Struggling to Sell Your New York City Apartment? Try a ‘Whisper Listing’

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  •  Brokers see an increase in off-market ‘whisper listings’
  •  As sales slump, owners seek to keep price cuts under the radar
Duplex Penthouse At 50 United Nations Plaza As Manhattan Luxury Condo Builders Try Dealmaking In Hunt For Buyers
Photographer: Michael Nagle/Bloomberg

A tony prewar building on Manhattan’s Park Avenue has a sprawling, fully renovated three-bedroom co-op for sale at a discount. Don’t expect to find it on a web search.

After listing the unit unsuccessfully, the sellers took a break, cut the price by 15 percent and decided to try again — this time offline, said Martin Eiden, a broker at Compass. The apartment’s owners didn’t want the world to know they were desperate enough to accept about $600,000 less than they initially sought, Eiden said, and that motivated their decision to keep it off the portals that publicly post such details.

“Sellers don’t want to see their listings all over the internet, building up days on market and having buyers question what’s going on,” Pamela Liebman, president of brokerage Corcoran Group, said in an interview. “They want to be more private. It makes them feel that they’re doing something different in a market that’s not very tight.”

The use of “whisper listings” has accelerated in recent months while New York home sales have slumped. It’s a way to keep available properties off sites such as Zillow, which display price cuts, how long an apartment has lingered, and sometimes an estimate of fair value based on comparable sales nearby. Instead, agents are relying on their networks, trading details at industry brunches and sending letters and emails to former clients who might be tempted back into the market.

Challenging Market

Selling is becoming more of a challenge for homeowners in a city crowded with options, where would-be buyers are in no hurry to make purchases. Sellers slashed prices by 6.9 percent on average in the first three months of 2019, according to a report by appraiser Miller Samuel Inc. and brokerage Douglas Elliman Real Estate. The homes that were sold in that period sat on the market for an average of 99 days before finding buyers.

By keeping details off the internet, some sellers are betting they can play a listing’s exclusivity to their advantage, targeting buyers who may be more receptive than random online shoppers, Liebman said. Plus, it helps homeowners avoid the bruised egos that come with admitting their home isn’t worth as much as they thought.

Corcoran’s recent sales include a $26 million whisper-listed townhouse in the West Village and former Vanity Fair editor-in-chief Graydon Carter’s nearby home, which was purchased for more than $15 million in an off-market deal by film producer Scott Rudin.

A secret listing probably isn’t the best strategy for most New York homeowners, who would benefit from casting a wide net to attract offers, according to Jason Haber, an agent at Warburg Realty.

Privacy Matters

But for ultra-luxury sellers, privacy may be more important than the online searches they miss out on. Haber is working to sell six off-market homes, including a four-bedroom co-op at the historic Dakota, overlooking Central Park, for $20 million. The pool of buyers who could afford such a purchase is small enough that a deal typically comes down to knowing the right people anyway, he said.

In the past, it was mostly celebrities and top-level executives who insisted on keeping details of their home sales hushed, but now a broader group of high-end owners are concerned about publicizing their wealth, according to Haber.

“There’s so much talk today about income inequality and the 1 percent versus the 99 percent,” he said. “There are people who would prefer to avoid any glare and would prefer to sell it off market.”

Contact me to see if this strategy is right for your needs and your home.

Claudia Saez-Fromm

An entrepreneur, innovator, and singularly successful real estate salesperson, fitness fiend, foodie, mommy, and fashion fan.

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