Mr. Value-Investing Puts Down $22 Million at 515 Park Avenue

SAN DIEGO-BASED CHARLES BRANDES TRADES UP TO AN 11-ROOM DUPLEX Prices at 515 Park Avenue broke Manhattan condominium-sales records in 1999. In turn, those prices were topped when a dozen or so buyers flipped their apartments. But the building isn’t finished. In late June, Charles Brandes, one of the most prominent preachers of value-investing and a managing partner of San Diego-based Brandes Investment Partners, bought a duplex penthouse on the building’s 42nd and 43rd floors for $22 million–though the price tag was $29.5 million and the apartment had sold three years ago for only $10.5 million.

Mr. Brandes and his wife, Linda, already own a place on the 29th floor, which they bought a little more than a year ago for $7.1 million. The 3,257-square-foot condo–plus 2,000 more square feet on the terrace–has three bedrooms and four bathrooms. (Maintenance is $3,427.)

They put that apartment on the market on June 14, for $15.5 million, with broker Robin Rothman of Stribling & Associates. At the same time, they purchased the 11-room, 5,000-square-foot duplex upstairs; it has five bedrooms, 360-degree views, a skylight over the limestone spiral staircase, and two of most major appliances in the kitchen. The price included a maid or guest apartment with its own kitchen.

The duplex was sold by a couple who bought it in 1998 for about $10.5 million; one broker remembered the pair as a female television executive and an Austrian who was once Arnold Schwarzenegger’s stunt double. They put the apartment on the market last October.

Mr. Brandes’ loyalty to the building might be seen as a vote of confidence coming from a protégé of Benjamin Graham, the grandfather of the value approach to investing. Mr. Brandes, who earned his B.A. in economics in 1965 from Bucknell University, started as a research analyst and early on aligned his ideas with Graham’s. He founded his own firm in 1974 and has gone on to publish two books on investment theory, including Value Investing Today . In March 2001, Brandes Investment Partners, which has offices in San Diego, Indianapolis and Geneva, reported assets of approximately $50.9 billion. Reached in San Diego, where he has a 13-acre estate, Mr. Brandes would not comment on his New York real-estate activity. And Ms. Rothman, who represented the Brandeses in the penthouse deal, didn’t return calls.

Some brokers wonder whether Mr. Brandes isn’t overvaluing the property he’s selling. “I would probably price it at $12 million and hope for $10 million,” one broker said about the 29th-floor apartment Mr. Brandes has on the market for $15.5 million. “When the market peaked in 2000, they paid $7.1 million, therefore it should be worth less now.”

Added broker Laurance Kaiser, of Key-Ventures Realty, regarding the $15.5 million price tag: “It makes the duplex I sold on the 22nd floor for $7.2 million seem like the deal of a lifetime.”

MIDTOWN

REALPLAYER INVENTOR GETS ONE OVER ON AOL TIME WARNER TOWER It’s just like Robert Glaser to buy an apartment right next door to the AOL Time Warner Tower on Columbus Circle. The founder of RealNetworks–who left Microsoft only to license RealPlayer to the competition, AOL–dropped $6.5 million on a 2,700-square-foot penthouse condo at 301 West 57th Street on June 21. Though the AOL Time Warner Tower will soon be between Mr. Glaser’s building and Central Park, the building (known, ironically, as Central Park Place) will still have two stories on the new tower–and Mr. Glaser will be way up top on the 55th floor.

Though Mr. Glaser grew up in Yonkers and attended Yale, RealNetworks is based in Seattle, and this will not be his primary residence. Said one colleague at RealNetworks: “We need him here every day, so I don’t see how he’ll be there.” But at the tender age of 39, Mr. Glaser is ranked No. 108 on Forbes ‘ list of the top 400 richest Americans, with a $2.4 billion net worth last year, so he can afford a part-time pad in the city. And it’s just steps from the building that will consolidate the operations of the multimedia giant that has been RealNetworks’ chief partner on the Web.

Therefore, it seems doubtful that Mr. Glaser will be lending his voice to the cause of the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development, a group of neighborhood opponents to the AOL Time Warner tower, who say the current design for the building is 33 percent larger than the design examined in an environmental impact statement in 1997. Among the problems are the shadows the tower might cast on the neighborhood. The group has asked the State Supreme Court to stop the project until it’s reexamined. They’re still waiting for an answer.

Geographically, at least, Mr. Glaser is above it all.

WEST VILLAGE

A MEGA-MANSION RISES ON CHARLES STREET There’s dust flying on Charles Street. About a month ago, Daniel Kohs, an architect, began renovating two red-brick, four-story townhouses and an adjoining two-story, yellow-brick structure at 47 and 49 Charles Street, on the corner of West Fourth Street. Mr. Kohs bought both buildings for $2.05 million in April 2000. According to a work permit filed with the city’s Department of Buildings, Mr. Kohs plans to combine the structures–two Italianate houses and the adjunct, which contained multiple apartments–into a large single-family home.

