Caveat Realtor

In retrospect, Bellmarc’s Fran Kaback says, she should’ve heeded the warning sign: The customer, supposedly a CEO with $6 million to spend, used a Hotmail account. When they met at the Ritz, his “bad teeth and pleated tan leather pants” gave her pause. But Kaback knew not to judge someone by his wardrobe: Millionaires have materialized out of nowhere before, and agents have netted commissions from them. He asked to be shown around, and she hired a driver to take them to ten properties. “I never saw him again,” she says.

It’s not the first time faux buyers have taken brokers for a joyride, and not likely the last. More malign than the classic indecisive perpetual shopper, these people are curiosity-seekers who represent themselves as something more. And they drive brokers nuts. In high-end sales, where open houses are verboten and showings are only private, fakers go to elaborate lengths to get their foot in the door. Broker Michele Kleier had a Versace-clad European woman pick her up in a chauffeured limo; the client even sent roses on Kleier’s birthday. The rappers who wanted Corcoran’s Sharon E. Baum to find them a $10 million condo always had a conservatively dressed “manager” in tow. The gentleman who wanted Prudential Douglas Elliman’s Suzanne Sealy’s Upper East Side eight-room had legitimate-seeming financial documents. Hotmail notwithstanding, they all passed basic sniff tests, too; most were represented or referred by seasoned brokers—or, in the case of the British phonies who asked Julie and Lewis Friedman to show them a Trump condo, paid their own way. (Between showings, Kleier’s pseudo-client bought baubles from Madison Avenue stores, where the salespeople seemed to know her.)

Most submit offers, but when it comes time to sign, they fly the coop. “We were completely dumbfounded,” remembers Sealy. The Friedmans heard that the Brits had employed the same m.o. all over town, and Kleier later learned her “customer” left without paying her hotel bills. “I never could figure out what she got out of it,” says Kleier. Maybe she was crazy, or lonely, or both. (Remember Kevin Spacey’s talking about the elderly couple in Glengarry Glen Ross: “They just like talking to salesmen.”) Or maybe it was like fantasy camp for New York’s biggest game. “There’s this kind of sport where people go to brunch, then open houses,” says Sealy. “But [these people] take it to the nth degree.” Next: Hilary Swank and Chad Lowe Still on the Move?

Hilary and Chad: Not Splitting Yet?
Have Hilary Swank and Chad Lowe changed their minds—not about divorcing but about selling? The actors put their Charles Street four-story up for sale a few months ago at $8.25 million, with independent broker Michael Bolla. But now the house appears to have been taken off the market, though its marketing Website,, is still up. One source says no offers were accepted, despite lots of interest, and that Lowe and Swank wanted to see if they could get more with another broker; the front-runner appears to be Robby Browne of the Corcoran Group, who represented them as buyers in 2002. Browne was unreachable for comment, and Bolla would not discuss particulars.

Up at 770 Park Avenue, insiders say that Democratic fund-raiser Connie Milstein is once again seeking a buyer for her $20 million duplex. The five-bedroom, six-bath co-op has already had one interested suitor, who has withdrawn his offer. The co-op board at 770 prescreens applicants, and one source guesses he didn’t pass the board’s rigorous review. Next: A $155K Price Difference on Two Gramercy Park Lofts

How Finished Is Finished?
Both of these lofts near Gramercy Park are bright and airy and cover the same square footage (they’re actually in the same line). Yet their asking prices are $155,000 apart, a discrepancy that can’t be chalked up to elevation. Apartment 9F will appeal to buyers looking for an old-school loft that retains its basic industrial character, whereas 6F’s owners rebuilt the kitchen, added a room, removed a bath, and installed maple floors and central air. “Eighty percent of the apartment was changed,” says Karen Kelley, who’s handling the sale of 6F with her colleague Deanna Kory.

112 East 19th Street, Apartment 6F
The Facts: Three-bedroom, one-bath, 1,800-square-foot co-op.
Asking Price: $2.15 million.
Maintenance: $1,843 per month.
Agents: Karen Kelley and Deanna Kory, the Corcoran Group.

112 East 19th Street, Apartment 9F
The Facts: Two-bedroom, two-bath, 1,800-square-foot co-op.
Asking Price: $1.995 million.
Maintenance: $2,119 per month.
Agents: Maria Manuche and Sharon Held, the Corcoran Group.

Caveat Realtor