The Steinbergs Seek a Billionaire’s House on Millionaire’s Budget

SAUL’S SISTER SELLS $10.5 MILLION HOME FOR A MUCH SMALLER LIFESTYLE In March, Kathy and Gayfryd Steinberg, former sisters-in-law, got trapped in the elevator of a $20 million townhouse for sale on East 62nd Street with Gayfryd’s step-daughter, Laura Tisch. The three ladies escaped the incident only to decide that the townhouse was too pricey.

This is not your 90′s variety Steinberg clan.

In late May, as Manhattan emptied into the Hamptons and Saul and Gayfryd Steinberg held a fire sale of gilded furnishings at Sotheby’s, the Steinberg family sold its share of Reliance Group Holdings, the company that had made them billionaires. With poor earnings stretching back a year or so, the extended clan has been downshifting since the beginning of the year into a new life as millionaires.

“The family’s pot of gold is greatly diminished,” said a source familiar with the clan.

Saul Steinberg, the former chairman of Reliance Holdings Group, and his wife, Gayfryd, hawked their prized triplex penthouse, the former home of John D. Rockefeller, in late February for $37 million, the highest price ever paid for a Manhattan co-op apartment. While living in a three-bedroom apartment at the Helmsley Carlton House, a hotel on Madison Avenue near 61st Street, they are in the market for a $10 million townhouse, brokers say.

But at that price, nothing seems to suit them. Aside from East 62nd Street, the couple has passed on a four-bedroom house at 16 East 69th Street being sold by the English Speaking Union for $9.2 million and 15 East 80th Street, a five-story, 21-foot wide, 8,400-square foot house with a $7.5 million price tag.

“They have not bought a townhouse yet,” said a broker.

The sell-off has spread to Mr. Steinberg’s sister and brother-in-law, Ronni and Bruce Sokoloff, who sold their five-story townhouse at 16 East 68th Street for $10.5 million on April 12. The buyer is Robert McKeon, president of New York merchant bank, Veritas Capital.

One broker told The Observer that the townhouse, which was never officially on the market, had an accepted offer in “2.5 seconds!”

“It was sort of a classic townhouse that [Mr.] Sokoloff had upgraded in terms of plumbing, wiring–everything was pretty much intact,” said Leslie J. Garfield, who own a realty firm which specializes in townhouses.

Mr. Sokoloff bought the 21.6-foot-wide, 78-foot-deep townhouse in 1997 for $6 million from the estate of Mrs. William D. Bell, whose father built the house in 1922. It features two elevators, fireplaces, a library, four bedrooms and two bathrooms. The real estate taxes are $42,000.

Mr. Sokoloff, 51, remains the senior vice president of administrative services of Reliance Group, the insurance company founded by Mr. Steinberg. The Sokoloffs have moved to a rented apartment on the Upper East Side. They did not return calls for comment, nor did Mr. McKeon.

The family’s financial crisis has meant riches for Kathy Steinberg, a real estate broker who works for Edward Lee Cave and the ex-wife of Saul’s only brother, Robert Steinberg, she has emerged as Saul and Gayfryd’s exclusive broker, despite talk that her relationship with the couple had cooled off. She is not on as good terms with the Sokoloffs, who gave their business to Ms. Steinberg’s colleague Linda Stein, also a broker at Edward Lee Cave.

Robert, or Bobby, the former president of Reliance Group, was fired by his brother last November when things at Reliance began to look seriously bad. Since divorcing Kathy about seven years ago, Bobby has sold the apartment they shared at 944 Fifth Avenue to Hollywood producer Peter Guber for $7 million and another home designed by Charles Gwathney on Lily Pond Lane in East Hampton. He has been living in a house in northern New Jersey and renting a pied-à-terre at 211 East 70th Street. Kathy lives in a $2.25 million six-room penthouse at 1 East 66th Street.

TRIBECA

AT J.F.K. JR.’S LOFT, IT’S OFFICIAL, ED BURNS IS IN, HEATHER GRAHAM IS OUT For the record, filmmaker Ed Burns got the keys to the former loft of John F. Kennedy Jr. at 20 N. Moore Street on May 9, just two weeks after he was approved by the building’s co-op board and about the same time he and actress Heather Graham split.

While angling for the title of Hollywood’s “it” couple in April, Mr. Burns and Ms. Graham took a tour together of the 2,400-square-foot penthouse apartment with a private elevator and a wall of windows to the east. To observers, they seemed almost beautiful enough to inherit the former home of Kennedy and his wife, Carolyn Bessette Kennedy, the late Prince and Princess of Tribeca.

But then it seemed like someone yelled, “Cut!” The co-op board’s president, Ruth Hardinger (a real estate broker with Douglas Elliman) had already unofficially rejected one buyer, a foreign businessman who offered to pay cash, but who only wanted the place as a pied-à-terre . The board didn’t want a part-time owner, and actors, directors and writers like Mr. Burns are known to be on location.

Residents said the financial security of the building–which is partly based on having a high percentage of owners in residence–was the only issue, despite reports indicating that Mr. Burns was being summarily dismissed. “We’re not thrilled to have lots of attention,” said one tenant who was tormented when people mourning Kennedy and his wife made pilgrimages to the address last year. On the other hand, in February, the co-op made talk-show host David Letterman, an owner in the building for the past 10 years, grovel before them in order to buy his third apartment in the building–that of Larry Everston, owner of Tootsi Plohound shoe stores–in February, while recovering from quintuple-bypass surgery.

