Web hits: The month in review

UES crane-collapse building sold for $40 million

Twenty months after a deadly crane collapse halted construction on a tower at 303 East 51st Street, new life has come to the condominium.

HFZ Capital Group acquired the note on the building from Arbor Realty Trust for $40 million, after the original principal developer, James Kennelly, invested more than $110 million in the defaulted project, according to sources.

Nineteen of the building’s 30 floors have already been built, and the rest should be completed within a year and a half, according to a source closely involved in the deal.

The project, east of Second Avenue, has yet to be named, but HFZ is expected to invest $60 million to complete construction. HFZ is a partnership between developer Tamir Sapir; Ziel Feldman, chairman of Polar Investments; and Israel-based Acro Real Estate, although Sapir had nothing directly to do with the crane note purchase, sources said.

The 150 condo units will mostly consist of one- and two-bedroom apartments, and 10 percent of the project will be used for commercial purposes.

Ziv Yaakobi, CEO of Acro, which is making its first U.S. investment, said in a press briefing with Israeli media that he estimates the company bought the rights to the building at a 30 percent discount on current real estate prices. By Avihu Kadosh

New Web site looks to become Zagat guide for residential real estate buyers

Ask any Manhattan resident how to go about finding the right real estate agent, and you’ll likely get a flood of horror stories about high-pressure sales and terrible apartments.

A new Web site is trying to change that.

TopAgentGuide.com, newly launched by the founders of real estate consultancy Braddock + Purcell, aims to function as a kind of Good Housekeeping Seal for real estate, by prescreening agents and pointing users to the best ones.

“We’ve got thousands of agents in New York, but there’s really no way to find the best one,” said Kathy Braddock, executive consultant at TopAgentGuide.com. “Hopefully the site will make the consumer more aware of the fabulous agents out there.”

But Braddock has even loftier aspirations for the venture.

“I believe it will raise the bar for professionalism in this business,” said Braddock, who founded TopAgentGuide
.com along with Internet entrepreneur Jonas Lee and with Paul Purcell, her partner at Braddock + Purcell and at the brokerage Charles Rutenberg Realty in New York.

TopAgentGuide.com features profiles of some 100 handpicked Manhattan real estate brokers from a variety of companies. Each profile includes reviews from former customers, a video interview with the agent, and “vital stats” such as the agent’s sales figures for 2006 through 2008.

Potential clients browse the site and when they find an agent they like, they contact the TopAgentGuide.com staff, who pass them along to the agent, or recommend another agent on the site who is a better fit. The customer can choose to interview several agents before selecting one. The service is free to the consumer; the site’s founders plan to make their money by receiving the industry-standard referral fee at closing.

Braddock + Purcell spent a year screening each of the agents through interviews and peer and client recommendations. Braddock said they chose only the agents who are truly outstanding; those that didn’t make the cut weren’t included. Agents cannot pay to be featured on the site. By Candace Taylor

Court rules Corcoran “negligent” with e-mails in Brooklyn condo sale

In what is being called a landmark ruling, a New York State Supreme Court judge determined that the Corcoran Group failed to produce e-mails in a case where the residential giant allegedly sold a flood-prone condominium unit to a couple in Brooklyn.

Judge Charles Ramos, in a 31-page opinion, ruled that the Manhattan-based brokerage was “grossly negligent” for failing to preserve and turn over electronic evidence revealing that Corcoran agents canceled appointments with prospective buyers on rainy days to hide a previously known problem with water leaks.

Corcoran was ordered to pay more than $35,000 in legal fees and court costs accumulated by the plaintiff, while the case continues on to a full trial. Lawyers for the plaintiffs said the ruling creates a new legal precedent for preserving electronic evidence in legal cases.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

“This case adopts the basic federal standard of the obligation to preserve electronic evidence into the state court system,” said Jay Itkowitz, attorney for the plaintiffs. “Under federal case law, once you know you’re about to get sued, the obligation to preserve or protect electronic evidence comes into play.”

