Last spring, when Dr. Samuel Mandel, a retired Upper East Side dermatologist, decided to put his 1906 Beaux Arts townhouse at 47 East 68th Street on the market for $14 million, he found himself in the right market at the wrong time.
“I got so many offers, and it was so confusing,” he said of the wavering though still strong real-estate market of earlier this year.
But he was never able to shake hands on a deal to sell the seven-story mansion, which was all but filled with tenants: a renter in the residential duplex on the top two floors; the Keith De Lellis photography gallery on the parlor floor; and his former dermatology practice, which his son had taken over, on the ground level. Dr. Mandel and his wife vacated their own triplex apartment in the building when they moved to Delray Beach, Fla., two years ago.
“People would make offers, and I would never hear from them again,” said Dr. Mandel, who opted not to hire a broker to sell the house.
After a few of the offers were withdrawn just as he moved to accept them, and after he began to sense that high-priced properties all around him were just sitting on the market, Dr. Mandel decided to contact a Chicago-based real-estate auction company, Sheldon Good, about selling the house. No stranger himself to auctions for antiques and art, Dr. Mandel said, “I didn’t see why real estate should be any different.”
In Manhattan, however, where the real-estate market is so sensitive, real-estate auctions are rare and are usually perceived as fire sales. Sotheby’s International Holdings Inc. and Christie’s International, the biggest New York auctioneers for luxury goods-both of which now have real-estate brokerage divisions-rarely sell homes this way. Sotheby’s has held only three real-estate auctions since its formation in 1989, and Christie’s, whose real-estate brokerage division was formed in 1995, has held only one.
But Sheldon Good has auctioned everything from hotels in New Jersey to timber forests in Chile. Over the last five years, according to Steve Good, president of the company, more and more New York–area sellers of super-pricey properties have held auctions to call all the buyers in at once, guaranteeing a sale if the reserve price is met.
This summer, Sheldon Good was representing what’s often called “the Daisy Buchanan estate,” Lands End in Sands Point, Long Island. The house-where F. Scott Fitzgerald is said to have written parts of The Great Gatsby, and which is said to have inspired the fictional home of Daisy Buchanan-went on the market on July 20 for $50 million. When it didn’t sell, racehorse owner Virginia Kraft Payson hired Sheldon Good to auction the house this fall. (After Sept. 11, the auction has been put off until the spring.)
Auctions can get a better price for rare properties, said Mr. Good. “Where price is not easily determined through some conventional analysis, [sellers ask] ‘At what price point [do I] settle?’ If you can easily value the house, an auction probably doesn’t make sense-but after a long time on the market, rather than gradually reducing the price, an auction can make a lot of sense.”
Dr. Mandel’s house, whose “bold Italian Renaissance detail” is pointed out in the American Institute of Architects’ guide to New York City, was built in 1906 by the
architectural firm of Adams & Warren. The house was taken over in 1955 by the National Municipal League, a nonprofit
organization formed by Louis Brandeis. When the Mandel family bought the place in 1981 for $592,000, they spent five years transforming the upper floors into two residential units-the triplex, with most of the turn-of-the-century details intact, and the duplex, in a more contemporary vein.
Dr. Mandel hopes to sell to a family or perhaps an embassy, but considers it likely that renovations will be extensive, making the price of the place even harder to figure.
In the meantime, Dr. Mandel had the building vacated two months ago, and for a month the place is playing host to the seventh annual American Hospital of Paris French Designer Showhouse. For $20 (with a reservation in advance), New Yorkers can tour the house and see the designers-and benefit this Paris-based hospital that is also a co-sponsor of the Sept. 11th Fund. The decorators include Angela Hemingway, who designed a den in memory of her late husband Jack, son of Ernest.
Dr. Mandel said he was contacted by the organization when they realized the house was largely vacant. “I thought it was a good cause, and it was empty at that point,” he said. He loaned the house free of charge-though not without considering how he could also benefit from the event. “Hopefully, this gives [the house] more exposure, and we’ll have more buyers,” he said.
