When Calamity Strikes at an Open House
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When Calamity Strikes at an Open House

Real-estate agents recall crashing framed art, sick babies, sick cats, sharks—then the doorbell rings.

By Amy Gamerman
Wed, Nov 10, 2021Grey Clock 4 min

Q: Ever had a showing that turned into a scene from a disaster movie?

Vickey Barron

Associate real-estate broker, Compass, New York City

It was the first showing of a two-bedroom penthouse with an 79sqm  terrace on the Upper East Side, near Carnegie Hill. The owners had adopted a baby and they had two little boys. When I first saw the place, they had a section of a sectional sofa—not the whole sofa, just a section—toys everywhere, not one piece of art on the walls; nothing from an interior-design standpoint. The owner said, “It’s not my forte.” I told her, “I will go shopping with you.”

Every day there would be a rug delivered, a coffee table, accessories. I reorganised her closets. We got beautiful, framed photographs of New York and had them hung in a hallway.

By the time we had our first showing, the place looked exquisite. It was about six o’clock at night and it was snowing outside. I had lighted candles on the dining table, there were flowers on the coffee table. It was a really pretty wintertime scene. But right before the showing, the owner came running into the penthouse with the baby and one of the older boys. The baby was crying. She said, “I’m so sorry, I have to change the baby. She has horrible diarrhea.” While she was in the bedroom with the baby, who was crying nonstop, her son ran onto the terrace and started spinning in the snow, catching it in his hands. I asked him to please come in, and he did—tracking soppy snow through the apartment. Then he saw the candles burning on the table, went over and blew them out. Wax spattered all over the table. That startled him. He went running down the hall to his mother, and knocked down one of the framed photographs on the wall. It slid down the wall and just shattered—glass everywhere. Luckily he didn’t get hurt.

I ran to get a broom to sweep up the glass. While I was getting the broom, I saw that the cat had eaten the flowers on the coffee table. It was obvious from the pile of vomit.

While I was sweeping up the glass, the buzzer went off. It was the doorman, saying, “Hi, your people are here. They are on their way up on the elevator.” The baby was crying, the cat was vomiting and then the doorbell rang. I opened the door to the buyers and said, “Hi, can you give me just one moment?” The mom sneaked out the back door with her son and the baby. I finished sweeping up the glass, dumped it in the trash, got the cat vomit up, got in there with the air freshener.

When the buyers were walking through, they said, “Everything looks so beautiful.” I said, “Don’t pay attention to the wax.” It sold at full ask—$1.8 million.

Pam Jackson

Real-estate agent, The Corcoran Group, Southampton, N.Y.

I have a waterfront listing on Shinnecock Bay. The house was built in 1938. It’s darling, with all these old touches, but admittedly the house needs work. We listed it at $1.35 million, then did a price reduction to $1.25 million. It’s on the water, but the buyer would have to spend $800,000 to either demolish it or gut it to the studs.

There are three viewing spots of the bay, including a sun deck overlooking the water, about 50 or 60 feet from the house. The deck is built over the ground where it slopes toward the water. The ground is uneven, so at one end the deck is only a foot or so off the ground, but at the far end overlooking the bay, it’s about 8 feet above the ground. Back in the day, there were steps that went down from the deck to the water and a long dock, but those had both been washed away. It’s a very sweet spot. You see this vast expanse of water and boats going by and paddle boarders.

I had a very tall family come to see the house, two girls and a boy in their mid-20s, with their parents. We went out to the deck and we’re all talking. One of the daughters says, “I see a shark!” I’m thinking, “It’s not a shark, this is the bay,” but everybody goes to the edge of the deck to look. Then all of a sudden we hear this crunching noise and the deck drops a few inches toward the water. The platform had pulled away from the pilings that were sunk in the ground.

What happened next was all kind of a blur. I didn’t even see the mom and the three kids jump off the deck onto the lawn, but they did. The deck dropped another few inches. The father and I are side by side and he starts to jump, then reaches back for my hand and we jump off the widening divide between the deck and the lawn, 3 feet to the ground. It was an Indiana Jones moment.

