Web hits: The month in review

Pamela Liebman
Corcoran joins REBNY property listings site

Listing Web site Residential NYC doubled its listings with the Corcoran Group joining its ranks last month.

The site, operated by the Real Estate Board of New York, will now maintain an average of 10,000 property listings at any given time, said Steven Spinola, president of REBNY. Corcoran rental subsidiary Citi Habitats, he added, will also add its listings to the site.

Residential NYC allows brokers to display their New York rental and sales listings. All participating firms are REBNY members.

Spinola said that the site’s more than two years on the scene has convinced many firms to join in recent months. The site, which launched in September 2007, has drawn in hundreds of brokers. “We’ve demonstrated that Residential NYC was in it for the long haul,” Spinola told The Real Deal. He estimated that approximately 75 percent of sales listings in New York City are now on the site.

The site cut its membership fee in January down to $25 per agent from its original $100 price. But Pamela Liebman, president of the Corcoran Group, said that didn’t influence her decision to join. “Any sales agent who wouldn’t … commit a few dollars [per month] toward their business isn’t very serious,” Liebman said.

With Corcoran on board, Spinola said he’s in talks with another big fish: Prudential Douglas Elliman. “If Elliman came in we’d be at 98 percent [of total NYC listings],” Spinola said. He said he’s been in talks with Elliman head Dottie Herman. By Amy Tennery

One Madison Park

One Madison Park faces even more lawsuits

The developers at One Madison Park are facing millions of dollars in additional lawsuits for alleged loan defaults and refusing to release down payments to buyers, as well as a judgment for unpaid rent at the property’s off-site sales office.

In November, former Yankees/Nets Chairman Harvey Schiller and his wife Marcia filed a $1.5 million fraud suit in New York State Supreme Court against the developers, Ira Shapiro and Marc Jacobs (not the designer), alleging they collected multiple deposits on the same apartment to keep in good standing with lenders.

Early last month, the original deposit for apartments 45A and 45B was returned to the Schillers, but no portion of the $850,000 fee that the developers allegedly promised for terminating their contract was paid to the couple, Schiller told The Real Deal. The developers allegedly told them they had a potential third party to buy the apartment and offered them a deal to sell it back.

As The Real Dealpreviously reported, the developers are also facing a lawsuit from Brown Harris Stevens broker Wendy Maitland, who formerly handled marketing for One Madison Park. She claims the developers failed to repay $300,000 that she loaned them to help pay for mechanic’s liens.

In another case, Green Mercer Holdings, the landlord at 27 Mercer, was awarded a judgment in November against Jacobs and Shapiro for $84,636 after they defaulted on personal guarantees for more than $80,000 in back rent.

The developers failed to pay back rent at the One Madison Park sales office between April and June of 2009. Jay Itkowitz, attorney for the landlord, declined to comment except to confirm that the judgment remains unpaid. By David Jones

A.C. Lawrence ‘VOWs’ to be one-stop shop

A.C. Lawrence last month was preparing to launch a VOW, or “virtual office Web site,” which would allow users to browse all of the industry’s listings without leaving the A.C. Lawrence Web site. The company planned to unveil the site late last month, pending approval from the Real Estate Board of New York.

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The Manhattan-based firm is implementing its VOW company-wide, rather than by agent only, making it the first to do so in New York City, according to Antonio del Rosario, president of the sales division at the nearly 40-agent firm.

A VOW provides an opportunity for the boutique residential firm to keep apace with its larger rivals, del Rosario told The Real Deal. “It’s really a no-brainer. … The virtual office Web site levels the playing field for all the firms,” he said.

The VOW approach is still a relatively new innovation in New York City, following a recent settlement between the Department of Justice and the National Association of Realtors. Under the terms of the settlement, REBNY is required by law to provide these listings directly to VOWs that are REBNY members, provided they agree to certain guidelines and pay a fee for an audit by REBNY.

Last summer, online firm CBS 2 Real Estate Market launched the first VOW in Manhattan. By December, Halstead Property had joined the trend, making it the first of the city’s major brick-and-mortar firms to do so.

But while del Rosario said that he “love[s] Halstead,” he disagrees with the way that it’s implemented its VOW. Halstead did not institute a company-wide VOW, but rather per agent. Currently the firm has just 10 percent of its agents signed up and it requires multiple clicks to access a VOW on an agent’s site, according to del Rosario. Halstead declined to comment. By Amy Tennery

Fund challenges Swig creditors over $3.9 million judgment

A fund that won a $3.9 million judgment in September against embattled developer Kent Swig is seeking to enforce its priority claim on some of Swig’s assets, and prevent competing creditors who are owed a total of nearly $50 million from getting to them first.

The fund, affiliated with Midtown-based investment firm RCG Longview, sued Swig as an individual, as well as five of his creditors, to force a turnover of eight assets to repay a $3.9 million debt, a petition filed Jan. 7 in New York State Supreme Court says. In the same filing, the fund alternately asked the court to turn the assets over to a sheriff or put them in the hands of a receiver.

But a main goal of the suit was to make sure the other five creditors did not get their hands on the assets before the fund, named RCG LV Debt IV Non-REIT Asset Holdings, did.

“RCG has an interest in insuring that any property held or received by Swig pursuant to his interests in the companies is not diverted for payment of his other creditors,” the court papers say.

A restructuring attorney for Swig, Y. David Scharf, a partner at law firm Morrison Cohen, downplayed the legal maneuverings.

“These court filings are simply Mr. Swig’s creditors jockeying for position amongst themselves as we try to work out a global restructuring with all of them,” Scharf said in an e-mail. By Adam Pincus

Agents see the strangest things at open houses

Douglas Heddings

The Real Deal recently asked a number of residential real estate agents what the strangest thing is that they’ve seen at an open house. The responses ran the gamut, from naked people to a dog taking a house tour.

Douglas Heddings, associate broker and founder of the Heddings Property Group at Charles Rutenberg Realty, said: “How about a 5-year-old breast-feeding?” He added, “Here are some less shocking examples: a drying rack full of panties in a living room, a toilet seat that was taped closed so that open house attendees could not use the facilities, of course the [Upper West Side] robbery [of an open house Heddings was hosting] that was highly publicized, and a spray-painted wall saying ‘monkey nipple’ on a teenager’s bedroom wall, which the seller refused to remove.”

Michael Signet, executive director of sales at Bond New York Real Estate, said: “The listing broker invited my client and myself into an open house and showed us around the apartment, and when we go to the master bedroom, the seller and his girlfriend were in bed — awake [and] reading the paper [with] no clothes on.”

Rena Goldstein, senior vice president at Halstead Property, said: “I had an open house in my building, and a neighbor who was not looking to move told me her dog wanted to see the apartment, so she brought him. She walked him through the apartment while I stood there, stunned and unable to speak.” Compiled by Lauren Elkies