As buzzing saws and pounding hammers echoed across East 95th Street on a recent afternoon outside the Carhart Mansion, the nearly two-year-long real-estate saga involving one of the Lycée Français de New York’s Upper East Side townhouses continued apace.
Last week, Corcoran broker Carrie Chiang raised the already stratospheric prices on the 38,810-square-foot palace, which is currently being carved into four luxury condos. The four apartments are being outfitted by the renowned London-based architectural firm John Simpson Partners. They were originally offered at a combined $61.3 million, but last week Ms. Chiang increased the price 10 percent, to a combined $68 million, after she said she found multiple buyers who were willing to issue letters of intent on the properties.
“We have so much demand; we have two interested people for each apartment,” Ms. Chiang told The Observer. “But at this amount of square footage, I’m still pricing the properties below Park Avenue and Fifth Avenue prices.”
The developers are seeking to cash in on the still-buoyant luxury real-estate market: According to a report released by Miller Samuel Inc. on Oct. 12, the median price for luxury apartments rose 5.6 percent in the third quarter, to $3.17 million. But the Lycée faced a more turbulent time selling the landmarked mansion, which was built in 1913 by the celebrated architect Horace Trumbauer for Marion Carhart, the wife of banking and railroad magnate Amory S. Carhart. In 2002, the Francophone school, as part of its controversial financing plan to build a new $115 million building on East 75th Street, sold the neoclassical French mansion for $15 million. Soon after, the developers announced that the four condos would be listed at nearly four times that price after being retrofitted with Mr. Simpson’s renovations, which will include honed French limestone, Waterworks Farmhouse sinks and hand-cut limestone mosaic floors, among other luxuries. Assuming the developers are able to sell at the full listing prices, that $68 million would total over half of the entire cost of the Lycée’s new Descartes-inspired building at 505 East 75th Street.
Since the Carhart Mansion was first marketed last year, buyers have not been able to bid on the properties, which have yet to be approved for sale by the state attorney general, but potential owners have been able to issue nonbinding letters of intent on the residences. Developers of new properties often use letters of intent to gauge the demand, and at the Carhart Mansion, the multiple bids gave the developers confidence to push the prices ever higher for the gilded apartments where, just two years ago, legions of blue-blazer-and-polo-clad élèves tromped through the Lycée’s halls.
Ms. Chiang said she hopes to win approval from the attorney general within a matter of weeks, allowing her to accept official bids on the properties, which will be completed by March 2005. When the project is finished, the development will include a five-bedroom triplex and a four-bedroom penthouse, both asking $21 million; a duplex asking $15.5 million; and a three-bedroom apartment asking $10.5 million. Of course, though the letters of intent suggest a good deal of interest, finding buyers to actually pay those amounts may be another matter.
Frances Preston, the president emeritus of music juggernaut B.M.I., who ran the venerable performing-rights company for 18 years before stepping down in September, has listed her Upper East Side townhouse for $5.5 million. The four-story house at 245 East 71st Street is listed in city records as being owned by Broadcast Music Incorporated. Marie Schmon, a broker with the Corcoran Group who shares the listing with fellow Corcoran broker Doug Eichman, declined to comment on the owner’s identity, though she did speak to the 3,000-square-foot home’s luxurious finish.
“We just put it out there and have had a lot of interest. It’s elegant and glamorous,” Ms. Schmon said.
Ms. Preston could not be reached for comment.
City transfer records show that B.M.I. purchased the property for $1.9 million in 1989. Last week, the property hit the market asking more than twice that (it also carries $25,142 in annual real-estate taxes).
The 15-foot-wide townhouse sits on 71st Street between Second and Third avenues. The home has three bedrooms, including a double-size master-bedroom suite, and four bathrooms. The residence also has a renovated kitchen, a 50-foot living room on the second floor, six fireplaces and a private rear garden.
“The garden is serene,” Ms. Schmon said. “It feels like a spa—you walk in and it makes you want to meditate.”
Ms. Preston, whom Fortune once labeled as “one of the true powerhouses of the pop music business,” ran B.M.I. and represented more than 300,000 performing artists, including stars like Sting, Gloria Estefan, Paul Simon and Elton John. During her 18 years helming the company, she increased its revenue over 300 percent, to more than $673 million. She first joined the company in 1958 after working in the music and broadcasting industries in Nashville, Tenn. In 1986, she was named B.M.I.’s president and chief executive and today continues to serve as a member of B.M.I.’s board of directors. Additionally, she has won numerous industry awards, everything from the Nashville Songwriters Association International’s President Award to being inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. She is also the first nonperforming woman invited to join the Friars Club, and in 1993 she became the first woman appointed to the Friars’ board of directors.