"Nobody can sell this 'Versailles in Manhattan", according to the Post, but as the article makes clear, it's not the fault of the twelve different brokers engaged over the past fifteen years, but the owner's absurd, inflated opinion about its value. There's nothing in the Post story that will be new to readers of this blog on Greenwich real estate, but it's always nice to see that there's also nothing new in the general real estate market, either.
At 163 E. 64th St., near Lexington Avenue, stands a 15-room neo-Georgian townhouse that has been billed by brokers as an “architectural masterpiece” and even “Versailles in Manhattan.”
Some of them also label it “unsellable.”
That’s because the circa-1872 manse — with ornate, belle epoque- and Louis XIV-style interiors — has languished on the market for 15 years. Since April 2003, per property records, the owner, commercial real estate broker Kenneth Laub, has tapped at least 12 teams of residential brokers to try and offload the five-bedroom home. Newly co-listed with Douglas Elliman and Corcoran, the property asks $19.75 million, which is a precipitous plunge from its peak $35 million price tag in December 2007.
According to city real estate experts, it appears that no other Manhattan townhouse has ever spent so long bouncing on and off the market. And it’s become the laughingstock of the brokerage world, viewed as a casualty of location, price inflation and an ego-driven seller living in a fantasy land.
“You’d like to think that an owner would learn after seven, eight brokers in that period of time,” said a Manhattan townhouse expert. “Initially, [sellers] have aspirations, and they want to ask 15 or 20 percent more than what it’s worth. If you linger, then [you’re] not a real seller, or you’re so far off from where the market is.”
Laub, 79, who declined to speak with The Post for this story, told the Observer in 2009 (when the home was still asking $35 million), “If I’m overpriced then so be it. If someone feels that the house is worth what I think it is worth, then they’ll buy it. And if not, then they won’t. And it’s not the end of the world one way or another.”
That said, Laub — who reportedly purchased the home in 1986 for $4 million and lives there alone — has reduced the price considerably, although the discounts seem to give him cold feet. He dropped the ask to $29.95 million in July 2011, then $27.5 million in June 2013. He took the home off the market between December 2013 and July 2014, when it returned for $27.5 million. In February 2015, the price slipped to $25 million, falling to $23.9 million eight months later — only for the listing to disappear once again. In April 2017, the townhouse returned with a $25 million price tag, then hit $23.9 million that same year before Laub changed his mind again.
“It begs the question: Do you even want to sell?” a luxury broker said of Laub. “If you don’t think you’ll ever be OK with what somebody’s going to spend . . . you shouldn’t be wasting the brokers’ time or your own time.”Now, however, Laub could finally be in a realistic range — if he leaves his home on the market long enough for a buyer to actually snap it up.
Among the 36 now-listed comparable properties — located in Lenox Hill and measuring over 5,000 square feet — the average price is $25.1 million, according to a comparables report; average recorded sales come in at $21.82 million.
After all, it’s not exactly outlandish for a 20-foot-wide, four-story townhouse on the Upper East Side to fetch a pretty penny. The problem with this one, experts say, is that it’s in a bit of a no-man’s land — not far west enough for Central Park or Fifth Avenue prestige and not far east enough to have the cachet of an exclusive neighborhood like Sutton Place.
“Some [high-priced-townhouse] buyers will not look at anything farther east than Park [Avenue], only Fifth and Madison,” said Paula Del Nunzio, of Brown Harris Stevens. “You can show them extraordinary properties [beyond Park] and they won’t be interested.”
Laub has tended to price his place as if it were blocks west of where it really is. An eight-bedroom townhouse at 7 E. 67th St., between Fifth and Madison, closed for $28.5 million in April. Meanwhile, a five-bedroom townhouse at 110 E. 64th St., between Park and Lexington, sold for $9.5 million in a deal that closed in January, the comparables report shows.
“If ego overtakes data, you’re not going to sell,” said the luxury broker.
(Douglas Elliman and Corcoran declined to comment.)
Also, unlike homes that offer more of a blank canvas, the selling potential of 163 E. 64th St. may be hobbled by its over-the-top interiors.
“Will someone pay a premium for something completely unique? Yes,” said the luxury broker. “Is that this property? Not sure.”
The home boasts an original English pine library, a Louis XIV-style living room with 10 painted canvas panels — inspired by the Fragonard Room of the Frick Collection — and a bar area with a Lalique-styled glass ceiling. There are also 90-foot-deep floor plates, which make for grand indoor entertaining spaces but mean there’s hardly room for a ground-level garden — and sources say that’s something townhouse buyers demand. Instead, there’s a roof garden, which floor plans show one must walk through a bedroom to reach.
But for buyers who aren’t into such an old-fashioned, museum like look, it’s the kind of gut renovation that comes at a gut-churning expense.
Some sources even called foul on what they categorized as a square-footage mis-measurement. The city Department of Finance, in 2017 documents, measures the home at 6,716 finished square feet — while listings, which count the finished basement, have proclaimed it’s 8,000 square feet. Some sources say basement square-footage is not supposed to be counted in the total. “It’s misleading,” said the real estate industry source.
“It looks like a better [dollar-per-square-foot] deal if they are using 8,000 square feet,” said a luxury-market expert.
Furthermore, sources say, the home may just be tarnished after sitting on the market, unloved, for 15 years.
“[When] your days on market increase [and] your price continues to get chopped down . . . people wonder what’s wrong,” the luxury broker said.
Still, she added, “At least [Laub’s] making some . . . progress. I’m shocked he agreed to [list] it under $20 million.