Rent: The Post-Sept. 11 Drama With Harrison Ford, Bruce Willis

From $99,000 Penthouses on Down, All About the Negotiating That’s Going On . New Yorkers are a determined set: They want the ideal apartment. But it seems that since the World Trade Center crashed to the ground and the Manhattan rental market reportedly followed it, no one is willing to pay what they used to. Take Harrison Ford.

Mr. Ford has been trying to rent an apartment in Manhattan for months. He was close to a deal, one broker said, but the owner decided to sell the place instead. Now he’s staying at the Mercer Hotel in Soho, his eyes trained on a 52nd-floor penthouse at Donald Trump’s International Hotel and Towers at 1 Central Park West. It’s not a steal by any measure, priced at $99,000 a month. But it does have views of the entire city, 20-foot ceilings and tons of outdoor space.

The asking price is one of the highest the city has seen-but that doesn’t mean it’s not negotiable. Earlier this month, an apartment three floors down-with about the same amount of space, but a different layout and ceilings closer to 15 feet-rented for $65,000, which is $10,000 less than what it came on the market for last summer.

But in Mr. Ford’s case, aside from the hefty asking price, there’s also some competition: Actor Bruce Willis is looking for something close to the Central Park West apartment he used to live in with then-wife Demi Moore and their two children, and he’s reportedly been asking to see this penthouse, too.

With the two action-film stars vying for the place, said Insignia Douglas Elliman broker Dolly Lenz, who’s renting the apartment, the owner is more likely to get his price. “Last year it rented for almost that much,” said Ms. Lenz of the $99,000 figure, though she wouldn’t disclose the current asking rent. And back then, a renter offering $80,000 was rebuffed. “The rental market isn’t great,” Ms. Lenz said, “but anything really special, for sale or for rent, is holding its value.”

Of course, when you’re not going head-to-head with Bruce Willis for a $99,000-a-month penthouse, you can often find a better deal on an apartment these days-though it’s never a sure thing. The week of Oct. 22, Douglas Wagner, president of Benjamin James, was going over a lease on a Murray Hill two-bedroom apartment when a client asked for $200 off the $2,200-a-month rent. “I had this person stomping their feet: ‘I won’t [pay]! I won’t! I won’t!’” said Mr. Wagner. But the landlord wouldn’t budge either, and the apartment was rented to someone else for $2,200 the next day.

But if renters continue to stomp their feet, brokers say, landlords-many of whose apartments are currently languishing on the market-will likely be forced to make a deal.

In a building closer to ground zero, 62 Thomas Street, a 6,500-square-foot loft that had been listed since the spring with Wilbur Gonzalez of Insignia Douglas Elliman just rented. Originally priced at $29,000 a month, the place had lookers with deep pockets: actor Will Smith and his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Miramax marketing director Bob Weinstein. At that price, both turned the place down before the end of May. Still, over the summer, the asking rent was raised to $32,000, where it remained through Sept. 11. The lucky bargain hunter who got the place-the head of a record label whom the broker would not identify-signed a lease for $20,000 a month.

Mr. Wagner said his firm has also reduced rents at a building in lower Manhattan that it manages, 33 Gold Street, near Fulton Street, and let one renter out of his lease. “We did a price drop that was a kind of conservative drop … percentage-wise, between 7 and 10 percent.” Studio apartments went from $1,500 to between $1,350 and $1,400, and one-bedroom apartments went from $1,800 to $1,650. During the week of Sept. 23, 12 new leases were signed at the lower rents.

At Le Rivage, 21 West Street near the financial district, studios are listed at $2,300 per month, and one-bedroom apartments at $2,800. But several brokers have negotiated particularly generous offers. “Ten to 15 percent off … one month or even two months free, offers to pay the broker’s commission, everything,” said one broker. And renters are biting. “I actually lost out on an apartment there because we didn’t call back in time,” the broker said.

Farther from the smoke and debris of lower Manhattan, brokers describe a much less consistent but still significant negotiability. Brian Edwards, the executive director of leasing for Halstead–Feathered Nest, gave a report to his anxious bosses on Oct. 25. “This is a Jekyll-and-Hyde marketplace, similar to 1990 and ’91″-the years following the collapse of the real-estate market on Black Monday in October 1989, he said. “Some landlords are desperately holding on by their fingertips to an antique market; then you have other owners who have reacted much more quickly.”

The wait-and-see game has contributed to a glut of rentals. “Since Sept. 11, there’s an abundance of real estate on the market, maybe 20 percent more” than usual for this time of year, said Lucie Holt, a broker at Citihabitats.

The best deals are being cut in what were-before Sept. 11-rapidly up-and-coming neighborhoods. One broker said Harlem rents have dropped by 15 to 20 percent. The same goes for Hell’s Kitchen. “They’ve reacted very quickly; we never even saw these concessions six weeks ago,” said Mr. Edwards of the developers in Hell’s Kitchen. “These buildings are sometimes offering three-month concessions.”

Michael Moran, director of listings for the Corcoran Group’s rental division, said that in more established neighborhoods, prices can vary widely as landlords seek the right price point to move their apartments quickly. “On the Upper West Side in the 80′s, between Columbus and Amsterdam, a large family home with 2,400 square feet, the original asking rent was $11,500,” he said. “We did a $10,000-a-month lease on it. In the same building, we did a lease that instead of the asking rent of $7,000, it was reduced to $6,750.” Discounts ranged from 3 to 13 percent in the same building, he said.

At the Langham, the Upper West Side luxury rental at 135 Central Park West that made Mia Farrow a poster child for rent decontrol, six-room apartments had been renting for upwards of $20,000 a month in recent years. But with three apartments on the market, the owners have decided this fall to make drastic reductions in the asking rent, slashing as much as $7,000 from the rate.

