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Bargains on the Upper East Side!!!!

Thursday, December 20, 2018
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Only with the best apartment in the best building could an asking price as substantial as $68 million seem to spell apocalypse for an entire way of life.


But the case of Susan Gutfreund’s 22-room, 12,000-square-foot, seven-bedroom duplex at 834 Fifth Avenue has the increasingly insecure denizens of Upper East Side thinking just that.


In 2016, in an effort to downsize, Gutfreund listed her richly appointed home for an eye-popping $120 million. The remarkable price was fitting for an equally remarkable 100 feet of living space overlooking Fifth Avenue, spread across 10 generous, sofa-height windows. 


“When people arrive at 834, they are so surprised by the beauty of the view.” Gutfreund told the Observer shortly after her Henri Samuel–led redesign of the apartment. “They’re not realizing it’s because of such low windows! It’s a secret that people don’t pass around often.”


She added that her favorite part of the apartment was her winter garden: “It just gives enormous pleasure because of the amount of light and fantasy.”


“Susan’s property is very unusual and it’s magnificently done in 18th-century French [style],” says Larry Kaiser, who is marketing the apartment for Berkshire Hathaway. “It has a 50-foot living room, a kitchen the size of most apartments, a wine cellar and half a dozen maid’s rooms and a formal library. It’s the best apartment in the best building in New York.”


At the time, it was the most expensive private residence on the market in New York, and would have set a city record, surpassing the $100.5 million penthouse deal at One57. But the 2015 sale of a smaller apartment in the building, Woody Johnson’s 11th-floor duplex, to billionaire Len Blavatnik for $77.5 million seemed to justify the nine-figure sum.


Yet as of September 26, the Gutfreund apartment at 7 and 8A was asking just 43 percent of the original listing price.


“As much money as people have, they come in, and they want clean walls,” says Kaiser. “They have contemporary paintings. They don’t want moldings. They don’t want kitchens that are behind pantries. They want the kids to sit on a barstool counter and watch Mommy or the maid cook.”


And Gutfreund isn’t the only victim of the great Upper East Side housing slump. Since the day the doors opened in 1931 at the Rosario Candela–designed building, 834 has attracted all manner of café society so-and-sos, nabobs and financiers. A great majority of those people made their fortunes as expert speculators and are now on the hook with deflated investments.


These fish include billionaires like shipping mogul George Livanos, aerospace exec Robert Bass, and banker Charles Schwab.


They include divorcées who escaped with more than a Birkin, like Tracey Hejailan-Amon, Laurie Tisch and of course Wendi Murdoch, who occupies Laurance Rockefeller’s former triplex.


Even the son of legendary crooner, Bing Crobsy—actor turned investment banker Harry Lillis Crosby III—calls one of three ground-floor maisonettes home.


Perhaps just as significant as the aesthetic turn against Versailles-chic interiors is the fact that perfectly respectable luxury condos are faster and easier to buy, and available in spades. Streeteasy currently returns 286 condo listings $10 million and over in Manhattan, all with glittery modern amenities.


With options like that you have to assume that many real estate addicts are less inclined to submit to the humiliating proctology-by-microscope financial examination required to get into a co-op like 834.


In this case, fine credentials, philanthropic proclivities, substantial liquidity and an all cash purchase are the bare necessities—after all, the monthly maintenance fee for Mrs. Gutfreund’s home is around $30,000 a month and if Wall Street tanks, a pile of passé Old Master oils just won’t cut it.


Kaiser says that the building has to some degree kept up with the times and that you don’t need to be a multibillionaire to buy. He adds that it would also be unwise to plop a pile of new money in front of board: “someone who made their fortune selling ice cubes yesterday isn’t a good fit.”


So perhaps unsurprisingly in an age where Instagram has replaced the Social Register, the most expensive co-op sale thus far in 2018 was for just $35 million for an eight-bedroom apartment at 995 Fifth Avenue. Kaiser and his cobrokers says that they’ve shown the apartment to many an interested buyers—many of whom are old school chums—but that the market for this type of property is melting fasting than the polar ice caps.


“These days very proper people go to Crate & Barrel,” he says. “The housekeeper can call the lady of the house by her first name. People like big, open kitchens instead of a dining room that seats 40. They wear sneakers. Everything is very casual. People jog in the park.”


It certainly is disheartening that so many today buy their semiology ready-made from the high-priests of minimalism, and that the market for culture and civility is so paltry.


On the bright side, a grand, if slightly obsolete, Upper East Side highlife has never been more affordable—even if you’re not the type to regard $68 million as bargain basement.


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