The Landmarks Commission is not unhappy about the project. One of the permits fort he buildings, which are across Charles Street from the Sevilla restaurant, promises that Mr. Kohs will replace the windows that had been bricked over on the West Fourth Street side. This will “eliminate an irregular fenestration pattern and will unify the façade,” said the commission’s permit. Mr. Kohs is also planning other cosmetic changes, including restoring some ironwork and replacing one door, which will help the landmarked buildings fit better into their landscape. There was no mention of what will become of the two stoops out front.

Mr. Kohs has done several luxury renovations of townhouses in downtown Manhattan, including 40 Gramercy Park, 152 and 154 Waverly Street and, more recently, one at 452 Greenwich Street. The Greenwich Street house is 7,500 square feet and has five bedrooms, seven bathrooms and a 3,000-bottle wine cellar. It’s on the market with Marie Taylor for $7.25 million.

WEST VILLAGE

52 Eighth Avenue

Three-story, 3,200-square-foot townhouse.

Asking: $1.5 million. Selling: $1.475 million.

Time on the market: four months.

MR. B AND THE WOMEN “I think there’s something about buying a substantial something that makes me feel like I’m a grown-up in a way that I never had before,” said Tessa Blake, a 32-year-old filmmaker who bought, in July, the three-story townhouse where the West Village’s Art Bar is located. “I imagine getting married makes you feel that way, too.” Ms. Blake should know a thing or two about marriage: Her father, 91-year-old Houston oil tycoon Tom Blake, has had five wives, and Ms. Blake’s first film was a documentary of her extended family called Five Wives, Three Secretaries and Me . Of course, the film turned out to be more about divorce and the director’s poor relationship with her father, who provided the financing. After graduating from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Ms. Blake moved to New York and, about 10 years ago, began renting a 700-square-foot apartment on the top floor of the building she would eventually own. When she turned 25 in 1994, Ms. Blake was summoned to collect a $1 million trust fund from her father. Six months later, she hired a film crew and went back to document a cast of characters that included Mr. Blake’s current wife, Muffet Criner Adickes Blake; Tessa’s mom, Sandra Tessman Blake; and another ex, Betty (Boop) Blake. The film, which is playing this month on Movie Channel 2, has been compared to Sherman’s March and was included in a series of outstanding documentaries of 1999 by the Academy of Motion Pictures. Another outcome for Ms. Blake was to solidify her roots away from her family, in New York. “I knew it had been on the market for a while, but buying a building in New York seemed prohibitive to me …. Who does that?” said Ms. Blake, who’s in Chapel Hill filming her second film, The Pink House (“imagine Woody Allen doing Animal House “). But for eight years, her lease had been on a precarious month-to-month basis that was making her nervous. “I was thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’d have to move in 30 days,’ so I started to investigate the market.” But Ms. Blake didn’t like what the market had to offer. “I think I might be too Texan for co-ops,” she said. “It’s confusing to me, buying part of the idea of something. I didn’t like having to clear through a board whether I have pets or subletters, but condominiums were not appealing aesthetically.” Finally her boyfriend suggested, “‘Why don’t you buy this place?’” she said. “Then I talked to my financial broker and looked at the fact that I had the rare capacity to have an income-generating building”–the Art Bar plus an apartment-renter–”and the whole thing started to make all kinds of financial sense.” Ms. Blake did have a bit of buyer’s remorse. “I’m on a commercial patch, and sometimes I have a bit of remorse that I’m not on a tree-lined street, but it will be fun to turn it into a real home,” she said. “I love my little house.”

CARNEGIE HILL

11 East 87th Street

Two-bedroom, two-bathroom, 1,400-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $695,000. Selling: $695,000.

Charges: $1,494; 50 percent tax deductible.

CRASHING THE HONEYMOON After marrying, a couple crammed their stuff into a small one-bedroom in this red-brick postwar building just off Fifth Avenue. But one day, the doorman revealed that one of the building’s few two-bedroom apartments–a one-bedroom that had been combined with a studio–was for sale. With their inside information, the couple approached the owners–another couple that had just been married–and had a deal in two weeks, according to Douglas Elliman broker Philip Altland, who handled the sale. The master bedroom encompasses the main room of the original studio, making it impressively large, Mr. Altland said. While the 1954 building is nicer-looking than many of its contemporaries and provides a full-time doorman and concierge as well as a parking garage, its postwar architecture also makes prices reasonable for an apartment with nice views of Central Park.

PARK SLOPE

953 President Street

Three-bedroom, two-bathroom, 1,400-square-foot co-op.

Asking: $595,000. Selling: $585,000.

Charges: $810; 40 percent tax deductible.

Time on the market: three months.

COUPLE PLANS MOVE BETWEEN CONTRACTIONS Broker Patricia Neinast of the Corcoran Group recalls that the couple who bought this three-bedroom apartment, which takes up a full floor of a brownstone near Prospect Park, didn’t spend a lot of time looking around. “They were late to meet friends,” she said. But the 1,400-square-foot apartment, which has a gas fireplace in the living room, an eat-in kitchen, large bedrooms and an office alcove, fit all their needs: They have one child and are expecting another. Plus, said Ms. Neinast, since it’s on the ground floor, “the babies can run around without disturbing any of the neighbors.” Before their second child arrives, Ms. Neinast said, they will repair the floors and redo both the bathrooms.