Skyscraper Collector Aby Rosen Gets Out of Homeowning

Wearing waders and clutching cardboard models of the skyscrapers he owns, German developer Aby Rosen, 40, had his picture taken knee-deep in the pool at the Four Seasons restaurant in February. But while the newly divorced man-about-town, a co-owner of RFR Realty, flaunts his big office towers–Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building (where the Four Seasons is located) is the latest, at $375 million–he’s quietly divesting himself of personal real estate.

On March 30, Mr. Rosen sold his co-op apartment at 1000 Park Avenue for $7 million; the seven-story townhouse at 10 East 75th Street that he bought in February 2000 has been on the market since October for $10.5 million; and since January, Mr. Rosen has been living in a rented house on East 68th Street near Fifth Avenue.

Mr. Rosen’s sell-off began in February 2000, immediately after he acquired the seven-story townhouse at 10 East 75th Street from director Tim Burton for $5.9 million. Having spent 10 years in Upper East Side co-ops, the developer had found a new religion. “It’s a completely strange lifestyle to live in a co-op,” said Mr. Rosen. “You live with other people.” In a townhouse, “you have privacy, you have control of your environment, and that’s worth every penny.”

Anticipating that the 1872 house, which Mr. Burton had gutted but never started renovating, would take about a year to prepare for himself and his family, Mr. Rosen went looking for a buyer who would agree to buy the co-op he was living in at 1000 Park Avenue one year in the future.

A couple working on Wall Street consented, putting down a deposit in February 2000 for the ultra-modern apartment, designed by architect William T. Georgis and featured in the July 1999 issue of Architectural Digest . Sources say the buyers were not happy about the long wait to close the deal, but in order not to lose the apartment, they complied. The Park Avenue co-op has three bedrooms and a sleek white kitchen that once contained a $30,000, 600-gallon L-shaped fish tank that separated the breakfast area from the cooking area. (The co-op board demanded that it be removed after the tank sprung a disastrous leak.)

Mr. Rosen then turned his attention to his new townhouse, once the home of Hungary’s Permanent Mission, which was to get a makeover with the help of Mr. Georgis. The architect and Mr. Rosen drafted elaborate plans that included an indoor swimming pool surrounded by rocks, to be located in the basement along with a sauna, a steam room and a wine cellar; a central atrium upstairs, to house a glass staircase and a waterfall; and a media room on the top floor.

But construction has halted on the 75th Street house–now a shell of brick walls, but with new steel beams and finished floors. When Mr. Rosen and his wife Liz split last fall, he considered continuing with the 75th Street renovation, but decided instead to put it up for sale “as is” last October for $10.5 million. “He deals with such bigger projects,” said his broker, Richard Steinberg of Ashforth Warburg Realty. “He thought the easiest thing to do would be to sell it.”

Sources say two different potential buyers have been interested in the house: one dot-commer who pulled out of the deal in November with the Nasdaq plummeting, and a European who decided the house was too big. “This is a strange market,” said Mr. Rosen about the failed deals. “You gotta walk in and say ‘I want it’ and take it.”

The buyer has the option to use Mr. Rosen’s plans and construction team for the house or provide his own. “You need insight and imagination,” said Mr. Steinberg.

Still devout about townhouses, Mr. Rosen has rented one a few blocks south. It has five bedrooms and is conservative compared to the modern extravaganza he was planning on 75th Street. In terms of Mr. Rosen’s history with real estate, one might even call it modest. “The other house was too big,” he said.

UPPER EAST SIDE

RICHARD GERE AND CAREY LOWELL SWITCH HAMPTONS It seems Richard Gere and Carey Lowell have been house-hunting in the Hamptons as well as in Manhattan. The couple, whose apartment at 817 Fifth Avenue has been on the market since February, bought a house at 70 Halsey Lane in Water Mill, N.Y., for $2.5 million in late January.

While spending time at Ms. Lowell’s house in Sagaponack last summer, the couple ended up poking around the house, even though it had been taken off the market. According to their broker, Paul Brennan of Prudential Long Island Realty, the former owners didn’t mind too much, and a contract was signed a few months later.

Mr. Brennan said Mr. Gere and Ms. Lowell had been looking for a new place on Long Island’s East End “for quite some time.” The whitewashed, 3,500-square-foot farmhouse is on an acre off Rose Hill Road, where Pete Peterson owns five acres with 350 square feet of frontage on Mecox Bay. Mr. Gere and Ms. Lowell have no beach access, but they do have a heated pool as well as five bedrooms, three and a half bathrooms and a garage.

“It’s a special turn-of-the-century farmhouse,” said broker Ted Damiecki of Sothebys International Realty, who represented the seller.

