Feb 21, 2013

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The Kleiers Discuss their Book with The Wall Street Journal


One real-estate agent busted an illegal adoption ring. Another agent caught her co-worker's killer. And a third uncovered a con artist posing as a wealthy countess.

For a number of current and former brokers, real estate offers the perfect plotlines for murder, mystery and romance novels. They're drawn to writing for the same reasons they like real estate: flexible hours and the potential to sign a million-dollar deal.

A "ghastly" experience in real life inspired former real-estate agent Madge Walls about 17 years ago. Ms. Walls got involved in a deal with a for-sale-by-owner home in Maui, Hawaii, where the owner's roommate tried to "sabotage the sale in every possible way," Ms. Walls says. On one occasion, the roommate even threatened to kill Ms. Walls and her clients. On the day of closing, the roommate removed all the appliances, tore up the landscaping and uprooted a tree with her truck.

"I remember closing that file and thought, 'You've always wanted to write a novel. Now here's your plot,' " says Ms. Walls, who now lives in Wilsonville, Ore. Within a few weeks, she began writing her debut novel, "Paying the Price," featuring Maui agent Laura McDaniel, a 40-something divorcée. Since then, she says, she has sold roughly 4,000 copies and this month released the sequel, "Buyers Are Liars," as an e-book.

With 55 books to her name, best-selling romance author Kat Martin says she was attracted to the idea of high payoffs when she decided to make the leap from real estate to writing.

"I felt I was making as much as I'm going to make in real estate, but there's big money in writing if I could pull it off," says Ms. Martin, author of "Season of Strangers" starring real-estate agent Julie Ferris. The effort has paid off. Ms. Martin has homes in Missoula, Mont., and Ventura, Calif., with her husband, Larry Jay Martin, also a writer and former real-estate agent.

Nina Wright, author of six mystery novels featuring real-estate agent and sleuth Whiskey Mattimoe, says she often embellishes absurd situations to suit her series. In real life, Ms. Wright, who lives in Oakland County, Mich., found out that one of her tenants was running an underground day-care service. In the fourth book, "Whiskey and Water," agent Mattimoe discovers that her tenant is operating an illegal adoption ring.

"There are so many things that can go wrong in real estate," says Ms. Wright. "I've bought and sold a lot of properties, but I haven't seen a single transaction where there aren't colossal screw-ups."

Bente Gallagher, author of a mystery series featuring real-estate agent Savannah Martin, says entering empty foreclosure houses alone as an agent prompted her imagination to run wild. "Anything could be in there," says Ms. Gallagher, who lives in Nashville and writes under the pen name Jenna Bennett for her Savannah Martin books. "There are dead mice and dead birds. It isn't too much of a stretch to imagine a dead human."

In the first book in the series, "A Cutthroat Business," Savannah Martin tries to figure out who killed her co-worker Brenda Puckett —a plotline inspired by Ms. Gallagher's finding a kitchen cleaver on the floor of a recently foreclosed house.

The mother-and-daughters real-estate trio Michele Kleier, Sabrina Kleier-Morgenstern and Samantha Kleier-Forbes of Manhattan-based Kleier Residential fictionalized their real-estate careers for their 2011 novel "Hot Property," featuring Elizabeth Chase and her daughters Kate and Isabel of Chase Residential.

The Kleiers, stars of HGTV's "Selling New York," drew largely on their own experiences in crafting their characters. Allison Silverman-Cole —one of Kate Chase's problematic clients, who has extreme allergies to dust, paint, even avocados—is based on an actual client. To assuage her allergy fears, "she made me call every broker before we saw an apartment," Ms. Kleier-Forbes says.

A fictionalized version of a client who asked for sexual favors in return for buying an apartment and a con artist who pretended to be a wealthy countess also made it into the book, she adds. The novel, though fiction, sports known names in New York real estate, including Jared Seligman of Prudential Douglas Elliman, Barbara Fox of Fox Residential Group and Mary Beth Flynn of Brown Harris Stevens. "We had an insider's voice. A lot of people wanted their real names in there," Ms. Kleier says.

Some agents write, but not all are willing to leave real estate completely. The Kleiers say they don't plan on penning another novel as long as they're tied up with real estate.

Author Vicki Doudera of Camden, Maine, considers herself a dual agent. "I am a writer and real estate is my profession. A lot of writers are introverts, but I really enjoy meeting new people and negotiating real estate. I love the whole yin and yang of it," says Ms. Doudera, a real-estate agent with Camden Real Estate Co. and author of the Darby Farr mystery series.

Many of her characters are inspired by her practice, like a man who kept a pet turtle in a kiddie pool in his basement for 30 years or an elderly woman who suspected a house deal was part of a conspiracy theory. "My real-estate world is always informing my fiction world," she adds.

