Where Money Was Flaunted, Now It’s Budgeted  

May 01, 2009

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Michele Kleier Discusses Economic Changes on the Upper East Side


New York City’s neighborhoods are a patchwork of tribes, each with its own standards about manners and the flaunting of wealth. Chatting openly about an inheritance in a Williamsburg cafe or bantering loudly with buddies in a Park Slope pizzeria about “making seven figures” would be immediate grounds for social exile. But the Upper East Side is a different story.

This is a neighborhood where, until recently, it was commonplace for bankers to boast into their cellphones about their bonuses. Spike-heeled ladies clacked along avenues and noisily swung designer shopping bags. Developers could sell speculative shells of unfinished five-bedroom condos. Its residents boldly prided themselves that they were surrounded by the trappings of wealth: AmEx black cards, dexterous plastic surgeons and preened pooches.

But the Upper East Side has been served a dose of humility in recent months as its residents have watched their wealth slip away. Their chatter about bonuses has been replaced with gripes about severance agreements. Their investments have been wiped out by collapsed hedge funds and Ponzi schemes, often run by their neighbors.

Even the neighborhood’s coveted co-ops and town homes have lost their luster. The number of homes sold there dropped by 45 percent in the first three months of this year compared with the same period in 2008, according to the brokerage firm Halstead Property. And the shopping spree has ended; residents cannot stroll down Madison Avenue without discovering another boutique that has been shuttered.

“People have been sadder on the Upper East Side. Life in general is much quieter. Everything is more subdued,” said Michele Kleier, a resident who owns a real estate brokerage firm. Since her beloved cafe Petak’s closed, she has been trying to help keep other restaurants open by eating in the neighborhood rather than venturing downtown.

“I walk past my favorite restaurants and look into them and make sure they don’t close,” Ms. Kleier said. “We want things to survive.”

Local businesses are noticing in small ways that their customers are trimming budgets. Louis Balducci, a partner in the specialty food market Agata & Valentina, says customers are buying fewer high-end items like pâté, caviar, foie gras and smoked salmon. They now fill their shopping baskets with chicken rather than steak. And while they still buy candy, they have cut their pastry budgets and pick up “one cupcake instead of two,” Mr. Balducci said. At the same time, he is hearing more customers snap at his workers, and fielding more complaints from customers about matters he calls “insignificant.”

“Patience is running thin,” he said.

Residents have eliminated much of the splurging that many local shop owners depended on for business. Leslie Edelman, owner of the Tiny Doll House shop, has noticed that when parents come in to buy brownstone and Victorian-style dollhouses, they now want to spend $500 to $600, not the $1,800 to $2,400 they spent before the recession. Instead of hearing parents openly disregard costs when decorating the dollhouses, he hears more customers share their fears of losing their jobs. Many regular customers who stopped in weekly to brighten up their daughters’ dollhouses with wicker lawn furniture and $6 miniature Hermès shopping bags have disappeared entirely.

“Sometimes you ask, ‘Where did everybody go?’ ” Mr. Edelman said. “The impulse buying has disappeared.”

Some residents are becoming more confrontational about money itself. Tanya Zuckerbrot, a registered dietitian and founder of skinnyandthecity.com, used to be flooded with patients paying about $2,500 for five sessions of her advice. But demand for her services suddenly dried up this year; she joked that her office was quiet enough to hear crickets. Her patients trickled back in March. But then they brought their friends and tried to bargain down her prices by asking for two-for-one deals.

“I’m not used to talking about money to patients,” she said. “People are just worried.”

Yoga, however, seems to be on the rise. Michelle Demus, program director for Pure Yoga, says the studio’s membership has doubled in the past 10 months — there are more “Type A athletic types” and people who have cut private yoga instructors from their budgets. They are “leading very stressful lives, and they need to find some peace,” she said.

But many of these new members are still in the early phases of adapting. Ms. Demus has been battling a growing number of people trying to check their BlackBerrys and take cellphone calls in the middle of yoga sessions. Her instructors “gently” tell them to switch them off and perhaps take a break from their worries.

“It’s great for them to realize that the world will continue spinning,” Ms. Demus said, “if they let go for an hour.”

Heirs to a Headache 

Jan 06, 2008

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Michele Kleier Describes the Issues that Can Arise Upon Inheriting Real Estate


IN New York City real estate, death is the ultimate leveler, evicting the residents of 16-room duplexes as well as those in fifth-floor walk-ups. It doesn’t matter whom you know.

But even as homeowners ascend to that great co-op in the sky (where the plumbing is excellent and every line commands sweeping views), all hell can break loose among those granted a share of the earthly dwelling left behind.

“You would think it would be easy because there’s money at the end of the rainbow, but there are more problems than you would think,” said Adam Leitman Bailey, a Manhattan real estate lawyer.

“This is one of those cataclysmic events that really shake everybody up. It’s just like in a divorce, where you don’t use your brain — you use your emotions. So you’re hurt, you’re not thinking clearly, and a lot of the time the person that dies is the one who used to give you advice.”

For a buyer, conflict among heirs, or just conflicted feelings brought on by the death, can translate into lengthy delays at the negotiating table over what a parent, aunt or uncle’s home is worth. On the other hand, for patient buyers, such delays can also spell opportunity.

“Estate taxes have to be paid within a year, and so if an apartment is still on the market after six months, you have to borrow money or make a deal with the government,” said A. Laurance Kaiser IV, the president of Key-Ventures Inc., a Manhattan real estate brokerage. “Things become more negotiable.”

Nevertheless, lawyers and brokers who have seen the drama play out describe qualified buyers who walk away frustrated, families who become permanently estranged over asking prices, and delays that siphon money in the form of carrying costs, legal fees and slashed sales prices.

The recent upsurge in prices has only created more motivation and opportunity for conflict as soaring property values have turned homes into the crown jewels of many an inheritance.

“Tragically, money is a god,” said Mr. Kaiser, who has watched heirs become “piranhas” around their parents’ pricey domiciles, sometimes securing appraisals well before a parent’s last breath.

The messiest and most common estate-sale skirmishes typically involve sibling rivalry. Ancient tensions can reignite when brothers and sisters are forced to work together in an emotionally charged situation.

“This is their chance to get the attention they always wanted, to get the revenge they always wanted, and for the youngest child to finally show that they matter,” Mr. Bailey said.

Brokers and lawyers overflow with stories of henpecked siblings pecking back with their newfound power, gained because as heirs their cooperation is necessary to sell a property. (Heirs were less eager to speak on the record for fear of further straining family ties or because the subject was too laden with emotion.)

Charles D. Urstadt, an executive director of sales at Halstead Property, recently helped another Halstead agent mediate between two well-off sisters selling the Fifth Avenue apartment that had belonged to their elderly mother.

“One was a very strong, dominant woman who had had a great career,” he said. “The other was sort of a meek person who had been concentrating more on her family. They were both very intelligent, cultured women but there was a clear difference in their personalities.”

After choosing a broker, the sisters could not agree on price. Although the agent recommended $7 million, the formerly meek younger sister “said she was thinking it was more like $10 million, and there was no way you could justify that,” Mr. Urstadt said. “It was clear she was trying to get to her sister. Suddenly, the younger sister was not responding to phone calls, and the whole thing kind of ground to a halt. It was not about the money. It was all about the power. It reminded me of a divorce situation where one side had a grudge and threw their weight around when they finally had the chance.”

It took a month of intensive shuttle diplomacy to get the sisters to agree on the price. “Normally, it takes two days,” he said.

While pricing is a common battlefield for heirs, other flash points include which agent to hire, what will be included in the sale, who is responsible for cleanup and maintenance, how much staging will be required to put an aging property in the best light and who is selected as the real estate lawyer.

Some observers said that while the shock of a sudden death tends to instill a spirit of solidarity among stunned survivors, death following a long life or extended illness triggers the opposite response.

“Anticipated deaths tend to be a petri dish for sibling rivalry because of the long lead-up time,” said Julie Friedman, a senior associate broker at Bellmarc Realty, who is completing a grief-related dissertation for her Ph.D. in social work. “Siblings have time to fight about the medical treatment and to think about the burial and the memorial services — so the relationship is already strained.”

Some of the more bitter fights, and occasionally darkly comic ones, occur when one heir wants to live in the family home but can’t afford to buy out the others.

Michele Kleier, president of Gumley Haft Kleier, a real estate brokerage in Manhattan, recalled the twins who hired her to sell their deceased mother’s postwar three-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side in 2005. “The female twin had married well and had it together, while the male twin was very dependent on mommy and daddy and was not successful in life,” said Ms. Kleier. “He really did not want this apartment sold.”

The twins argued bitterly over which possessions to remove from the home. Then, the son moved in, ostensibly to sort through paperwork.

Ms. Kleier showed the apartment approximately 50 times over the next six months; each visit was like another scene in a black comedy.

“He would always be home. He would follow us around and say things like, ‘I can picture Mom in bed, dying,’ or ‘I remember when she had the IV dripping into her arm — it was such a torturous few years,’ or ‘Make sure you don’t leave your key with the doorman because my mother had a lot of things disappear.’ He would have his computer tuned to a porn site, so you would walk by and see the most vile photos. He made the apartment as messy as he could. He smoked cigars. He wouldn’t open the blinds or flush the toilets.”

Eventually, the executor had the brother legally removed, and Ms. Kleier found a buyer for $2.6 million. “He basically cost himself and his sister $300,000 because after the apartment sat on the market for six months, everybody in town thought it was very negotiable,” she said.

Brokers say that “anxious” heirs — the graying children whose parents’ long lives reduced the amount of money they expected to inherit, and also delayed its arrival — are especially prone to believe they are being cheated.

“In many cases, it’s like the last money they’re going to inherit, so they become very firm on the price,” said Daniela Kunen, a managing director at Prudential Douglas Elliman.

They hold out for what they think is rightfully theirs, said Rochelle Bass, an executive vice president at Bellmarc. “They say they want to sell, but I think there’s a greed factor that comes into this,” said Ms. Bass, who was once asked for an appraisal by a soon-to-be-heir whose mother lay on her deathbed in the apartment. (She declined.) Out-of-town heirs harboring exaggerated notions of the city’s property values can be especially unrealistic about how much an apartment can command.

“They hear a lot about how prices in New York City are skyrocketing and the market is very strong, but they don’t take into account the condition and the high expense and time it takes to renovate a property in Manhattan,” said Ms. Bass, whose buyers’ bid of $775,000 on an estate apartment was rejected without a counteroffer even though the apartment had loitered on the market at $800,000 for six months. Her buyers walked away from what they considered unreasonable sellers. She noted that heirs who have counted every prospective penny are often the most short-sighted about spiffing up an estate-condition apartment.

“I have a situation now where they are so resistant to lifting up the carpet,” Ms. Bass said. “They don’t understand that a powder blue wall-to-wall carpeting with stains is not appealing for resale. They act like you’re taking money out of their pocket.”

Several years ago, Ms. Kleier was hired by a pair of siblings to sell the family home, a nine-room Park Avenue prewar apartment, after their parents passed away within a short time. After accepting a bid of $4.5 million, the “emotionally involved” sellers asked to meet the buyers.

They listened as the buyers explained how they planned to modernize the apartment by dropping the ceiling, adding indirect lighting and opening up the kitchen.

“The sellers were perfectly pleasant, and then I got a phone call two hours later,” Ms. Kleier said. “They said: ‘We don’t want to sell to these people. They have absolutely no appreciation of our family apartment. We would never sleep at night knowing someone gutted the apartment.’ They felt it was a rejection of their past and how they grew up.”

The apartment sold for slightly less than the original bid three months later to a buyer who intended to retain its prewar character.

Some grieving heirs admit to feeling paralyzed at the prospect of selling off a family legacy.

Georgea Kapassakis and her sister, Evelyn Capassakis (their father changed the spelling of the family name when Evelyn was born), inherited a trust that included the family home in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn; a vacation home on Long Island; and a number of rental properties. It took the sisters 15 years to finally dispose of everything, with the exception of the Bay Ridge house, which Ms. Kapassakis now owns.

“I felt I was still young at the time and it was too soon not to have any parents; it was too soon for my mother to go,” said Ms. Kapassakis, a speech-language pathologist who was in her early 30s at the time and had 3-year-old twins. “And she helped with baby-sitting, so I had to change my job. Many changes had to take place, and worrying about what was going to happen to the houses was too stressful.”

Her sister, a tax principal and estate-planning adviser at PricewaterhouseCoopers Private Company Services, agreed: “We were pretty much frozen by the inability to undo what my father had put together. He believed firmly in real estate as an investment.”

The pair often found themselves at loggerheads over how to manage the property and whose turn it was to pay for what. “There were times that tensions were pretty high,” Ms. Kapassakis said. “There were many properties, and each one was a headache. We couldn’t handle it personally because we each had our own careers and our husbands had their own jobs. I don’t think we managed it correctly.”

Eventually, the continual stress forced them to part with their parents’ legacy.

Indeed, the simple passage of time is often enough to unlock an impasse.

“People don’t maintain a high state of emotions for months on end,” said Thayer Cheatham Willis, a clinical social worker in Lake Oswego, Ore., and the author of “Navigating the Dark Side of Wealth: A Life Guide for Inheritors.”

Family dynamics can be recast for the better if heirs “grow up and realize that they can’t have everything they want,” Ms. Willis said. “That maturation step is when you accept the compromise and accept it with grace — and you see a future that you like. You can definitely come out of it as an improved family.”


