Owner Says: No Sale! Broker Says: No Dice!

Due to the tenacity of a Hamptons real estate firm, fashion designer Randolph Duke ended up selling his house, even though he didn’t really want to. By asserting their rights to a commission on Mr. Duke’s Water Mill, L.I., house–even if he elected not to sell the place for its full asking price–Cook Pony Farm Real Estate forced the designer to go forward with a $1.1 million deal on his two-acre property.

Mr. Duke’s dispute with brokers at Cook Pony Farm–first mentioned on Ihamptons.com–occurred in June, when the owner was presented with a Manhattan couple’s offer on his Noyac Path estate, a two-story house with a hilltop pool, a mirrored exercise room, and distant views of the Atlantic Ocean.

It seems that a broker from Cook Pony Farm, which was one of the real estate firms handling the house’s showings, called Mr. Duke in early June with customers interested in his property. Although the designer was willing to show the house to the couple two days in a row, he balked at their eventual full asking offer. According to Judi Desiderio, a partner at Cook Pony Farm, the couple’s broker had called Mr. Duke, saying that her clients loved the property and would pay $1.1 million for it. “He said, ‘I’ll have to get back to you,'” she recalled. “Twenty-four hours later, he calls back and says, ‘I don’t think I want to sell.'”

Since the brokerage firm had spent what Ms. Desiderio described as “thousands of dollars marketing the property” during its seven months on the market, Cook Pony executives were quick to inform Mr. Duke that under New York State law, he was obliged to pay the company a 6 percent commission on the property. Both Mr. Duke and the buyers were being represented by Cook Pony, so the firm’s total cut would amount to $66,000. Faced with the prospect of a five-figure cancellation fee, Mr. Duke decided to go ahead with the sale, said Ms. Desiderio.

First marketed in October 1998 for $1.3 million, the Duke house’s asking price had been lowered in early May to $1.1 million. The designer paid $465,000 for the house in 1994; before that, it was owned by Charles Marder, a landscape designer based in Bridgehampton.

“It looked like a lunar barn,” said Jeffrey Bilhuber, who decorated the house for Mr. Duke shortly after he bought it. “We played up the sort of mid-20th-century glamour of it all.” For instance, Mr. Bilhuber painted the living room floor a color he described as “golf-course green” in an allusion to the putting green viewable between the house and the ocean.

Ms. Desiderio, who attributed Mr. Duke’s second thoughts to “an emotional whim,” said that although his situation seems unusual, “the marketplace is very different now than it has been in the past.”

Stuart Saft, chairman of the real estate department at Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz, a Manhattan-based law firm, said that property sellers have to be reminded not infrequently of their obligation to pay commissions for full asking offers–unless a commission agreement specifies that brokers won’t receive their cut until the deal is finalized. “I don’t think it happens every day, but it does happen occasionally … and specifically in this market,” he said.

“There was more than one broker claiming a commission,” said Kelly Cutrone, a publicist for the designer. “Mr. Duke wanted and still wants the situation resolved before going through with the sale.”

UPPER EAST SIDE

Fifth Avenue in the high 80’s

Two-bed, three-bath, 2,800-square-foot

prewar co-op.

Asking: $1.995 million. Selling: $1.9 million.

Charges: $3,580; 49 percent tax-deductible.

Time on the market: nine months.

IT’S A LONG WAY FROM THE MET TO MICHIGAN. When the owners of this Museum Mile prewar apartment decided to move to Michigan to be closer to their grandchildren, they did things in reverse: First they found a house in the Wolverine State, and then they asked their Michigan real estate firm to recommend a broker in New York. Thus, they wound up with Halstead Property Company, which quickly learned the apartment would sell more easily at $1.995 million than at its original price of $2.3 million. When a buyer came forward at $1.9 million, the couple rented themselves a two-purpose, one-bedroom pied-à-terre : The husband needs a crash pad for his frequent business trips, and the wife needs an escape from the winter climes up north. Broker: Halstead Property Company; Sotheby’s International Real Estate.