The scattered rent reductions should be an inducement to New Yorkers to spend some time searching, but according to Mr. Edwards and several other brokers, the culture may militate against that. Most people in New York don’t face up to the hell of moving until they have to. Jeffrey Klein, a 32-year-old banker, has been in the market since before Sept. 11. With his wife pregnant and due before the holidays, he’s not waiting for a fire sale.

“We’re paying $2,800 now and looking in the $5,000-to-6,000 range for a two-bedroom apartment,” he said. “Rents haven’t come down yet, but I haven’t been in the market that long. And anyway, it’s kind of like once you get started, you want to get it over with.”

Meanwhile, Benjamin James broker James Ferrari said he’s been confronted with other, non-monetary concerns. He said a Brazilian client who abandoned his rental in Battery Park City “wanted a terrorism out, and then we had to define that if the premises are affected or the environment surrounding the premises, specifically air quality, accessibility … they can break the lease without a penalty.”

The Brazilian did not seek any redefinition of the rent.

Upper East Side

515 East 79th Street (Asten House) One-bed, two-bath, 1,000-square-foot co-op. Asking: $479,000.

Selling: $470,000. Charges: $1,041; 65 percent tax-deductible. Timeonthemarket: six weeks. A couple from Lebanon who’d been living in the United States for over 20 years decided in February that it was time to move back home, closer to friends and family. They thought they could sell this place near York Avenue for $525,000, so they tried marketing it themselves. But after almost a year, they threw in the towel. “When we dropped the price below $485,000, it really opened the market up,” said Elyse Gutman of the Corcoran Group, claiming the place was too far east for many buyers. The place sold seven weeks later.

Upper West Side

117 West 77th Street Two-bed, two-bath, 1,650-square-foot co-op. Asking: $999,000. Selling: $1.045 million. Charges: $1,200; 56 percent tax-deductible. Time on the market: three months. HEARTBREAK BEFORE THE HONEYMOON “She’s getting married, and she will move to a house near Nyack overlooking the Hudson,” said broker Stephanie Ashkenaz, of Douglas Elliman, about the woman who sold this apartment. But how could anyone not be torn up about leaving this duplex in a brownstone near Columbus Avenue? About three years ago, the seller bought two floors of the brownstone and had architect Eric Cohler put in a French window overlooking a private terrace off the family room, redo the bathrooms and combine two bedrooms to make a giant master bedroom on the second floor (which also has a terrace). The place already had fireplaces in the dining room, the living room and the master bedroom. After a bidding war, a young couple with a child took it over.

Chelsea

155 West 15th Street One-bed, one-bath, 1,200-square-foot co-op. Asking: $559,000. Selling: $527,500. Charges: $764; 50 percent tax-deductible. Time on the market: three months. A DOLL’S HOUSE This apartment, in a former factory between Sixth and Seventh avenues, is a 1,200-square-foot apartment split between three floors. “It’s like a little private house in the building,” said a broker at DG Neary Realty, the company selling the apartment. The operative word being “little”: It was too small for the sellers, who are moving to a normal-sized house on Long Island. The apartment is entered through a small hallway, off of which are a kitchen, a living room and a bathroom, as well as stairs leading up to a bedroom and stairs leading down to a rec room with several closets. The buyers plan to redo everything, most notably to reposition both stairwells.

Upper West Side

Imagine all the apartments vacant at the dakota! Some buildings house legends, and some buildings are legends. The Dakota, the gothic buff-colored building on Central Park West and West 72nd Street, was both. Developed in the 1880′s and designed by Henry J. Hardenbergh, who would later design the Plaza Hotel, the Dakota has been home to a century’s worth of the rich and famous, including Judy Garland, Leonard Bernstein, Judy Holliday, Rudolf Nureyev, Boris Karloff and, perhaps most infamously, John Lennon.

Although there’s still plenty of star power in the building-Lauren Bacall, Roberta Flack, Joe Namath, Connie Chung and Yoko Ono are all current residents-its wattage seems to dim as they age. Maybe that explains why the Dakota currently has five apartments sitting on the market-one since April of this year-and none with any takers.

“It is a great building, but it is very, very hard to get into,” said one longtime resident about the co-op’s board. “And after John Lennon died, they didn’t want show-business people here anymore. It used to be filled with famous people, but that isn’t the case anymore.”

The most expensive of the five apartments currently on the market is a 10-room, 3,800-square-foot place asking $9 million that went on the market Oct. 18. The apartment, which was recently renovated, has three bedrooms, two and a half baths, a full dining room and city views.

Michael Bungey, a Brit who is chairman and chief executive of Bates Worldwide, also put his three-bedroom Dakota apartment with four fireplaces on the market in October of this year for $5 million.

The estate of Arthur Cantor, who produced the Broadway hits A Thousand Clowns , The Music Man , The Tenth Man and All the Way Home , and who died in April, put his apartment on the market in the summer for $7.9 million, but the price was reduced in July to $6.9 million. The apartment has four bedrooms, three bathrooms and two maid’s rooms, all with original woodwork.

The 2,400-square-foot apartment of Mark Myers, president of the financial-services management firm Myers-Holum, has been on the market since April for $4.5 million. And a duplex on the first and second floors measuring 1,600 square feet, with views of Central Park, has been reduced in price from $3.3 million to $2.95 million.

Despite the glut of available apartments, the legend lives on. Brokers who work on the Upper West Side said that five Dakota apartments being on the market at the same time was simply a coincidence. Said one: “It is still one of the best buildings in New York.”