New York and its housing market


NEW YORK – Here’s a story about three Arkansas girls.

But first, the British novelist David Flusfeder, who views this town as only a visitor from abroad can, and possibly as only a novelist can: “New York used to be the place where ‘good’ neighborhoods turned into ‘bad’ in the space of one block. Restaurants shone their privileged windows onto the street because part of the point of being rich in New York was to show it off to the people who weren’t. Except the poor aren’t there any more. The underclass has been banished and New York has become a city only of the privileged.”

Well, not completely; the town is policed and protected from fire, its meals served, its garbage carted away, its office towers cleaned and its taxis driven by people who come from its outer boroughs, even neighboring states, mostly New Jersey. They come in advance of shift change, or in the wee hours, when the city that never sleeps begins to nap. Flusfeder may not have been paying attention during his cab ride from LaGuardia, for there remains vivid, even spooky evidence of less than privileged lives. So, “banished”? Not completely, not yet. But, sad to say, he’s closer than not.

I recalled Flusfeder’s lament when I carried back to my hotel room a fresh edition of the New York Observer, a tabloid that observes only that part of New York that has not been — banished. One story in particular caught my eye. It was about a real estate agent and an apartment she was brokering.

“The Corcoran Group’s Julie Gordon has listed a 14-room co-op (apartment) at 740 Park Avenue for $38 million. It belongs to investor Peter Huang.”

That was it, the entire story. No elaboration, none needed. See, 740 Park may be the nation’s most coveted address (excepting 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue). It would sell quickly.

One of our Arkansas lasses gone north lives in 740 Park (no names here, but you can Google) with her billionaire husband, a political power, and their children. Their apartment once belonged to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Once installed, they bought an adjoining apartment and merged them. They needed more space.

On the south end of Manhattan, another Arkansas product, gone to Gotham first for a career in finance, now in public policy. She took a deep breath and bought an apartment on the 6th floor of a building with no doorman and no elevator. She paid $535,000 — a steal, even with the $40,000 in improvements needed to make it habitable. Her apartment measures 500 square feet. Sighs her father: “Her mother and I think that includes the stairwell.”

So, now, the third Arkansan, now a New Yorker, and there’s no point in not naming her as word of the transaction leaked immediately. (That her mother and father inspected the premises along with her, and her husband, really blew the lid off). And of course it’s Chelsea, our Chelsea, now Chelsea Clinton Mezvinsky. The former First Daughter and husband Mark are in between her two Arkansas counterparts not only in locale (about midway between 740 Park and the Village) but also in price. Chelsea and Mark, who’s in finance (he’d better be) got shed of their first apartment, valued at $4 million, and moved up to digs approximately 10 times the size of her fellow former Arkansan’s walk-up. Their new home is a 5,000-square foot “light-filled” abode with four bedrooms, six-and-a-half baths and a high-tech kitchen. And a broad terrace. And a “media room.” The price: $10 million. Mortgage rates were low, and evidently the couple was considered creditworthy.

Again, Flusfeder: “The strength of New York was always that mix of growth and decay, young and old, rich and poor, the established and the recently arrived, all squeezed together. That mix is no longer there. Young ambitious misfits no longer come to Manhattan; they can’t even afford Brooklyn.”

Or even cab fare from Brooklyn. Last November music mogul David Geffen paid $54 million for the 12,000-square-foot Manhattan penthouse owned by the ex-wife of Marc Rich, the fugitive who Chelsea’s father, on his last day in office, pardoned, and who died in June. At the time Geffen’s purchase was the highest price ever paid for a coop apartment. That was then. Now a Russian oil billionaire has reportedly closed on rooms (a lot of them) that will near the $100-million mark.

Arkansas isn’t New York, for better or for worse, or a combination of the two, so our housing prices don’t approach the latter’s, which is better for buyers but worse for sellers, and their agents. But read your local paper: the market’s rebounding.

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Steve Barnes is a native of Pine Bluff and the host of Arkansas Week on AETN.