Julie Andrews Stiffs Brokers: Sell My House for a Song

Actress Julie Andrews and her husband, film director Blake Edwards, have decided to play hardball with Manhattan’s real estate brokers. The couple dangled their $3.8 million East 62nd Street town house before several brokers until they finally found one to sell it for them for half the normal commission.

The couple moved into the four-story Upper East Side home early in 1998, after signing a nine-month lease with the option to buy. That spring and summer, the Corcoran Group’s Sarit Shmueli showed the couple some 200 properties, but they ultimately decided to buy the place they were renting for $2.2 million. The sale was final in September. (That same year, the couple spent about $2 million on a Sag Harbor weekend home, according to real estate sources.)

In April 1999, Ms. Andrews abruptly decided to sell the town house, according to brokers familiar with her plans. Ms. Andrews asked at least two Corcoran Group brokers if they’d be interested in selling her house, sources at the firm said. But there was a caveat: Instead of the typical 6 percent commission, which a seller divides equally between his or her broker and the buyer’s broker, Ms. Andrews would pay only 3 percent–forcing the house’s buyer to make up the difference.

For that reason, sources said, Ms. Shmueli and another Corcoran broker both turned the opportunity down. “We did say we couldn’t do it under those terms,” said Anne Snee, Corcoran’s town house director.

Brokers close to the situation said Ms. Andrews next approached Douglas Elliman, another large Manhattan brokerage, which also refused the business. According to Elliman town house director Nan MarElia, “It’s conceivable that somebody here said they wouldn’t take it on at 3 percent. Because how could you do that to your co-brokers? It wouldn’t be our marketing technique.”

Eventually, the Andrews house wound up in the hands of Diana Tawgin at William B. May Real Estate, who is currently marketing the 20-foot-wide town house under Ms. Andrews’ draconian terms.

“We took it on as an exclusive,” said Ms. Tawgin, “and I wasn’t even going to co-broke it … I took it on at 3 percent. I agreed.”

Currently configured as a multifamily dwelling with four separate units, the town house boasts central air-conditioning and a greenhouse. Brokers familiar with the property said Ms. Andrews and Mr. Edwards did some work to the property, including installing a high-tech security system, but that it is still laid out much like an apartment house, making $3.8 million a pretty steep asking price.

“It’s a Madison Avenue price, but it’s between Second and Third [avenues],” said a broker who has seen the house. “If you’re making a profit of $1.6 [million], you pay a commission.”

Manhattan real estate agents generally clamor for such glamorous clients, since they tend to spend big bucks and sometimes refer them equally high-rolling clients. But according to sources familiar with the property, Ms. Andrews has been so stiff on her commission policy that a number of brokers balked at the thought of working with her. Some are so appalled by the terms of sale that they have decided not to even go see the property.

Leslie J. Garfield, who represented the corporation that sold the house to Ms. Andrews and Mr. Edwards last year, said a “highly irregular” commission agreement guaranteeing only 3 percent fees was sitting unsigned on his desk. “It’s certainly not in the realm of things,” he said.

Upper West Side

160 West 86th Street (Westbury House)

Four-bed, four-bath, 3,042-square-foot condo.

Asking: $1.975 million. Selling: $1.975 million.

Charge: $1,927. Taxes: $659.

Time on the market: three weeks.

THE PROMOTION FELL THROUGH, BUT THE $1.975 MILLION CONDO DEAL IS A GO. An investment banker and his international lawyer wife called off their California relocation plans, but not before they’d made a deal to sell their Upper West Side apartment. Suddenly they were moving, anyway. The couple set out looking in the same neighborhood for a place that they could get into fast. This full-floor apartment between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues with four bedrooms and 3,042 square feet might seem a little excessive, but they have two dogs and a baby on the way. According to broker Nan Schiff, the two large outdoor terraces proved a key factor. “These dogs were their children,” said Ms. Schiff. “They picked the place.” The couple will install a set of swinging terrace doors specifically for canine use, and their parents will also use the apartment when they’re in town. With a grandchild in the near future, the arrangement guarantees them visiting rights. Broker: Douglas Elliman (Ann Cutbill; Nan Schiff).

