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The Poshest New Yorkers Buy and Sell Their Homes in Secret

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New York’s real estate market is mostly an open market, available to all, especially thanks to listing websites such as StreetEasy, Trulia and Realtor.com.  Notwithstanding, the city’s poshest mansions are increasingly inaccessible and unadvertised, even to other millionaires.

By: Hellen Zaboulani

Take the ritzy apartments at 220 Central Park South, for example. At the 953-foot-tall urban country club developed by Steve Roth and designed by architect Robert A.M. Stern, no one knew there were apartments available for sale until after they were sold.  As reported by the NY Post, numerous eager and affluent buyers were brushed away. Only a group of insiders were in the know, and the prospective clients were each handpicked. The Midtown building is now mostly sold, despite the strict vetting process and a slowing market for high priced condos.  Among other well-known buyers in the building, Citadel CEO Ken Griffin purchased a penthouse there in January for a whopping $238 million, shattering the record for the most expensive home sold in the entire country.

Of the 43 NY homes that sold for over $20 million in 2018, 21 of them were not formally on the market when they were sold, as per Compass data.  The hushed transactions, known as whisper sales, can be a result of disgrace, divorce or bankruptcy, but in more cases than not, it is just a matter of privacy.  Many affluent homeowners just don’t want other people to know their net worth, or how much they made or lost on a transaction. Aside from that though, there is a certain feeling of extravagance in knowing that you were the chosen one, who was offered what no one else was permitted to see.   “If you want to get someone’s attention with a whisper, scream!” says Leonard Steinberg, of the brokerage Compass. “220 [Central Park South] was the loudest whisper I have ever heard in my life. People feel like they are buying into a club that is word-of-mouth only and for ‘people like us.’ That has value for them.”

There is almost no way to know how many of these secret listings are available at any given time.  Further, since many of the elite have more than one home, anything may be up for sale if the price is right.  

“If you talk to anybody but the top-tier brokers, they’ll tell you that they hate whisper listings,” because they can often take longer to sell and fetch lower prices, says Douglas Elliman broker Noble Black. “It’s very inefficient. A lot of brokers don’t even know about those listings. But those unknown brokers can bring serious clients to the table.”

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