Two Names On The Isle 

Jul 20, 2010

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Joh Mehigan Tells the Story of Naming Willo Isle


Two Names on the Isle

Plum Island, the federal research laboratory off Long Island, sparks associations withanimal testing, Nelson DeMille murder mysteries and unsettling fans like Hannibal Lecter.

That’s the kind of publicity that the Manhattan real estate broker John Mehigan calls “the kiss of death.” He should know: he was hired to sell a different Plum Island, on Lake Putnam in Patterson, N.Y., near the Connecticut border.

So he persuaded the seller, Larry Plapler, a 76-year-old retired advertising executive who has lived there with his family in a four-bedroom home since 1976, to change the name.

Mr. Plapler happily agreed. He said that a New York city newspaper, The Mirror, built the island in the 1930s, as part of a real estate project, and called it Plum Island. Since then, a succession of owners all called the island Willo-Isle.

Mr. Plapler said a local real estate broker had restored the 1930s name to attract potential buyers.

Under the name Plum Island, however, the island sat on the market for two years.

Having restored the name Willo-Isle, Mr. Mehigan is asking $1.55 million for the island.

Mr. Plapler is sadly preparing to give up his home.

“Whether it’s Plum Island or Willo-Isle,” he said, “it’s a great escape from Manhattan Isle.”

Life Swap: What If You Left New York 

Jul 19, 2010

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NY Mag Profiles John Mehigan's Private Island Listing


No matter how bad the economy gets, or who’s in power, lobbying and consulting money inevitably keeps flooding into Washington. So if you, a New Yorker with extensive connections in your field, are looking to cash in, relocating to the District has promise—and also an entire Beaux Arts rowhouse in prime Georgetown for the cost of a two-bedroom here. The house has a duplex and an in-law suite, which together bring in about $5,000 a month in rent.

61 West 68th Street, Apartment 2-6
The Facts: A two-bedroom duplex with a den and shared garden.
Asking Price: $1.295 million. maintenance: $1,456 per month.
Agent: Victoria Vinokur, Halstead Property.

3121 N Street NW, Georgetown
The Facts: A 2,232-square-foot four-bedroom rowhouse.
Asking Price: $1.35 million.
Annual Taxes: $9,467.
Agents: Robert Crawford and David Getson, Coldwell Banker Residential-Dupont Circle.


Buying & Selling Manhattan Real Estate in an Age of Marketing 

Jul 06, 2010

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Michele Kleier Describes how Real Estate Marketing has Changed Over the Years


When Michele Kleier wanted to sell a nine-room apartment at 1125 Park Avenue in 1977, her brokerage firm paid for a one-and-a-half-line classified newspaper advertisement that offered the rough location (“Park Ave. — Low 90s”) and succinctly read “Superb condition. Sun filled. Excel. maint.” With that ad, she found a buyer willing to pay $145,000, today’s inflationary equivalent of $522,000.

This spring, when Ms. Kleier wanted to sell her 45th apartment in the same building, she invited 75 brokers to the eight-room apartment for an open house and seafood lunch catered by the Atlantic Grill restaurant. She featured the apartment on the HGTV television program “Selling New York” and paid to have the listing prominently displayed on several influential real estate Web sites.

“Now everybody wants to see the pictures,” Ms. Kleier said. “They want to know all about the building. They want to see everything. Believe me, life was a lot simpler then.” A lot cheaper, too: On Thursday, she closed on the apartment for $4 million.

Although New Yorkers have obsessed, haggled and boasted about Manhattan real estate since its controversial and possibly apocryphal exchange for a handful of beads four centuries ago, it is fair to say that the promotion of Manhattan apartments has exploded over the past few decades.

Yes, there are more apartments to sell since the conversion of thousands of rental apartments to co-ops and the creation of the condominium market. Still, many brokers remember when apartments were bought and sold without a retinue of real estate stagers, photographers and writers fussing over these homes before their appearances on Web sites and television.

“That big marketing and presentation of properties was not done,” said Hall F. Willkie, president of Brown Harris Stevens. “Back in the mid-’80s, in the residential real estate world, people didn’t know how to spell ‘marketing.’ ”

That is partly because residential real estate used to be a far smaller industry. Barbara Corcoran said that when she started her brokerage firm in 1973, she tracked the city’s apartments on 4-by-5-inch handwritten index cards that her brokers kept next to the coffee cart. They organized these cards by color: studios were yellow, one-bedrooms were pink, two-bedrooms were blue, and three-bedroom or larger apartments were orange.

