The restaurant business is notoriously difficult, famous for its grueling hours, flighty clientele and gruesome failure rate. Flipping a Manhattan townhouse, on the other hand, is supposed to be easier than flipping a burger.
But things are not always as they seem, as celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse recently discovered. The bam bam man just sold his Gerogian style townhouse at 158 East 61st Street for a disappointing $11.5 million, the same price he paid for the 6,900 square-foot manse back in 2009, according to city records. Apparently, houses are not as amenable to branding as lines of cookware and specialty spices. We wouldn’t quite call Mr. Lagasse’s maneuver a flip—he did hang his hat, ahem, his chef’s coat in the place for two years before putting it on the market—but it wasn’t exactly a long residency. Mr. Lagasse was rumored to be on the hunt for something smaller, which is probably a good thing given that he won’t be pocketing any extra cash from this sale (just the opposite—he’s paid out years of carrying costs and a broker’s fee).
The townhouse’s less-than-stellar market performance after four years of ownership is perplexing, particularly given the luxury market’s near supernatural rebound after the recession. Sure, the five-and-a-half story spread is between Lexington and Third—not the most desirable of most desirable Upper East Side blocks. But it’s an Indiana limestone-facaded beauty, with an curved wooden stair winding its way up through the floors to a rooftop solarium, five bedrooms including a master with a terrace and four gas-burning fireplaces (wood-burning would be better of course, but we can’t see gas deterring any buyers).
Perhaps it was just a case of Mr Lagasse trying too hard to kick it up a notch when he listed the townhouse for $15 million with Kleier Residential in November 2011. Especially given that much of the renovation work that the listing boasts about seems to have been finished before he moved in.
But despite the celebrity imprimatur and the house being featured on Selling New York, Mr. Lagasse was forced to kick it down a notch. Last summer he swapped Kleier for Sotheby’s Serena Boardman, who listed the property for $13.5 million, before it went off the market (and presumably into contract) this past January. Ms. Boardman, consummate, understated uptown broker that she is, didn’t even deign to wax poetic about the chef’s kitchen—for once it wouldn’t be just broker babble!—but went with “an enormous fully quipped kitchen and breakfast room opening onto a large & cheerful Garden.” Nonetheless, from the previous listings, we’ve gleaned that there are two Subzero fridges in the kitchen, a six-burner range and a 150-bottle wood-paneled wine cellar.
Otherwise, the townhouse looks almost exactly like every other white-on-beige with touches of ecru spread on the Upper East Side. Except, that is, for the glitzy chandeliers in what appears to be every room of the house. And, according to Curbed, who checked out the townhouse when it first came on the market with Kleier, kitchenettes on several of the upper floors.
Buyers 158 Lex Inc were apparently unfazed by the oddities. We wish that 158 Lex was another celebrity chef delighted by the idea of whipping something up without having to walk downstairs, but the address on the deed suggests otherwise: 21 Englehard Drive, Monroe Township, New Jersey is home to a company called Digital Gadgets.