The September Factor

It’s been a funny sort of summer in the real-estate world, as the July and August doldrums have felt less like the usual quiet and more like the beginning of something bad. Ask Prudential Douglas Elliman broker Lisa Wong, who admits to a little survivor guilt. Though she’s been able to buy and sell properties for a steady trickle of clients—a big difference from the deluge a year or two ago, she does admit—many of her colleagues have found themselves with more time on their hands to agonize over the flattening market. Will it get better? Or worse? “I’ve heard that it’s dead,” she says.

April may be the cruelest month, but many agents say it’s September that’s make-or-break time for them. “It’s a litmus test for what the rest of the year will be like,” says Christopher Mathieson, managing partner at JC DeNiro. “This one’s really important because we want to see if the market’s going to continue to plateau.” And they’re hoping the news is good, given all the pessimism out there. A recent Halstead Property report showed that prices dipped 12 percent from June to July this summer; brokers say August was even more sedate. To make deals stick, “you have to work two or three times harder,” says Wong. “You’re getting lowball offers and calls you’d never get before. For something worth $1.9 million, you’ll get an offer for $1.6, something crazy.” Which explains why many agents look forward to the early fall, when beach homes have been shuttered, kids are back in school, and vacation days are used up. “It’s a renewal,” says Barak Realty’s Catherine Holmes.

Or maybe not. “September is clearly a better gauge than July or August. That being said … brokers are like everybody else. They’re looking for benchmarks. Obviously, if you can create some kind of benchmarking for September [and you reach it], it’s reassuring,” explains Frederick Peters, president of Warburg Realty. But if not, says broker Barbara Fox, it’s no reason to reach for the panic button, either. “We’re coming off the most frenetic market in history, and what we’re seeing now is more normal,” she adds. “This is what people who’ve been in business a while are used to.” Besides, says Mathieson, the calmer market may actually be a blessing. “It can be a little boring,” he says, laughing, “but it’ll give us an opportunity to have a life.” Next: Russell Simmons and Kimora Lee Moving Together?

A New Phat Farmhouse?

Now that they’ve made a deal to sell their immense Liberty Street condo and put their 35,000-square-foot Saddle River, New Jersey, estate on the market—on sale for a rumored $20 million-plus—could music mogul Russell Simmons and his wife, Baby Phat designer and model Kimora Lee, be looking to reconcile in a downtown condo? (They’ve officially announced that they’re separating, but the gossip columns have been suggesting that they’re back together.) Sources say Russell was spotted—on his own—touring a three-bedroom, four-bath loft in Soho. It’s a 3,200-square-foot penthouse duplex on Wooster Street listed with Corcoran’s Patricia Cliff, largely built around a suburban-style “great room” that opens onto a 79-foot terrace with its own wood-burning fireplace. Their broker, Lisa Maysonet of Prudential Douglas Elliman, would say only that the couple are in the “exploring stages and they don’t know where they’ll end up.” Next: Explaining the Price Difference Between Two Harlem Condos

Same Space, Different Place
It’s What’s Outside That Counts

These apartments on the same floor of a boutique condo in Harlem share high-end finishes—Bosch appliances, Kohler fixtures—usually available only in more-expensive projects downtown. They’re also nearly the same size, give or take 50 square feet. Apartment 2C, however, will cost its buyer $50,000 more than 2A. Sure, it has floor-to-ceiling windows that let in more light than the typical ones installed next door. But the biggest reason for the price difference may be what is glimpsed through them: While 2A looks onto pretty gardens, 2C has a view of landmarked Strivers Row. In historic Harlem, that’s one amenity that you can’t obtain no matter how much renovating you do.

2605 Frederick Douglass Boulevard, Apt. 2A
The Facts: One-bedroom, one-bath, 712-square-foot condo.
Asking Price: $465,000.
Charges and Taxes: $268 per month.
Brokers: Ellen Shandalow and Norman McHugh, Warburg Realty.

2605 Frederick Douglass Boulevard, Apt. 2C
The Facts: One-bedroom, one-bath, 768-square-foot condo.
Asking Price: $515,000.
Charges and Taxes: $298 per month.
Brokers: Ellen Shandalow and Norman McHugh, Warburg Realty.

The September Factor