Ain’t It Grand?

Realty Bites:
Ain’t It Grand?

Workers’ utopia goes market-rate. Built by unions after world War II, the Grand Street co-ops were a middle-class housing project with socialist pretensions, complete with agitprop murals of Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt surrounded by children of all races. Until recently, it remained a fairly closed loop of mostly elderly Jewish owners, who got apartments cheap – often for about $3,000 a room – and were required to sell them back to the co-op for the same price when they left. On June 12, that egalitarian system was overthrown, meaning the development’s 4,500 apartments, many with views of the East River, can now be sold at market rates. Already Jacob Goldman, a resident who set himself up as a real-estate broker, is hawking a three-bedroom for $1 million. “It’s better than investing in Microsoft in the beginning,” he says of the jackpot residents gave themselves by voting to lift the restrictions. Unfortunately, socialism always lost points on aesthetics – one resident describes the brick towers as “very utilitarian,” with brown tile floors in the hallways. That old look may be purged: With the revenue generated by the “flip tax,” the co-op is upgrading the lobbies (the murals were in danger, but they’ll stay). Also, “it caters to Orthodox Jews,” complains one Reform resident, to the point where an elevator in each building stops on every floor on the Sabbath so the observant don’t have to press a button. The new residents are “lawyers and professionals and single moms – yuppies,” says Goldman. “Would it make the socialist founders of the area turn over in their graves? Sure. But the grandchildren are reaping the rewards.”

Patricia Duff, Dumped Again
Sometimes a signed contract and a wad of cash isn’t enough.

Ron Perelman’s ex, the hounded Patricia Duff, has spent the past couple of years looking at multi-million-dollar apartments and townhouses. Brokers say co-ops have been so unfriendly that she now demands a board pre-screening. This time, though, she has only herself – and her lawyer – to blame. Duff recently made an all-cash offer of $4.5 million on the six-bedroom, 4,500-square-foot brownstone at 138 East 71st Street that had been owned and restored by Upper East Side boutiquiere Neomi Goureau. Duff wanted her out within 30 days, and Goureau’s broker, Douglas Elliman’s Michael Shvo, persuaded his client to agree: “I said, you’ve got your price, you should get the hell out.” Meanwhile, Heather Killen, a senior vice-president of Yahoo!, made a $4.65 million cash offer. The seller agreed to honor Duff’s near-deal – if she came through with a contract and a down payment by noon two days later. (Killen FedExed a check and a contract, just in case.) The deadline came – Duff’s lawyer didn’t. He showed up at 1:30, contract and check in hand, only to be told he was too late. “Nobody says ‘Screw $150,000’ just to be nice in this market,” says Shvo, adding that Duff was “very upset.”

Big Deals

Stuyvesant Square
214 East 16th Street
Five-bedroom, 4 and 1/2-bath, 6,800-square-foot brownstone. Asking: $2.95 million. Selling: $2.85 million. Time on market: one year.

One extended family owned this house for over twenty years, and though they kept many original details (mantels, parquet floors, a nifty hexagonal sitting room), it had “a different ambience on each floor,” says the seller’s broker, Douglas Elliman’s Frank Lemann. (Translation: It needs work.) The buyer is a nonprofit institution, represented by Elliman’s Michael Zembower, that plans to unscramble its differing ambiences and turn it into its headquarters.

Upper East Side
68 East 91st Street
Five-bedroom, five-bath, 5,200-square-foot brownstone. Asking: $5.25 million. Selling: $4.8 million. Time on market: three months.

Industrial designer Michael Lax, known for his Lytegem high-intensity mini-lamp (moma has one) and Scandinavian-style cookware, owned this house until his death last year. It’s something of an early-seventies relic – “cutting-edge modern at the time,” says Jed Garfield of Leslie J. Garfield & Co., who sold it. Lax bought it in 1968, when it was still a nine-unit rooming house. He made it a duplex (ex-Hearst Magazines honcho Claeys Bahrenburg rented downstairs; he’s since bought a house on East 94th Street). The buyers are young and Wall Street-funded.

Ain’t It Grand?