Abandoning the Paper Trail

Michael Shvo has no use for clipboards. At 20 Pine Street, a prewar conversion in the financial district, Shvo—among the city’s most prominent condo marketers—has done away with familiar real-estate paraphernalia like folders, sell sheets, and, yes, the agent’s ubiquitous clipboard. Instead, layouts are displayed on a plasma TV, and client preferences are downloaded to PDAs. Buying a condo is as easy as pressing a button. “My grandparents had clipboards; God gave me the Palm pilot,” he says. “Whoever’s not innovative is going to fall behind.”

Leave it to Shvo—dubbed “the real-estate assassin” by ABC News—to throw down the paperless gauntlet. But many other proponents say it would be a boon in a city where buying and selling real estate can leave one swamped in legal-size photocopies. “In a typical transaction, you have to sign your name 63 times,” says Mike Edelhart, CEO of Inman News, a real-estate media entity that promotes the “paperless initiative.” “This cuts out unnecessary steps and saves time.” At 20 Pine, clients use swipe cards to register; inventory is constantly updated so they know right away if a unit is still available, and if they like it, it’s taken off the market immediately, triggering a contract to be printed within minutes. (Clients still have to sign on the dotted line, says Shvo, but at least they don’t have to endure weeks of paperwork ping-pong to go into contract. Down payments can be wired to a developer’s escrow account, further streamlining the process.)

For now, change is happening slowly. Few transactions are this high-tech because many of the necessary documents (like titles) aren’t available electronically. Most attorneys, building managers, and especially co-op boards are a long way from being ready to accommodate a paperless workflow. Besides, the law requires attorneys and mortgage representatives to be present for closings. But Owen Brunette, who bought an Upper East Side co-op last year through Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy’s Nancy Brennan, says it’s the way to go. “I travel a lot, and it’s a nuisance for me to deal with tons of paper,” says Brunette, a management consultant. His formal offer was submitted by e-mail using Coldwell Banker’s electronic template, and his board packet was assembled entirely by e-mail as well. “It was the smoothest, most uneventful deal I’d ever done,” says Brennan, with evident relief.

Fashion Team Cuts and Runs
Designers Mark Badgley and James Mischka, whose clothing line is favored by such red-carpet mainstays as Catherine Zeta-Jones and Kate Winslet, recently put their Southampton getaway up for sale. Within days of hitting the market, the cottage, which overlooks a horse farm, inspired a bidding war between two prospective buyers, perhaps because the asking price is a remarkably affordable (by Hamptons standards, anyway) $895,000. “It’s such a jewel,” says Corcoran’s Elaine Stimmel with the customary broker effusiveness, having just toured the place. The property was in a markedly less fashionable state when the pair, who (for now) don’t plan to stick around the South Fork, bought it three years ago, says listing broker Cee Scott Brown of Allan Schneider Associates; the new owner will benefit from Badgley and Mischka’s renovation, which included installing handmade bookcases and ebonized hardwood floors.

Same Space, Different Place
$55,000 for a Closet (Door Included)
These two condos down the hall from each other in a Nolita building are nearly impossible to tell apart: same finishes, same square footage. But their layouts are varied enough to warrant a price difference of almost 10 percent. Apartment 7F has anopen kitchen, which is “more desirable” than 7B’s galley configuration, explains listing broker Shelley O’Keefe of the Corcoran Group. But the real difference is behind closed doors: “You’re getting a whole additional closet” of about ten square feet, she adds. “If you don’t have it, you’d end up paying for storage.” Or you can bank the 55 grand and throw out some stuff.

199 Bowery, Apartment 7F
The Facts: One-bedroom, one-bath, 615-square-foot condo.
Asking Price: $615,000.
Charges and Taxes: $828 per month.
Agent: Shelley O’Keefe, the Corcoran Group.

199 Bowery, Apartment 7B
The Facts: One-bedroom, one-bath, 610-square-foot condo.
Asking Price: $560,000.
Charges and Taxes: $821 per month.
Agent: Shelley O’Keefe, the Corcoran Group.

Abandoning the Paper Trail