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Selling New York Episode 3: No Broker is an Island

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Every Thursday night, HGTV's Selling New York rides along with boutique brokerages CORE, Gumley Haft Kleier and Warburg as they try to sell fabulous properties fabulously. Here, our recap of how the NYC real estate industry is portrayed to the world...

The real estate action came fast and furious on last week's double debut of the second season of Selling New York. We're not sure science can prove that the cuts are quicker, the characters more expressive and the drama heightened from last season, but it sure feels that way. Or maybe it's just the pint of Jameson we drink during each airing?

If Selling New York is the basic-cable-viewer's window into the madcap world of New York City real estate, then this might have been the week when the population of Kansas completely gave up on trying to figure us out. The episode dealt with the marketing of two properties: A multimillion-dollar penthouse in such bad shape that the brokers had to use special effects to sell it, and a private island accessible only by, well, you'll see. Literally! In an SNY recap first, we're busting out some video clips. This real estate market just has to be experienced at a rate of 30 frames per second!

CRISIS #1: BATTERED & BEATEN PENTHOUSE IS NO PRETTY WOMAN

We begin this week's adventure not in a multimillion-dollar condo but in Times Square, with a whole lot of spandex. CORE boss Shaun Osher and his little sapling Michael Graves have decided to forgo the stresses of selling high-end property for an afternoon bike ride through the Crossroads of the World and up to Central Park. But there's a problem: They forgot about the DOT's Don't Be a Jerk initiative! Seriously, look at the way these guys ride!

But this is Selling New York, not the Tour de France, so while this exchange...

Graves: Shaun, six miles later and you're still not sweating. What's up with you?
Osher: I only sweat under pressure.

Graves: Well, talk about pressure...I want to talk about 240 Park Avenue South....might have been the most abrupt segue ever, we're happy that we can return the focus from Osher's short shorts to the important matter of real estate. Youngster Graves has a problem, and it's not that he looks just like Jim from The Office:

It's that the $5.95 million penthouse he's listing at 240 Park Avenue South, the meh Gwathmey Siegel-designed building at 20th Street, is only drawing limited interest, and in the $5.2 million range. Osher asks Graves if he thinks the penthouse is overpriced, and after saying that the pad overlooks Gramercy Park and boasts a 1,000-square-foot wraparound terrace, Graves unleashes some Grade A brokerbabble that's well beyond his years: "I think it's worth more than we're asking but it doesn't show very well." And we think the Mets are the best team in baseball, but the other teams keep scoring more runs.

"There are some issues with the apartment," Graves explains (ruh-roh!), and he recruits Osher to come take a look and strategize. Then they hop on their bikes again and pedal away. Watch your back, Alberto Contador!

The two change out of their road gear and now they're walking into the Gramercyish building ("Overlooking Gramercy Park" gets mentioned multiple times, but c'mon, this place isn't even sniffing a key). The penthouse does indeed have some issues that $6 million properties probably shouldn't have. Was this a secret speakeasy in its previous life? The floors look like they were salvaged from a Meatpacking District club:

But there are many positives, like all the exposure and light, the wraparound outdoor space, and the view of Julia Roberts's terrace over on Gramercy Park West, which Graves points out a bit too eagerly, if you catch our drift (coughrestrainingordercough):

Osher calls the building "one of the best on lower Park Avenue South," which is like saying Curbed is one of the best real estate blogs headquartered on the sixth floor of 36 Cooper Square. The competition is not what you'd call fierce. Anyway, here's the plan to sell the thing: Take it off the market, shine it up, and then throw a killer party! (Doesn't that always end up being the solution on this show?) Channeling Stefon, Graves says the party will have everything: fashion show, live music, mixology, VIPs, trannies, sexy Santas, a cat from a bodega and human parking cones?which, well...don't ask.

Condo cameo time! Graves meets Osher and others in the penthouse cupola of 141 Fifth Avenue, a building that needs no introduction around these parts, or, for that matter, on this show. We know what you're thinking: Did this amazing penthouse's most notable feature get some airtime? Oh, you know it. Witness, dear friend, the toilet shower!!!

Who knows why this $12 million penthouse hasn't sold in three years? Anyhoo, back to 240 Park Avenue South. Graves says he's getting some interest and there's good "energy." He's having doubts about pulling the listing from the market and renovating, but like a mother bird delicately spitting worm guts into her baby's mouth, Osher tells him interest means nothing until they have a signed contract. They need to do something, so they strike a new plan: Save the remodeling money by having an architect create renderings of what the remodeled apartment could look like. Wait, no party of the century?

Sadly, no. The CORE team invites all interested parties over to the penthouse for hors d'oeuvres and a slideshow. Because what says $6 million penthouse more than a PowerPoint presentation? Oh, sorry, people got to touch rug samples, too.

Graves ends the show by asking everyone to take a second look at the place now that they know what some architect thinks they could do with it after buying it for a crapload of money and then pumping even more into a gut renovation. Will this gamble pay off?!?!

