INDUSTRY SPLIT OVER HOW TO LIST ALL ITS PRICEY CITY PROPERTIES With the Internet sagging around them, realtors in the city are just getting around to forming a comprehensive Web site of properties for sale in Manhattan. But in this raging real estate market, competing firms have been unable to cooperate. The result: There will be three Web sites.
In a ballroom at the Plaza Hotel on Oct. 4, 107 real estate firms in the city, including Sotheby’s International Realty and Brown Harris Stevens, launched NYMLS.com, a site currently listing 1,518 properties, from a $90,000 studio to a $30 million townhouse. The group calls itself the Multiple Listing Service Joint Industry Task Force, and was formed in August in protest of a group the Task Force calls “DECO,” which stands for Douglas Elliman and Corcoran. Elliman and Corcoran announced plans to launch a citywide multiple-listing Web site in August and invited the rest of the industry to join their enterprise. The announcement by the two largest brokerages in the city was a total surprise to other city brokers–and a total insult. The Plaza Hotel announcement was payback.
While the Task Force’s press conference was underway, the Corcoran Group was on a company field trip at the Empire Theater on 42nd Street near Eighth Avenue, where they saw a special screening of Pay It Forward , a new movie starring Helen Hunt and Kevin Spacey. (A source said the screening was arranged by a number of Corcoran brokers who take film classes with Roberta Burrows and Jeffrey Lyons.) And Alan Rogers, chairman and chief executive of Douglas Elliman, was in Palm Beach, Fla., preparing for a managers’ retreat and conference that started on Oct. 5.
Scott Durkin, chief operating officer of the Corcoran Group, said that a competing Web site, to be called NYCMLS.com, would be launched by the end of the month. The Corcoran Group bought the domain name about three years ago.
The two groups still have to figure out how to work together, however, because a third Web site, accessible by brokers only–to which all member brokers would have to provide immediate information about all new properties going on the market and old ones that are being sold–is desired by all parties by January. A meeting was scheduled to take place on Oct. 10 in the offices of the Real Estate Board of New York to discuss the third site.
Meetings of this nature started in August, when the participants agreed on little more than that neither side should speak to the press until at least after Labor Day, when they’d hoped to have things ironed out. But when the September issue of Quest magazine, a monthly publication filled with society columns and real estate advertising, hit brokers’ desks, all bets were off. Inside was an article by Corcoran’s chairman, Barbara Corcoran, about the Elliman-Corcoran multiple-listing Web site.
After the August meeting, said Mr. Rogers, the Task Force had agreed to give Douglas Elliman and Corcoran no more than 50 percent ownership of the brokers’ and public sites. But the Task Force said it wants the two companies to have a smaller share.
Ownership of common public and private sites is “the single one issue at stake,” said Mr. Rogers.
“It’s so hideous,” said one member of the Task Force about DECO’s demand for half ownership. “We can’t let them own it! We just can’t.”
DECO canceled a meeting slated for Sept. 15 because, according to a Corcoran executive, they weren’t ready. And on Sept. 26, Steven Spinola, president of the Real Estate Board of New York, called representatives from all parties together in his office, a neutral location. It was like a trip to the principal’s office, and, said Mr. Rogers, the Task Force “made it clear we wouldn’t have 50 percent. The rules of the game changed.”
Said Kent Swig, an owner and co-chairman of Brown Harris Stevens: “The industry basically said they don’t want two firms owning and controlling the Web site.”
Even at such an impasse, Mr. Durkin said that DECO had promised not to launch their public site without informing the Task Force–and they expected the same from the Task Force in return.
“Nobody promised that they wouldn’t launch,” said Michele Kleier of Gumley Haft Kleier, a firm that is part of the Task Force.
According to three other members, some egos were bruised at the Sept. 26 meeting, after Mr. Rogers walked out “when things got tense” and canceled a second meeting scheduled for Oct. 4, the very day the Task Force launched its public site.
“That is ridiculous,” said Mr. Rogers, who said he left the meeting because he had a previous commitment to attend a board meeting of the charity God’s Love We Deliver. “This is wild.” He said everyone at the meeting knew he had to leave early. And he insisted that he never canceled a meeting that was supposed to take place on Oct. 4.
The firms in the Task Force, which also include Edward Lee Cave, Alice F. Mason Ltd., Fox Residential Group, William B. May and Ashford Warburg, total 2,355 agents and properties with a combined value of $2.429 billion. DECO has a total of 1,119 agents. The Task Force sees its site as a vehicle that could be used to start a brokers-only site. “Our Web site is the public portal for a yet-to-be-developed M.L.S.,” said Joanne Kennedy of Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy, who also said that a unified M.L.S. launch by January would be difficult.
Ms. Kennedy said the Task Force suddenly launched its site simply because it was ready. “We just did it. Ours was ready,” she said. “There’s been an absolute groundswell of enthusiasm for this project.”
But Mr. Durkin believes “they went ahead and announced their site just in defense, feeling we were in cahoots.” Brokers from DECO have already started to complain that NYMLS.com is listing properties that have already sold, like 180 East 79th Street, a $1.4 million co-op apartment that was sold the day before the site launched.
“Agents are pissed off that their old listings are being put on the site to pad numbers,” carped a Corcoran executive. “It’s fuzzy math!”
“That’s completely news to me,” said Will Zeckendorf, co-owner and co-chairman of Brown Harris Stevens, when asked about the site’s allegedly deceptive listings. “We put our freshest listings in the system. It sounds like DECO propaganda!”