The case involves a December 2007 lawsuit by Harold Einstein and Jennifer Boyd, a married couple with two young children, who bought a three-bedroom, 1,679-square-foot apartment at 357 4th Street in Park Slope for $1.295 million in June 2007. The four-unit building was developed by a firm called Ultimate Realty, led by Joseph and Jeanette Sabbagh and Isaac Mishan.

Corcoran said in a statement: “We disagree with the discovery ruling and intend to file an appeal at the appropriate time. This case is still in the discovery phase and no decision has yet been made on the merits of the case.” By David Jones

Prodigy hired to replace Marketing Directors at Cassa

In a bid to attract more foreign buyers, the developer of Midtown condominium-hotel Cassa hired brokerage Prodigy International to handle sales, replacing new-development firm the Marketing Directors.

Developer Solly Assa, a head of Assa Properties, told The Real Deal last month that Prodigy would now be the exclusive marketing and sales agent for the 48-story glass tower, located at 70 West 45th Street.

“We’re targeting more of an international client,” he said. “Prodigy is really catering to international consumers.”

Assa said that the Marketing Directors sold nearly 40 percent of the project’s 57 condo units since sales began in June. The building was designed by Cetra/Ruddy and TEN Arquitectos, the Mexico City firm headed by Enrique Norten. When completed this spring, it will house 166 hotel rooms operated by Desires Hotels.

Prodigy works primarily with international buyers and has offices in New York, Miami, Panama, Mexico and Spain.

“I have nothing but respect for the Marketing Directors,” Rodrigo Nino, the president of Prodigy, said, but noted that the developer “wants to have a global outreach.” He added, “We just have a bigger audience.”

With its stable of international investors looking to buy Manhattan real estate at a discount, Prodigy, as of late, has been functioning as a sort of cleanup crew for struggling condo projects. In October alone, the company closed 18 units — 14 of which were new sales — at troubled condo project William Beaver House, which Prodigy took over from Core and the Corcoran Sunshine Group. That brings the total number of closed sales at the Wall Street condo to 110, out of 320 total units, Nino said.

“We have a pent-up demand of investors,” Nino said, adding that his company has opened up a division specifically tasked with the intricacies of procuring mortgages for international buyers. By Candace Taylor

C21 NY Metro absorbs small Queens firm

In a continuing bid for aggressive expansion, Century 21 NY Metro told The Real Deal last month that it had acquired Queens-based sales and rental firm MQ Realty.

MQ Realty, a nine-agent firm that previously specialized in Long Island City and Astoria, had been headed by longtime agent Cesar Guevara. The six-year-old company vacated its office at 31-87 Steinway Street and moved into Century 21 NY Metro’s headquarters at 575 Madison Avenue, according to Marc Lewis, the president of Century 21 NY Metro.

The move brings Century 21’s total agent count to roughly 150, Lewis said. That’s up from 95 in May of 2008.

Century 21 NY Metro, which does both rentals and sales, was created by a 2006 merger of Dwelling Quest and Century 21 Kevin B. Brown. Lewis, who took the company’s reins in October of 2008, said he is looking to expand the company’s market share in Manhattan and hopes to double its agents within the next 12 months.

“We have the experience and technology; we just need good people who are committed to the business and who are professional,” Lewis said.

Guevara, a Queens native, got his start in real estate 14 years ago, working as a townhouse sales broker at William B. May before founding his own rental company in Astoria. Business was good for the first five years, he said, as the Long Island City and Astoria markets teemed with renters priced out of Manhattan. That changed, however, when the economy soured this fall.

As prices fell across the city, Guevera lost customers to the Manhattan market.

“The tenants are able to find affordable things in the city where they weren’t able to before,” he said. “If you’re someone looking at a $3,000 apartment, you have many choices in the city now. Why go to Queens?” By Candace Taylor