Ms. Lowell’s Sagaponack house, which she’s owned “for years,” according to Mr. Brennan, has been on the market for three months at $1.6 million. “It’s a renovated barn on 1.9 acres,” he said. “It has four bedrooms and three bathrooms.”

Then there’s their Fifth Avenue apartment, listed with Michele Kleier of Gumley Haft Kleier, which boasts wood-burning fireplaces, great views and neighbor Steve Wynn. The price was lowered from $12.5 million to $11.9 million on March 23.

605 Park Avenue

Three-bed, three-bath, 2,000-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $1.915 million. Selling: $1.823 million.

Charges: $2,399; 48 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: six weeks.

ARE THE KIDS NEGOTIABLE? The attorney representing the retired Italian investment banker who was selling this apartment balked at the buyers at first. “There was some hesitation about board approval,” explained the buyers’ broker, Jacky Teplitzky-Dobens of the Corcoran Group. She had a lucrative position at Credit Suisse First Boston, and he was an executive at an Internet start-up whose prospects supposedly seemed good (as if anyone can really tell). Their liability, according to the broker, was their 1-year-old child–not to mention the twins on the way. The seller and his mocking lawyer thought the building would not welcome such a young, potentially noisy troupe. But the kids turned out to be an asset with the co-op board. “The people that interviewed them said they were very happy they were a family, because they wanted to get younger people in the building.” Before long, the young folks will be tearing through a 2,000-square-foot apartment with a large entry foyer, formal dining room, windowed eat-in kitchen and maid’s room. This postwar building is not heavy on detail, but the apartment boasts lots of light and city views to the east and west, as well as from an 85-square-foot terrace.

UPPER WEST SIDE

240 West 102nd Street

Two-bed, one-bath, 1,300-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $699,000. Selling: $647,000.

Charges: $916; 46 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: six months.

ONE WOMAN’S MESS IS ANOTHER’S NEW NEST A designer of clothing for large women needed some more money, so she asked a broker friend if he would sell her apartment for her. It shouldn’t have been too hard; the two-bedroom, 1,300-square-foot apartment had a renovated kitchen with Mexican tile, custom cabinetry and a Sub-Zero fridge, and a renovated bathroom with a new claw-footed tub. But it was the designer herself who stood in the way: On the day that her friend scheduled an open house, she answered the door naked, and the place was a total mess. “Her friend got so disgusted that he passed her on to me,” said Mora Israel of Bellmarc Realty. “I wasn’t her friend, so I wasn’t going to be nice to her.” The first thing Ms. Israel did was clean the place up. “The apartment was without a doubt the biggest pigsty you’ve ever seen,” she said. Then Ms. Israel laid down the law about proper open-house etiquette: “I think she was scared of me.” The second time around, the place sold to the first couple who saw it. “They were able to look past the dirt,” said Ms. Israel. Not that the designer’s behavior ever changed: After the deal closed, she returned to the apartment to collect a piece of furniture. “She was shocked that the people had changed the locks,” according to Ms. Israel. “Her friend said, ‘Of course they did; you don’t own it anymore.'”

30 West 61st Street

One-bedroom, 1 1/2 bath duplex condo.

Asking: $1,725,000. Selling: $1,450,000.

Charges: $1,116; 90 percent tax deductible.

MAKING A KILLING OFF-BROADWAY A producer of campy Broadway comedies was anxious to buy a new property in Fort Lauderdale, so when this Wisconsin couple–scions of a wealthy Midwestern publishing family looking for a pied-à-terre –expressed their eagerness to broker Jesse Temple of Gumley Haft Kleier, he knew the deal would go through without a hitch. “My open house was supposed to have ended, and I was leaving to grab some lunch, and in comes this couple, 10 minutes late, who were only the third people to see it,” said Mr. Temple. Only five weeks later, the sale of this 1,574-square-foot duplex penthouse with both park and river views has closed. At $921 per square foot, the deal broke a record for the building. It must have broken all investment records for the seller, too: He paid just $770,000 a little over a year ago for the place, according to Mr. Temple, who handled that deal as well.

WEST VILLAGE

114 Christopher Street

One-bed, one-bath, 500-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $275,000. Selling: $275,000.

Charges: $685; 50 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: four months.

MY SO-CALLED APARTMENT Hela Miodownik of Bellmarc Realty showed a New York University student and her father 11 apartments in January. They were willing to pay up to $300,000 for a place within walking distance of school, but Dad was probably happy that his daughter took to this place, which was in “immaculate condition” and $25,000 under-budget. Ms. Miodownik said the place has enough windows to be split into a two-bedroom apartment, but the student isn’t thinking about roommates for a long time. Father and daughter passed the co-op board with no problem, and the undergrad moved in within 24 hours of the closing. The building has a laundry in the basement and a roof deck with 360-degree views of the city.