Manhattan Gains Amid Housing Stall 

Aug 25, 2010

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Manhattan Gains Amid Housing Stalls


Despite rising gloom about home sales across the country, sales of apartments in Manhattan appear to have strengthened this summer, with median prices up, inventory down and an increase in the number of apartment closings.

The figures suggest that the Manhattan market, buoyed by a resumption of hiring and a healthy Wall Street bonus season ahead, has so far escaped much of the distress across the country. The National Association of Realtors reported Tuesday that existing home sales nationwide plummeted by 27% in July, following the expiration of federal housing tax credits.

The tax credits, worth as much as $8,000, had much less of an impact in the Manhattan market because the credits made up a much smaller percentage of sale prices than in lower-priced markets. July's median home sale price in Manhattan was $900,000, compared with $182,600 nationwide.

Still, there is some worry among some brokers here that economic uncertainty may stall luxury sales in the fall, as buyers become more reluctant to sign contracts. Some also fear a rush to sell by owners worried about likely increases in capital gains tax rates next year could push down prices.

Dolly Lenz, a top-selling broker at Prudential Douglas Elliman, said that buyers have begun holding back. "There is a lack of confidence and a lack of direction," she said. "You can feel the mood and it is not a good mood. There is no rush to buy and people are gambling that prices are going down."

In other parts of the city, and across the region, sales have more reflected the national trend. Volume fell after a rush of deals in the spring to take advantage of the federal tax credits, according to Jonathan Miller, an appraiser and president of Miller Samuel Inc.

In Manhattan, a review of city records compiled by The Wall Street Journal shows that median prices so far this quarter are up more than 14% above the previous quarter and 16% above the year-earlier quarter, when Manhattan prices hit bottom, during the downturn.

The increase in reported prices was concentrated in co-ops while the condo market was flat. Brokers point out that it often takes longer for co-op sales to go from contract to a closing than condo deals because buyers need to be approved by co-op boards.

Sharon Baum, a Corcoran broker, said that despite the summer heat there has been a lot of activity, including a spate of bidding wars on well-priced property.

A few weeks ago, she said, she put a one-bedroom apartment on Park Avenue South on the market for just under $1 million and had 14 offers within a week. An open house was attended by 136 prospective buyers. It went for 10% over the asking price, she said.

"This is August, when you would think nothing is doing, but when apartments are priced right at all price points they will sell in a week," Ms. Baum said.

Across the country, inventory of unsold apartments has been rising, but in New York, brokers say it has been tightening. Properties that had lingered on the market for many months during the housing downturn are getting sold, and not yet replaced with new inventory. Sales of new condominiums picked up this year, lessening fears about a glut of unsold condominiums driving down prices.

So far this quarter the number of closed sales is running about 5% above the same period last quarter, according to a review of city records.

Brokers say that unlike last year, sellers were not dumping apartments on the market under duress. Back then, some investors suffering huge losses and victims of Ponzi schemes rushed to put apartments on the market, driving prices lower.

A study by the Vanderbilt Appraisal Co. said that at the current sales pace it would take 9.9 months to sell the current Manhattan apartment inventory. A year ago it would have taken 20 months. The study found that the market was in equilibrium for all properties priced $3 million and below, but the absorption rate was considerably slower for the most expensive apartments.

Brokers say some of these trophy listings are lingering because they are priced well above the current market. Several cited Brooke Astor's 14-room apartment, which has been on the market since mid-2008, and remains unsold despite a price cut to $24 million from $46 million.

During the third quarter, there were some significant closings. Carlos Slim, the Mexican billionaire, has topped the list so far, paying $44 million for a townhouse at 1009 Fifth Avenue.

Next was Conan O'Brien's sale of a seven-bedroom duplex high up in the Majestic, a co-op at 115 Central Park West, followed by a downtown townhouse at 2 N. Moore St. with a 47-foot heated lap pool that sold for $24 million. Steve Wynn, the Las Vegas casino developer, paid $23.5 million for a penthouse at the Plaza Hotel.

Some brokers remain concerned about the rest of the year, because of the uncertain economy. Kirk Henckels, the director of Stribling Private Brokerage, said that most of the significant sales recorded this quarter "reflect the market prior to the decline in consumer confidence." He said he was more concerned about the fourth quarter, but said he believed that prices were already near a bottom.