Dec 02, 2007

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Michele and Sabrina Kleier Discuss When to Stick to Your Price


BRUCE EPSTEIN has spent the last four months looking for co-ops on the Upper West Side, and he thought he had a pretty good grip on how much they were going for. When he decided to offer slightly less than the $1.15 million asking price for a two-bedroom in a walk-up building that required renovations, he thought he was being reasonable. But the seller said he shouldn’t even bother to make an offer if he wouldn’t pay the asking price.

So he offered the seller of a one-bedroom apartment nearby the asking price of $699,000, and then raised it to $745,000, even though the unit had no proper stove and only a half-size refrigerator. But the seller turned him down for a buyer paying $750,000 in cash.

After experiencing these and other setbacks in the Manhattan real estate market, Mr. Epstein has told his broker, Catherine Holmes of Barak Realty, that he might simply rent after he closes in February on the sale of his $1.1 million town house in Park Slope.

He said he would buy in Manhattan when sellers cut their prices. “Some of the sellers have to be a little bit more realistic,” he said. “I would be happy with any percentage decrease.”

Mr. Epstein might have a long wait. No one really knows where the market is headed.

Manhattan is apparently full of sellers who think foreign buyers, or bankers who might still get big bonuses, are ready to pay full price for their apartments. These sellers do have recent history on their side. For the first three quarters of this year, Manhattan apartments over all continued to sell at record prices.

Now, brokers say, they see a stalemate developing between buyers and sellers in Manhattan, especially for apartments in the $1 million to $5 million range. Sales in this range made up more than half of the total dollar volume in the market in the third quarter of this year, according to data tracked by Radar Logic.

Brokers say it is the buyers in this sector of the market who are now growing concerned about the impact of the weak national housing market and the effect that Wall Street losses might have on Manhattan apartment prices. So they’re lowering their bidding or stopping their searches altogether until they have more confidence in the market.

Brokers are finding themselves caught in the middle.

“It’s very difficult to get a meeting of the minds,” said Douglas Heddings, a broker at Prudential Douglas Elliman who compares the latest negotiations between buyers and sellers with couples therapy.

Mr. Heddings said he hadn’t had such a hard time persuading both sides to reach agreements since the real estate downturn of the early 1990s. He finds some sellers aren’t cutting prices even for apartments that have been on the market for several months. At the same time, buyers are digging in their heels: three of his five Wall Street clients stopped searching for apartments that cost $2.5 million to $4 million because they believe prices will drop in 2008.

Some buyers have reason to be cautious. Shai Shustik, president of Manhattan Residential, a brokerage with many clients in the financial industry, said that since the end of August, his buyers had cut their budgets by 10 percent because of concerns about their bonuses. One lost his job at a hedge fund hours before he was due to sign a contract for a $1 million two-bedroom co-op on the Upper East Side.

“He was literally ready to meet the attorney that afternoon to return the checks,” Mr. Shustik said. “But he never did. He got laid off that morning.”

Jason Loeb, 37, an equity analyst for a money management firm, has received a half-dozen e-mail messages from friends who have lost jobs because of downsizing at major banks. Those “I hope I land on my feet” notes, coupled with weak performance in industries he tracks like trucking and retail, convinced him that Manhattan real estate prices eventually have to decline.

He is renting in Jersey City and waiting to buy a two-bedroom in the West Village.

“You can see the writing on the wall with layoffs and bonuses,” Mr. Loeb said. “I’m looking for a 15 percent drop to be comfortable.”

Mr. Loeb’s lawyer, Adam Leitman Bailey, said he had received at least one call a day from Wall Street workers with annual incomes of $600,000 to $5 million saying they think prices may drop next year. Nearly all of them have decided to hold off on buying Manhattan apartments.

“They’re not going to buy until they have job safety or the salary or bonus they think they deserve,” Mr. Bailey said.

Even some buyers who have strong reasons to move are holding off.

Jeffrey Davis, a lodging industry consultant, and his wife, Betty Wang, who works in fashion, have been trying to find an apartment of at least 1,200 square feet before their first child is born this month. For the past year, they have worked with Nora Ariffin, a broker at Halstead Property, to find a two-bedroom condo south of 30th Street for $1.7 million. The only amenities they required were a doorman and an elevator.

The couple visited 30 apartments in Chelsea, the Flatiron District and the Gramercy Park area, but the bids they made on five different apartments were rejected. Mr. Davis said he thought prices were $50,000 to $100,000 too high.

The couple are staying in their one-bedroom rental for now. “I have plenty of space for an infant for at least a couple of months,” he said.

Some buyers are evaluating the Manhattan market with long-range goals centered elsewhere.

Arthur and Lisa Brodsky have spent the last year looking for a two-bedroom apartment on the Upper East Side or Upper West Side with their agent, Jason Haber of Prudential Douglas Elliman, and a maximum budget of $1.2 million. Mr. Brodsky, 30, who works in private equity, and Ms. Brodsky, 30, who works in marketing for magazines, want to buy something large enough to accommodate the family they hope to start within the next couple of years.

They also want to make sure their apartment will appreciate 20 to 25 percent during that time so they could cover their costs of buying and selling if they decide to move to the suburbs as their children grow older. They see their friends in New Jersey buying homes at big discounts from sellers who bought at the peak of the market. Rather than overpay, the Brodskys are staying in their one-bedroom rental and watching where prices head.

But for every bearish buyer there remains a seller brimming with confidence.

Nearly three months ago, Cecilia Ruiseco put her two-bedroom, two-bath condo at 408 East 79th Street on the market for $2.395 million. Three dozen buyers have visited, but she has received no offers. Her broker, Sabrina Kleier of Gumley Haft Kleier, has encouraged her to stick with her price, because foreign buyers may be in town to shop for real estate over the holidays.

“Buying real estate in the U.S. is going to be the fashion for the next two years,” Ms. Ruiseco said, while leading a reporter through her seventh-floor apartment decorated with Colombian and American art. “The foreigners are going to buy everything.”

Sellers have plenty of inspiration from Manhattan’s highest-priced sales. Earlier this month, Michele Kleier of Gumley Haft Kleier put a nine-room co-op up for sale in the East 70s on Park Avenue for $8.45 million. The seller told her that she didn’t want to accept less than the asking price. Within two weeks, the seller got her wish.

Ms. Kleier said the buyers paid more because they liked the renovations that had been made on the apartment and the views of the Empire State Building.

“If you have something special and you’re not in a rush, then don’t worry about cutting the price,” she said. “These people bought it on the spot.”

If there is room to negotiate, it is often in neighborhoods in the northern reaches of Manhattan.

Three months ago, Albert Haddad, 86, and his brother, George Haddad, 92, put their sixth-floor two-bedroom apartment at 880 West 181st Street on the market. They listed it for $599,000, intending to use the proceeds to retire and move back to Lebanon.

Their agent, Bill Vilkelis of Barak Realty, suggested they list a lower price from the start because he estimated the apartment needs about $75,000 to $100,000 in renovations. But the brothers pushed for a higher price because an apartment across the street had sold for $608,000 in a building where the maintenance fees are nearly double.

They’re hoping that newlyweds or a couple with a baby will snap up the apartment because it is one of the few two-bedrooms available in Washington Heights.

Several weeks ago, Mr. Vilkelis persuaded the brothers to cut the price to $575,000 because, he explained, the market there had slowed more sharply than in other parts of Manhattan. He encouraged the brothers to be more flexible in negotiating.

“It hasn’t slowed as much as out somewhere in Queens and the outer reaches of Brooklyn,” Mr. Vilkelis said. “It’s slowed compared to the Upper West Side and downtown.”

But the brothers have their limits.

“We are not going to give in to a low price less than what we think it is worth,” said George Haddad, sipping a steaming cup of tea in an apartment crammed with the books they have accumulated since they moved there in 1963.

Not every deal, however, ends in a stalemate.

Meaghan Nelson and Nicolas Onofrey spent the last six months looking for a prewar two-bedroom co-op on the Upper West Side for about $1.1 million.

Ms. Nelson, who works for a health-care market research company, and Mr. Onofrey, who manages the information technology group for a Midtown hedge fund, looked at about 140 apartments with their broker, Jessica Cohen of Prudential Douglas Elliman. They bid on four properties and were turned down.

So they increased their budget, and found a $1.4 million two-bedroom co-op at 514 West End Avenue, whose sellers had grown weary after three contracts with buyers had fallen through. Both sides signed the contract within 24 hours.

Ms. Nelson and Mr. Onofrey are scheduled to close on the apartment on Jan. 15. They’re relieved to have finally found a house where they can start a family.

“We’re in it for the long haul,” Ms. Nelson said.

Buy Low, Divorce High  

Aug 12, 2007

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Michele Kleier Discusses the Intersection of Divorce and Real Estate


FOR years, Michele Kleier, a real estate broker on the Upper East Side, knew why one of her most persistent clients was calling even before picking up the phone.

The client, a former high-ranking fashion executive and perpetual volunteer at her children’s private schools, was checking the price she could get for her nine-room co-op in a prewar building. When the market reached a high, she told Ms. Kleier, she planned to divorce her husband, sell the apartment and live on her share of the profits.

Last year, Ms. Kleier delivered the long-awaited news: Manhattan luxury apartments were at a peak. The client went through with her plan. Now the woman calls from her new condo in California, raving about the weather and the distance from her ex-husband.

“She felt that she couldn’t walk out on him until she had the money to move away and buy something on her own,” Ms. Kleier said. “The real estate market allowed her to buy her freedom.”

A little-noted side effect of the property boom of the past decade has been the real-estate-enabled divorce. Home values might have slid in some markets, but in the New York City region, where prices remain high, divorce professionals like therapists and lawyers, along with real estate brokers, say unhappily married couples are cashing in appreciated homes to underwrite a split.

“The equity that there is in real estate is one of the impetuses why there are so many divorces,” said Nancy Chemtob, a Manhattan divorce lawyer, adding that the net worth of her clients has doubled in the past three years mainly thanks to real estate. The price of the average Manhattan apartment was $1.3 million as of June, up 7 percent from a year ago, according to the real estate brokers Brown Harris Stevens.

A spouse who has not worked, like Ms. Kleier’s client, might decide that with a divorce settlement enriched by real estate, it is possible to maintain a comfortable standard of living. Or a breadwinning spouse might recognize that even after dividing community property, it will be possible to live well as a single person.

“No matter what the net worth of the client,” Ms. Chemtob said, “the $3 million apartment is now the $7 million apartment, and the $7 million apartment is the $14 million apartment. Half of a lot is a lot.”

That is how Sharon Sheinker thinks about the real estate equity she and her ex-husband accumulated over a 16-year marriage, which she said made the decision to legally separate easier.

The former couple made enough on their first apartment in New Jersey, and then on a second home on Long Island, to build a five-bedroom house in a gated community in Dix Hills, on Long Island, four years ago, for $1.1 million.

They recently signed a contract to sell the house for $1.4 million, less than the asking price of $1.579 million. But Ms. Sheinker calculates a $60,000 profit each year over the past four years. She will use her share to buy a smaller house in Dix Hills and continue to run a charity, A Gift From Alexa, in honor of her 6-year-old daughter, who is autistic.

“Money is freedom,” Ms. Sheinker said. “I don’t need the mansion. We made enough money to be able to get divorced and support two households.”

Economists are familiar with this phenomenon. Even though divorce rates are declining over all, as far back as 1977 the economist Gary Becker showed that couples experiencing any unexpected, drastic rise in net worth are at risk of divorce. (The same holds true for a drastic decline in net worth.)

Extrapolating from survey data, Dr. Becker concluded in The Journal of Political Economy that “a greater deviation between actual and expected earnings increases the probability” of divorce.

Although couples who see their incomes rise steadily generally stay together, those who make more money than they ever expected are vulnerable to divorce. They realize that they are less financially dependent on each other and that they might have chosen different spouses if they had more choices at the time, said Dr. Becker, who teaches at the University of Chicago.

Dr. Becker, who won the Nobel Prize in 1992, also explored in his divorce study the economic argument for what many people today call trading up, or finding a trophy spouse.

Noting that 75 percent of men and more than 70 percent of women remarry within 15 years of a divorce, he found that divorced men with higher earnings have the greatest likelihood of remarrying. This implied, in his view, that men who have come into wealth have an incentive to divorce because they believe they could better their situation.

“They feel, given their status now, they can find other people of a type that appeals to them more than when they got married,” he said in a telephone interview.

Kenneth Mueller, an East Village psychotherapist, says he has about a half-dozen clients who are real estate executives. Some, he said, have used windfall wealth from property to strengthen their marriages — like paying for counseling or adopting children. But others are emboldened to divorce and remarry. He said some men conclude that they can find a new spouse because their first wives were “not what I really wanted.”

Of course, not all couples sitting on greatly appreciated homes are headed for divorce court. The likelihood of divorce depends on the strength of a marriage before the advent of unexpected wealth, according to Evelyn Lehrer, an economist who expanded on Dr. Becker’s findings in 2003.

In her study “The Economics of Divorce,” published in the book “Marriage and the Economy: Theory and Evidence From Industrialized Societies,” Professor Lehrer concluded that couples who are likely to divorce after an unexpected change in assets often had weaker marriages to begin with. It is not the new wealth that causes the divorce; the money is just the catalyst.

