Hide-and-seek housing

<i>In rocky market, secrets proliferate, as do detectives</i>

During the boom years, Manhattan real estate seemed like an open book. As prices climbed higher, news of record-breaking Manhattan deals — like Harry Macklowe’s $60 million Plaza buy or Jonathan Tisch’s $48 million co-op purchase at 2 East 67th Street — was reported not just throughout the country, but all over the globe.

With city data about real estate transactions being published online, some brokers jockeyed to have their names linked with high-profile sales. Buying or selling a high-priced Manhattan apartment became a badge of honor.

Still, there was an element of polite society that preferred its real estate quiet, working with discreet brokers who could be trusted to keep their names and activities out of the headlines.

“I learned early on that a spouting whale gets harpooned,” said Larry Kaiser, the president of Park Avenue-based Key-Ventures Realty, who has been a broker in New York since 1968. “The less said, the better.”

That mentality, once limited to the very top echelons of real estate, is spreading rapidly throughout the industry. Brokers are finding that secrecy is now one of the most important elements of the business.

As fortunes have crumbled in the wake of the financial crisis and Bernie Madoff has decimated the life savings of many of the former well-to-do, sellers fear that putting their homes on the market will result in neighbors thinking they’re destitute. As a result, their efforts to sell are increasingly being kept quiet, as so-called “whisper listings” proliferate.

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The names of buyers’ brokers have usually been secret, never listed in public records. But in this buyers’ market, those agents are more important than ever. This month, The Real Deal tracked down the buyers’ brokers on some of the biggest sales of the year.

Meanwhile, co-op boards are now going to great lengths to uncover the deepest secrets of their prospective neighbors. Some are even hiring detectives to help them do it.

And finally, buyers are also being more secretive with brokers today. Brokers say it’s becoming more common for buyers to go behind their backs to try to cut them out of the transaction.

Shhh!! The art of selling quietly

Cutting brokers out

Buyers’ brokers in demand

Gumshoes probe buyers’ backgrounds