But the fascination with Manhattan real estate hasn't abated. "Selling New York," an HGTV reality-TV show featuring the drama of brokers selling some of Manhattan's most expensive apartments, was renewed for two additional 13-week cycles.

Broker Michele Kleier, president of Gumley Haft Kleier and a principal character on the show, said she remained upbeat on the market, and had already scheduled a series of showings for September.

"I am not hearing from clients that they are losing their jobs," she said. "We are not having the kind of nervousness we had last fall.

I'll Take Manhattan - For $28.5 Million 

Aug 20, 2010

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Bill Brioux Writes a Blog Entry About the Kleiers


NEW YORK--What can you get for US$28.5M in Manhattan?
Found out Thursday as I toured a castle in the sky with the amazing Kleier's of Gumley Haft Kleier. These well-connected residential real estate agents are featured on Selling New York, which premieres on HGTV Canada Sept. 8.
Mom Michele Kleier and daughters Samantha and Sabrina (yes, named after classic movie roles) are taking to their new found TV fame just fine, thank you. They've got a reported six-figure book deal in the works with HarperCollins and are more than open for some sponsorship deals on their show. The gals have to look the part, and these three arrive dressed head-to-designer-toe in Channel, dripping with jewelry, They are the original Housewives of the Upper East Side.
Michele knows this 'hood like the back of her well manicured hand. She has to--she doesn't use email or a computer, working it old school all inside her head. They travel in threes, arriving in matching red pumps and offering a family touch to what is often an overwhelming personal transaction.
And what a transaction. On Thursday, the Kleiers took myself and HGTV Canada publicist Ursula Terlecki on a tour of 995 Fifth Avenue, a breathtaking, 8360 square foot 16th floor penthouse overlooking Central Park and the Met.
The traditional, pre-war residence occupies the top full floor of the stately Upper East Side Candela classic. It has seven bedrooms and 8.5 baths. The .5 bath would be the showpiece of just about any other house.
Amenities include a concierge, health club and spa. There's no parking, but what do you want for $28.5 million?
Don't forget the maintenance fee: $35,620.47. Hey, there's a main floor laundry room and pets are allowed.
Some of the multi-million dollar condos shown on this tour of Selling New York real estate give you the wowwee moment the minute you step off the elevator. There's an old money restraint at 995 Fifth. When you exit the private elevator, you enter a gracious entry gallery. It's when you step around into the 42 x 19-foot living room that you lose your breath. The space is a hotel lobby-sized showcase and beyond the nearly 10-foot walls out the deeply recessed windows is a staggering view of Manhattan. You can see some crazy birds nest art piece being installed on the roof of the Met. Further up town, the large Central Park reservoir can be seen and further still, George Washington bridge.
The residence has windows facing north, south, east and west. Look south down Fifth and there's your view of the Empire State Building.
John-John once enjoyed the view from there. Mr. Big and Carrie, too. The place has played host to Manhattan's rich and famous.
The his and hers dressing rooms off the master suite are the size of many Manhattan apartments. There's a sitting room off the bedroom so the Missus can conclude her business deal without any of that unpleasantness spilling onto the sheets.
Michele said one of the 60 most wealthy men in the world checked the place out the day before. Biggest complaint so far is that the joint is too big. Exactly why I didn't buy it.
The Kleiers say being on TV is good for business. Not all of their rich and famous clients want any face time on the show but so far they've been able to shoot around that.
At $28.5 million, 995 Fifth may not move right away, especially in this economy. The owner, says Michele, may be willing to rent it out for a couple of years--at 75k per month. Look for it to be featured on the finale of the first season of Selling New York, starting Sept. 8 on HGTV Canada.

But What Did You Do for Me Today, Developers Ask Brokers 

Aug 02, 2010

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Michele Kleier Talks 995 Fifth


About three years ago, before the demise of Bear Stearns and the collapse of Merrill Lynch, Beth Fisher, a broker with Corcoran Sunshine, was toiling away marketing apartments at the former Stanhope Hotel on Fifth Avenue that had been converted into luxury condominiums. Over time, she helped sell almost all of the 26 apartments for up to $34 million each.