Flash forward to a rooftop rendezvous between Graves and Osher, who, by the way, is so confident in his masculinity that he's not afraid to be seen drinking something pink on television.

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Surprise! The deal is done. An on-the-fence buyer was so blown away by the penthouse's potential, as seen in the renderings, that he decided to take the leap?and for $5.85 million, just a touch below the listing's asking price. Osher starts talking like a coach who just won the Super Bowl, about how they had the vision and they weren't afraid to change their strategy and establishing the run is key to setting up the play-action pass. "Now only if you were as good at cycling as selling real estate," he tells baby boy. Holy plot resolution, Shaun Osher just went full circle on our asses!

CRISIS #2: ROW, ROW, ROW YOUR BROKER, TO A PRIVATE ISLE

Last season on Selling New York, it looked like the hardships of the real estate market might drive Gumley Haft Kleier's John Mehigan to suicide. Thankfully he pulled through, but like all Irishmen, Mehigan just can't go long without pain and suffering in his life. The story begins with Mehigan and den mother Michele Kleier riding in a car. Hmmm. And what are those tall green things whipping by in the background? Trees? Wait a minute, this isn't Manhattan!

Damn right it's not. Mehigan's latest task is selling a private island on Lake Putnam in Patterson, New York, with its own three-story, 5,600-square-foot house. "You know how I feel about the country," Mama Bear Kleier snaps at her underling during the 80-minute drive, her Sant Ambroues caffeine buzz having clearly worn off. "If I can get you up here, I can get anyone up here," Mehigan says, but she probably wouldn't have come along for the ride if she knew the truth.

What's the truth? This is the truth:

Mama Bear's right: Dropping the "I own a private island" card at a Park Avenue dinner party can pretty much end any argument over who is most unlike the average human being. On the island's shore they're greeted by the owners, retired advertising executive Larry Plapler and his wife, Amelia, who have called the 80-year-old house their hidden retreat for a few decades. Now they want $1.55 million for it, but if you read between the lines they seem too attached to the place to sell.

Pretty cool place (despite the odd 4BR/1.5BA configuration), and Michele is surprised that there can be running water and plumbing in a place north of 96th Street. "It's very civilized!" she says (not while polishing her monocle, it should be noted). The owners say a few more words about how attached they are to the place, and Mehigan tells us viewers at home about the pressures of finding a buyer who will respect the place like the Plaplers do. Since when do brokers have a conscience? Ah, TV magic!

Back on the isle of Manhattan, Mehigan asks Michele and GHK hubbydaddy Ian Kleier for money to hire a professional photographer to take some aerial shots of the island, because just tossing up a regular old listing on their website is not going to get it done. The Kleiers agree to throw some resources into this special property, even though $1.55 million isn't even enough to wake them from an afternoon nap. Michele promises to use her connections in the press to drum up interest in the island, so Mehigan had better get ready to "do a lot of rowing, and don't plan any vacations." Yeesh, can't the Irish ever get a break?

What, you thought we'd go a full John Mehigan episode of SNY without him looking like someone just murdered his puppy? Think again! There he is on a tiny plane with a photographer getting those all-important aerial shots and talking about the stresses of selling real esate. Does he really need to be on the plane? Stop asking questions. Here's the island, called Willo Island, from above:

Back at the office, we see our broker-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown dialing up some press contacts to get some coverage, including The Real Deal editor Stuart Elliott. "You know how some people say I've got a bridge for sale?" Mehigan asks. "Well I've actually got an island for sale." Now that's a pitch! "I take personal checks if you're interested in it yourself," Mehigan cracks, to which the editor responds, "We're journalists, I don't know if we make that kind money." DAMN IT, STUART ELLIOTT, YOU'VE BLOWN OUR COVER! Don't listen to him, folks, we're writing these words from a palace made of solid gold bricks and deadstock Four Loko.

Back on Lake Putnam, Mehigan and owner Larry Plapler are waiting dockside for a Manhattan couple to come check the place out. The couple saw the island in the Times and New York mag and maybe even the Post, and they show up ready to row. By the way, included in the $1.55 million: cute bunnies!

The showing is going OK, until the male half of the buyer couple starts thinking about maintaining an 80-year-old house, and the difficulties of getting someone to come over and fix something when a rowboat is involved. They have the sophisticated Manhattanite vibe going on (including dropping the term "pied-a-terre" in casual conversion) so we're guessing they're not the DIY types.

Speaking to the camera, Mehigan says the very fact that he got buyers to come check out the island means his campaign was successful. Speaking to the visitors, he jokes that if they don't buy the place, they can't leave the island. Ha ha ha! (Will somebody to check to see if they've died of hypothermia?) Says the wife: "I wasn't prepared to to like it this much, and I am confused." We're not: Willo Isle is still on the market, and our biceps are ready for the trip. John: Call us, laddie!

Episode grade: 2.5 out of 5 Cackling Kleiers!


· Selling New York coverage [Curbed]