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Still on the Market

What do Jack Welch, the former chairman of General Electric, and Britney Spears, the former princess of pop, have in common? Both have real estate that will not sell.

What Sold and What Didn't

A deal for this apartment in Washington Heights fell apart when the co-op's retaining wall collapsed. Those who watch the market know that there are some listings that languish on the market for months, even years. Mr. Welch's 1985 seven-bedroom Georgian-style manor in Fairfield, Conn., has been on the market off and on for three years, after starting at $13 million. Last March, the price was lowered to $9.5 million as listed with the local broker Rick Higgins of the Higgins Group, who represented the seller at the time but no longer does. "I was surprised it didn't sell," Mr. Higgins said.

But the house is 20 years old, he said, and he suggested that buyers in that price range might be looking for newer details. The house is now listed with William Raveis Real Estate for $8.4 million.

Ms. Spears's 4,400-square-foot, four-level condo at East Fourth Street and Broadway was reduced from $5.25 million to $4.995 million in March, and there it has remained.

That was a pretty modest cut. Laffey Associates of Greenvale took a different approach with the estate of Alan King, the deceased comedian, when selling his property in Kings Point on Long Island. It cut the price nearly in half.

Mr. King's house, a 6,457-square-foot Tudor built by Oscar Hammerstein II in 1926, with five bedrooms, eight bathrooms, a guest house, a pool and a tennis court on 2.38 acres with 800 feet of shoreline, went on the market for $22 million in June 2004. By August the price was $16.5 million, and after 34 more days on the market the property sold for $12.75 million.

All three of these properties, as well as 346 others in New York and surrounding areas, were included in the "On the Market" column in the last 15 months.

By returning to the agents, buyers and sellers involved with some of the properties that were in the column, we followed up on what didn't sell and why.

Certainly the vast majority sold, and quickly, too, especially at the beginning of 2005. Luxury properties tend to spend a longer time on the market, and with recent reports from brokerages about the third-quarter results, there are indications that the time may be stretching.

More difficult to explain was the unlucky fate of the $477,000 fifth-floor walk-up in the West Village, the viewless two-bedroom co-op in Washington Heights, and the $275,000 income-restricted apartment in Harlem. Why do they sit on the market?

Some say brokers price properties too high.

"They kind of pig out," said Leslie Lalehzar, an associate broker and managing director at Warburg Realty Partnership. "They think it is going to sell higher, but it just lingers."

Others in the industry say properties languish because of a stalemate between the buyers and sellers. "The buyers are saying we are not willing to pay these prices," said Jacky Teplitzky, an executive vice president at Prudential Douglas Elliman. "The sellers are saying you are asking me to lower the price, but I see that if I compare it I am very well priced. My answer is everything is overpriced."

For signature properties, the price may not change because the owners can wait for the market to come to them.A four-bedroom modernist home in New Canaan, Conn., which has won awards from Architectural Record and is near other modern structures by Frank Lloyd Wright and Philip Johnson, sits on the market, more than a year later, still priced at $2.995 million.

In Brooklyn, a 20-room, Tara-like mansion in Prospect Park South has stalwartly moved from brokerage firm to brokerage firm over the last year carrying its $4 million price. That was the highest asking price the area has seen, and now it is even higher; the price has been raised to $4.2 million.

A new five-story, single-family town house in SoHo designed with antiques and salvaged objects from around the world is on the market for $6.9 million. That price is more than the $6.495 million it was listed at a year ago, but much less than the $8.9 million it was originally listed for in 2002.

A 3,100-square-foot co-op at East 72nd and Madison Avenue that had been renovated from a three-bedroom to a one-bedroom was included in the column on Dec. 26, 2004, at $7.975 million. After changing brokers, the seller is offering the option of buying two more bedrooms from an adjoining property, for $9.995 million, or as is for $7.85 million.

The list could go on.

Meanwhile, some high-end properties have had their prices reduced but are still waiting for buyers. On Seventh Avenue in Chelsea a custom-designed duplex penthouse with an atrium and translucent glass floors that allow light to filter through was priced at $7.5 million in May and is now listed at $5.9 million.

On the West Side, three noncontiguous apartments at the Hotel des Artistes, including a two-bedroom duplex with two separate studio apartments, was originally priced in July at $4.685 million. Now the agents are primarily marketing the duplex and its price has fallen $345,000, from $3.295 million to $2.95 million.

This Upper East Side one-bedroom has not sold, so the owner is offering the option to add bedrooms by combining it with some adjacent space. A four bedroom co-op at 108th and Amsterdam has been on the market for months, and is now offered for $500,000 less.

The repricing must come quickly enough so that the property is not relegated to the old-listing pile. That's what may have happened to a sprawling 2,500-square-foot four-bedroom, four-bath prewar co-op at 108th Street and Amsterdam Avenue that came on the market in February at $2.3 million and is still on the market eight months later at $500,000 less.

"When we went on the market in February, it was an insane, hugely active market," said Susan Abrams, an agent at Warburg Realty, who along with a colleague, Robert Elson, represents the apartment. "We aggressively priced it."

Had the apartment been listed at its current price in February, Ms. Abrams surmised, it most likely would have gone into a bidding war. But now, eight months later and priced at a low $719 per square foot, she fears that it looks too good to be true.