On Nov. 7 at 8 p.m., bidding on the East 68th Street townhouse will open at $7 million in the Park Avenue Room at the Inter-Continental the Barclay hotel, on East 48th Street between Park and Lexington avenues. Assuming the reserve price is met, Dr. Mandel should have his deal soon enough.
He certainly hopes this will be the case, because the hassle has already worn thin with him. “It’s too overwhelming, and I don’t need the aggravation,” he said about his long search for a buyer. “And I don’t want to be a landlord.”
65 East 96th Street Three-bed, three-bath, 1,600-square-foot condo. Asking: $1.25 million. Selling: $1.25 million. Charges: $828 Taxes: $400. Time on the market: one day. 96TH STREET OR BUST This 15-story building near Park Avenue was recently converted from rental apartments to condos by Intell Management, who bought it in 1999 for $18 million. Only a few months ago, however, did the renter in this three-bedroom apartment at the front of the 12th floor decide to vacate. As soon as the renter was out, the apartment-with a foyer, parquet floors, a dining room and views of Central Park-was redone by Intell. Picture a limestone bathroom, a marble bathroom and a granite kitchen. “It was very much a luxury apartment,” said broker Daniella Kunen of Douglas Elliman. The buyers were a young family so anxious to live in Carnegie Hill that they didn’t even try to negotiate the price down.
Upper East Side
345 East 81st Street (Eaton House) Two-bed, two-bath, 1,200-square-foot co-op. Asking: $479,000. Selling: $460,000. Charges: $1,222; 61 percent tax-deductible. Time on the market: four months. FRIENDS WITH KIDS “This apartment is on a low floor looking to the back of the building, so it wasn’t such an easy sale,” said Corcoran Group broker Jackie Teplitzky-Dobens of this place near First Avenue. And, to be fair, it isn’t a total doozy. Its highlights are a second bedroom large enough for two kids to share, a balcony and its good condition. A couple expecting their first baby “liked the apartment immediately,” said Ms. Teplitzky-Dobens. Their main reason for taking the place: one friend in the building and another moving in. The buyers planned to do only cosmetic work before moving in.
UPPER WEST SIDE
165 West End Avenue Two-bed, two-bath, 1,274-square-foot co-op. Asking: $630,000. Selling: $617,000. Charges: $1,346; 49 percent tax-deductible. Time on the market: one TEACHERS IN NEED OF AN EXTENSION Two recently retired teachers were getting desperate. It was August, and they hadn’t found an apartment to buy in Manhattan, even though they’d already agreed to sell their longtime home on Long Island on Sept. 13. A last-minute solution came in the form of this two-bedroom apartment at a building in the Lincoln Tower complex, one of the few two-bedroom apartments in the building with a view of the West Side and the Hudson River. They quickly made an offer, which was accepted the same day, and signed a contract two weeks later. The apartment, which is in estate condition, needs lots of work, according to the listing broker, Judith Kahn of Insignia Douglas Elliman. “I think they will renovate piece by piece, but it certainly needs to be updated.” The deal closed on Sept. 13.
200 Riverside Boulevard (Trump Place) Three-bed, three-bath, 1,800-square-foot condo. Asking: $1.375 million. Selling: $1.375 million. Charges: $851. Taxes: $31. Time on the market: three weeks. TRUMP’S KIND OF LADY This corner apartment in Donald Trump’s Riverside Park development near 70th Street had almost everything the woman who bought it on Sept. 21 wanted: Upper West Side location, lots of light, three bedrooms, proximity to a park (Riverside Park is just a block away), all for under $2 million. And the woman had to have a condo, because she intended to buy the place through a trust. “I don’t think there is a co-op in the city that would accept that,” said her broker, Julie Friedman of Bellmarc
Realty. Although the buyer would have preferred a prewar building, prewar condos are hard to come by on the Upper West Side if you don’t want to live on Broadway. “But this had the prewar feel, because the ceilings were so high.” The apartment also has a washer and dryer, a windowed kitchen, lots of closet space and herringbone floors.