sanders. “Ordinary clients want their places in magazines.” Then there’s the supply crunch: On one recent job, Lamazor got only two thirds of a new floor down before he ran out of cherry wood: “We had to wait seven weeks to get the rest.” Last year, William B. May broker Jane E. Goldberg decided to annex the apartment next door to hers. It’s already two months behind schedule. “And then last month, the guys just stopped showing up,” she says. “I left a message calling this ‘intolerable.’ They called back saying that they were insulted!”

Condo vs. Congo
Adnan Khashoggi’s attempt to sell meets with Olympic disdain.

Adnan Khashoggi might be able to orchestrate the sale of all kinds of killing equipment to Saudi Arabia, but he just can’t seem to sell his apartment. The condo board at the Olympic Tower (641 Fifth Avenue) is attempting to derail the sale of his 18,000-square-foot duplex – which has been on the market for seven years. The tower has a storied tradition of welcoming the ask-me-no-questions international rich, but sources say Teodoro Nguema, who is willing to pony up $11 million, is a front for the embattled government of Congo. “He couldn’t show any assets,” says one broker of Nguema, so the board demanded a fund to pay the $15,000-a-month common charges “in perpetuity” along with an agreement never to mortgage the pad. Corcoran’s Nicole Hatoun, who reps the pool-and-indoor-garden-equipped biosphere, refused to comment, but a source says the building “can’t exercise the right of refusal without paying for it” – Bristol Plaza did that to keep out Howard Stern – “and they don’t have the money.” Or the board could sue, claiming Nguema’s is not a legitimate offer. If the board gets its way, expect the place to hit the market again – for $14 million.

Big Deals: Midtown East

50 Sutton Place South
Two-bedroom, three-bath, 2,000-square-foot co-op. Asking: $1.1 million. Selling: $1.1 million. Maintenance: $2,364. Time on market: one day.

“You used to see a lot of wheelchairs in this neighborhood, but lately it’s baby carriages,” says William B. May’s Toby Gamsu about Sutton Place. Maybe they’re the new Dead End Kids – the gang from those thirties movies used to swim in the river here, until the FDR Drive came through. Today, buyers like 50 Sutton for its views of, rather than access to, the water. It’s also pol-approved: Former governor Mario Cuomo lives here. The sellers are a retired couple represented by Corcoran’s Barbara Gould; the buyers, a newly wed lawyer and trader. “They were the first to see it,” says Gamsu.

Kips Bay

224 East 32nd Street
Five-bedroom, 3 and 1/2-bath, 5,000-square-foot townhouse. Asking: $1.95 million. Selling: $1.725 million. Time on market: eight months.

From Bellevue to I. M. Pei’s Kips Bay Plaza apartment complex, this neighborhood is better known for its institutional style than for its blocks of brownstones. But it has those, too, including this one, which was sold by Stephen King’s literary agent Arthur B. Greene, who took a stand here in 1971. His family lived on the lower three floors (with a big garden the kids could use for a pet cemetery). An upper duplex was rented out. The chief drawback of this setup is that two staircases made the sixteen-foot-wide house even narrower. Leslie J. Garfield & Co. sold the house and found Greene a new place on East 64th Street. Douglas Elliman brought the buyer.