This Monday, a few hours after a penthouse apartment at Central Park South’s copper-roofed Hampshire House went on the market for $10.9 million, this reporter called up the listing broker, Elia Clemente, and asked if his client would be willing to talk about the place. Records show the 1,800-square-foot unit was sold in 2005 to a personal injury lawyer named Eleanor P. Vale, who paid only $1,515,000 for the place.
On Tuesday morning, Ms. Vale left this voice mail: “The reason I have to sell it is that I’m not in financial trouble, but I have family that is. And it’s my son, and a lot of grandchildren; they’re in this small town, and they have all this debt, and it’s just made me very nervous.”
Ms. Vale’s voice sounded un-ironic. “I really want to dig them out of debt. So, you know, it’s this trickle-down effect of, you know, being nervous. And I don’t know where I’d put the money after capital gains and all that wonderful stuff. Maybe they can pay off their mortgage and their student loans and their equity loans and their capital gains.” She made a grunt of genuine disgust.
“I mean—it’s just—what’s happened to the younger generation is absolutely pathetic. My son has had a hernia operation, my daughter-in-law has colitis.” That’s inflammation of the colon. “And they have three children, so what I’m trying to do is shore up the family finances. … The apartment is not something I would ordinarily want to sell. I had no intention of selling it. It’s a sweet knock-out. O.K. Bah-bye.”
A few minutes later, Ms. Vale, 70, who worked in real estate before law, was on the phone. “I mean, I look like a rich woman, but I’m middle-class like everyone else, I have middle-class issues,” she said.
Her children haven’t asked for help, and they don’t know about her plans. “No, because they’re proud. I don’t want them to think we’re selling the apartment just to help them,” she explained. “You sound young. You’re not a mother! A mother is only as happy as her most unhappy child. They’re not asking me for money, but I lie awake worrying about them.”
Is she an anxious person? “No. No. Not at all, but I’m not stupid. I’m not stupid. I think the sky is falling. And I don’t even know if there’s going to be money to buy my apartment. Maybe three weeks ago, these Russians were around.”
On the plus side, even if she doesn’t quite get her $10.9 million asking price, she’ll make a massive profit over the $1.5 million she paid three years ago in an estate sale, surely more than enough to pay off student loans for a child or two. “I don’t know where it will go,” she said, “maybe my mattress.” She didn’t seem to be speaking euphemistically.
“If my father were alive,” she sighed, “he’d probably drop dead again.”