Recent Transactions in the Real Estate Market
By Carl Swanson
Published: November 11, 1999, New York Observer
When Marcy and Michael Balk’s obsessively renovated pink-granite “mansion” –7,500 square feet, six bedrooms, five stories – at 24 West 71st Street finally sold for $4,275 million in September, breaking records for a brownstone sale on the Upper West Side, it was the result of a carefully planned strategy devised by their agent, Vandenberg Real Estate, back in the dark days of 1994: Don’t advertise it!
“If you have a mansion, you don’t want to overexpose it, because if you don’t sell it in the first six months, it gets a stigma,: said Dexter Guerrieri, the agent for the house for the two years it was on the market. The market’s brisk now, and the Upper West Side is hot, but a couple of years ago, that wasn’t the case. (To be fair, other agents doubt Vandenburg’s strategy was intended, noting how few buyers there are for houses on this level.)
“A typical broker just gets property and advertises it and hopes for the best,” said Mr. Guerrieri. “And here we were making sure that only the key brokers knew about it –showing it infrequently to keep it from being overexposed.” The Balks lived in the house until a few months ago and continued to renovate it compulsively to museum-quality luster until their final days there. The “don’t ask, don’t tell” sales strategy suited them perfectly. They didn’t want architectural voyeurs who weren’t in any position to buy ogling their work-in-progress and adding to their self-imposed chaos.
And there seemed to be no end to the work. The broker recalled that once when he was showing the house, he walked in and saw workers putting up new fabric on the walls of the foyer and along the staircase – an area he’d assumed had already been finished. “I thought I was showing an almost finished house,” he said. “I wondered if maybe something was wrong…” A new elevator was being installed, custom made pocket doors had been ordered for the curved entrance to the living room and new furniture has arrived. “It wasn’t just name appliances and marble baths – you can find that anywhere,” said the broker. “A typical house like this might have more of a glitzy feel” – think Trump-style beveled mirrors and gold-plated faucets. Instead, it was more of a true restoration. Which was fortunate for the buyers, who wanted to move in with just their toothbrushes. They had been living in Battery Park City but wanted to move to the Upper West Side to be near private schools for their 3-year-old son.
Until they came poking around in the middle of the August off-season (eight years to the month after the Balks bought the once rundown property), there had been a collection of actors and movie producers coming through the house, people Mr. Guerrieri said fit into his category of “Lincoln Center influentials,” who enjoyed the discreet selling strategy. “The buyer has to discover the property,” said the broker. “you have to have courage, and the sellers have to have courage, to wait. “ It should be noted that Mr. Balk was in no hurry to move; it was his wife who directed the renovation and who was itching for another project. Mr. Guerrieri added, “by setting the price and holding the line, we did something really significant,” which was, in effect, to set the standard for the “best house on the market” and to drive up the prices of houses all over the Upper West Side. Brokers: Vandenberg (Dexter Guerrieri); William B. May (Eric Ozada).