But when the last two high-priced apartments lingered on the market through the recession, the developer, Extell Development, farmed out a $35.5 million listing to one of the city’s top-producing brokers, Carrie Chiang of the Corcoran Group. And when Ms. Chiang did not sell a 16th-floor apartment, Extell slashed the price to $28.5 million, dropped Ms. Chiang and handed the apartment, along with its 15th-floor neighbor, to another high-end broker, Michele Kleier of Gumley Haft Kleier.

Now Ms. Kleier is trying to sell the apartment after it was decorated by a professional designer and she promoted it on the HGTV program “Selling New York” and hosted a cocktail party with top brokers that drew the attention of The New York Post’s Page Six. Ms. Kleier said her efforts helped sell the 15th-floor apartment in March for $21 million, and she was hopeful about the prospects for the one on the 16th floor.

“You have to refocus people’s eyes on a property that has been on the market,” said Ms. Kleier, who worked with Ms. Fisher on the sale. “It goes on the back burner. You have to put it back on the front.”

Here is the fickle and ferocious world of residential real estate. With many developers saddled with multimillion-dollar apartments they planned in more prosperous times, they are dumping brokers who stood by them through the slowdown and are hiring new ones.

Developers treat these moves as purely financial decisions. After all, it is not that different from trying to sell anything expensive, be it a penthouse, a car or an insurance policy: the best sales representatives are brought in to make the toughest sales, regardless of who gets hurt.

Ms. Fisher said diplomatically that she welcomed help from Ms. Kleier and added that her salaried position at Corcoran Sunshine, a division of the Corcoran Group that specializes in new construction, meant that she suffered less financially from Ms. Kleier’s involvement.

Ms. Chiang, who was simply cut from the listing, did not mince words about Extell’s decision.

“The apartment wasn’t ready. It was in shambles. It was priced way higher,” Ms. Chiang said. “I keep on telling him he had to reduce the price.”

Ms. Chiang specializes in guiding wealthy buyers through the glamorous and mundane aspects of purchasing eight-digit homes with indoor swimming pools and 1,000-bottle wine cellars. She specializes in apartments that are 6,000 square feet or larger and sold $500 million in apartments in 2008 before the crash. She is now trying to sell six town houses priced at $14.9 million to $35 million.

Raizy Haas, an Extell senior vice president, said the decision to take the listing from Ms. Chiang was not a criticism of her.

“Sometimes it doesn’t happen, through no fault of hers,” Ms. Haas said.

Lisa Lippman, a Brown Harris Stevens broker who lives with her family in a four-bedroom condominium at Ariel West, one of a pair of tall, glassy Extell buildings at Broadway and 99th Street, was given two exclusive listings in the building even though another brokerage firm was the building’s official sales agent. Ms. Lippman sold a third-floor apartment for $3.9 million and has a contract for a $2.95 million apartment on the 14th floor. Both apartments cater in their size to families.

“I know that market,” Ms. Lippman said. “I have lots of connections from people looking for those apartments through schools.”

When the developer Josh Guberman was ready to start selling apartments at his 12-unit Lux 74 at 433 East 74th Street, he hired the Corcoran Group and Kirk Rundhaug, a broker with the real estate firm Core. After the Corcoran Group sold one apartment after a few months, Mr. Guberman dropped Corcoran because, he said, he thought the apartments might appeal to downtown buyers, which Mr. Rundhaug specializes in.

Mr. Rundhaug, who described the first broker as the project’s first wife and himself as the second wife, sold 10 apartments there.

But unbeknown to Mr. Rundhaug, Mr. Guberman was shopping for a third wife to sell the final apartment: an $8 million town house listing with a swimming pool that would bring a $130,000 commission. Mr. Guberman hired Jacky Teplitzky of Prudential Douglas Elliman to market the property. It sold for $7.6 million.

Mr. Guberman said that “matching the right broker to the right product is the single most important decision any homeowner or developer can make.”

Mr. Rundhaug, who was one of two brokers chosen to sell the hotelier Ian Schrager’s personal penthouse last year, said losing a commission “always hurts.”

“But what I’ve learned in this business,” he said, “is to suck it up and move on to the next thing.”


Hot Property Book

The stars of HGTV's “Selling New York” let fans step inside the high-profile world of Manhattan real estate in a wild and one-of-a-kind novel of stormy egos, sumptuous homes, and staggering fame and fortune. Written by Michele, Samantha & Sabrina Kleier.