Stephanie Coontz, the author of “Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy, or How Love Conquered Marriage,” compared the current Gilded Age to an earlier one in the 1920s, when, she said, divorces spiked at a time of rapid wealth creation. In times when people accumulate wealth, she said, they often think they don’t have to abide by society’s conventional rules.

“When people get a lot of wealth in a hurry, it’s more easy to act upon their impulses,” she said. “You get used to sending back a steak because you don’t like it. You send back a wife.”

Real estate these days seems much on the minds of couples who are in counseling. Elyse Goldstein, an Upper East Side psychologist, said that half the couples she has seen in recent years have brought up real estate as a relationship issue, and 15 percent regarded it as a serious one.

“Real estate has become a language of emotional barter in terms of registering pains, hurts and resentments,” Dr. Goldstein said. “If they can’t have love, they can have real estate. There are a lot of fights about who is going to benefit from the windfall.”

SUSAN KATZ, a fashion industry sales executive, said that real estate battles with her ex-husband over their home in Roslyn Heights, on Long Island, have dragged out over three years, involving three lawyers and $350,000 in legal fees.

She said that real estate was not the original cause of the divorce. But it has become the central issue as she and her ex-husband fight over what the house is worth, and how much she must pay to buy it from him.

Ms. Katz finds that some women who are divorcing can’t cash in on the value of a home because they or their spouses borrowed against it. “Women think when they get divorced they can have half of the house,” she said. “Most women don’t realize how much this house is mortgaged.”

And then there are cases in which couples decide a divorce settlement would ultimately be too costly because of the on-paper appreciation of their property.

One New York real estate executive, who has separated from his wife and would not speak on the record because he is unsure if he will divorce, said most of his peers in the industry who are unhappily wed seem to be staying put. They don’t want to carve up the real estate portfolios they bought or built during the boom.

“I know plenty of people who are enormously wealthy and just don’t want to cut it up,” he said. “They find it hard to divide the real estate.”

Co-ops Slip, but Condos Lead Rise in Manhattan Apartment Prices  

Jul 03, 2007

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Michele Kleier Discusses the State of Condos and Co-ops


While housing prices are falling in many parts of the country, the cost of a Manhattan apartment is continuing to rise over all. But a stark divide is emerging between the prices of co-ops and condominiums. More buyers are choosing condominiums over co-ops and are paying far more for them, according to studies being released today.

The average price of a condo in Manhattan rose by as much as 28 percent in the second quarter of this year compared with last year, according to data tracked by four large real estate brokerages. In the same period, the average co-op price dropped by as much as 10 percent. Buyers paid an average of $1.49 million for a condominium, compared with $1.13 million for a co-op, according to figures from Brown Harris Stevens.

Brooklyn did not share Manhattan’s price rise. There were more deals, but the average apartment price dropped by 4 percent, to $629,000, compared with last year, according to data from the Corcoran Group.

The decrease in the average price paid for co-ops in Manhattan does not mean that co-ops are dying; to some degree, it just shows that apartments sold in the quarter included a lot of small co-ops and a number of large condos, according to Brown Harris Stevens. In fact, in terms of average price per room, that brokerage found that postwar co-ops on the East Side remained the same and those on the West Side increased by 3 percent.

But brokers said that co-ops are also depressing their own prices because their boards require so much liquidity and assets that many buyers from overseas and people who work in finance are instead choosing condos. Hall Willkie, the president of Brown Harris Stevens, said that foreign buyers, especially Russians, have been snapping up sprawling multimillion-dollar condominiums. “In the past, a lot bought pied-à-terres,” he said. “We see a lot of foreign buyers are buying very large apartments.”

They also choose condos because they would probably not be approved by co-op boards, which often demand full-time residence. Pamela Liebman, the president of the Corcoran Group, said buyers also prefer the conveniences of new buildings and the perks like concierges who can “stock my refrigerator, get my theater tickets and have my dog groomed.” The dazzle of living in a new building doesn’t hurt either, she said. “New, new, new — all of the foreign buyers love that.”

Dottie Herman, the president of the brokerage Prudential Douglas Elliman, said co-op boards may be forced to change their rules. “I’ve brought buyers that have tons of money, that have tons of assets, and still the co-op boards turn them down for no reason at all,” she said. “I do think that you’re going to see co-ops ease up in some cases. The prices have gone up so much that some of the rules don’t work today.”

In some cases, buyers who can afford multimillion-dollar apartments are forced to buy condos or risk rejection from co-op boards because they are required to have a multiple of the apartment’s price in liquid assets. Michele Kleier, president of Gumley Haft Kleier, said buyers in the $3.5 million to $4 million price range are choosing apartments in new buildings like the Lucida, at 151 East 85th Street, where they can live on the Upper East Side but avoid dealing with a co-op board and the extensive renovations that are often needed for a prewar apartment.

The difficulty of getting past a co-op board is making it tough on sellers, she said. One of her listings was a Park Avenue apartment that required extensive renovations. Five buyers offered roughly the asking price, $4.95 million, but none had the extensive assets required by the board. The price was reduced to $4.75 million, and it ultimately sold for even less to a bidder who had assets acceptable to the board.

“I looked at every single balance sheet and there was not one person among the five offers who had the assets to get into the building,” Ms. Kleier said.

These eager and rich buyers are swallowing up the stock of condos. Today, Manhattan has just 5,237 apartments up for sale, compared with 7,640 condos and co-ops for sale last year at the same time, according to data tracked by the appraisal firm Miller Samuel.

Jonathan Miller, the president of Miller Samuel, said inventory is also shrinking because potential buyers had been renting until they were sure the market had stabilized. “They have re-entered the market,” he said. “We’ve essentially eliminated most of the fat out of the inventory.”

Among condos, the fastest price growth was among entry-level studios. The highest price increase in any size category was in the studio market, according to Brown Harris Stevens data. The average studio rose 26 percent to $574,197.

“The smaller units led the way in terms of price increases on the condo side,” said Gregory J. Heym, an economist who prepared market studies for Brown Harris Stevens and Halstead Property.

Manhattan’s wealthiest buyers are paying even more money to get the most prized trophy homes, and they are not deterred by co-op board rules on assets. Brown Harris Stevens data showed that prices for co-ops with more than four bedrooms rose by 19 percent to an average of $7.016 million, compared with the same period a year ago. Town house prices also increased by 30 percent to $1,644 a square foot.

Prices for Brooklyn town houses did not change, Mr. Heym said.

Questions Your Broker Can't Answer 

Jun 25, 2007

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Questions Your Broker Can't Answer


WHAT kind of people live in this building?”

That is often the first question brokers are asked by apartment hunters — be they couples with children, retirees seeking peace and quiet or 20-somethings prone to the occasional raucous party.

But in recent months, thousands of brokers have learned that in answering that question, they might just be breaking the law. Many real estate ads, for instance, use “family friendly” to describe large apartments. But according to a strict interpretation of federal, state and local fair-housing laws, that is illegal.

“If a family with children wants to know if there are other children the same age in a building, we’re supposed to say, ‘You should stand outside the building between 2 and 5 p.m. and see who walks in,’ ” said Michele Kleier, the president of Gumley Haft Kleier. “But how do you say something like that with a straight face?”

A glance at real estate listings online reveals that there are still companies whose ads say things like “Best family building in New York,” but there are many more that in the interest of fairness or out of fear of a lawsuit have cleansed their ads and are retraining their brokers.

Fighting discrimination in real estate is hardly new in New York City, but it has become a hot topic lately. The renewed focus was sparked mainly by a complaint filed last fall that brokers in the Brooklyn Heights office of the Corcoran Group had engaged in racial steering. Corcoran denies the charges, which are pending before the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In addition, a proposed city law that would require co-op boards to provide, in writing, their reasons for rejecting a potential buyer, also has board members and brokers reviewing precisely what constitutes discrimination.

Real estate lawyers say there are lots of other descriptions and terms that could trigger discrimination lawsuits, prompting many brokers to watch what they say in front of clients and to scour their ads for risky words. Unacceptable terms include “adult community,” “bachelor pad,” “near churches” and “no children.”

Lawyers also warn against listing specific school districts and using catchphrases like “great for families,” “nanny’s room,” “quality neighborhood” and “senior housing.”

The strict interpretation of fair-housing laws prohibits brokers from providing information about people that could be construed as discriminatory in any of 14 protected categories. The categories include familiar ones like race, religion, sex and disabilities and less well-known ones like familial status, marital status, citizenship and occupation.

So a broker who says something like, “There are tons of little kids in this building — it’s really family friendly” could be accused of specifically steering families to the building and driving people without children away from it.

The Real Estate Board of New York holds several training seminars on fair-housing laws every year. This year, Neil Garfinkel, residential counsel for the board and the person who runs the seminars, has also held special training sessions for several companies. He estimated that he has already trained about 2,000 brokers since January.

Larger companies, including Corcoran and Halstead Property, have their own lawyers and run their own training sessions.

The State Legislature last week passed legislation that will require all brokers seeking to renew their licenses to undergo at least three hours of fair-housing training as part of their 22 ½ hours of continuing education. (Similar training is already required for initial licensing.)

The real estate board joined with the New York State Association of Realtors in March to sponsor the amendment. After Mr. Garfinkel’s recent seminar at Gumley Haft Kleier, Ms. Kleier said she had her staff comb through the agency’s advertisements and remove wording that suggested a building might be “great for families.”

“In my mind, it’s so restrictive it takes away part of the job that the public has relied on brokers to do,” Ms. Kleier said. “To be able to tell them: Is this building a place where I’m going to be comfortable? Or if my kids run through the lobby, am I going to be looked at cross-eyed?”

Brokers are often hired for their expertise in a specific neighborhood or building, and not being able to share certain information will make a broker’s job that much harder, she said.

Mr. Garfinkel said that Ms. Kleier is certainly not alone in her apprehension. "A lot of brokers are concerned about the push-back from customers who feel that, ‘You’re my broker — why aren’t you helping me and answering my questions?’ ” he said.

His advice to brokers is to state clearly at the first meeting with any client that as brokers, they must adhere to all fair-housing laws. “Then when a question is asked, you can say, ‘Remember we talked about fair-housing laws? This is what’s against the law for me to talk about,’ ” he said.

City laws cover more areas than state and federal laws, delineating 13 protected categories, compared with 11 delineated by the state and by the federal government. Many categories are covered by all three.

Most brokers are well aware of what’s against the law when it comes to race, religion and sex, Mr. Garfinkel said, but the laws on family status and occupation often draw gasps of surprise from brokers at his seminars. “But that’s exactly why we’re doing what we’re doing,” he said.

Mr. Garfinkel goes on to warn brokers that they should not identify the school districts where apartments are located. This, despite the fact that real estate ads often boast that an address is zoned for top-rated schools like P.S. 6 on the Upper East Side or P.S. 234 in TriBeCa.

He said that while it is all right to name a school district when specifically asked, the fact should not be advertised because some school districts have distinctive racial compositions and advertising the district could be seen as a way of expressing preference for a specific race. Brokers are often stunned by this prohibition, he said, “but I’m a lawyer, and I’m going by the strict letter of the law.”

Steven James, the president of all Manhattan offices of Prudential Douglas Elliman, said he had brought Mr. Garfinkel in to speak to his brokers because “people sometimes say stupid things without thinking, and this brings everybody back to reality.”

The brokers were in for some surprises. Mr. Garfinkel explained that to follow the city law regarding occupations, they should not ask people what they do for a living. “I think that blew everybody’s mind,” Mr. James said. “I don’t think we’ve recovered from that yet.”

The question is natural in the course of any getting-to-know-you conversation, Mr. James said, “but the point is what’s normal and everyday may not be legal.”

Mr. Garfinkel said that the occupation protection is often referred to as “the attorney law,” because it is meant to stop buildings from discriminating against lawyers — some buildings fear that they will be litigious and consequently bad neighbors.

“Conceptually, it makes sense to me because why is it relevant what a person’s title is as long as they can afford the apartment?” Mr. Garfinkel said.

Hall Willkie, the president of Brown Harris Stevens, said his firm had to turn down at least three exclusive sales in recent years because the owners insisted they did not want to sell to lawyers. “We’ve had to tell them that as licensed brokers, we’re sorry but we can’t do that,” he said.

“Some people think the laws go too far,” Mr. Willkie said. “But they need to go far, because these problems do exist.” Stepped up training, he added, “helps to sensitize us to try do what is right, and it prevents brokers from even inadvertently collaborating with owners to do something that the city has decided is not legal.”

The proposed law requiring co-op boards to give written explanations for their rejections gave impetus to the real estate board and the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums to redouble their efforts at fair-housing training. The council and other co-op and condo organizations oppose the proposal and sent out an “action alert” last April urging their constituents to lobby City Council members and tell them that existing fair-housing laws make the bill unnecessary.

The real estate board and the co-op and condo council together have developed a two-page sheet on antidiscrimination requirements that they recommend be included in every application that goes before a co-op board. They also have put together a sheet on “buyer’s rights” that they recommend be given to every co-op applicant.

“It’s all part of an education process for board members and buyers, so that all sides understand what kinds of protections already exist and so they know what kinds of questions can and can’t be asked,” said Eva Talel, a real estate lawyer who advises the real estate board’s Residential Management Council.

The antidiscrimination sheet falls far short of the disclosure that would be necessary if the City Council passes the law on co-op rejections. Nearly two-thirds of the members of the City Council have signed on as co-sponsors, but the council speaker, Christine C. Quinn, has said she opposes the bill since existing housing discrimination laws already offer redress.

