The Art of the Steal

Vulture Culture
One little market crash, and the scavengers are circling. But sellers won’t let them get something for nothing.

As the media do their victory lap around the twitching corpse of the bull market, beleaguered real-estate brokers are facing down scavengers fixated on the art of the steal. “Expectations are different from reality right now,” says Barbara Fox, president of the Fox Residential Group.

David Goldsmith, a broker at DG Neary Realty, just had it happen: “The asking price is a million two,” he says of a place he’s selling on West End Avenue. “This guy had friends look at it – he’s an investment banker in California who’s coming back to New York. He sees these articles in the paper and throws us out this offer of $900,000. We tell him to drop dead. So after marching around, seeing a whole bunch of places, he threw us out another low offer, somewhere below a million.” Goldsmith once again suggested that he, ah, adjust his thinking. Eventually, he offered $1.15 million, and they went to contract.

Buyers “only want to hear about reductions,” says Douglas Elliman’s Linda Stein. Ruth Goldsmith (no relation to David), president of J.D. Ross Realty, sees it daily. “They say, We want a two-bedroom, we don’t want to spend more than $350,000. … I sent a woman to one place, and she says, ‘I don’t want to pay more maintenance,’ and I say, ‘Well, you want a bigger apartment? You’ll have to get a bigger maintenance.’ They have to get real. I laugh.”

Fox, who recalls when the 1975 bankruptcy slump meant “apartments that now sell for $5 million were $250,000,” says that any change in prices will take time: There’s “a definite lag behind the stock market.” But it doesn’t stop buyers from trying to negotiate. One broker says that some are trying to reduce their offers after signing contracts (“I had a wife who’d signed and the husband refused until it went down $100,000”). The result? “You have a lot of fights.” And meanwhile, the real bottom-feeders – the salarymen who were left out of the jackpot culture altogether – are holding off until the market really does tank.

Out of the Kitchen
Deals in the Oven

Some things are still cookin’ in real estate. TV chef Emeril Lagasse wanted an apartment, and – bam! – he got one, even though its owner had planned on moving in just two days later. Douglas Elliman’s Michael Shvo had just sold a 1,600-square-foot, southern-view two-bedroom in the Bridge Tower to a J.P. Morgan guy for about $1 million. But Shvo also represented Lagasse, whose appearances on the Food Network and new gig with NBC required that he spend more time here. Emeril convinced the Wall Streeter to change his plans and rent it to him for $8,000 a month (he “wouldn’t have rented to anyone but Emeril,” says a source). Meanwhile, across town, the estate of flamboyant restaurateur Warner LeRoy was trying out brokers to sell the 8,000-square-foot duplex he’d assembled on the 59th and 60th floors of 3 Lincoln Center for about $25 million, ice sculptures not included.

Big Deals

Sutton Place
435 East 52nd Street
4-bed, 4-bath, 5,000-square-foot co-op. Ask: $10 million. Sell: $8.475 million. Maintenance: $6,900. Five months on market.

After making it past a co-op board that rejected Gloria Vanderbilt and Richard Nixon (but accepted Henry Kissinger), the newest residents of the elegant River House have set to work on recombining two apartments into their original fourteen-room sprawl. Now that they’re in, they never have to leave: The building’s equally exclusive River Club downstairs features a swimming pool, tennis courts, and a ballroom, though its yacht mooring out back was replaced by the FDR Drive. The buyer’s brokers, Douglas Elliman’s Drew Glick and Richard Ferrari, nervously declined to comment.

37 Greene Street
2-bed, 2-bath, 3,100-square-foot condo. Ask: $1.45 million. Sell: $1.81 million. Charges and taxes: $524. One year on market.

“Not too many people will pay $1.8 million for a five-floor walk-up,” says broker Susan Penzner of her vigorous buyers, an actress and attorney who have moved into their loft even though the building’s new elevator doesn’t work yet. The couple had already waited nearly a year for the sale to close, as the former doll factory made the bumpy transition from a friendly limited-liability partnership between a group of artists to a condo. In a sign that the artists haven’t totally abandoned SoHo, a well-known photographer bought the floor below for $1.775 million.

The Art of the Steal