167 East 61st Street (Trump Plaza)

Two-bed, 2.5-bath, 1,400-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $429,000. Selling: $400,000.

Charges: $2,317; 60 percent tax-deductible.

Time on the market: three weeks.

I-BANKER LOVE LEADS COUPLE ON CROSS-COUNTRY QUEST. The married investment bankers who sold this apartment had the urge to do that Left Coast thing–in part because the hubby’s family lives there. So it was goodbye, Trump Plaza, and their cozy apartment between Lexington and Third avenues. For the last year, the couple had been renting out the place while attempting to offload their property for $450,000. But after a while, whining tenants and dismissive brokers started getting on their nerves, so they dropped the price to a number they considered below market value. It was then that another set of thirtysomethings–an investment banker and his jewelry-dealing wife–snapped it up. Broker: Bellmarc Realty (Bill Hilliard and Richard Bernstein).

118 East 60th Street

One-bed, one-bath, 980-square-foot postwar co-op.

Asking: $375,000. Selling: $350,000.

Charges: $1,243; 50 percent tax-deductible.

Time on the market: three weeks.

STUBBORN EAST SIDE SINGLE GAL PREVAILS IN FACE-OFF WITH FAMILY MAN. Perhaps because of her exacting requirements, it took this buyer 18 months and two broken deals to find the right apartment. A single woman, she wanted a spacious one-bedroom in a prime midtown location, from which she could walk to work and church; she also wanted mint condition and a co-op with a healthy tax-deductible. As it turned out, this apartment near Lexington Avenue fit all the woman’s needs. But even though she saw it on its first day for sale, she dug her heels in with an offer $25,000 below the asking price and refused to budge until six weeks later, when the seller–a thirtyish guy with a wife and child–finally caved in. It seems he had bought a two-bedroom place in the same building, and wanted to get on with it. Hope they don’t have to share too many elevator rides. Broker: Corcoran Group (Fern Budow; Richard Gould).

UPPER WEST SIDE

186 Riverside Drive

One-bed, one-bath, 1,000-square-foot prewar co-op.

Asking: $339,000. Selling: $335,000.

Charges: $862; 43 percent tax-deductible.

Time on the market: three days.

SHE LIKES IT HERE, BUT DON’T HAND HER A HAMMER. The woman who paid $335,000 for this apartment near 91st Street had a serious case of buyer’s remorse–over another apartment. She had already closed on the nearby property, also a co-op at 334 West 85th Street, when she opted to resell it because there were too many renovations required. But she liked the neighborhood, so she was pleased to find a spot of similar size in good condition in this Emery Roth building. The sellers were a doctor and a scholar who were retreating to the woods of northern New Jersey, where they would have more room for Fido but not lose their quick commute to the Upper West Side. The couple had done some renovations already, so the apartment was in good enough shape to pass muster with a fickle, construction-wary buyer. Broker: Corcoran (Alton James).

TRIBECA

71 Murray Street (Hastings)

Three-bed, three-bath, 4,000-square-foot prewar condo.

Asking: $2.1 million. Selling: $2 million.

Charges: $921. Taxes: $2,072.

Time on the market: five months.

HEY, HONEY, I CAN SEE YOUR OFFICE FROM HERE! Since TriBeCa has become ground zero for the nouveau-riche Manhattan set, it’s no surprise that a youngish Wall Street guy picked this redeveloped loft near West Broadway out of all the downtown properties he’d seen. He started out with a budget of $1 million and a willingness to explore any neighborhood beyond the Upper West Side, where he had been renting; after seeing half a dozen lofts in SoHo, Chelsea and TriBeCa, he and his main squeeze packed their belongings into boxes and headed for the land of Odeon, Bubby’s and– what’s this? –not a single decent video rental place! The full-floor loft was twice what the buyer wanted to spend, but what’s a cool million when you’re getting a chic address and a Sub-Zero fridge? And now the new owner can even walk to work. Broker: Douglas Elliman (Bill Costigan); Cantor & Pecorella (Doug Hager).

Additional reporting by Sam Charap.