The proposed law would require co-op boards to provide a written explanation for any board rejection and to reveal the source of any negative information it received about a prospective buyer. Boards could be fined if they did not provide this information within five days of their decision.

Arthur I. Weinstein, a real estate lawyer and a vice president of the co-op and condo council, said that in an annual workshop on admissions procedures he presents to co-op board members, he urges them to review their application processes and to remove any questions that pertain to the 14 protected categories. “There’s always someone who says: ‘Oh my God, we ask those things all the time,’ ” he said. “It doesn’t matter how innocuous the question is. The trap is once you’ve asked it, you set yourself up for the charge that a rejection is based on that information.”

Invariably, much of the information may come out anyway, either volunteered by applicants or revealed in tax filings or other financial documents, but the board protects itself by not directly asking the questions.

State courts have long ruled, Mr. Weinstein said, that co-op boards have a right to choose their neighbors as long as they do not violate fair-housing laws. “But what the proposed law would do is prevent co-op boards from making character determinations,” he said. “It would pressure boards into accepting a potentially troublesome neighbor who has a reputation for excessive litigation or someone who has a woofer system that blares at x-amount decibels — even though those kinds of people are not a protected class.”

Lawyers and brokers agree that the current emphasis on antidiscrimination is not necessarily a bad thing.

“Blatant discrimination, people don’t do,” said Diane Ramirez, the president of Halstead Property. “But there are gray areas where brokers might think they’re helping a seller, but what they’re doing or saying could be misinterpreted.” That’s why, she said, Halstead requires all its brokers, even the veterans, to attend annual fair-housing seminars. “We want to be sure our agents understand the grayness that exists, and the only way to do that is make sure they keep hearing it,” she said.

Pamela Liebman, the president of the Corcoran Group, said her company began a fair-housing education campaign for its brokers more than a year ago, long before the National Fair Housing Alliance, a consortium of groups that works against housing discrimination, accused Corcoran of racial steering last October. In its report, the alliance accused Corcoran brokers of “blatant housing discrimination against African-Americans, as well as steering of whites away from neighborhoods of color.”

In addition to seminars for brokers, Corcoran’s efforts include a computer program that automatically screens property listings for unacceptable language. “Some words get completely blocked, and others flash a warning on your screen,” Ms. Liebman said. “It’s a huge list of words, but we have zero tolerance for violations.”

Ms. Liebman said that only one of the four agents accused in the complaint still works for Corcoran. “I believe that in each instance our agents acted in the proper way,” she said. “And when all the facts are gone through, I hope we will be vindicated.”

City Streamlines Searches For Real Estate Sales Data 

Jun 02, 2007

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Once, curious neighbors wanting to find out how much a co-op unit sold for had no choice but to ask. The city made things a bit easier last summer by putting such data online, but few besides wonks and real estate professionals could find it.

Now, those nosy neighbors have a new resource. A page on the Web site of the city’s Department of Finance — under the “Recent Sales Information” category at www.nyc.gov/html/dof/html/property/property.shtml — that went online yesterday allows anyone with basic computer skills to browse property sale prices by neighborhood and address. The sales data goes back four years.

“It is quite powerful, because they are breaking it up by borough, and they are breaking it up by year,” said Jonathan J. Miller, president and chief executive of Miller Samuel Real Estate Appraisers.

There are still limitations. Certain information about co-op units is not tracked by the city. While the new site lists the price paid by a buyer, it does not reveal the square footage of a unit, or the number of rooms. (Technically, co-ops are not considered real property because residents buy shares, not a deed, as they might for a condominium or house.)

Sale prices for most property transactions have been available online since 2004 on the Department of Finance Web site, but finding the information was tricky. First a user had to translate a street address into lots-and-blocks real estate terminology, and then enter that data into an index that was less user-friendly than the updated presentation.

“You really need to know what you are doing,” Gregory J. Heym, senior vice president and chief economist for Brown Harris Stevens and Halstead Property, said of the old system. “Public records are very hard to use.”

Some real estate agents cautioned that the database could lead to misguided expectations. Without more information about the particulars of each sale, like the size, condition and layout of individual units, potential sellers are likely to become fixated on the price they should be asking, the agents said, and overlook each property’s nuances.

“None of the reasons why people fall in love with apartments are part of this Web site,” said Michele Kleier, president of the real estate firm of Gumley Haft Kleier. Ms. Kleier said that property owners might think, wrongly, that their unit would be worth the same as a similarly numbered unit a floor or two above. “One apartment could need a $2 million renovation, and one could have had a $2 million renovation.”

Last August, a state law went into effect allowing the city to make co-op sale prices available to the public. The city’s finance commissioner, Martha E. Stark, said yesterday that the department hoped to include more information about co-ops in its database eventually. In the meantime, it sells digital indexes of deeds, mortgages and property tax liens to corporate subscribers, some of whom pay more than $170,000 a year.

But individuals have turned elsewhere for the same information. Propertyshark.com, a real estate research tool, has 200,000 users in New York City, according to Ryan Slack, the chief executive. He said he was confident that customers would keep using his site, because it collates sale histories, foreclosures, maps, photographs and, in many cases, the names and telephone numbers of the parties involved in each transaction.

“It’s not very helpful to just get a piece of information in isolation,” he said. “What’s helpful is to get the whole picture.”

An Elite ZIP Code Becomes Harder to Crack 

Mar 21, 2007

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The Postal Service, which mapped out social class four decades ago by separating people into ZIP codes, is about to give a new dimension to the adage “there goes the neighborhood.” This summer, ZIP code 10021 on the Upper East Side will become even more exclusive.

About 50,000 Manhattanites, including Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, David Rockefeller, Rupert Murdoch, Ronald Perelman, Spike Lee, Tom Wolfe and Gay Talese, will be cast from the ranks of 10021 residents.

They will be relegated instead to one of two new ZIP codes, either 10065 (60th to 69th Streets, from Fifth Avenue to the East River) or 10075 (East 76th Street to East 80th).

The redefined 10021 will shrink to about 40 percent of its original size and run from the north side of East 69th Street to the south side of East 76th.

That even cozier enclave in and around Lenox Hill will boast the homes of Pat and William F. Buckley Jr. and the residents of 740 Park Avenue, including the billionaires David Koch and Stephen Schwarzman, who collectively helped elevate that address to what the journalist Michael Gross proclaimed was “the world’s richest apartment building” in his book “740 Park.”

“I think ZIP codes matter a great deal, at least as much as area codes, and possibly much more,” Mr. Gross said.

They’re especially important, he said, to those New Yorkers who now have to adjust to their changed circumstances. “Their ‘deuxième’ ZIP code will be shoved in their face every day when they look at their mail,” Mr. Gross said, spelling out the French word for second-place.

The Postal Service denies any social agenda, insisting that growth in population and in new addresses necessitated the change, which was reported Monday in The New York Sun and which promises to be a godsend to stationers. Although the die is cast — officially the shift takes place July 1 — former 10021 residents whose engravers cannot meet the deadline will be granted a grace period.

In contrast to the existing 10021, the more elite version will, according to the 2000 census, be more densely populated (125,000 people per square mile versus 85,000) and will have a higher median household income ($84,000 compared with $75,000).

But 10065 will count a higher share of doctoral degree holders than the revamped 10021, and will have a higher median home value.

With the proliferation of e-mail, ZIP codes may not have the cachet they once did. What’s more, a number of smaller ZIP codes on the East Side, West Side and downtown now report higher median household incomes than 10021, whose residents, nevertheless, contributed more to presidential candidates in 2004 than those of any other ZIP code.

Still, with the coveted 212 area code (or 917 for cellphones) harder to come by, what’s left to hold on to?

“The truth is, there are some people whose whole identity is their ZIP code,” said Michele Kleier, the president of the real estate brokerage Gumley Haft Kleier.

“I don’t think everybody is going to move out of 80th Street, but obviously this is the most famous and most desired ZIP code in the city and in America,” she said.

Mr. Talese said, “The first thing you think of is your stationery.”

“But it’s not like an elite number and now you’ve been demoted,” he said. “We still have the 212 area code, don’t we?” (He does.)

Mr. Wolfe was equally sanguine. “I’ll try to take it like a man,” he said.

Mr. Bloomberg, too, seemed unfazed and typically even-handed. “The mayor doesn’t favor one ZIP code over another,” his spokesman, Stu Loeser, said.

Howard J. Rubenstein, the public relations executive, lives in 10028, just over the existing 10021 border, and he countenanced calm. “The same people will be invited to all the fancy parties,” he said, “and the fund-raisers surely will find their addresses.”

Wall St. Bonuses: So Much Money But Too Few $250,000 Ferraris 

Dec 25, 2006

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It’s a brisk Wednesday morning in the windy caverns of Wall Street and Sarah Clark’s toes are cold.

Dressed in a purple flight attendant outfit, Ms. Clark, a 26-year-old model, is trying to entice recent bonus recipients at Goldman Sachs into using a charter plane service, handing out $1,000 discount coupons to people in front of the investment bank’s Broad Street headquarters.

“Where am I going?” asks one man, heading toward the Goldman building. “It’s your own private jet,” says Ms. Clark with a smile. “You can go wherever you like.”

For Wall Street’s elite, the sky may well be the limit.

In recent weeks, immense riches have been rained upon the top bankers and traders. After a year of record profits, investment houses like Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers and Morgan Stanley are awarding bonuses as high as $60 million. And a select group of hedge fund managers and private equity executives may be taking home even more.

That is serious money. And the serious luxury goods markets are feeling the impact.

Miller Motorcars, in Greenwich, Conn., is fielding more requests for the $250,000 Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano than it can possibly fill. One real estate broker laments a dearth of listings for two clients trying to spend $20 million on Manhattan properties. Financiers already comfortably settled in multimillion-dollar apartments and town houses are buying $5 million apartments for their children. Vacation homes, usually bought and sold in the spring, are now hot this winter, including ones in private resorts like the Yellowstone Club in Montana near Yellowstone National Park.

“Last year, everybody bought Ducatis,” said one investment banker, referring to the Italian motorcycle. “This year it’s vacations. I’m on my way to St. Barts,” he said, en route to the airport. Like most bankers, he spoke on the condition that he not be identified, because he was not authorized to talk to a reporter by his company.

The 2006 bonus gold rush has re-energized some luxury markets. The Manhattan real estate market, for example, had softened; sales of apartments fell 17 percent in the third quarter this year compared with a year ago, according to the Corcoran Group.

Then came bonus day. Last week, Michele Kleier, president of Gumley Haft Kleier, received a call from a hedge fund manager in his late 30s. He had spent $6 million on an apartment two years ago and, with his bonus, wanted to upgrade. His new price range? “Not more than $20 million.”

Ed Petrie, a broker at Sotheby’s in East Hampton, N.Y., is now fielding two bids for $8 million to $10 million properties in exclusive Georgica Pond — properties that have been on the market since the spring. “The fall was relatively slow and then suddenly, with news on bonuses, there has been quite a bit of activity,” he said.

Many brokers noticed not just the bonus effect, but the bonus-anticipation effect. Buyers who sat on the sidelines in 2006, waiting for real estate prices to come down, saw news of outsized bonuses and started signing deals to pre-empt any price increase driven by new Wall Street payouts.

“Part of our recent increase in sales activity has been buyers not in financial services trying to beat the bonus rush,” said James Lansill, senior managing director at the Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group.

Once the bonus rush started, Mr. Lansill witnessed a trend he had never seen in his 14 years in the business: people who had signed contracts for apartments under construction 5 to 6 months ago were doubling the size of the properties they were purchasing.

In the last three weeks, the Corcoran Sunshine Marketing group sold the last four apartments in the Richard Meier apartments at 165 Charles Street in Greenwich Village. The last one to go: a two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment with 2,350 square feet that sold for just under $7 million.

Patricia Warburg Cliff, senior vice president and director for European sales at the Corcoran Group, said that until recently, 2006 had been characterized by calmer, more informed buyers. “Now there’s a feeling, ‘I need to sign because I don’t want it snatched away,’ ” she said.

Adding to the spending spree is a rash of young hedge fund analysts, first big bonus checks in hand, scooping up the $2 million to $3 million starter apartments (most popular features: glass walls, marble bathrooms and kitchens — likely to go unused — with top-flight appliances).

“We love hedge funds, they are our favorite people” Ms. Kleier said. “They don’t feel like the money is real and they don’t mind spending it — they don’t mind going up by $500,000 or $1 million increments.”

Hedge fund analysts are not the only ones celebrating bonus season. Private equity firms like the Blackstone Group and Kohlberg Kravis & Roberts helped fuel a record deal-making year.

Private equity’s deal-making has trickled down to Wall Street in two ways. For one, the banks served as advisers on the deals and financed them, raking in enormous fees. (Kohlberg Kravis is said to pay more than $700 million a year in fees to the Street.)

But bankers also see a pay effect: top executives insist they must pay up because of the danger that their best dealmakers could leave for higher-paying private equity firms or other hedge funds considered more flexible and fun.

Those young, single hedge fund managers are bringing holiday cheer to car dealerships as well. This year, drama surrounds the very limited production of the Ferrari 599 GTB Fiorano, a car with 612 horsepower that can go from zero to 60 miles an hour in 3.6 seconds. “It is the most sought-after car ever made,” said Richard Koppelman, president of Miller Motorcars. With a waiting list of 50, Mr. Koppelman expects to get only one.

Who will be the lucky customer? “It’s very difficult,” he said. “We try to take care of our best clients.”