She added that there were far fewer apartments available through her agency, most of them rentals. As a comparison, 262 apartment sales closed in Manhattan in the past three months.

In those days, sales were designed so that brokers had far less incentive to advertise and promote properties. Sellers gave their apartments to multiple brokerage firms because only the broker who delivered the buyer received a commission.

“When you didn’t have an exclusive, you didn’t want to commit resources to it,” said Kirk Henckels, the director of Stribling Private Brokerage. “There’s no certainty you’re going to make money.”

Of course, Manhattan apartments did not carry the profits they carry today.

When Elise Ward, a broker now with the firm Core, started selling TriBeCa lofts to artists in 1981, so few buildings had been renovated or had soundproofing that she used words like “fireproof” and “steel and concrete structure” to mean quiet. Now, selling these apartments to the present-day TriBeCa clientele, she said, requires “several cocktail parties” and “brochures, you name it.”

Even in the late 1980s, when brokers started accepting co-brokerage agreements and investing in advertising, their efforts were far more modest.

In 1989, Pamela Nichols, a broker who now works for Prudential Douglas Elliman, received an exclusive listing to sell a one-bedroom penthouse at 2 Sutton Place South for $725,000 (the equivalent of $1.275 million today). On Oct. 8, 1989, she published a single four-line advertisement and did not provide prospective buyers with photographs before they visited.

“You literally described the apartment to them on the phone,” she said. “Until you met them at the building, they didn’t see anything.”

Now she is reselling the apartment for $1.65 million. After Ms. Nichols put it on the market in April, she drafted a 10-line advertisement, hired a professional photographer, designed a full-color handout and promoted the apartment in luxury publications like a Hamptons magazine.

Ms. Nichols added that in many ways, selling apartments has not changed.

In 2001, when she renovated her Westhampton beach house, she discovered that a past owner had left her a real estate time capsule beneath the porch: perfectly preserved real estate pages from a Nov. 1, 1925, issue of The New York Herald Tribune. Even then, the newspaper included advertisements for buildings like 31 East 79th Street and 1020 Fifth Avenue that emphasized that the apartments offered “every convenience and service luxury.”

“You’re still using the same words,” she marveled. “It’s just the vehicle.”

Island Hunting in New York 

Jul 01, 2010

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John Mehigan lists a Private Island North of Manhattan


It’s an understatement to say that private islands for sale near Manhattan are few and far between. Not to mention one for the price of many one-bedroom New York City apartments.

But John Mehigan, an associate broker at Gumley Haft Kleier, has a listing for just that — a $1.55 million island about 60 miles north of Manhattan.

It’s such a unique property and investment that I had to have a crack at it,” said Mehigan, who got an inquiry about listing the property after he appeared on an April episode of the real estate reality TV show “Selling New York.”

The one-acre island sits in man-made Lake Putnam and includes a 5,600-square foot, four-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath home built in 1932. It also has a 400-square-foot guest cottage.

The uniqueness of the property made setting a price tricky. “It was tough to come by comps,” said Mehigan, who noted that there are no other private islands in the area.

“We could have priced it higher, but felt that price would attract attention and get a buyer,” Mehigan said. (The seller, who did not want to be identified, had originally listed the property at a higher price, but Mehigan declined to say what the price was and the former listing broker declined to comment. The property was, however, on the market for close to a year.)

This time around (the property has only been on the market for a few weeks), the seller is hoping that bringing on a New York City broker will mean attracting a New York City buyer.

Mehigan said most of the island hunters he has met so far are New Yorkers looking for second homes, who are tired of the usual spots like the Hamptons and Fire Island. Plus, he said, there are plenty of people who “love the idea of owning their own island.”

To get there, prospective buyers will have to go to the town of Patterson and then meet the homeowner for a five-minute rowboat ride across the lake to the house, which is about 100 yards offshore. Not to fear: The home comes with several rowboats (and oars), along with kayaks and canoes.

Aside from a kitchen renovation about 10 years ago, the home has remained largely unchanged since the seller, who has owned it for 35 years, first purchased it. Mehigan said, however, that it is “definitely not run-down.”

Though it’s been called Plum Island for a number of years, Mehigan found that interested buyers were confusing it with an animal research center in Long Island or associating it with the island mentioned in the film “The Silence of the Lambs” — obviously not a great selling point.

Instead, the island is being marketed with its original name, Willo-Isle. But for those who want a self-named island, Mehigan said, the name can probably be changed once a new buyer steps in.


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.