My heart was racing. I tried to keep it light. I walked the family to their car and thanked them and said, “You’re going to have plenty to talk about at dinner tonight!”

It was at the end of the open house, thank God. They let me know it wasn’t a project they wanted to entertain at the moment. I called the owners and they had the deck removed that week.


Reprinted by permission of The Wall Street Journal, Copyright 2021 Dow Jones & Company. Inc. All Rights Reserved Worldwide. Original date of publication: November 9, 2021


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Private club memberships and luxury cars are some of freebies on the table.

Mon, Aug 15, 2022 6 min

When Ryan Wolitzer was looking to buy an apartment in Miami Beach late last year, several beachfront properties caught his eye. All were two-bedroom homes in high-end buildings with amenities aplenty and featured glass walls, high ceilings and an abundance of natural light. But only The Continuum, in the city’s South of Fifth district, came with a gift: a membership to Residence Yacht Club, a private club that offers excursions on luxury yachts ranging from a day in south Florida to a month around the Caribbean. Residents receive heavily discounted charters on upscale boats that have premier finishes and are stocked with top shelf spirits and wine. Mr. Wolitzer, 25, who works for a sports agency, was sold.

“The access to high-end yachts swayed my decision to buy at The Continuum and is an incentive that I take full advantage of,” Mr. Wolitzer said. “It’s huge, especially in my business when I am dealing with high-profile sports players, to be able to give them access to these incredible boats where they experience great service. I know that they’ll be well taken care of.”

Freebies and perks for homeowners such as a private club membership are a mainstay in the world of luxury real estate and intended to entice prospective buyers to sign on the dotted line.

According to Jonathan Miller, the president and chief executive of the real estate appraisal and consulting firm Miller Samuel, they’re primarily a domestic phenomenon.

In the U.S. residential real estate market, gifts are offered by both developers who want to move apartments in their swanky buildings and individuals selling their homes. They range from modest to over-the-top, Mr. Miller said, and are more prevalent when the market is soft.

“When sales lag, freebies increase in a bid to incentivize buyers,” he said. “These days, sales are slowing, and inventory is rising after two years of being the opposite, which suggests that we may see more of them going forward.”

Many of these extras are especially present in South Florida, Mr. Miller said, where the market is normalizing after the unprecedented boom it saw during the pandemic. “The frenzy in South Florida was intense compared with the rest of the country because it became a place where people wanted to live full time,” he said. “Now that the numbers are inching toward pre-pandemic levels, freebies could push wavering buyers over the finish line.”

Kelly Killoren Bensimon, a real estate salesperson for Douglas Elliman in Miami and New York, said that the gifts that she has encountered in her business include everything from yacht access and use of a summer house to magnums of pricey wine. “One person I know of who was selling a US$5 million house in the Hamptons even threw in a free Mercedes 280SL,” she said. “They didn’t want to lower the price but were happy to sweeten the deal.”

A car, an Aston Martin to be exact, is also a lure at Aston Martin Residences in Miami’s Biscayne Bay. Buyers who bought  one of the building’s 01 line apartments—a collection of 47 ocean-facing residences ranging in size from 325 to 362sqm and US$8.3 million to US$9 million in price—had their choice of the DBX Miami Riverwalk Special Edition or the DB11 Miami Riverwalk Special Edition. The DBX is Aston Martin’s first SUV and retails for around US$200,000. It may have helped propel sales given that all the apartments are sold out.

An Aston Martin came with the sale for some buyers at Aston Martin Residences in Miami’s Biscayne Bay. Aston Martin Residences

The US$59 million triplex penthouse, meanwhile, is still up for grabs, and the buyer will receive a US$3.2 million Aston Martin Vulcan track-only sports car, one of only 24 ever made.

“We want to give homeowners the chance to live the full Aston Martin lifestyle, and owning a beautiful Aston Martin is definitely a highlight of that,” said Alejandro Aljanti, the chief marketing officer for G&G Business Developments, the building’s developer.  “We wanted to include the cars as part of the package for our more exclusive units.”