Private planes, or shares of them, are also on the rise, with demand for charter planes at one company up 40 percent to 50 percent among financial services executives. “There is a noticeable difference this year compared to the past, especially in the financial sector,” said Jeffrey Menaged, founder and head of Chief Executive Air, the company that hired Ms. Clark for the day. A typical price for a charter flight is $30,000.

Sales of “jet cards,” a sort of debit card for private flying, increase during bonus season, Mr. Menaged said, as executives lock in last year’s gains with guaranteed comfort for the new year.

Exotic destinations are also being pitched to the Wall Street ultrarich. Unlimited Speed started Victory Lane in November, a 3,000-acre development in Georgia for motor racing aficionados. Along with a 4.5 mile racetrack, the development also has a 1,600-acre nature preserve, equestrian facilities, a golf course and spa. It already has 27 reservations, a quarter of them coming from Wall Street, said Andrew Goggin, president of Unlimited Speed.

Not everyone on Wall Street is getting multimillion-dollar bonuses. The average managing director — who stands at the top of Wall Street’s hierarchical food chain, but far from rock-star status — will be getting $1 million to $3 million, which will likely be stashed in savings as memories of the 2001 bear market remain fresh.

“I’m putting it in the bank because I know next year I could be out of a job,” said one managing director at a leading bank.

For hedge fund traders and managers, markets were rough in the spring and summer, and some did not make gains until stocks rallied this fall.

“It was a terrible year,” said one young hedge fund professional. “I am going to the movies with my bonus. By myself."

At cocktail parties, comparisons to 1999 abound. That year marked the height of the technology boom and the eve of a painful crash. “It feels a little bit like the top,” said another banker.

The morning Goldman Sachs announced record fourth-quarter and 2006 earnings, Lloyd C. Blankfein, chairman and chief executive, implored his employees — many whom would directly benefit from the bountiful earnings — to avoid excess.

“As stewards of the firm’s reputation, I ask each of you to remember that our actions — inside and outside of the office — reflect on Goldman Sachs. Even a perception of arrogance hurts all of us,” he said in a voice mail sent to the entire firm.

Back handing out vouchers in front of Goldman, Ms. Clark wondered why there weren’t more people coming to work during the early hours.

Then, at 7:30 a.m., a black Mercedes pulled up, depositing Mr. Blankfein in front of Ms. Clark. The night before, he had been awarded a $53.4 million bonus.

She offered him a voucher. “How are you?” he said, smiling quickly but refusing the voucher.

“I guess he didn’t want it,” she lamented.

Another Place to Hang the Cleats 

Jun 11, 2006

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Claudio Reyna, the captain of the United States World Cup soccer team, has signed a contract to buy a one-bedroom condominium at the Cipriani Club Residences at 55 Wall Street.

Mr. Reyna and his wife, Danielle, will pay about $1.4 million for the 1,000-square-foot apartment, when work on the building, a former hotel, is completed later this year.

Mr. Reyna and his American teammates play their first game of the World Cup on Monday, against the Czech Republic. The monthlong tournament is being held in Germany.

The purchase is the culmination of an on-and-off apartment hunt by the Reynas that has lasted about four years. During the European soccer season, Mr. Reyna plays for the Manchester City club, in England, and the couple and their two sons have a house in Manchester. They spend their summers in Westhampton Beach on Long Island but come into the city often enough to want a pied-à-terre in Manhattan.

Mr. Reyna, whose nickname is Captain America, said he envisioned playing in Europe for about two more years before coming home to the United States, where he might play for a Major League Soccer team before retiring.

"I'm 33 this summer, towards the tail end of my career," he said. "Eventually, we're going to move back to America."

Mr. Reyna's real estate broker, Sabrina Kleier, a vice president of Gumley Haft Kleier, said the extras in the Cipriani building sold him on the apartment.

"It's great for somebody like him, who's very busy," Ms. Kleier said. When the couple move in, they will have a fully furnished apartment. "They have the furniture, and everything else taken care of. They have luxurious sheets and towels."

The condo also comes with a two-year membership in the Cipriani Club, located in the building, which includes a spa, a screening room, a restaurant and free breakfasts.

Mr. Reyna, who is from New Jersey, was named to the all-star team in the 2002 World Cup, held in South Korea and Japan, where the United States reached the quarterfinal round.

"As a team we had a very good last World Cup, and we'd like to do well next time around," Mr. Reyna said in an interview last month. "We feel we can surprise teams and compete against the so-called bigger countries. It's a great chance to show again that we're a good soccer nation."

Gotham Luxury for MGM Mogul

HARRY EVANS SLOAN, the chairman and chief executive of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, bought a full-floor, four-bedroom co-op at 955 Fifth Avenue in April, according to a record filed with the city. The apartment, which is between 76th and 77th Streets, had been on the market with an asking price of $7.89 million.

According to the listing information, the apartment, in a prewar building designed by the architect Rosario Candela, has three wood-burning fireplaces, a library, six bathrooms and three maid's rooms.

Mr. Sloan has had an adventurous and lucrative career in Hollywood and the media business. In 1983, he was part of a partnership that bought what was then called New World Pictures from the producer and director Roger Corman.

They took the company public, bought the Marvel Entertainment Group, tried to position the company as a major Hollywood player, renamed it New World Entertainment, ran into trouble by accruing heavy debts and finally sold the company in 1989.

In 1990, Mr. Sloan went to Europe and founded SBS Broadcasting, which grew to become a major television broadcaster, owning 16 television stations in Europe, as well as cable channels and radio networks, according to materials distributed by the company. The public company was sold for about $2.6 billion last October. It was not clear how much Mr. Sloan received from the sale. Less than a week after the SBS sale closed, he was named the new head of MGM, which is based in Los Angeles.

MGM was acquired by a group of investors including the Sony Corporation in April 2005 for nearly $5 billion. The company was considered valuable primarily because of its library of more than 4,000 films. It also distributes films and television programming, and has an agreement with Sony to finance and produce some films, like movies in the James Bond series.

Jeff Pryor, a spokesman for MGM, said Mr. Sloan was not available for comment.

A Place to Raise Children

A PARISIAN couple have agreed to pay $12 million for a 4,900-square-foot penthouse and a separate studio apartment at the 19-story condominium under construction at 170 East End Avenue, between 87th and 88th Streets.

Alexandre Bosoni, a real estate developer, and his wife, Maria, have lived both in the United States and abroad, but they decided they wanted their three young children to grow up in New York. "We've been living in France for 12 years," Mrs. Bosoni said. "We said it's good for the children to come back to America. New York is a great city for kids and it's a good mentality."

In Paris, the Bosonis live in a five-story limestone mansion with an indoor pool, near the Arc de Triomphe. They were looking for something more modern in New York. "We wanted high ceilings, big windows and the view with nothing in front," Mrs. Bosoni said.

They looked at several new developments but did not find what they wanted until their broker, Andrea Wohl Lucas, a senior vice president of the Corcoran Group, took them to 170 East End, which was designed by the architect Peter Marino for the developer Orin Wilf on the site of the former Doctor's Hospital. It met their criteria, and they also liked the tranquillity of the neighborhood around Gracie Mansion. They plan to use the studio for their children's nanny.

Hollywood Couple Selling Town House

THE West Village town house of the actress Hilary Swank and her husband, the actor-director Chad Lowe, has come on the market with an asking price of $8.25 million.

The couple bought the four-story, 17-foot-wide town house on Charles Street for $3.9 million in 2002. The house, which Ms. Swank and Mr. Lowe renovated, has six fireplaces, two full bathrooms and two half baths, in about 4,000 square feet.

The listing comes after the couple announced plans to divorce. The listing broker, Michael Bolla, said he could not discuss the property.

Meadow in Tribeca 

May 28, 2006

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AFTER 28 years in the same rented apartment on the Upper West Side, the actor Mandy Patinkin and his wife, the actress Kathryn Grody, are planning a move. Mr. Patinkin said he would have been happy to stay in the apartment, which was rent-stabilized when they moved in nearly three decades ago. But because of changes in the rent stabilization law, the apartment reverted to a market-level rental several years ago, and since their lease will expire next year, the couple decided it was time for a change.

So over a nine-day span in April, Mr. Patinkin, who stars in the CBS series "Criminal Minds," and Ms. Grody looked at 53 residences, from uptown apartments to downtown lofts to town houses in Brooklyn.

"You have not gone apartment hunting until you've gone with Mandy Patinkin," Ms. Grody said on Thursday, still sounding a bit fatigued from the recent marathon.

But after looking far afield, the couple realized that the Upper West Side was home, and they have signed a contract to buy a three-bedroom co-op near Columbia University. It was listed for $1.695 million.

The move represents a downsizing for the couple. Their two sons are grown, and Mr. Patinkin and Ms. Grody will be going from an apartment with about 2,400 square feet to one with about 1,750 square feet. Still, Mr. Patinkin makes clear, there will be plenty of room for the boys to come visit. The new apartment is a combination of two smaller units that were gutted and renovated before being put on the market last year.

The couple's rental apartment, which is in the 90's, is also a combination. Mr. Patinkin said they started out paying about $600 a month for a single two-bedroom apartment when they first moved in nearly three decades ago. After about 11 years, they rented another two-bedroom next door and broke through the wall to combine the two apartments, at their own expense. He said the rent on the combined units had risen to a little more than $3,000 a month.

Then came the great apartment hunt, during a hiatus from filming "Criminal Minds," in which Mr. Patinkin plays Jason Gideon, a top criminal profiler for the F.B.I.

Mr. Patinkin said that after looking at some newer buildings, he realized he wanted a prewar building, like the one they live in now.

"I work in Vancouver a lot when I'm shooting, and I'll often live in new buildings there," Mr. Patinkin said. "But there you're looking out on mountains and the water. Here you're looking out on brick or buses. To me, Manhattan is a prewar building."

He said that although the apartment they will be buying has been renovated, the work was done in what he called a traditional style. "Our kids saw it, and they said, 'Oh God, it looks like home,' " he said. "It's familiar."

The co-op has northern and southern exposures, two and a half bathrooms, a new kitchen and a large dining room and living room, according to listing information posted online by the brokers, Steve Goldschmidt and Sarah Smith of the Warburg Realty Partnership.

Ms. Grody said it would take the rest of the year to pack up their belongings and do some minor renovations to the new apartment. "It'll be a slow move, and we've got 30 years worth of stuff that I have to weep over," she said. "I'm a keeper of everything."

Mr. Patinkin said he would resume filming "Criminal Minds" in July, and in the fall he plans a series of concerts around the country during weekend breaks from the show. He performs a range of songs, from Sondheim to Yiddish pieces to standard show tunes.

Besides his television work, Mr. Patinkin has also had a long career in the movies and on Broadway, where he won a 1980 Tony award for "Evita."

Ms. Grody has appeared in numerous movies, television shows and plays. She has also acted in a one-woman play she wrote, "A Mom's Life," about her experiences raising their two sons.

Meadow in TriBeCa

JAMIE-LYNN SIGLER, who plays Meadow Soprano on the HBO series "The Sopranos," closed this month on a two-bedroom apartment on Leonard Street in TriBeCa. According to the deed, she paid $2.15 million for the space, which is about 2,500 square feet.

Ms. Sigler's brokers, Sabrina Kleier and Rob Morgenstern of Gumley Haft Kleier, said they were not permitted to discuss the deal. Ms. Sigler could not be reached.

More Accusations Against Architect

THE city has expanded its investigation of an architect, Robert M. Scarano Jr., accusing him of failing to take proper steps to guarantee safe conditions at a building site in Brooklyn. A worker was killed in the collapse of a garage wall at the site on Ocean Parkway last March.

In papers filed on Tuesday with the city's Office of Administrative Trials and Hearings, the Buildings Department also charged that Mr. Scarano failed to protect neighboring buildings from damage during excavation work on at least four other projects in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

The Buildings Department contends that plans submitted by Mr. Scarano for an apartment building at 733 Ocean Parkway lacked "design data" meant to ensure the stability of the adjoining garage. Investigators said the supports holding up the garage gave way on March 7, and a wall tumbled onto a worker, Anthony Duncan, 46, killing him.

The papers also charge that Mr. Scarano failed to make required inspections on the site, although they do not make clear whether he was required to inspect the garage supports. Mr. Scarano has not been charged with criminal wrongdoing in connection with the accident.

The Buildings Department is seeking to bar Mr. Scarano from a program that allows architects to sign off on their own building plans without agency review. In February, the department charged him with violating zoning or building codes on 25 projects in Brooklyn, including several cases in which it alleged that new buildings he designed were larger than they should have been.

The new charges represent an expansion of the earlier case. An administrative trial has been scheduled for July 12.

In the new accusations, the Buildings Department contends that Mr. Scarano's plans failed to meet safety requirements during excavation of at least four other building sites where neighboring structures were damaged. They are 4 East Third Street in Manhattan and three addresses in the Williamsburg and Greenpoint sections of Brooklyn: 96 Diamond Street, 72 Huron Street and 409-413 Broadway.

Mr. Scarano's lawyer, Raymond T. Mellon, did not respond to three requests for comment. In March, Mr. Scarano's lawyers filed papers denying the previous round of charges.

Mightier Than the Board 

May 28, 2006

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IN New York City, letters of recommendation are part of the hazing ritual known as a board package, whereby a buyer must convince a co-op board that he or she would make a worthy neighbor. But in this era of cellphones and instant messaging, formal letters of recommendation solicited from friends and associates can seem as quaint as cucumber sandwiches, with buyers and writers alike tempted to treat them as crustless formalities.