Dear Owner: Please Sell 

Feb 10, 2013

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Michele Kleier says "Get a Well-Connected Broker"


A shortage of New York City apartments for sale is forcing real estate agents to take extreme, if not desperate, measures in order to conjure up listings.

One tactic is sending letters to all the two-bedrooms, say, in choice buildings to try to persuade their owners to sell. Another is buttering up the doorman for information on who might be inclined to move — a couple with a baby on the way, perhaps, or newly empty nesters.

Some brokers are trolling through expired listings in the hopes of reviving a dead deal. Others are digging through rental agreements to see when leases in coveted buildings might be coming due. And at least one broker has found that her years of volunteering at nursing homes have helped her find leads (more on that later).

Working the phone, the Rolodex and even the memory, brokers say, is all part of the game now that listings have hit a record low. Just 5,160 apartments and town houses were on the market in Manhattan at the end of last year, according to the appraisal firm Miller Samuel. That’s the lowest number since comprehensive tracking began about 12 years ago.

“If you are a shoe salesman, you need shoes to sell,” said Linette Semino, an associate broker at Warburg Realty. “Otherwise you’re not a shoe salesman.” To stock her shelves, she has been scouring expired listings, contacting landlords to see if they will sell, and soliciting owners by letter on her buyers’ behalf. With listings so scarce, “you have to think outside of the box,” she said.

Sure, most of these off-market exploits don’t result in deals. But in some cases, they have produced the keys to a new home. Following are six strategies for creating inventory in a tight market.

Go Canvassing

That’s what brokers call sending letters to owners to see if they will sell. Jeff Silverstein, a broker with Douglas Elliman, recently sent out a mailing to roughly 1,000 owners in choice buildings south of 14th Street. “Dear Resident Owner,” the letter began, “I am currently working with a client who is looking to live downtown. The inventory is extremely low and I need either a two-bedroom or three-bedroom apartment for her. ...” He has received three responses since the letters went out a couple of weeks ago.

Canvassing worked for Andrew Phillips, a broker with Halstead Property, when he was working with a family looking for a pied-à-terre. After a deal fell through on a $3.2 million apartment on Leonard Street in TriBeCa, Mr. Phillips sent handwritten letters to the owners of similar apartments in the building, including one that had recently been pulled from the market. When he didn’t hear from the owner or his former listing agent, he tracked the owner to his Florida address and called him.

“I said, ‘I have a buyer who missed out, and we’re not going to question the price,’ ” Mr. Phillips recalled. The owner gave him the go-ahead to show the unit, which was slightly smaller than the other place but nicely renovated. The family liked it so much they paid an additional $150,000 for the furniture, which brought the total to $3.45 million.

Approaching owners also recently paid off for Michael Rubin, an agent with CORE.

Last spring, Deepak and Kirti Srikant dropped by an open house Mr. Rubin was hosting in their building. They were just curious, said Mr. Srikant, the marketing director for a medical device start-up. “We weren’t convinced just yet that we wanted to move or sell.” But because the couple were sharing the bedroom with their small child, “we knew we’d have to move at some point. ”

Mr. Rubin asked if they would be interested in listing their apartment. He told them he had buyers already lined up. He said he knew he could sell at a good price.

“I harassed them,” he said jokingly.

Eventually, the couple agreed to show their apartment without actually listing it, with a specific price in mind: $1.35 million. They closed last month for nearly 4 percent more than what they had hoped for and more than 20 percent above what they paid in 2007.

And the Srikants made money on the deal by spending less than they had received on a two-bedroom with two baths and an office alcove in the financial district. “It’s a win-win that way,” Mr. Srikant said.

Search Expired Listings

Apartments are taken off the market for all kinds of reasons, ranging from low offers to visiting houseguests. You can search for expired listings on Streeteasy.com by selecting “advanced search” and “include only unavailable listings” under “listing status.” You will need to do a fair amount of cross-referencing to be sure a place has truly been removed — not sold and taken off the broker’s Web site or relisted with another agent. Then you can contact the original broker to see if the former client is still interested in selling. Be prepared to offer more than the original listing price.

Jessica Cohen, an associate broker with Douglas Elliman, came up with a three-bedroom on the Upper West Side by thumbing through expired listings.

Though the apartment had received multiple bids, she said, the owner had decided he wasn’t ready to move — partly because he’d had trouble finding a larger apartment for himself. But because her clients’ budget was higher than what the owner had initially asked, he allowed them to see it.

“It’s hard to get comfortable with paying over asking price for something that didn’t sell three months earlier,” Ms. Cohen said. But with “nothing to buy” she said, her clients are considering putting in an offer.

Consider a Combination

Can’t find a large enough apartment? Maybe you should be thinking about combining two small units. Studios and small one-bedrooms are fairly plentiful in the Upper East Side corridor east of Third Avenue beginning at 96th Street and stretching down through Kips Bay into the 20s, according to Frederick Peters, the president of Warburg Realty.

