Roger Erickson, From Captain Kangaroo to Park Avenue

erickson Roger Erickson, From Captain Kangaroo to Park AvenueLocation: You once complained that 2002, when you sold $62 million of real estate, was ‘a relatively slow year.’ How is 2009 comparing?

Mr. Erickson: Well, last year was about $200 million. This year, sales for me have only just started significantly. … Unfortunately I’m terribly optimistic by nature.

 

What’s your goal? You can’t do $200 million again.

Why not? You don’t think so? I still have six months. All right, maybe not, but certainly I would think at least $100 million. I would shoot for that.

 

In December, you predicted: ‘The tippy-top of the market will not be as affected … we’ll continue to see near-record prices.’ Why didn’t that happen?

There were so many people so gung-ho over the high end that I was under the impression that it was going to kind of keep sailing along. But it didn’t.

 

When did you realize that?

January was very slow, February was very slow. It seemed as if the market had come to a dead halt—actually, to a point where very few people were bothering to look.

 

What was your life like then?

Well, good! Because when it gets hard, I start going back to the old tried-and-true methods that have worked for me for, like, 20 years now: I find time suddenly to reach out to people that I haven’t been in touch with for possibly years.

 

And that’s still how it is now?

No, it’s completely changed. It’s uncanny. You know that, right?

 

Brokers have been saying that, but I’m not so sure.

Oh, yeah, it’s remarkable what has happened. Literally, it’s as if a light bulb was turned on. … Suddenly, bang, people were actually coming. … And the people that really want to sell have gotten with the program. They basically have understood that, yeah, this is what’s happening, the world has changed, the real estate market has definitely changed, the prices that we could’ve gotten last year we’re not going to see right now.

 

In November you sold a triplex at Richard Meier’s 176 Perry to Hugh Jackman for $21 million, $19 million less than its original asking price. Was your client, tech guru Bill Joy, upset?

I mean, he was very realistic. … When we came on with the asking price, the architect who worked on the project at Meier’s office had a lot of influence on where he felt that asking price should go. It was a lot higher than I was suggesting to Bill.

 

You were friendly with Andy Warhol, and sold his East 66th Street townhouse to ex-MTV chief Tom Freston. He put it back on the market last year for $38.5 million with Deborah Grubman, why not you?

You know what? There are certain relationships that are built. You know, [her husband] Allen Grubman is a very powerful lawyer. I’ve lost other customers also that have a relationship with Allen. And Deborah’s an excellent broker, so these are things that happen. It goes back and forth! It’s the nature of the business.

 

But it’s come off the market without selling. Have you called Mr. Freston?

It’s her listing, and I figure if he wants to get in touch with me it would be more appropriate. … I actually remember seeing it right after Warhol died, I was called in to appraise it. It was fascinating, like a monastery … nothing modern; religious paintings and crucifixions everywhere.

 

You sold Steve Jobs’ duplex penthouse in the San Remo to Bono for around $14.9 million. When he fought his neighbors over fireplace smoke that was wafting into his apartment, did you help?

I called but there wasn’t anything I could do.

 

You’ve also worked with Madonna. What do you make of her odd decision to sign a contract at a mansion that’s between Lexington and Third avenues?

I’ve found this over and over again: If the property fits, and everything that can work works, people suddenly will sacrifice some element, even if it’s location. … Unfortunately, in Manhattan real estate, no matter what your budget is, even if your budget is literally $45, $50 million, even there, there are compromises.

I worked with a customer who was looking for a townhouse with that kind of budget—and they’re out there—and, ‘There’s a building right behind where I wouldn’t want it,’ or, ‘The outlook here isn’t right,’ or, ‘I really wanted to be in the north side of the street with the sunlight coming through the front.’

 

After two years, Jeff Koons recently closed on the $12 million townhouse at 11 East 67th Street. You worked with him when he went back and forth about buying its next-door neighbor. Why was he so fickle?

He’s an artist, so he’s excused. He’s very creative and he follows his intuition.

 

Is there a consensus among high-end brokers that asking prices got way too high? The tag for an East 94th mansion went from $59 million to $42 million; the top floors at Julian Schnabel’s Palazzo Chupi went from $59 million to $38 million; the tag for the Kress mansion at 1020 Fifth is down from $50 million to $39 million.

The prices didn’t make sense anymore. Part of it is that sellers have very high aspirations, and brokers always try to balance [that with] what is a real market value. … It seemed like there was no end.

Unfortunately, in Manhattan real estate, no matter what your budget is, even if your budget is literally $45, $50 million, even there, there are compromises.

 

In 2006, you held a cocktail party for 35 top brokers in the $31.25 million One Beacon penthouse owned by record executive Alan Meltzer, which ended up selling for $25 million. Is it still the era of parties?

More than ever again! I had a Champagne reception for 812 Fifth Avenue, and right after that Kirk Henckels had one at 953 Fifth. … I was thinking of doing one at 817.

 

Still, this is not an era of conspicuous consumption. Do you still drive your Ferrari F430 around?

Just the back roads in the country.

 

You were in entertainment—you did marketing for Julio Iglesias and the Jacksons—before real estate. Why did you leave?

I hated having bosses; it was kind of wearing after a while. And I’d been there for five years—I started in television, worked on Captain Kangaroo and a soap opera in production, ended up in records. So a friend of mine from a radio station in Miami sent me this book, Robert Allen, Nothing Down—but they have new guys that do this, buy-real-estate-for-nothing. So I read and it really grabbed me. I said, ‘You know what? That’s what I’m going to do.’

 

You wanted to be a no-money-down investor?

I started meeting with brokers. I remember, I met with Tim Desmond—oh, there’s Al Pacino, look, getting into a car!—So I met with Tim, and he said … ‘You should become a broker yourself.’


mabelson@observer.com