"It's not really a blowoff," said Joan Sacks, an associate broker at Stribling who sits on the board of her white-glove building at 45 Sutton Place South. "Many people believe falsely the letters will never be considered, because who would ask for one from someone who would give a bad one. But the quality of the letters will speak to the kinds of people the applicant knows, their ability to write well, and most importantly, the ability to provide a sense at a personal level what the applicant and his family are like."

Boards typically require three to six letters from friends, employers and professional colleagues. And depending on the building and the candidate, the letter-writing ritual can make the difference between acceptance and rejection. But, brokers lament, letters of recommendation continue to be chronically misunderstood, occasionally faked and frequently bungled — sometimes to comic effect.

Consider the reference submitted by a lawyer on behalf of a couple buying a one-bedroom pied-à-terre a few years ago. "Both applicants are of the highest moral turpitude," he wrote.

"I read it three times to myself, saying 'This has got to be a joke,' " said Susan Ruttner, a senior vice president of Halstead Property who, as the seller's agent, reviewed the board package before it was submitted. The writer was asked for a revision.

"I get a new one faxed to me a month later that says: 'I purchased a dictionary for my secretary. Sorry for the previous effort,' " Ms. Ruttner said. "He changed it to 'of the highest moral character.' "

The inadvertently maligned buyers got the apartment.

Sometimes, the letters really are intended as jokes — ones that are not always recognized until it is nearly too late. When an actor asked a comedian friend for a reference, he said that the actor "sleeps all day, and he's really very quiet, even at night when he practices the piano at 3 in the morning, and he's actually very talented," said Michele Kleier, the chairwoman of Gumley Haft Kleier. The letter slipped by the buyer's broker and would have gone into the board package if Ms. Kleier, the seller's broker, hadn't noticed something amiss. "About four days later, the real letter arrived," Ms. Kleier said.

Less amusing, she said, was a reference on behalf of a couple buying one of her listed apartments. "It was very long and started out beautifully," she recalled, "and toward the end there was a paragraph about how wonderful these people were in the face of adversity — that after three bankruptcies, they landed on their feet each time and only did better, and now their lives had turned around. And I said, 'Oh my God, who wants to have someone in their building who has had three bankruptcies?' "

It is also unwise to bring up a candidate's penchant for entertaining or for cooking pungent-smelling foods. JoAnne Kennedy, the chief operating officer of Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy, said that other instances of innocent sabotage involve statements like "they train pit bulls and have five grandchildren that they like to take care of."

She also bemoaned references to "things that are absolutely off the wall — like gun collections."

"I mean, gun collecting is an honorable pastime in some parts of the world," she said. "But New Yorkers don't collect guns; they collect art."

Obvious miscues like these rarely make it to the board. They wind up in rewrite or in a dead-letter file after the brokers have vetted them. But plenty of people submit brief, pro forma letters that brokers can do little about if the writer is unwilling to try again.

These terse cookie-cutter letters bespeak a maladroit candidate who doesn't play well with others, particularly when they are from social references.

"The last thing you want in a package is four letters, each of which is two-sentence paragraphs," said Frederick Peters, president of Warburg Realty, who was the president of his board on Central Park West for five years. "That makes a really bad impression. When I was a board president, what I thought was that people couldn't really be bothered. And I think that says something about how they feel about the applicant."

The tone and content of the ideal letter vary according to the building. An astute broker can tell you whether a chatty, sophisticated or businesslike approach will work best.

But all letters should describe through specific examples "people who have a solid base in society in terms of relationships," said Judith H. Saunders, a senior vice president of Halstead. "They show that you can get along with people, accommodate yourself to other people's needs, and you're not going to make unreasonable demands."

A reference from a fellow volunteer, for example, should say "not just that you sit on the board, but that you worked tirelessly to raise money for X and painted the playground," said Laura Matiz, an executive vice president of Bellmarc Realty.

While stock phrases like "financially prudent," "quietly reliable" and "excellent reputation" have their uses, they are no substitute for personal and powerful storytelling. "I've had other board members tell me they've been moved to tears on more than one occasion by beautiful letters of a beautiful friendship," said Maury Solomon, an associate broker at Halstead and former board member at an Upper West Side building.

Ms. Sacks recalled the stirring recommendation she recently read "from a woman who met her next-door neighbors"— the buyers — "because of 9/11. She lived alone and was absolutely terrified to come out of her apartment. Her next-door neighbors made it a point to ring her doorbell and make sure she was all right and befriended her and really helped her get through that kind of trauma."

While some board members are motivated mostly by curiosity, satisfying it can be tantamount to a red carpet at the board interview, the final and traditionally most feared part of the application process.

"We're all very nosy people," Ms. Kennedy said. "Look at all the reality shows on television. And when you know another person's story, you then learn how to connect with them."

Of course, in New York, who is writing can be as important as what they say.

"Sometimes a building wants to know who the letters are from before the application review," said Margaret Furniss, a vice president of Stribling, referring to certain buildings in the white-glove category, including those that expect handwritten letters on engraved stationery. "They want to make sure the buyers know people who live in the same sort of co-ops. And they want a snapshot profile of who the person is. What kind of world do they live in?"

At other times, it's the seller who may be gun-shy. Last year, Ms. Matiz helped sell a $2.5 million apartment on Park Avenue after the board had already turned down one pair of financially qualified buyers, raising suspicions of a "social" turndown. "The seller's agent would not look at our financials until they knew who the letter writers were," Ms. Matiz said. "I gave them very wealthy C.E.O.'s who all lived on Park Avenue."

In a slightly different wrinkle, a seller's broker weighing competing bids may ask for the names of the letter writers to help identify the offer most likely to pass the board.

The "right" names depend on the personality of the building. "Different buildings are looking for different things," said Mr. Peters, Warburg's president. "There are some buildings which are quite clubby, and they want letters from people they know, so you have to figure out who's on the board, what they do, and figure out if you know someone who knows them."

(On the other hand, brokers warn, don't ask someone who barely knows you, even a famous someone, to write a recommendation, and think carefully before including one of your potential neighbors. "You don't know whether they are really well liked or not," said Mr. Solomon of Halstead.)

So can reference letters really torpedo an application?

Occasionally, yes.

"We had at least one experience on my board that I can recall in which the letters hinted to us at stuff that we then did more research to find out, which led us to conclude that the candidate was not right for us," Mr. Peters said, referring to his Central Park West board.

Much more commonly, great letters can push a buyer with so-so financials across the finish line.

"If it's a business recommendation and that letter is saying John Jones is a highly competent employee and his future with our company is excellent, that, of course, becomes very significant in weighing that applicant," said Ms. Sacks of Stribling.

Similarly, Ms. Furniss, her colleague at Stribling, said: "If you have an entry-level couple and their finances are sort of on the edge, if their letters all say they're honest and straightforward and always meet their obligations personally and financially, that can tip it right over into their favor. A lot of boards are interested in having smart young people on their way up in the building and will give a leg up to people like that."

What if you are quiet, honest and reasonably solvent but keep to yourself? This is not the moment to abandon type and forge a set of letters, at least not in the traditional sense.

Some boards actually check references, especially on the Upper East Side. "Your 10 percent deposit can be lost that quickly," Mr. Solomon said.

But there are legitimized types of fakery — for example, when references say they will sign whatever you write (or when a script-doctoring broker offers to "fill out" an awkward or anemic letter). While this is not cause for disqualification, it can backfire by producing a subpar letter.

"You always get better references from someone else than one you write yourself," said Ms. Saunders of Halstead. "People writing their own letters and asking a friend to sign it are less likely to have personal detail quality."

Plagiarism is another problem and often can be traced to the sample letters brokers hand out. "Then, the danger is that everybody uses it, and you get four letters back, and all of them have the same middle paragraph," Mr. Peters said.

Anthony vanEyck Miller, a vice president of Bellmarc, defended the widespread practice of distributing examples. "In this age of e-mails, many college-educated people do not know how to write well," he said, "and they don't know how to construct a letter. With a sample, they get the idea."

Sometimes, a board confronting a sheaf of clonish or skeletal letters will ask for a new and improved set. But if a candidate's finances are excellent, money will usually speak louder than words.

"At the end of the day, it's the finances of the buyer that count," said Mr. Miller, a veteran of two boards. "The reference letters simply legitimize whatever conclusions the board might have already reached by view of the financial statements."

Regardless of the outcome, a board package containing detailed and moving references may carry sentimental value.

"It's like a little time capsule," said Meg Siegel, a senior vice president of Sotheby's International Realty and the president of her SoHo board for five years. "A friend or associate who writes a wonderful letter for you — it's a wonderful marking of time, of where you are at this point in your life. It's kind of like a complete packet that really sums up who this person really is. And it's pretty accurate."

For Some Single Clients, Brokers Find the Perfect Match 

Jan 01, 2006

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YOUR real estate broker can find you the right home, the right buyer, the right mortgage broker, the right contractor and the right architect. But how about Mr. or Ms. Right?

Ali Kleeblatt would say yes. Her real estate agent, David Dubin of the Corcoran Group, introduced Ms. Kleeblatt, a 30-year-old psychologist, to her future fiancé, Brad Hoenig, in the spring of 2004.

And as things were heating up between the couple, Mr. Dubin also found Mr. Hoenig, who was his client, a 1,500-square-foot two-bedroom duplex at the top of the Paladin on the Upper East Side.

Mr. Hoenig, 31, an investment banker, closed on the apartment for $1.325 million in June, and the couple were engaged three months later.

"Its one-stop shopping," Ms. Kleeblatt said, surrounded by stunning northern, western and southern exposures in the couple's new dining room, which was graced by a framed line drawing of the late rocker Kurt Cobain done by Mr. Hoenig. "David knows us so well," she said. "He said Brad would fit in with my family, and it's so true."

Found in many cultures, traditional matchmakers were people who had encyclopedic knowledge of the eligible young people in a community along with their family backgrounds and social standings. Today's real estate agents and brokers, with huge rosters of single clients and intimate knowledge of their finances and lifestyles, would seem equally suited to take up that role.

And some of them are doing just that. Agents and brokers say they want to help out ambitious unattached professionals who have little time to seek out romance. Others say they handle real estate transactions for a large number of divorced or divorcing clients, who need to find a new home for their belongings and sometimes a new partner.

Mr. Dubin, who has set up many other couples besides real estate clients, said matchmaking just fits into the course of his day. Married 33 years himself, he said it gives him a good feeling, and it can help business.

"I enjoy doing it, and I do it frequently," he said. "I think people will remember me and appreciate what I've done for them, and if they do get into the real estate arena, they will give me their business."

In fact, Mr. Dubin also set up Ms. Kleeblatt's older brother, Ian Kleeblatt, a Manhattan real estate attorney, with his wife, Michele, and anticipates one day selling their apartment.

"They got married about two years ago," Mr. Dubin said. "They own an apartment, and when they sell it, it's mine to sell."

Mr. Dubin is so good at matchmaking that, like a true marriage broker, he has even been promised a commission of sorts by Ms. Kleeblatt's mother.

"All along, Ali's mother has said, 'David, if this works out, I'm sending you and your wife to Hawaii,' " Mr. Dubin said. "Well, it's working out, and she's getting very nervous now."

While marriage is the ultimate goal for matchmakers, most real estate brokers say that is not necessarily their intention. Sabrina Kleier Morgenstern, a vice president at Gumley Haft Kleier, and her sister, Samantha Kleier Forbes, also a vice president at the firm, are frequent matchmakers. Though they have marital aspirations for two couples they recently introduced, they say marriage is not the criterion for success.

"We consider anything over three dates a successful fix-up, though ultimately our goal is to find our clients a home and then someone to live there with them," Ms. Morgenstern said.

They might be on their way with one couple. Michael Wilens, 34, a lawyer, went to contract two months ago on a town house in the East 50's, and his broker, Ms. Forbes, felt that his investment in property demonstrated he was primed to make an investment in love. While a well-to-do bachelor seeking a loft downtown may not want to settle down, one seeking a town house with space for a family to grow may be contemplating change, Ms. Forbes said.

"He was always sort of a dater, but the day he signed the contract, I said to him, 'Now that you've found the house, I think you're ready for a wife.' He said fine, and I said, 'I have the perfect girl for you.' "

Ms. Forbes introduced Mr. Wilens to a client seeking a prewar classic six apartment with two bedrooms, and the two have been dating ever since. Ms. Forbes said she knew there might be something there, because both clients were seeking a bath with a window. "That's unusual in New York City," she said.

Mr. Wilens said he shares common interests and a similar family background with the woman he is now dating, who declined to be interviewed. He credits Ms. Forbes with a match skillfully made.

"She saw the way I approached looking for a piece of real estate," Mr. Wilens said. "I think when you see that, you start to understand people."

Even when the matches fall short, some clients of real estate brokers say they are grateful for the service. The first woman Ms. Morgenstern presented to a 26-year-old client, Jamie Schweid, fell through romantically. Mr. Schweid has begun his second round of dating with another of Ms. Morgenstern's clients. Even if this match doesn't work, he said, he appreciates the efforts of his agent.

"If you trust a broker to look at your financials to do a board package, which is a very intrusive process, they can set you up with a girl," said Mr. Schweid, who is a vice president for a ground beef manufacturer.

