By Elizabeth A. Harris
The pictures of Josh Wald’s three-story, cedar-shingled home in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, seemed perfectly nice. They showed a leafy garden, a bright, open kitchen, the sleek retro finishes one might find in a Restoration Hardware catalog and a closet larger than many New York apartments. All those touches were drawn together with an asking price of $2.499 million.
But it appears that the readers of certain New York City real estate blogs prefer to shop elsewhere.
“$2.5 mil and uglayyyy as sin!” one reader commented on Brownstoner.
“Cedar shake shingle looks lovely in Breezy Point, but Greenpoint?” another remarked. “There is no accounting for taste.”
A commenter who tried to defend the listing on the Web site Curbed was treated to a skeptical rejoinder: “You are the broker. You are Wald’s buddy. You are Wald’s mother.”
Mr. Wald, who makes his living as a model and who spent a year converting the house from a three-family sheathed in linoleum and vinyl into its meticulously finished current state, was not amused.
“For the record,” he declared, sitting at his kitchen counter last week and running a hand through his thick, dark hair, “my mom probably doesn’t quite understand what a blog is!”
Buying or selling a home in New York City has long required rugged skin and a strong stomach, but in these heady days of lightning-speed gentrification and very public Internet flaying, buyers and sellers do well to enter the fray with their elbows out.
A look at the response to the listing of Mr. Wald’s home, which was featured on the real estate blogs Curbed and Brownstoner just after it came on the market about a week and a half ago, offers a glimpse into contemporary New York real estate at its ugliest. Despite the home’s stylish ingredients, about the only things that didn’t come in for criticism were the owner’s looks.
“It all feels very college student with a chunk of cash,” a commenter on Curbed said. “Still — he is so handsome. So very, very handsome.”
One might recognize Mr. Wald’s sharply angled chin dimple from his work over the last 15 years with brands like Dolce and Gabbana, Versace, Dockers and Gap. But when Mr. Wald, 33, bought the house, at 87A Guernsey Street, three years ago, its Smurf-blue vinyl siding and mustard-yellow aluminum awning were hardly runway material.
“When she first showed me the house,” he said of his real estate agent, “I was like, ‘No way. There’s no way. There’s no way I’m going to buy it.'”
Eventually, Mr. Wald’s broker, Maryam Zadeh of Prudential Douglas Elliman, who this time is the listing agent, did manage to talk him inside. When he finally decided to buy the place, Mr. Wald paid $920,000 and immediately began tearing it apart.
He ripped off the vinyl and found layers of metal and asphalt siding underneath, on top of what appeared to be the original cedar shingles. He pulled up the linoleum flooring and found a red cedar base. He scoured antiques stores from Rhode Island to Texas, buying up old doors and knobs, funky chandeliers and the like.
On the top floor, Mr. Wald created a giant master suite with 14-foot ceilings, a skylight and an enormous closet straight out of a Vogue reader’s fantasies. But his favorite room, said Mr. Wald, who is also a musician, is one floor down: a recording studio.
“Rock ‘n’ roll,” he said, grinning at the room’s many keyboards.
Mr. Wald designed the house himself, he said, and his father, a general contractor on Cape Cod, where Mr. Wald grew up, helped him put it together. Unfortunately, those personal touches make the swipe of a stranger’s Internet blade sting all the more.
“Yeah, I read it,” Mr. Wald said of one of the blog posts, as his liquid brown eyes narrowed. “If someone seemed like they knew what they were talking about, then O.K., they can have a difference of opinion. But if it’s just ignorant blabber, then it just seems like Web chat out of control.”
“It bothered me,” offered Ms. Zadeh, his broker, standing in Mr. Wald’s house last week. “You’ve put a lot of work into it.”
Though the tone in comment sections can get nasty and feelings can be bruised, real estate professionals say negative chatter does not tend to hurt the final price.
“The net effect is that there are more eyeballs on it, more conversation around it,” said Jonathan Miller, president of the appraisal firm Miller Samuel. “You can maybe even say that perhaps by being controversial in the blogosphere, that gives it more attention, and that’s marketing.”
As the old saying goes, Mr. Miller continued, “Right or wrong, just spell my name right.”
“In this case, he continued, “it would be, ‘Right or wrong, just get the address right.’ “
Mark D. Friedman, a senior vice president at Halstead Property, who found his own listing the subject of blogosphere chatter when he sold Sting’s apartment two years ago, agreed with Mr. Miller. He said “the people who are actually interested in buying the property” were smarter than to listen to some kibitzer sounding off.
While the chatter about Mr. Wald’s home may not matter, much of it has been fixated on something that will: the price.
A sale price of $2.5 million for a home in Greenpoint would set a major record, according to Mr. Miller. But a renovated single-family home in that area is hard to come by, and there are one or two examples nearby of similar prices on a per-square-foot basis.
Mr. Wald’s asking price works out to $833 per square foot, while the news anchor Pat Kiernan of NY1 bought a house nine blocks away, on Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg — a house with vinyl siding and lower ceilings, right on the noisy main drag — for a price equivalent to $823 per square foot.
It’s been just two years since Mr. Wald finished his gut renovation. So why hurry back into the fray?
Well, why not, he says. Growing up, he lived in 16 different houses in the same town, he said. His father would build a home, the family would live in it for a while, and then they would sell it and start the process over again.
“This house is my art project, and you’re inside it,” Mr. Wald said. “You can hang out in my art project.” He flashed a perfectly symmetrical smile, and continued, “I want to do it again.”
Monday, August 20, 2012