"I think buyers think there must be something wrong with it," she said. "Instead of being happy it is such a deal, they think, 'there must be something they aren't telling me.' If you don't sell something, in this kind of market, in the first few months, brokers get lazy and buyers start thinking something's wrong."

On the Lower East Side, another sprawling apartment of three combined units is in search of a large family. On Grand Street, in a Cooperative Village building, the seven-bedroom apartment went on the market last spring for $1.995 million.

Since May, the price has been reduced to $1.795 million, which is enticing for nearly 3,000 square feet - only $598 a square foot. Recent market reports have said that the segment experiencing the steepest drop in price per square foot is large apartments.

To expand the pool of potential buyers, the agents, Florean Mader and Nathalie Jaggi of Halstead Property, are now also marketing the property as a five-bedroom (two apartments) for $1.15 million and a two-bedroom (one apartment) for $675,000.

Pricing becomes most flexible when buyers need to sell their properties to get another place to live. Ross and Stacy Gibby planned to relocate to Los Angeles and put their two-bedroom prewar co-op on Riverside Drive in Washington Heights on the market in May 2004 with a broker who often had listings in the building. It was priced at $599,000. "I resolved that we would get at least $500,000," Mr. Gibby said. "I wanted to be conservative, so in L.A. we were only pursuing stuff in the high $400's, low $500's." The couple got on a list for a five-bedroom home to be built in a new development in Santa Clarita and watched as their name moved up.

The apartment in New York, however, did not move at all. After two months the price was cut to $555,000, then a month later reduced to $539,000. Still no offers. By September, the Gibbys were beginning to get restless, seeing their broker sell similar apartments in the building for $100,000 less, and hired another broker.

"They came to me in desperation," said Felicia de Chabris of Halstead. "They really needed to sell quickly." She wanted to drop the listing to $465,000 or $485,000 but cut it first to $495,000, based on comparable properties. "It was a dramatic shock for them to be down $100,000 from where they started," Ms. de Chabris said. "It made the listing look like it was all over the place."

Offers glimmered, but fell through for one reason or another, as the price slash continued: three weeks later $485,000, a month later $465,000. By November it was $450,000. They got an offer the first week of December and went to contract for $444,000.

"Every time she wanted to drop the price it hurt," Mr. Gibby said. He had to adjust his down payment in California from 20 percent to 10 percent and now carries higher payments than he would like. "But that's what the market was telling us," he said. "It came down to offers - we just weren't getting offers."

Price is an easy thing to fix compared with events out of the agent's and seller's control, like a collapsed retaining wall.

A 1,250-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-bath co-op with Hudson River views in the Castle Village complex in Washington Heights that was on the market for $869,000 had an accepted offer within months. The contract was to be signed on May 12, the day the 75-foot-high stone retaining wall that belongs to Castle Village collapsed onto the Henry Hudson Parkway. The deal fell apart and the apartment is now listed with a different agent for the same price. The buildings continue to be structurally sound, and the co-op is dealing with insurance claims.

Co-op boards can also stymie a deal, leaving an attractive property dangling. A $477,000, two-bedroom, fifth-floor walk-up in the West Village was cute but had an obvious drawback: the stairs.

"A good hundred times I went up and down those stairs in the West Village showing that apartment," recalled Ms. Lalehzar, the Warburg agent who handled the sale, which took nearly a year.

The apartment, which was less than 500 square feet and had great light but needed some cosmetic updating, was listed in April 2004 at $495,000. By October it had been reduced, but was looking a little stale and got some attention when it was highlighted in both The New York Post and The New York Times on the same weekend. Open-house traffic increased and there was some interest, but no takers.

Finally, on Dec. 23, after nine months on the market, the seller accepted a bid that was $30,000 under the asking price and went to contract for $445,000.

Then, in March, the co-op board turned down the buyer.

"It was so sad for me, let alone the owner," Ms. Lalehzar said. The tender consolation of the turndown, Ms. Lalehzar said, was that she felt the galloping pace of the market after the first of the year would bring renewed vigor to the listing. She felt so confident she put it back on the market at the higher price, $495,000.

"We had just missed the market in 2004," she said. "I knew the pulse of this market and in March of 2005 I knew we were hitting the best time of the market."

As if the past year of toil had never existed, Ms. Lalehzar had a signed contract at the asking price within a month.

Less happy is the owner of an income-restricted co-op in Harlem whose two-bedroom apartment has been on and off the market for a year, starting at $275,000 and increasing it to $330,000. Buyers must make less than $72,500 a year, and offers have been strong, but the building will not release the financial information of the co-op, leaving the seller in limbo.

Still, moments of frenzy do punctuate the market, even this fall, suggesting that demand for appropriately priced properties is still strong.

Last month, Julia Klise and her husband, Joe Augustine, sold their two-bedroom, two-bath co-op in Brooklyn Heights in just under two weeks. It appeared in the column on Sept. 11, the day it went on the market for $699,000. They had 300 people at their open houses that week and an accepted offer above the asking price 10 days later.

The broker who nailed the price and managed to generate a buzz about the co-op?

It was for sale by owner.

Last spring, Ms. Klise said, she received estimates from two agents who told her if she was lucky she could get more than $700,000. She wanted to get a good price and not drag it out.

"I thought prices had gone up since then," she said, "but I didn't think that things were selling at those prices."



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