Contractors: Returning Your Calls At Last?

Contractor Pull
During the real-estate boom, contractors were as cocky as dot-com execs. Are they going to be returning your calls at last?

Three quarters of the way through the renovation of her apartment last fall, Jane Goldberg’s contractor disappeared. The fact that she’s a real-estate broker (for William B. May) only added insult to injury: Brokers help give these guys work! Eventually, she had to move back into the incomplete apartment, then track him down. “And when I finally got him on the phone this March,” she huffed, “he said he couldn’t come back until September – at the earliest.”

Will a softening real-estate market make contractors less cocky? Not yet, at least, because many are still working on a backlog of apartment-combining and -gutting ordered over the past few years. Not to mention all those big new buildings: HRH Construction’s Peter Palazzo says his firm has squirreled away two years’ worth of work. Which leaves luxury buyers still scrambling. Architect Joe Serrins says he was recently presented with a new-work brochure from a contractor who got his start doing takeout restaurants. It featured a SoHo loft in which “every surface was covered with formica,” he says.

But with the stock dive and (brokers say) handymen’s specials not selling, will demand for contractors decline, too? Paul Grassfield, who does high-end work, says the pinch could be felt as soon as six months from now. “Things are loosening up with contractors, absolutely,” says Douglas Elliman’s Dolly Lenz. She mentions the I.Grace (the Ducasse of contractors), who just called back a client to whom she’d sold an 8,700-square-foot apartment eighteen months ago. “They’re starting to call people back and look for work,” she says.

David Bowie’s contractor Tim Crowley says he’s already feeling the effects. Bid requests are coming in at a comparative trickle, and the budgets for two Brooklyn residential projects evaporated last month. So far, at least, he doesn’t miss the work. “Last year we had so much,” he says, “it was almost unbearable.”

East Hampton Star Search
Radziwill There’s No Way

Lee Radziwill still isn’t quite ready to give up her ocean view. Back in 1999, Radziwill quietly let it be known that she was willing to sell her East Dune Lane home in East Hampton for $20 million. Jerry Seinfeld signed a contract to buy it for $19 million, but then she changed her mind and returned his deposit. Though she rented out the stuccoed manse for $500,000 last summer, she recently decided, say real-estate sources, that a $15 million offer from New York Observer publisher (and aspiring sculptor) Arthur Carter wasn’t good enough, either. Carter, a seventies Wall Street star who became a mini-newspaper baron in the nineties (he also owns the Litchfield County Times), already owns a waterfront compound in less-chic Remsenburg, L.I. He’s usually on the other end of real-estate rejection: He controls the notoriously finicky co-op board at 2 East 67th Street. Messages for Radziwill were not returned, and Carter was not available for comment.

Big Deals

320 West 15th Street
5-bed, 31/2-bath, 4,500-square-foot townhouse. Ask: $2.45 million. Sell: $2.2 million.
Seven weeks on market.

Since the late eighties, tenants of this four-story brick townhouse had been rocking the Casbah with their landlady, Carolina Varga-Dinicu, a.k.a. Morocco, who ran the Morocco/Casbah Academy studio on the ground floor and lived on the parlor floor. It was hardly Rick’s Café Americain, but things are probably going to be a lot quieter now that Morocco’s decided to sell the place. Her tenants, who lived in floor-through apartments with fireplaces, must’ve been shocked – shocked – to discover that the buyer, an architect who plans to renovate the place and turn it into two duplexes, wanted the building delivered vacant. So they had to go, reports James Ferrari, chairman of Benjamin James Real Estate.

Upper West Side
100 West 78th Street
4-bed, 3-bath, 1,800-square-foot co-op. Ask: $1.6 million. Sell: $1.6 million. Maintenance: $1,499. Two weeks on market.

When former Superman Christopher Reeve sold this four-bedroom duplex penthouse nine years ago, he must have wondered what the buyer, a single woman, would do with all the space. “She had two cats,” says the broker, Douglas Elliman’s Jeff Feuer. “They, um, each had their own bedroom.” She sold the apartment, with its 1,000-square-foot terrace – Up, up, and away! – last month to a screenwriter and his family. Now the bedrooms will be occupied by his three kids.

Contractors: Returning Your Calls At Last?