Upper East Side

338 East 69th Street

Four-story town house.

Asking: $2.25 million. Selling: $1.975 million.

Time on the market: one week.

LAWYER FINDS HIMSELF ON THE WRONG SIDE OF TOWN. Two years ago, a lawyer with a high-profile Manhattan firm bought this house on 69th Street between First and Second avenues for $1.312 million, even though he had three boys in school on the west side of town. The resultant carpooling trips led the lawyer and his wife to doubt their chosen neighborhood, so they swapped this house for one in the West 80′s between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues. A guy in his 30′s, employed on Wall Street, got their old one after walking by one day and then making an offer of $1.975 million–$50,000 below the asking price. The sellers had their doubts about the discount, but they also had a pending contract, so they decided to make the deal. Broker: Leslie J. Garfield & Company. (Leslie Garfield).

Midtown

440 East 57th Street

Three-bed, two-bath, 1,700-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $690,000. Selling: $670,000.

Charges: $2,641; 56 percent tax-deductible.

Time on the market: three months.

BETTER LATE THAN NO DOWRY AT ALL. This 1962 apartment was inherited by a California couple after the wife’s folks died. Instead of keeping the East Coast pied-à-terre , they put it on the market last summer

for $740,000. That asking price proved too high, so they slashed it to $690,000, at which point a couple of suburbanites with checkbooks came along. Residents of Old Greenwich, Conn., the buyers were a couple who had just packed their child off to college and wanted the city life. When they came across this apartment between Sutton Place and First Avenue, they had already experienced some hard luck: The sellers of a 73rd Street property reneged on a deal after their child was accepted into an attitudinal private kindergarten. Although the 57th Street co-op is stuck in the 1960′s, the couple saw its possibilities. They successfully bid $20,000 below the asking price and put the difference toward a gut renovation: updating the bathrooms and kitchen, and making two large bedrooms out of the original three. Broker: Corcoran Group (Wendy Sarasohn; Enid Card).

Greenwich Village

644 Broadway

Three-bed, 1.5-bath, 3,500-square-foot prewar co-op.

Asking: $1.35 million. Selling: $1.275 million.

Charges: $2,983; 52 percent tax-deductible.

Time on the market: two weeks.

NO MORE LOST WEEKENDS. From a small co-op on Fifth Avenue and 18th Street, an antiques dealer and an investment banker decided they couldn’t live through one more weekend with their two kids in less than 3,000 square feet. After exhausting the Flatiron district, SoHo and much of NoHo, they came across this enormous artist-in-residence loft at 644 Broadway near Bleecker Street. The apartment is in a 14-unit, prewar behemoth with an iron-gate entrance and an all-marble lobby where scenes from Ghostbusters and Hannah and Her Sisters have been shot. Previously home to a pair of up-and-coming fashion designers–who paid $6,000 a month–the space became available when its owner, a music composer and artist, bought a farm in Australia and elected to offload his New York real estate. The buyers were anxious to get into the space–which has 21 full-height windows framed in oak–but they still embarked on a renovation process that won’t be complete until February. Broker: Halstead Property Company. (George Arana); Eychner Associates (Alexander de Bordes).

Park Slope

437 Second Street

Three-bed, 1.5-bath, 1,150-square-foot prewar co-op.

Asking: $330,000. Selling: $315,000.

Charges: $649; 50 percent tax-deductible.

Time on the market: one week.

A TOWN HOUSE COSTS 15 YEARS. A teacher and a Board of Education employee who are expecting their first child wanted a house within walking distance of P.S. 321 at the corner of Seventh Avenue and Second Street in Park Slope, Brooklyn. But with a budget of only $350,000, it was like they were trying to skip a stage in the home-owning cycle. Instead, their broker suggested this prewar co-op, a ground-floor unit comprising three bedrooms with a garden and child’s playhouse in back. For 15 years, the apartment had been home to a middle-aged couple, also educators, who raised their son there; they were moving to a town house half a block away. The couple decided to take it on the chin: There would be plenty of room for a nursery and a spare room. And the location, between Sixth and Seventh avenues, a stone’s throw from the elementary school, was hard to beat. Broker: Corcoran’s Brooklyn Landmark (Billy Stephen).