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“Whisper Listings” for the Glitziest Condos

Midtown, Manhattan

Whisper Listings

Billionaires' Row, the Main Street of "whisper listings."

May 28, 2019

The very rich are different are different from you and me, to borrow an insight from F. Scott Fitzgerald. Even the way they buy and sell apartments is different.

Consider that sky-high tabernacle of wealth, otherwise known as the condominium tower at 220 Central Park South. When Manhattan’s ritziest new mansions in the sky hit the market, there was no fanfare. No no lavish broker parties. No full-page ads in the New York Times. In fact, the New York Post reports, nobody even knew that the apartments inside architect Robert A.M. Stern’s 953-foot-tall urban country club were up for grabs – except for a rarefied group of insiders. 

The building’s developer, Steve Roth, selected each prospective resident by hand. The Vornado chief turned away many eager and well-heeled buyers, according to a source close to the project. In spite of the strict vetting process and a slowing high-priced condo market, the building is now mostly sold. 

The hedge funder Daniel Ochs, debt mogul Andrew Zaro and rocker Sting jumped at the chance to become one of the chosen. But it was hedge-fund gazillionaire Ken Griffin who spent most lavishly, obliterating the record for most expensive home ever sold in America with his $238 million penthouse purchase there in January. 

“If you want to get someone’s attention with a whisper, scream!” says Leonard Steinberg, of the brokerage Compass. “220 [Central Park South] was the loudest whisper I have ever heard in my life. People feel like they are buying into a club that is word-of-mouth only and for ‘people like us.’ That has value for them.”

There’s no way to count how many “whisper listings,” or “pocket listings,” exist in Manhattan at a given time. But of the 43 New York homes that sold for more than $20 million in 2018, 21 were not formally on the market at the time of their sales, according to Compass data. 

Why? Are the very rich simply more discreet than you and me? Or is it possible that being filthy rich is now seen as unclean? “There has been this phenomenal growth in the socialist movement,” says Compass’ Steinberg. “You don’t want to be identified as a person with a tremendous level of wealth.” And so you must learn to whisper.

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