In the meantime, the actress and the director reportedly went their separate ways. On June 8, a resident of 20 N. Moore told The Observer that Mr. Burns, a Queens native, had already moved in–alone. He bought his new apartment, on top of the nine-story building near Varick Street, for just under the $2.4 million asking price, said brokers. Mr. Kennedy bought it for $700,000 in 1994. Stephen McRae and Debby Korb of Sotheby’s International Realty sold the apartment on behalf of Mr. Kennedy’s estate, and Halstead Property Company represented Mr. Burns.

Apparently, the co-op board will be flexible on one thing: They’ll consider giving over the building’s roof to Mr. Burns for the right price.

SOHO

THE MODELS HAVE LEFT THE POLICE BUILDING In the late 80′s, when supermodels reigned, the troika of Cindy Crawford, Christy Turlington and Linda Evangelista flocked to Soho’s Police Building in catwalk lockstep, each forking over a couple of days’ pay to gain another asset. The threesome made the building famous, despite the often unwielding layouts of most of the former police headquarters’ apartments. But the models are all gone now, and the building’s 15 minutes are over.

On June 2, Ms. Turlington, who bought a townhouse in the West Village several years ago, sold her sixth-floor apartment at 240 Centre Street for $850,000. The 31-year-old yoga addict had been renting out the 1,500-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bathroom duplex co-op apartment for almost four years. She put it on the market in mid-January for $875,000. In just a few days, a “single and cute” businessman in his late 20′s had signed a contract, said a broker. Ms. Turlington couldn’t be reached for comment and her broker, Linda Gertler of the Corcoran Group, wouldn’t comment on the deal.

Ms. Crawford got out of the Police Building in 1998, when she sold her fourth-floor apartment for $685,000; she now lives on Park Avenue. And Ms. Evangelista fled too; she has been renting out her apartment while living in France. These days, the building is only famous for the 2,500-square-foot, three bedroom apartment directly under the building’s dome, which is supposed to resemble the Hotel des Invalides in Paris. It has a 25-foot-high living room with 12-foot windows and was purchased for $1.8 million in 1998 for Saturday Night Live co-producer Marci Klein, whose father, Calvin Klein, writes some of Ms. Turlington’s paychecks.

GREENWICH VILLAGE

2 Fifth Avenue

3-bed, 2-bath, 1,600-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $965,000. Selling: $940,000.

Charges: $1,650; 12 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: One week.

RAISING KIDS ON THE SET OF KIDS This may be the perfect New York City address–directly across the street from Washington Square Park, at the beginning (or the end, depending on where you sit) of Fifth Avenue–if you can wait long enough. A father of three who works on Wall Street did, first for this three-bedroom apartment on the 16th floor, and possibly for the smaller apartment next door. “A lot of people are buying up apartments to the left, to the right, above and below, to stay in this building,” said Janet Weiner, a senior vice president at the Halstead Property Group, the broker for the Wall Streeter and the seller of the three-bedroom unit. The board doesn’t seem to mind. “They want families in the building,” she said. Then what is Ed Koch doing living here?

CARNEGIE HILL

25 East 92nd Street

Five-and-a-half-story, 6,500-square-foot brownstone.

Asking price: $5.7 million. Selling price: $4.7 million.

Time on the market: 10 days.

TEN-YEAR ITCH In 1969, real estate veteran Leslie J. Garfield sold this 20-foot-wide brownstone between Fifth and Madison avenues to a young couple for $225,000. Ten years later, when their kids were grown, the couple decided to chop the building up into five separate units, turn it into a co-op and sell off the apartments; they made more than $400,000 in the process. Now, with the rich scouring the city for ever-larger mansions, every shareholder in the co-op has agreed to sell out to a Wall Street couple who will reunite the separate floors. Around the same time and one block away, another 20-foot house, which had been carved into two duplex apartments, was purchased for $4.2 million by a couple expecting a baby; they, too, will restore their place to a single residence. The frenzy has raised the high price for townhouses on this block–despite the neighborhood uproar over the proposed construction of a high-rise on the corner of Madison Avenue and 92nd Street–to $6.6 million. It even lured Woody Allen, who purchased a five-story home one block east last year.

GRAMERCY PARK

136 East 19th Street (Gramercy Mews)

Three-bed, 2.5 bath, 2,500-square-foot condo.

Asking: $2.1 million. Selling: $1.86 million.

Charges: $1,018. Taxes: $1,605.

Time on the market: Four months.

CO-OPTING THE MAISONETTE Having cheaply imitated every other aspect of the prewar co-op down to the mail chute, today’s condominiums have gone after the exalted maisonette, using the term to describe every variety of first-floor duplex apartment. The term was first associated with the vertical, townhouse-like apartments with entrances off the lobby of a 1920′s or 30′s co-op building (the type of residence fit for the William F. Buckleys and the Tina Browns). In 2000, “maisonette is just a glorified word for first-floor living,” said one broker. “Nobody wants to say they live on the first floor.” (Remember when buildings had only one penthouse apartment?) This recently completed building consists of five apartments fabricated out of two side-by-side townhouses. This “maisonette” has a library with a fireplace, a small powder room, a kitchen and a dining room that leads out to a greenhouse and then a 400-square-foot backyard on the first floor. Upstairs are a master bedroom with floor to ceiling windows, two smaller bedrooms and a tiny laundry room. The sale, which closed in June, was co-brokered by Kathy Sloane (Hillary’s broker) of Brown Harris Stevens and Joan Kaplan of the Sunshine Group. The new owners are a couple of out-of-towners. The rest of the building is one other “maisonette” with a similar layout, an apartment occupying the entire third floor and two duplex penthouses (yes, two) on the fourth and fifth floors.