Another pawn in the competition are the two companies that have not pledged allegiance to either side. Both DECO and the Task Force claim that Bellmarc and the Halstead Property Company, which have a combined 447 brokers, will join their side. On Oct. 6, Donna Olshan of Olshan Realty, who oversees NYMLS.com’s technology maintenance, told The Observer that she got a call from Michael Gabriel, the site’s creator, who had been asked by Bellmarc to add their listings to the site. “I can’t give authorization,” said Ms. Olshan. Neil Binder, the president of Bellmarc, said he has not yet decided what to do.
Mr. Swig said DECO brokers are using the Web site. His firm has been getting calls from DECO brokers who have seen properties on the Web site that they want to show to clients.
The Task Force claims that the site is bringing in clients, too. Ms. Olshan said she got a call on Oct. 6 from a William B. May broker who had scored an exclusive listing for a $9.5 million townhouse after a seller had decided he wanted the listing on NYMLS.com rather than listing the property with a Corcoran or Elliman broker.
The day after the launch, Mr. Rogers sent a memo to his brokers–who, according to members of the Task Force, feel very threatened by NYMLS.com–that said: “This announcement does not affect our plans to continue along the course we have set. Clearly, it is still ‘business as usual.’ We are committed to working with all of our industry colleagues now, and as we move forward.”
“We’d love to strike a deal,” said Mr. Swig. “Our ideas are very similar; the fundamental difference was over ownership and control.”
Thanks to the dot-com dispute, the real estate community has collectively come to dread its annual black-tie dinner on Oct. 24 at the Plaza Hotel, where normally “everyone slaps each other on the back for all the bullshit that’s gone on all year,” said one broker. The Real Estate Board of New York (“who we all hate now,” said the broker) throws the party, at which a 10-person table costs $4,500.
UMA THURMAN AND ETHAN HAWKE GET TOSSED OUT OF TOWNHOUSE, BUT LAND IN GRAMERCY PARK Just last month, Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke were happily ensconced in a triplex apartment at 30 West 10th Street, a townhouse between Fifth and Sixth avenues. For about $11,000 a month, they were living in a 3,300-square-foot, six-room apartment with 13-foot ceilings, a mosaic floor in the dining room, a library with floor-to-ceiling oak paneling and a private garden. Brokers said the apartment could have rented for up to $7,000 more a month.
But in March, the movie stars’ luck ran out. After renewing their lease for six months, their landlord, who bought the house in 1993 for $890,000, put the house on the market. And the first person to see it, a venture capitalist in his 30′s who had been house-shopping for three years, bought it for $3.5 million. “I bid the asking [price] on the spot,” said the new owner.
The sale was not final until mid-September, when Ms. Thurman and Mr. Hawke’s lease expired. The new owner said he plans to move into the triplex by January, after extensive renovations are completed.
Brokers said Ms. Thurman and Mr. Hawke signed a contract in mid-August, just a month before they would have been homeless, to buy a co-op in Gramercy Park for about $2 million, where they’ll have more room to raise their 2-year-old daughter, Maya Ray. (After meeting on the set of Gattaca in 1997, the couple wed in May 1998).
The 1856 townhouse is part of a row of 10 identical townhouses that were designed by architect James Renwick Jr., who also designed St. Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue, between 50th and 51st streets, in 1888. Besides the triplex apartment on the basement, first and second floors, the house has four studio apartments on the third floor–which come with rent-stabilized tenants–and a duplex apartment on the fourth and fifth floors, where the owner’s sister and brother-in-law will live.
About the rent-stabilized tenants, the owner said, “Yes, they’re staying. Unfortunately, for next to nothing.”
UPPER WEST SIDE
175 Riverside Drive
Two-bed, two-bath, 1,700-square-foot co-op.
Asking: $1.1 million. Selling: $1.05 million.
Charges: $1,575; 45 percent tax deductible.
Time on the market: six weeks.
FIVE NOT-SO-EASY PIECES There was a lot that was right about this apartment. It has a classic five-room layout–that’s five large rooms with high ceilings and parquet floors. There was also something wrong with it. “Everything will be redone, I assume,” said Karesse Grenier of the Corcoran Group, the broker who sold the apartment. To top it off, the co-op board is notoriously tough. “It’s one of the most exclusive co-ops on Riverside Drive,” said Ms. Grenier. “It can be difficult to get through.” But a couple with grown kids were not deterred by the board and didn’t seem to shy away from the renovation factor. The apartment, with views of Riverside Park, sold in early September, but the couple can’t move in yet. “It’s a work in progress,” said Ms. Grenier.
252 Seventh Avenue (the Chelsea Mercantile)
Three-bed, three-bath, 2,486-square-foot condo.
Asking: $1.15 million. Selling: $1.15 million.
Charges: $1,007. Taxes: $1,132.
Time on the market: one month.
SHOP AROUND THE CORNER In the early 1900′s, the building that runs between 24th and 25th streets on Seventh Avenue housed the National Cloak & Suit Company, a men’s clothing company that, in its heyday, was the largest mail-order business in the country. At the turn of this century, the 700,000-square-foot building–now called the Chelsea Mercantile–had been bought for $41.1 million by the Rockrose Corporation and turned into 351 luxury loft apartments. The condos, which range in size from 800 square feet to 3,073 square feet and range in price from $500,000 to over $3 million, came on the market in June of 1999, and the first sales were final in July of this year. All of the apartments have high ceilings, and many of the units have exposed brick walls and beamed ceilings. (Others are lacking in windows.) There’s a children’s playroom, a fitness center and a concierge and valet service, but the most prized conveniences are the brand-new Whole Foods Market on the ground floor and the flea market that takes place a couple of blocks away on the weekends. This apartment has three bedrooms and an office and was bought by a couple in September. According to Kathleen Scott of Cantor & Pecorella, the sales agent for the building, all the units have been largely completed, but the common spaces won’t be finished until January. There are still 14 apartments that haven’t been spoken for.