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Selling New York: The Visitors and the Villager

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Last night was another episode of Selling New York, HGTV's reality show shadowing agents from Manhattan brokerages CORE and Gumley Haft Kleier as they try to sell fabulous properties fabulously. Here, our recap of how the NYC real estate industry is portrayed to the world...

The specter of the foreign buyer looms large over the New York City real estate market. Often whispered about but rarely seen in the wild, they come in times of distress, sacks of our pitiful currency stuffed beneath their armpits, ravenously searching for investment properties to gobble up. There were two sightings of this breed last night, though we heard their voices only on the other end of a phone line, and saw their faces only in the flickering glow of a computer screen. Foreigner #1 has an "open budget" ("Those are the best kind," boss lady Michele Kleier explaines) and enlists a pair of Gumley Haft Kleier brokers to find a property that can quickly be rented out. From far far away, Foreigner #2 spots a Park Avenue condo asking $1.65 million and rings up a fellow countryman to check the place out. Foreigner #2 will soon trigger the Great Broker War. More on that later.

Over at Team CORE, we have West Village national Elliot Cuker, who owns a classic car showroom on Perry Street. "I've been living in the Village for 30 years," Cuker tells us, "and I guess eventually I'm going to die here." In about 18 minutes he'll be checking out a condo on the Lower East Side, so we'll see about that, Cuker! He's looking for a 2BR priced under $3 million for his family, "something unusual and different, not a vanilla box." He's also considering, gasp, building a place to live on top of his showroom at 137 Perry Street (above). Some West Village purist!

Introductions out of the way, we're immediately transported inside a $2.25 million 3BR unit at One Brooklyn Bridge Park?likely marking the first time Gumley Haft Kleier brokers have ever been to Brooklyn. The brokers rave about the city views and finishes and high ceilings and amenities, but c'mon, Brooklyn? What high-flying foreign investor type is going to go for that, free Audi or not? The brokers sugest Foreigner #1 might not appreciate the current pre-park look and feel outside the windows.

But really, anyone possessing the power of visualization and a belief in the city's ability to complete woefully underfunded megaprojects would love the place. Wrapping up the visit, broker Bruce Cohen says: "Brooklyn prices compared to Manhattan prices?different ball game. Manhattan, you can pretty much call your shot if you've go the best location, the best property. I'm not quite sure that this property could command the prices we're looking for." And just like that, Selling New York's first foray into Brooklyn is kaput.

Back in the West Village, CORE boss Shaun Osher meets with Elliot Cuker to discuss the potential of adding two floors of living space above his cozy one-story car shop. After a brief explanation of air rights for the audience at home, Osher tells Cuker he'll throw some numbers together, even though it's not necessarily in CORE's interest if Cuker builds instead of buys. Maybe Osher just likes pissing off Andrew Berman?

But forget about all that for a moment, because GHK's John Mehigan is on the phone with Foreigner #2, who apparently?and we hope you're sitting down for this?called and e-mailed the listing broker on the Park Avenue condo to say he's interested. That unknown broker is now claiming Foreigner #2 is her client, and is trying to freeze Mehigan out of the deal. Which leads to Foreigner #2 getting cold feet because he doesn't want to get enmeshed in any legal disputes. Which leads to many shots of Mehigan looking like this:

Drama! But now Trump-in-the-making Elliot Cuker is with CORE's Lisa Graham somewhere in the Village checking out a $3 million full-floor loft with original hardwood and exposed brick. It's pretty swell.

Cuker: "It's too much money for the space ... I'm rather amazed that in this market apartments still are priced so high." Amen, brotha! Graham: "Elliot has to understand that he hasn't looked in a long time and this is where prices are at the moment." Can all real estate deadlocks be blamed on a generation gap? We're learning a lot tonight.

Back with the GHK brokers hunting for Foreigner #1, we're suddenly in the weirdest apartment seen on this show to date. It's at 51 Walker Street between Church and Broadway (Cohen: "Is this really Tribeca?"), a dark first-floor apartment with a private outdoor pool?with a huge white sheet suspended overhead to keep the neighbors from peeking?and a spa on the other side of a weird hobbit passageway. No, really.

Did we mention it's priced at $8 million? The brokers mention it's previously been rented out for $20,000 per month, which we guess is still the case, because the unit is now off the market. For the first time on this series, the brokers kinda sorta verbally trash the place, and then it's time to move on.

Village diehard Cuker has now been dragged to a $1.5 million second-floor apartment at occasional Curbed topic 32 Clinton Street on the Lower East Side to get a feel for how far his money can go in another neighborhood. How do you think it went? Precisely! Says Cuker, "The Lower East Side is not ready for me, and I'm not ready for it." Translation: I'm neither 25 nor 85. Meanwhile, CORE's Shaun Osher is shown meeting with architect John Cetra of Cetra/Ruddy to discuss Cuker's possible rooftop addition.

Cetra sketches out the available zoning rights and says that Cuker can probably take this puppy up to 75' high, adding 8,000 square feet of new space. Estimated construction cost? $3.8 million. More than the car salesman has lying around, but yeesh, imagine what that building will be worth down the road? We're talking about Perry between Greenwich and Washington here, people. Meierville!

Still dealing with the fallout from Foreigner #2's correspondence with another broker, which on this show is the equivalent to stabbing someone's grandmother, Mehigan asks boss lady Michele Kleier to step in and sort the mess out. She gets very serious, blames the ignorant Foreigner #2 for breaking the unwritten arcane rules of Manhattan real estate, and takes the case. Things are running a bit more smoothly for the other GHK brokers, who are at a classy fully-furnished $6.99 million apartment just off Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side, which they think they can rent out for $30k a month on behalf of their client. Now that's more like it.

Plot resolution time! Appearing via computer screen, Foreigner #1?who doesn't look or sound very foreign at all (a Canadian in our midst?)?picks the Madison Avenue place as his favorite but asks the brokers to hit the streets again to find more places of that ilk. Michele Kleier works out some sort of mysterious backroom deal with the manager of the enemy broker's firm to get Mehigan back in the mix on Foreigner #2's Park Avenue condo, which we're told he ended up buying sight unseen. Everybody's happy! Next up for Michele Kleier: brokering a Middle East peace pact.

And last but certainly not least, Cuker summons his broker to tell her that he plans to spend his money on building on top his showroom at 137 Perry. And now he can't even sell her a car because she's got no commission to blow! An on-screen message says Cuker is "currently working with an architect on the blueprints for his new home. Construction is scheduled to begin later this year." What the fudge? We just left a message for Cuker at his shop to check on whether this is another case of reality TV not quite being real, or if we really just got scooped by HGTV.

Episode grade: 4/5 cackling Kleiers.

· Selling New York [HGTV]
· Selling New York coverage [Curbed]