Some agents and brokers have even held gatherings to bring unmarried clients together, while at the same time promoting their business. Vickey Barron, an agent with Prudential Douglas Elliman, held such an event last spring at a new development, 260 Park Avenue South, and three pairings resulted.

"I sell a lot of property to single professionals, and I really get to know my customers, and I can't help but think, he's great, she's great," Ms. Barron said. "So I thought, we should just put them in a room together."

Ms. Barron has a history of matchmaking. Before she started selling real estate, she said, she traveled across the country putting together teams of doctors and other health care professionals to travel to the islands of Guam and Saipan. When she sent over single doctors, she said, she would recommend that they look up other professionals she knew in the islands. "There were a couple of weddings, and they had kids," Ms. Barron said. "It felt so good in the end."

The gathering at 260 Park Avenue South was such a success that Ms. Barron intends to hold another one this year in an expanded form. She is asking each client to bring two single friends.

"Look at it this way," she said. "If you're dating someone from this event, they've been somewhat screened. If they've bought a co-op in New York City, you know they have good credit. They're not wanted by the law. It's unlike a Web site you go to, where who knows what you're getting?"

Marc Lawrence, a senior associate at Corcoran, also held an event last year for clients without spouses, primarily as a marketing tool, but also for social purposes. Besides clients, he invited some of his own colleagues.

"They were co-workers that I trusted because they hopefully weren't going to steal my clients - unless they were going to take them for personal reasons," Mr. Lawrence said. "Then I'd lose them, but I think they call that a mitzvah."

Jill Meilus, a vice president at Corcoran, who has also dabbled in matchmaking, said she believes open houses could be the perfect forum for singles to meet. "It's like matchmaking on those Web sites, where you punch in your income, or what income you're seeking," she said. "You go to open houses in the neighborhood where the guy you'd want would want to live, and then you strike up a conversation with him."

Some savvy singles are well aware that they can use their brokers as dating tools. Paulette Meslay, who owns Accent International Realty in Brooklyn, said she has male friends who have shown interest in her single female clients. In one instance, there was an unattached lawyer who was frequently at her office. "He noticed the people coming to look for an apartment and said, 'Oh, you meet a lot of nice girls,' " Ms. Meslay said. "So he wanted to hang around a bit, but it didn't work out for him. He went back to matching on the computer."

And then there are the instances where those interested in real estate are also interested in the agents and brokers.

Mr. Lawrence, the Corcoran broker, said he has had unattached male friends who appear to scan brokerage Web sites for agent profiles. "They'd look on the Corcoran and Elliman Web sites, and they would contact me and want to see certain apartments," he said. "I wasn't sure if their intent was to see the apartment or to meet the broker."

Ultimately, all of this can lead to agents dating clients or even marrying them, said Pamela Parrish, a Corcoran agent. "I had a friend who married one of her clients, and he was a real estate attorney," she said. "But they were only married about a year. It wasn't such a happy ending."

Ms. Parrish said that recently after signing a lease for a rental client, the listing broker called her and asked if she thought the rental client would be at all interested. "I encouraged him to go for it," she said.

Ms. Morgenstern and Ms. Forbes once set up a broker at their firm with a particularly likable male client in his mid-20's, who was looking to buy as opposed to rent. "We felt that he was ready to make a commitment," Ms. Forbes said.

But the young man was hesitant about going on a blind date, so the sisters had to get creative. Instead of accompanying him to open houses one Sunday, they sent the other broker instead. "We said we had a bridal shower to attend, but we had this terrific girl from our office we were going to send in our place," Ms. Forbes said. "They ended up dating about eight months."

While most brokers who do matchmaking say it's good for business, now and then it can also backfire. Ms. Morgenstern had a client eager to find a New York space, and a New York woman. As he went into contract on a two-bedroom apartment, Ms. Morgenstern introduced him to one of her friends.

Within two weeks, however, he decided not to buy the apartment, and Ms. Morgenstern lost her commission. "They got hot and heavy immediately," Ms. Morgenstern said. "He no longer needed the New York apartment, because he had her apartment to stay in. But I was happy for him."

The risk of losing a commission or two aside, brokers who do matchmaking say it makes sense in the long run.

"I've sort of become this full-service provider," Ms. Meilus said. "It's like: 'Jill, you know the perfect mortgage broker, painter, lawyer, architect. Where's the perfect boyfriend?' "

The Telltate Party Can Say a Great Deal About a Brokerage 

Dec 25, 2005

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MOST people don't like to think about their real estate broker throwing back drinks and gyrating on a dance floor to "It's Raining Men." But like the holiday party, it happens once a year, ready or not.

For a buyer or seller looking to discover what a firm values, its demographic, its "personality" (let alone its quotient for fun), much can be gleaned from the annual holiday party. While the success of the soiree is no indication of whether these real estate professionals can close a deal, the parties do give an indication of how the company may treat clients based on how they treat one another - and themselves.

Some are over the top, like the $100,000 party given by Prudential Douglas Elliman, at which more than 1,000 guests stormed the Four Seasons 10 days ago. Others were intimate affairs at a broker's home, a traditional dinner party at a private club or a laid-back hangout session at a downtown lounge not yet open to the public. Still others involved draining mozzarella and singing drag queens - although not at the same time or place.

Bellmarc Realty

Bellmarc was the early entrant, kicking the season off on Nov. 29 with a by-the-book holiday party at a TriBeCa party space, complete with holly-themed name tags.

A buffet dinner featured four kinds of pasta, baked chicken, filleted fish, carved roast beef or turkey. Dancing followed, heavy on Motown and ebullient wedding favorites like Kool and the Gang's "Celebration" and Aretha Franklin's "Respect."

This was a festive affair, not too showy, not too stingy.

And not surprising, because Bellmarc is a "just right" kind of company. With about 220 agents, it is squarely in the middle of the 10 largest companies. The agents tend to be older, ranging from about 30 to 70, many on their second or third career.

Most of the agents have accents that leave no doubt they grew up in New Jersey, Long Island, Manhattan or Queens - like the owners of the firm, Neil Binder and Marc Broxmeyer.

People whispered that the party was held so early in the season because it was cheaper to rent the space.

But by the looks of the dance floor at TriBeCa Rooftop, awash in bodies swaying, shaking and twisting, no one thought it was a bad deal.

Gumley Haft Kleier

On Dec. 7, Michele Kleier, who co-owns and co-manages the boutique firm Gumley Haft Kleier with her husband, Ian, was host to a cocktail party for 40 people at the nine-room Park Avenue prewar apartment where they have lived for the last 25 years.

A beaming Mrs. Kleier greeted guests in the foyer flanked by her two smiling daughters - and vice presidents at the firm - Sabrina Kleier Morgenstern and Samantha Kleier Forbes. Each of the three held one of the family's Maltese dogs - Lola, Roxy and Dolly - bedecked in red and green collars.

There was a lot of cheek kissing and puppy nuzzling.

It felt more like a book party than a holiday event (and not just because the three Kleier women are writing a book about being a family-run David against the consolidated Goliath firms). The parlor and living room were filled with chic-looking middle-aged agents and their spouses. There were some younger brokers looking like Junior Leaguers and some real estate reporters happily munching food.

Partygoers sipped wine and ate chocolate-dipped clementines and cheesy jalapeños on tiny biscuits as Billy Joel and Frankie Valli played on the sound system.

Just as one would expect at a party held amid Kleier photographs, family and friendships are central to the company. They are the company. Ms. Kleier has been in real estate for 27 years, and in addition to having her daughters close, many of the brokers are old friends.

Brown Harris Stevens and Halstead

Brown Harris Stevens's annual party was held on Dec. 7 at Au Bar, a velvet-roped celebrity magnet in Midtown off Park Avenue, which reflected the company's idiosyncratic mix of the traditional and the trendy.

While there are agents at Brown Harris Stevens who have developed long relationships with prominent New York families, there are also young brokers who handle newer clients. Everyone's clients share one trait: wealth.

In a parlorlike party space, where several courses of food were served, including sushi, pastas, salmon and desserts, the younger agents gravitated to a dance floor with music ranging from rock to rap.

Expressly for the firm, and not for spouses or guests, the party was also attended by some principals of the parent company, Terra Holdings, including members of the Zeckendorf family.

Halstead, also owned by Terra, had a very similar party, held at the same place on a different night. Just a little bit later, for a crowd just a little bit younger.

Warburg Realty

Each Warburg agent donned a red apron on arrival at the Tuscan Square restaurant in Rockefeller Center on Dec. 12. They were assigned a culinary station - fish, meatballs, mozzarella, tiramisu - and worked with one of 10 chefs to learn how to prepare the dish for the dinner.

The party was in keeping with the creative and academic background of Warburg. Its president, Frederick Peters, has a master's degree in music from Queens College and went to Yale as an undergraduate. He likes to keep the firm ahead of similar-sized ones, and Warburg was the first to open a luxury property office in Harlem.

Jane Bayard, a vice president there who was charged with creating the party, said that she tries to come up with a new idea each year for the company's 150 agents.

"We're not a mega-giant, so we can have a warmer atmosphere," Ms. Bayard said. The best part, she said, was that "we weren't talking real estate all night."

Citi Habitats

The soiree for about 1,000 was held at the enormous and ornate Cipriani Wall Street. With a supper club theme, it felt more like a senior prom than an office holiday party.

The decoration committee did some impressive work with the palm-tree table-toppers with feathers for fronds and a silken trunk lit from within. There were hors d'oeuvres and a buffet dinner of sushi, shrimp, pasta, salad and grilled beef.

Gaggles of young women wore strapless, backless or deeply plunging formal dresses in all manner of black, red and sequin. The men, who also came in packs, were no slouches either, wearing velvet pinstriped blazers and black suits.

Professional swing dancers performed to "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy," inspiring some flirty shimmying by agents on the dance floor, before the band retreated to dance fare with a cover of Madonna's "Holiday."

A projection screen above the stage flashed pictures of those overachievers who made the real estate equivalent of the honor roll, earning the "Top Sales Agent" and "Top Rental Agent" titles. There were pictures of the company's extracurricular activities like team sports and service projects. It was shown without the accompanying misty-eyed Alphaville version of "Forever Young" playing in the background. Which is unfortunate because Citi Habitats is forever young, made up of a seemingly endless supply of new agents, and the turnover is high.

Agents tend to be in their late 20's or early 30's, which speaks to attracting the young people that are the firm's bread and butter. For many people arriving in New York fresh from college, Citi Habitats is their introduction to Manhattan real estate.

Stribling & Associates

Elizabeth Stribling loves throwing a party, and like the firm that bears her name she does so with a strong sense of tradition.

It is held each year at the same Upper East Side private club. There are cocktails and a buffet dinner. For the last five years, the event has been decorated by Renny Reynolds, a Park Avenue-based designer who has created spectacular spaces through flowers from Studio 54 to the White House.

This year the party took a Caribbean island theme, with oodles of orchids, parasols, pretend iguanas and lanterns with printed birds. Sheer fabric was hung across the room, giving it what Mrs. Stribling called a "warm magic carpet feel."

"It demonstrates her personal style," said Kirk Henckels, the director of Stribling Private Brokerage. "I would never use the word 'classy'; I would say classic."

Mrs. Stribling personally greeted the agents and staff members who arrived with their significant others. Some of the firm's 200 agents come from prominent Upper East Side families with educations from schools like Chapin and colleges like Smith and Vassar, while others are from Dubai, United Arab Emirates; Paris; London; and South Africa.

"People said I looked like a snowflake," Mrs. Stribling said, describing her glittering white gown with lace and silver sequins that was made for her by Pilar Rossi.

Dwelling Quest

The Dwelling Quest identity - a hip, independent, boutique firm - could be read in the party's invitation, which was a slick e-vite with stylized pictures of candy canes and a red drink in a martini glass. The firm has 80 agents spread out over three locations, in Midtown, Harlem and Brooklyn, but the sensibility of the firm, as well as the location of the party, is very downtown.

It partied in a new cafe in west SoHo called Giorgione 508 (owned by Giorgio DeLuca, co-founder of Dean & DeLuca), which would not be open to the public until a week after the party. The vibe was low-key hangout, with the men in dressy open-collared shirts and the women in clingy knitwear as music by the Killers, the White Stripes and Moby played.

Since the company is growing - both the Brooklyn and Harlem offices opened this year - Daren W. Hornig, its chief executive, said planning a party is a delicate balance.

"If you do too much," Mr. Hornig said, "people say, 'Why did you spend so much money on one night when you could have put it back into infrastructure?' If you do too little, people say, 'You don't appreciate us?' "

JC DeNiro & Associates

From the mountain of coats piling up in front of the quickly fogging windows, to the scented candles set on filing cabinets and the wrought-iron decorative pieces bedecked with garlands and tinsel, this party had the welcoming effects of coming into someone's home.

But it was held in the JC DeNiro & Associates' office at Ninth Avenue and 21st Street in a storefront designed by Christopher Mathieson, the managing partner of the company, with the attention many give to their own homes.

Without the budget for a big flashy party, this firm used its people and its creativity to pull together an elaborate and attractive party.

The catering crew handily balanced convection ovens on top of desks and put glass Pyrex pans on top of printers, setting up their kitchen in a raised and open office space in the back. Another open office became a stage where a D.J. set up his gear, playing high energy club music and tracks from the new Madonna album. Throughout the evening two drag performers, Sherry Vine and Hedda Lettuce, tag-teamed the stage for stand up and singing.