The US$800,000 furniture budget for buyers of the North Tower condominiums at The Estates at Acqualina in Sunny Isles, Florida, is another recent head-turning perk. The 94 residences sold out last year, according to president of sales Michael Goldstein, and had a starting price of US$6.3 million. “You can pick the furniture ahead of time, and when buyers move in later this year, all they’ll need is a toothbrush,” he said.

Then there’s the US$2 million art collection that was included in the sale of the penthouse residence at the Four Seasons Residences in Miami’s Brickell neighbourhood. The property recently sold for $15.9 million and spans 817sqm feet. Designed by the renowned firm ODP Architects, it features contemporary paintings and sculpture pieces from notable names such as the American conceptual artist Bill Beckley and the sculptor Tom Brewitz.

But it’s hard to top the millions of dollars of extras that were attached to the asking price in 2019 of the US$85 million 1393sqm  duplex at the Atelier, in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood. The list included two Rolls-Royce Phantoms, a Lamborghini Aventador, a US$1 million yacht with five years of docking fees, a summer stay at a Hamptons mansion, weekly dinners for two at lavish French restaurant Daniel and a live-in butler and private chef for a year. And the most outrageous of all: a flight for two to space.

It turned out that the so-called duplex was actually a collection of several apartments and a listing that went unsold. It did, however, generate plenty of buzz among the press and in real estate circles and was a marketing success, according to Mr. Miller.

“A listing like this that almost seems unbelievable with all the gifts will get plenty of eyeballs but is unlikely to push sales,” he said. “Empirically, it’s not an effective tactic.”

On the other hand, Mr. Miller said that more reasonable but still generous freebies, such as the membership to a yacht club, have the potential to push undecided buyers to go for the sale. “A nice but not too lavish gift won’t be the singular thing toward their decision but can be a big factor,” he said. “It’s a feel-good incentive that buyers think they’re getting without an extra cost.”

Examples of these bonuses include a membership to the 1 Hotel South Beach private beach club that buyers receive with the purchase of a residence at Baccarat Residences Brickell, or the one-year membership to the Grand Bay Beach Club in Key Biscayne for those who spring for a home at Casa Bella Residences by B&B Italia, located in downtown Miami and a residential project from the namesake renowned Italian furniture brand. The price of a membership at the Grand Bay Beach Club is usually a US$19,500 initiation fee and US$415 in monthly dues.

The Grand Salon at at Baccarat Residences Brickell in Miami.
Baccarat Residences

Still enticing but less expensive perks include the two-hour cruise around New York on a wooden Hemmingway boat, valued at US$1,900, for buyers at Quay Tower, at Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City. The building’s developer, Robert Levine, said that he started offering the boat trip in July to help sell the remaining units. “We’re close to 70% sold, but, of course, I want everything to go,” he said.

There’s also the US$1,635 Avalon throw blanket from Hermes for those who close on a unit at Ten30 South Beach, a 33-unit boutique condominium; in Manhattan’s Financial District, a custom piece of art from the acclaimed artist James Perkins is gifted to buyers at Jolie, a 42-story building on Greenwich Street. Perkins said the value of the piece depends on the home purchase price, but the minimum is US$4,000. “The higher end homes get a more sizable work,” he said.

When gifts are part of a total real estate package, the sale can become emotional and personal, according to Chad Carroll, a real estate agent with Compass in South Florida and the founder of The Carroll Group. “If the freebie appeals to the buyer, the transaction takes on a different dynamic,” he said. “A gift becomes the kicker that they love the idea of having.”

Speaking from his own experience, Mr. Carroll said that sellers can also have an emotional connection to the exchange. “I was selling my house in Golden Isles last year for US$5.4 million and included my jet ski and paddle boards,” he said. “The buyers were a family with young kids and absolutely loved the water toys.” Mr. Carroll could have held out for a higher bidder, he said, but decided to accept their offer. “I liked them and wanted them to create the same happy memories in the home that I did,” he said.

The family moved in a few months later.