How Cooperative! 

Feb 07, 2005

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Co-op boards and brokers, often at odds, call for summit conferences


Co-op boards and real-estate brokers traditionally have an uneasy relationship. Boards have the power to turn down buyers and kill otherwise lucrative deals, frustrating the brokers behind those sales. Brokers, in turn, are forever rolling their eyes at these rejections, finding the building’s gatekeepers capricious and difficult. (The boards, in turn, find the brokers devious and willing to do anything to make a sale.) But at a few Manhattan buildings, that fractious relationship has warmed up, as the boards have begun scheduling meetings with local brokers. After all, both have one goal at heart: making sure the prices of apartments in those buildings stay competitive.

“I wanted to see if we were missing something,” says Scott Grayson, president of the co-op at Cannon Point South, the building at 45 Sutton Place South. So he invited Elaine Clayman of Brown Harris Stevens to a specially convened board meeting; she advised the board to streamline its application process, which it promptly did. At the Future, a building at 200 East 32nd Street that also asked for her advice, Clayman and her partner, Dan Ruiz, suggested a lobby renovation, adding a roof deck, and sprucing up the plaza out front. All the suggestions were approved. “People want to buy into a building that they know will continue to increase in value,” says the building’s board president, Julio Marquez. “The brokers are the ones who are really attuned to the market.” Ruiz has given several boards the same advice this year: Clean up public areas and improve the staff’s professionalism. “The boards want to make sure they’re doing everything they can to maximize prices,” he adds. They don’t charge for consultations, preferring to make their money on the other end: “It’s to everyone’s advantage, including ours,” says Ruiz. “It becomes a B building to a broker if a luxury building falls into disrepair.”

Michele Kleier of Gumley Haft Kleier has advised boards to add a gym or do a one-shot assessment instead of raising the maintenance, because a higher monthly fee can scare off buyers. Dolly Lenz, the kingpin of high-powered brokers at Douglas Elliman, has lately met with a half-dozen “significant buildings” that asked for counseling. (Several are run by Elliman’s management division.) “They’re getting maybe $900 per square foot, and they want to bring the average sale up to $1,200. Some are already at $1,200 and want to move up,” says Lenz, who suggested upgrades like new uniforms for the doormen and lobby rehab. “They never did it before, and I don’t know why,” adds Lenz, before pausing to formulate a theory. “Maybe it’s coming to a head now, since all the Tycos of the world are making the boards more responsible and responsive.”

LeFrak City Expands to East 73rd Street!
Real-estate magnate Richard LeFrak is adding one more piece of turf to his portfolio—this time, for himself. The president and CEO of the LeFrak Organization, landlord to 70,000 New York and New Jersey households, is said to have bought the East 73rd Street town house owned by Alex Von Furstenberg. Located on the block between Fifth and Madison, the house went for $14.5 million. Von Furstenberg, who put the building on the market around the time his separation from his wife, Alexandra, became public in 2004, owned the property for only about a year and a half. Calls to Richard LeFrak’s office were not returned; the seller’s broker, Richard Steinberg of Warburg Real Estate Partnership, wouldn’t comment on the specifics of the sale.

Due south, Filipina supermodel Anna Bayle has put her two-bedroom, two-bath co-op at One Fifth Avenue on the market for $1.565 million. Bayle, who strutted down catwalks in New York and Paris in the eighties for Yves Saint Laurent and Valentino and was the face of the Shiseido cosmetics line, is upgrading to a bigger place, says her broker, Elliman’s Leonard Steinberg.
—S. Jhoanna Robledo

Same Space, Different Place
Would You Walk Eighteen Blocks for a Million Dollars?
It’s axiomatic that the Upper West Side gets cheaper the more “upper” you go. Consider this pair of town houses, essentially identical: Both are four-story houses off Columbus Avenue, with their original stoops out front and a pair of apartments inside, and both were renovated a few years back, to good results. The difference? One’s on 69th Street, on a block that’s been lovely for decades; the other’s on 87th, which, until a decade or so ago, was still raffish but is now quite bourgeois. Whether the difference is worth $1.2 million—31 percent—is, of course, up to the market. We know how we’d vote.

127 West 69th Street
Four-story, two-unit town house.
Asking price: $4.995 million.
Taxes: $12,234 per year.
Broker: Anne Snee, Corcoran.

