Presenting Manhattan’s Cheapest Mansion? Developer Yassky Chops East 78th Spread to $16.9 M.

Even during these dreary times, the ambition that carries on in Manhattan real estate is practically Shakespearean. People who spend many millions of dollars on a chunk of luxury property one day seem to believe that chunk will be sellable the next for many millions more.

On Aug. 11, a limited liability corporation controlled by Charles Yassky, a developer and real estate investor, paid $13.2 million for a 36-foot-wide red-brick mansion at 122 East 78th Street.

The building, split into two floors of offices and three floors of small apartment units, went on the market two weeks ago for $18.9 million, slightly more than 43 percent above what Mr. Yassky paid just three months ago. Last week, his price came down to $16.9 million, still $3.7 million more than August’s sale.

“Well, look, I’m in the real estate business, O.K.?” Mr. Yassky said this week, reached at his office. “I buy houses to renovate, and I buy houses to sell. It’s a financial transaction. I’m in business to buy and sell. That’s what I do.” As it happens, the Department of Buildings shows he hasn’t done any renovation there. Still, he pointed out that between brokers’ fees, mortgage payments, recording costs, taxes, insurance and upkeep, profits on these kinds of flips can be significantly lower than they seem.

Mr. Yassky, whose holdings include shopping centers and Manhattan apartment buildings, was last in the news in 2004, when the mega-broker Michael Shvo was forced to take an ethics course because of his dealings with the investor: The two simply visited one of Mr. Yassky’s developments together without the building’s exclusive broker, who then complained.

As for the East 78th Street mansion, Mr. Yassky said it now costs only about $1,100 per square foot—“the lowest-priced mansion in Manhattan.” But the research Web site PropertyShark lists the building at 13,734 square feet, which means the current price per square foot is $1,230. “Now you’re getting yourself into a logjam of facts,” he told this reporter. “The building is in excess of 15,000 square feet.”

Either way, a listing with Brown Harris Stevens says the mansion is “ready to be converted to a single-family residence,” though phone records suggest there are still several tenants. “Let’s just say my attorney has advised me not to discuss the tenancy of the building. Period,” Mr. Yassky offered. Joanna Cutler shares the listing.

A deed filed in city records this week shows that he just bought a $2.275 million apartment at the Olympic Tower on Fifth Avenue. It’s not clear if he lives there, but it’s apparently his third unit on the same floor.

Presenting Manhattan’s Cheapest Mansion? Developer Yassky Chops East 78th Spread to $16.9 M.