New York’s New Co-op Queen

abelson 2 New Yorks New Co op Queen“You can’t make somebody buy something. You just can’t make them. They’re not handing out shotguns to brokers yet,” the tall, blond, Georgia-bred, 47-year-old real estate broker Leighton Candler complained earlier this month. She was sitting in the wood-paneled library of a 14-room duplex penthouse at 1020 Fifth Avenue. “And to push is wrong, to be controversial is wrong, to be confrontational is wrong. It really is. These are very sophisticated people.”

Ms. Candler has several tectonic listings to worry about, including this penthouse, which she’s marketing for $46.5 million, down from last year’s $50 million tag. There’s the late Brooke Astor’s duplex on Park Avenue, for example, or a smaller penthouse at 1040 Fifth Avenue, for which a zinc magnate and his estranged wife are asking $43 million. Those alone make her the most important co-op broker in New York right now.

Even though she cut the price at Astor’s apartment from $46 million to $34 million this month, that duplex and the others are all going to be hard sells. Luxury real estate’s go-go years are over, and the descent into stale malaise has been swift and melodramatic.

On the bright side, Ms. Candler notched two of the last go-go deals. In January, her clients, a hedge fund manager and his philanthropist wife, paid $46 million for a duplex penthouse at 1060 Fifth Avenue. No co-op had ever sold for more. Then the couple got overwhelmed by the prospect of lengthy renovations and decided to sell.

“I said, ‘Are you sure? Really, I think you should think about it, it’s really fabulous.’ … Finally, they were like, ‘Too much of a project. We’ve got to sell it.’ I’d tell them several times to keep thinking about it, because it is really one of the extraordinary apartments in New York. There are not a lot of penthouses that big with those huge views. They said, ‘You’re right, you’re right, you’re right, but we really do. It’s really too big, it’s really too much, we really do not want to start this project, so can you sell it?’ I said, ‘Well, yeah, I can sell it.’ They said, ‘O.K., well, would you?’ I said, ‘You really mean it? You want me to do that? Think about it again.’ They said, ‘O.K., we’ve thought about it again. Yes.’ I said, ‘O.K.’”

 

ON JULY 29, the penthouse duplex sold for $48,836,000. “She has near reverence for these really splendid prewar co-ops. She has such enthusiasm, such love,” that philanthropist wife said this week about Ms. Candler. “She walks into an apartment and she can immediately tell if it’s correct or incorrect.”

Ms. Candler’s first colossal and entirely correct co-op deal was in 2006, when she listed the billionaire David Koch’s $30 million apartment, which had belonged to Jackie Onassis. That was at 1040 Fifth Avenue, where she ended up befriending owners in the building, like the zinc magnate’s wife, and, more importantly, the philanthropist and her hedge fund husband. This January, Ms. Candler sold their co-op at 1040 Fifth one week before they bought the record-setting $46 million penthouse at 1060 Fifth.

“I see the buyers who need large penthouse apartments with outdoor space,” Ms. Candler said, sitting alone last week in a Corcoran corner office. “That’s what I do! It’s like the Marilyn Monroe ‘Specialization’; you know that song of Marilyn Monroe’s? I know about who’s looking for Upper East Side unusual penthouse apartments, or lovely unusual apartments, even without terrace space. But what I know is every single person who’s looking for that. Of course I do.”

She sold Sotheby’s vice chairman Jamie Niven’s place in 2006, too. “Leighton’s style is very much Southern lady. She’s very charming, she’s got wonderful manners,” Mr. Niven said this week. “She’s one of these people who happen to be well brought up, a nice Southern girl, and I think people like that.”

 

ACTUALLY, HER CHILDHOOD was very Southern but not entirely nice. She was raised in a 38-room mansion in Atlanta’s high-nosed, high-chinned Buckhead neighborhood; her mother was born on Monmouth Plantation in Natchez, Miss.; her father was Coca-Cola Company founder Asa G. Candler’s great-grandson, John H. Candler Jr.