The agents, who seemed to be friends as much as colleagues, mingled amid the festive wrapping-paper detritus of a secret-Santa celebration. They were invited to bring whomever they wanted - friends, boyfriends, girlfriends, spouses, parents - and each category was represented.

Prudential Douglas Elliman

By 9:30 p.m., the doorman at the 52nd Street entrance to the Four Seasons had abandoned his duties to Julian Niccolini, an owner of the restaurant. Mr. Niccolini announced to the two dozen unhappy guests jammed into the vestibule with their fur coats that it would be a half hour wait.

For those fortunate or patient enough to get inside, the party was on corporate holiday overdrive. Hundreds of men in charcoal suits lifted glasses and screamed over the music at hundreds of women in formal gowns, cocktail dresses and pantsuits. Suits slid past, the guests with plates of lobster and curry in one hand, a cellphone in the other, trying to make their way through the sprawling venue.

Everything about the party said big - the venue, the band, the buffet; the personalities, the crowd, the noise. And that was fitting, because the company is among the top in the city in terms of numbers of agents.

In Manhattan, the "big 10" firms are more like a fuzzy 11 or 12, with the companies changing rankings depending on the measurement, and who is measuring.

Typically, firms floating around the top include Prudential Douglas Elliman, the Corcoran Group, Halstead Properties, Brown Harris Stevens, Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy, Bellmarc Realty, Stribling & Associates, Warburg Realty, Fenwick-Keats, Citi Habitats, Sotheby's International Realty and Manhattan Apartments.

A study done by the trade publication the Real Deal last April showed how they ranked in various categories. At that time it was Corcoran for the highest dollar sum in total listings ($2.79 billion), Sotheby's for highest median price per listing ($5.09 million) and Fenwick-Keats with the highest percentage of brokers without listings (63.1 percent). Douglas Elliman had the highest number of listings and the most brokers.

Last year, Gloria Gaynor performed at the Douglas Elliman party. This year the hired band performed Ms. Gaynor's signature song, "I Will Survive." But the dance floor hit its peak during a cover of Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer." Perhaps a telling shift in the market place?

Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy, the Corcoran Group, Manhattan Apartments

These three firms are having their holiday party in January, a trend started by Corcoran a decade ago because the holidays are too heavy with competition for people's attention. Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy will have a different kind of party this year, a black-tie event with dinner and dancing at the Doubles Club at the Sherry-Netherland Hotel.

Manhattan Apartments, which seems to be trying to keep up with everyone else, doesn't know what kind of party it is going to have, but it will have one, it promised, on Jan. 11.

Corcoran will take over Cipriani Wall Street on Jan. 10 with a "God and Goddess" party. The party, which will include models in period costume, also reflects the company's inherent competitive spirit.

"Every year they try to outdo themselves," said Lara Berdine, vice president of public relations. "The agents have pretty high expectations."

So Few Properties, So Many Brokers 

Nov 27, 2005

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THE name of the game in real estate is amassing listings, because they mean money. But thousands of brokers have no listings at all - not surprising, when there are far more brokers and sales agents than there are properties to be sold.

The New York State Department of State has licensed about 27,500 brokers and agents in Manhattan. (Although most people use the terms interchangeably, brokers have tougher licensing and education requirements.) But there are only 10,000 transactions in any given year, according to Jonathan J. Miller, president of the appraisal firm Miller Samuel.

A transaction often involves more than one broker or agent. But even so, Mr. Miller said, "there are a lot of brokers not selling any property, because there are many of them who sell dozens of apartments each year."

Though it is certainly possible to make a living without having listings - people who represent buyers for example, do not always have listings - doing so tends to be much harder and less lucrative.

The listing broker is the gatekeeper for the property, able to control viewings and, more important, get a cut of the commission even if another broker brings in the buyer. A listing has marketing and promotional benefits too. The name of the listing broker goes in the ad or on the Web site with the property, meaning potential buyers will start phoning and clicking, making contact with that broker.

A survey done by The Real Deal, a monthly industry newspaper, showed that as of May, the percentage of agents affiliated with the top 10 firms in the city who had no listings at the time of publication ranged from 30.7 to 63.1 percent.

The figures were gathered through searches of the Web sites of each firm, according to Stuart Elliot, the editor of The Real Deal, and did not separate brokers who work with buyers or renters and therefore would not have any listings. Although the survey was done earlier this year, he said the numbers probably still hold. "If anything, the number of agents with no listings would be higher now because the market is moderating," Mr. Elliot said.

The imbalance between brokers and properties available for sale has been made worse by the influx of aspiring agents and by the fact that top brokers like Dolly Lenz, Michele Kleier and Carrie Chiang tend to have dozens of listings at any given moment.

"There is such a disparity in the brokerage community, especially in Manhattan, between the top tier where the rich get richer and the bottom tier, which is really struggling," said JoAnne Kennedy, chief operating officer at Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy (where 61.6 percent of its agents had no listings in the Real Deal chart).

"The top brokers now are celebrities, making several million dollars a year," Ms. Kennedy said. "Midrange brokers make a satisfactory income, but they don't have as many connections and are trying to figure out how to get to the next level. The bottom range is usually comprised of new people just building their business."

The Internet has made it easier for buyers to connect directly with sellers or their brokers, keeping brokers without listings from potential clients. "The Web has changed our business for people coming in," said Paula Busch, a managing director at the Corcoran Group (where 46.7 percent of agents lacked listings). "Buyers in the below $1 million market go there first and then directly to open houses, and they say they don't need brokers."

So how does someone attract clients? For those without substantial track records, it is very difficult.

"It is frustrating when you see some agents just rolling with listings," said Elizabeth Marks, an agent with Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy who owned a travel agency specializing in safari and scuba diving trips until business was slowed by the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Ms. Marks took several real estate courses, including one called Sweat Hogs, which dealt with getting listings. "You must really work for listings," she said. "It is hard because if someone wants to sell an apartment, they are bombarded by brokers. Everyone knows a friend or is loyal to someone they bought their apartment from and don't want to give you a listing because you are new."

She has tried a variety of tactics, even cold calling. "Nine times out of 10, people hang up on you," she said.

But she is not deterred. "I will call a particular building and say: 'Maybe there is a buyer interested in your building. Are you interested in selling?' Then I say: 'Can we set up an appointment. I would love to see your place.' I direct them to my Web site if they want referrals from the last six months."

So far, she has not gotten any listings that way. Nor has she reaped any from the mailings she has sent out, "but that isn't to say it doesn't work," she said.

"It helps when I meet people face to face," she said, "so sometimes I help out at open houses."

Deborah Elias, a sales associate at Prudential Douglas Elliman, who entered the field in April after a career in finance, does not yet have a listing. "That worries me," she said, but she added that she is not discouraged, either. "You need to have patience, and it will come if you do the right thing. A lot of successful brokers are seasoned and have paid their dues. You must be creative, think outside the norm and do a lot of networking. You can't just send out mailers."

Describing herself as a "networking person," Ms. Elias, who does represent several buyers, has found that cultivating a wide variety of interests not necessarily connected to real estate can be a conduit. "If I meet someone who is interested in restaurants, I will call them when there is a new restaurant opening," she said. "It builds rapport and fosters ongoing relationships. "

Indeed, networking is considered the paramount tool and everyone in an individual's "sphere of influence," as brokers like to describe it - all the people with whom they cross paths, no matter how fleetingly - is considered fair game.

"Agents get listings from dinner parties, boards, going to the gym, Weight Watchers, churches, synagogues," Ms. Kennedy of Coldwell Banker said. "I am not above telling my friends to get busy and send me more business."

Anne Touchard, who has been an agent with Dwelling Quest for a year, said, "When I started, I definitely used my personal connections and friends, and I do a lot of networking."

She came here seven years ago from Lyon, France, to pursue a master's degree in business at Baruch College and married Michael Touchard, owner of the restaurant Tout Va Bien. "So I would eat well even if I were broke," she said.

She joined the French-American Chamber of Commerce, where, she said, she found buyers but not sellers. To increase her contacts, she recently signed up for the Breakfast Network, an international networking group that puts people together for professional purposes. Ms. Touchard also tries to convince owners who want to sell their property without a broker (known as FSBO's, short for "For Sale by Owner") that they need her services, and she expects to do better in that arena now than she did in the spring.

"It didn't work at all then," she said. "The market was so insane that FSBO's would have 30 to 40 people showing up at their open houses and they would say, 'I don't need you.' Now they don't have a lot of people showing up, and that is a good thing for us as brokers. It's going well, but I have no listings yet."

Another way into the business is to become a buyer's broker, the route taken by her colleague at Dwelling Quest, Jason Gershon. A partner in his family's jewelry shop on Long Island, he became an agent because, he said, "I plan on acquiring real estate as an income for retirement." For now, he conceded, "This is a great job if you don't have to rely on it to pay your bills."

Mr. Gershon started out by tapping into his immediate circle of friends. "I grew up on the South Shore and went to the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York," he said. "Most of my friends moved into the city. They are making money and are not going to rent. So I approached friends and friends of friends, both selling and renting. But there was minimum supply and large demand, which made it tougher to get listings."

He decided to focus on buyers and narrow his area of expertise. "I specialize in the Upper East Side," he said, "and learned the market there like the back of my hand - where all the banks are, the cheap parking spots, nice restaurants, buildings where the co-op board is easy or located in a place where they can get their money back should they sell."

Susan Forrest-Reynolds, an agent with the City Sites Real Estate Group who worked on set relocations for movie companies, is also concentrating on buyers, at least for now.

"Most people prefer being the seller's broker because they don't have to run around looking and people come to them," she said. "I prefer the energy of the buyer's side. I love watching clients find an apartment they love."

Ms. Elias of Douglas Elliman has turned to another route: rentals.

"They are an opportunity to view a lot of properties and they provide immediate cash because transactions occur in a much shorter period of time than sales," she said. "And then I start to build relationships for the long term."

That approach is endorsed by Fanny Montalvo, director of client services at Fenwick-Keats. "I tell people that a renter will always turn into a buyer and a buyer into a seller and a happy seller will always give you referrals," she said.

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.

With Little for Sale, Buyers Push Up Prices 

Jan 30, 2005

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THIS may be no consolation for search-addled apartment hunters addicted to checking the real estate Web sites hourly for new listings, but there are very few apartments for sale in the $20 million range, either.

From the stratospheric and record-breaking echelons of the market to the pedestrian pulse of stampeding open houses, hungry buyers are circling, ready to swoop in on any new listing and pay way above the asking price. If, that is, there were anything to buy.

The conclusion of the presidential election and the understanding that interest rates are bound to go up (even though that's what was anticipated last year and there was not a significant increase) have people so focused on buying now that they are showing up by the dozens for open houses in 15 inches of snow and waiting in line to see apartments over a three-day weekend when one would think the preferable alternative would be a weekend in Miami.

Is it a frenzy?

Do agents get worked up when they run out of showing sheets at open houses when four times as many people as they expect show up? Do buyers become even more aggressive when they repeatedly lose out on bids they placed over the asking price, including some as high as $300,000 above? You bet.

A market report released earlier this month by Stribling Private Brokerage on the residential real estate market in the $4 million and above range said that the high-end market has not seen this kind of activity since 2000. The first quarter of 2004 started off with a blast but evened out in April, and the entire real estate market, from top to bottom, collectively held its breath last fall through the distraction of the presidential election. Then, people started buying real estate as if it were 2000 all over again.

"As contentious as the election was," said Kirk Henckels, director and senior vice president of Stribling Private Brokerage and the author of the report, "I don't think people cared as much about who won as they wanted a decisive winner."

President Bush's victory, he said, might have had a slight effect on the high end, encouraging more spending because of the favorable tax picture for the rich.

Last year, for the first time, more than $1 billion was spent on co-ops in New York priced over $4 million. That was up 59.5 percent from the $653 million spent in 2003. The momentum is continuing into the new year. In these first few weeks of 2005, there is already $484 million in pending co-op sales - nearly half, in less than a month, of what was spent all of last year.

The highest segment of the market is also active. In 2004, 24 co-ops in Manhattan sold for more than $10 million, compared with 15 in 2003 and 18 in the previous peak of 2000. Several of the biggest deals took place in the second half of 2004 (with 13 co-ops and 5 town houses over $10 million sold in the first half and 11 co-ops and 11 town houses sold in the second half).

Even now, barely across the threshold of 2005, the numbers of sales above $10 million are set to top 2004. Currently, there are deals on 16 co-ops and 7 town houses pending, including some notable properties such as the $44 million offer for Laurance S. Rockefeller's apartment on Fifth Avenue, the $27 million pending sale for a condo at the One Beacon Court and a more-than-$20-million bid on Central Park West. "They all go shopping together," Mr. Henckels said of this group, which is largely impervious to the machinations of the real estate market and spend when they feel comfortable with the way things are going in the world.

When Samantha Kleier Forbes, a vice president of Gumley Haft Kleier, held an open house for brokers to preview a $10.9 million penthouse at 1120 Park Avenue last week, she took 40 show sheets, figuring it would be more than adequate for the 10 or 12 people she expected.

"Within the first 45 minutes we were out of show sheets," she said.

Her sister, Sabrina Kleier Morgenstern, also a vice president with the firm, said she felt the heat from the buyers' perspective when she took a young couple to an open house in the 70's on the Upper East Side, where they jostled among the crowd of 30 other people, mostly young couples staking out corners of the place to have sotto voce conferences with brokers. The couple immediately wanted to bid on the $1.3 million property and liked it so much they raised the price by $300,000 and offered $1.6 million.

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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.