Spotting just such an opportunity, Elaine Tross, an executive vice president of Halstead Property, showed two side-by-side units at 250 East 87th Street, a Junior 4 and a two-bedroom two-bath unit that had a combined 2,300 feet of space. The total asking price was $2.175 million.

Because the building was in the thick of the Second Avenue subway construction zone, buyers would have to live with daily blasts for many months. But with few large apartments on the market, families looking for space were drawn to the listing.

The place ultimately sold to a seven-person household, including a live-in nanny, for $2.031 million. A completed three-bedroom combination in the same building is currently on the market for $2.5 million.

Combining apartments is not for everyone, Ms. Tross said, pointing out that such renovations are expensive, and require an architect as well as approval from the building and the city. But after several months of extensive remodeling, the seven-member family now has a four-bedroom four-bath home, she said.

“For the headache of it,” Ms. Tross said, “they got the apartment at a good price.”

Sweet-Talk the Doorman

Privy to many intimate details of the lives of their building’s residents, doormen often know, long before any listings are posted, when a move is planned.

“They have a very early idea of what’s happening,” said Jarrod Randolph, a broker with CORE, who found a client a $4.1 million Upper East Side three-bedroom about a year ago by chatting up the doorman.

Engaging in a conversation that may produce such information requires some finesse. You can’t be pushy and ask for the unit number, Mr. Randolph said. A better approach is to leave your card and ask the doorman to please pass it on to the sellers.

“I might come back a week later at the same time and on the same day, assuming the same doorman will be there,” he said, “and I might bring him coffee and cookies.”

Get a Well-Connected Broker

Michele Kleier, the president of Kleier Residential, has been going through her mental lists of past sales to figure out who might be ready to move again. “You need to keep on top of lifestyle changes,” she said, “because the truth is, if somebody is becoming an empty nester, very often they are going to move to a smaller apartment.”

People don’t necessarily focus on when the best time would be to enter the market, she added. With demand so strong for larger apartments right now, past clients with three or four bedrooms are sometimes shocked to learn how much their apartments are worth. Learn to Play Chess

Tova Weiner, an agent with A. C. Lawrence & Company, has been volunteering at nursing homes and retiree centers since grade school, never with any idea that it would end up benefiting her real estate career.

“One day an elderly woman asked what I do for a living,” Ms. Weiner recalled. “I told her I’m a real estate agent. In less than 60 seconds I had the whole room gather around asking advice regarding their properties. I walked out of that nursing home that day with my hands full of listings.”

Ms. Weiner, who primarily handles commercial listings but also does some residential, says she continues to receive calls and referrals from “the elders,” as she respectfully refers to the people she has met in nursing homes over the years.

“They know everyone and everything that’s in their neighborhood,” she said. “They know who is getting married, expecting a baby, getting divorced, moving, dying, selling and buying, and they know the story behind the vacant building down the street.

“Can’t find what you’re looking for?” Ms. Weiner said, “Just go to the park chess tables and ask.”

Big Ticket | Full-Floor Luxury for $12.9 million 

Feb 01, 2013

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Michele Kleier represented the buyer of a full floor apartment at 823 Park Avenue


A full-floor condominium with ample Park Avenue frontage and white-glove amenities in a prewar building that underwent a luxurious and luminous two-year makeover under the direction of the architect Barry Rice in 2004, sold for $12.9 million and was the most expensive sale of the week, according to city records. The original listing price was $15 million.

The residence at 823 Park Avenue, No. 8, has nine rooms and occupies nearly 4,200 square feet. The beige limestone Greek Revival-style building, built in 1911, was originally designed by the firm Pickering and Walker as one of the first rentals on the avenue, with an entire floor devoted to each apartment.

The monthly carrying charges, including taxes, for No. 8, a five-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bath unit, are $10,120. Although the building offers no outdoor space, there is a full gymnasium/health club in the basement and an elegant lobby finished in French limestone.

The corner living room to the south and mahogany-paneled library to the north sprawl for a full block between 75th and 76th Streets facing west on Park Avenue; both rooms have fireplaces with carved marble mantels and 10-foot-high coffered ceilings.

The oversize windows are framed in mahogany, and the floors are polished herringbone oak. The eat-in kitchen has three windows, honed blue slate countertops, and professional-caliber Viking equipment. The master bedroom, tucked away at the back of the apartment for privacy, has southern exposures, oak plank flooring, a walk-in closet/dressing area and an all-marble bath.

The sellers, Joseph Oughourlian and Jennifer Banks of London, were represented by Charlie Attias of the Corcoran Group. Michele Kleier of Kleier Residential represented the buyer, the financier Thomas C. Uger. Formerly an independent director of PriMedia, Mr. Uger is a partner in Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Company and a leader of its media and communications team.


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.