113 West 87th Street
Four-story, two-unit town house.
Asking price: $3.795 million.
Taxes: $11,593 per year.
Broker: Carol Samaras, Corcoran.

Dangerous Liaisons: the Perils of the Pied-Affaire 

Feb 06, 2005

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THE middle-aged investment banker already owned a home in an upscale Connecticut suburb when he sought the help last fall of Darren Sukenik, a senior vice president at Douglas Elliman, to buy a one-bedroom pied-à-terre. Within days, the man settled on a $1.1 million condominium in a new West Village building. His offer accepted, he asked Mr. Sukenik to arrange a time to show the apartment to "Anne" before signing the contract.

"I made the mistake of phoning him at home," Mr. Sukenik recalled. The banker's wife answered, and when Mr. Sukenik blithely explained that he was calling to confirm the showing, she expressed bewilderment. But her attitude changed to pleasant surprise when Mr. Sukenik explained that her husband wanted her approval on a Manhattan pied-à-terre before signing the contract.

A few minutes later, the banker called Mr. Sukenik from his cellphone.

"He was furious," Mr. Sukenik said. After a moment, the client, apparently understanding that he was to blame for not making the situation plainer, "very gingerly and very gently explained to me that 'Anne' was not his wife." the broker said.

"He handled it with her by saying he was surprising her for their anniversary," said Mr. Sukenik, who wound up touring the client's wife and 20-something girlfriend through the apartment separately. (Not long after the closing, Mr. Sukenik said, his client filed for divorce.)

Such soap-opera skulduggery is all in a day's work for brokers who become involved, knowingly or not, with a client seeking a place for extramarital assignations. But business is business, and for brokers, the rewards can occasionally be high, as some philandering spouses seem not to blink when it comes to housing the object of their affection.

To use an engagement-ring analogy, pied-affaires range from the micro-diamond-chip variety (one-bedroom rentals in the $2,000 to $2,500 range), to a respectable one or two carats ($1 million to $2 million, or, in a rental, $4,000 to $5,000 a month), all the way up to more-than-respectable, multimillion-dollar dazzlers. (In comparison, Bernard Kerik's rented Battery Park City two-bedroom love nest seems downright proletariat.)

Asked who precisely looks for these specialized second homes, brokers answer that, with some exceptions, the old stereotypes hold true: well-off older men seeking to set up young, attractive women in style - in a condominium, if they can afford it, or a rental, if they cannot. Many times, though hardly always, the men retain ownership of the place and simply let the women live there.

"In the movie 'Pretty Woman,' she only wanted to get married, but a lot of the pretty women in New York really only want a condo," said Michele Kleier, president of Gumley Haft Kleier, who has brokered her share of such transactions, typically condominiums in the $2 million to $3 million range.

Among this demographic, condos are prized particularly for their less-intrusive (compared to co-ops) application process and their usual indifference to the divergence of identity between owner and occupant. Because established condos can be almost as nosy as co-ops, philandering buyers often turn to new condominium buildings, where screening is often more perfunctory. Sometimes, they buy them in their own names, and other times, they set up a corporation for the purpose of making the investment.

For buyers of preconstruction-stage apartments, "Ninety-nine-point-nine-nine-five percent of the time, if they're approved for the mortgage, they're approved for the building," said Mr. Sukenik of Douglas Elliman. Someone buying a new condominium as a love nest, he said, "is doing three things: A, there's a huge amount of upside because you're buying preconstruction; B, the chickadee has somewhere to live; and, C, the corporation has a tax write-off." Reflecting on his investment banker client, he concluded, "While he might be shady, he certainly was smart."

Barbara Corcoran, founder and chairwoman of the Corcoran Group, suggested that some pied-affaires evolved out of real estate speculation. "A lot of smart businessmen have heavily invested in apartment buildings in the recent go-go years," she said. "They often leave apartments vacant, an ideal spot for housing a girlfriend." She added that the sybaritic trappings of the "super-duper luxury condo"- including amenities like double-wide tubs, gleaming top-of-the-line kitchens and gigantic flat-screen televisions - make staying in more appealing to illicit couples. In addition, mobile communication has made nesting more feasible. "It's easier to be somewhere and have others think you're elsewhere, thanks to the Treo and Blackberry," she said.


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.