A Manhattan real estate agent is walking a client through a swanky Park Avenue open house, when the client’s buddy — who claims to have a debilitating fear of heights — decides that being on the 16th floor is just too much to cope with, and promptly throws up in the powder room toilet.
It’s a vignette within a new novel revolving around the world of big-ticket New York real estate, where such behavior is generally considered undesirable.
But it really did happen, according to the authors, as did most of the other travails of the rich and famous that are depicted in "Hot Property," published in September by HarperCollins.
"All of the stories were composites," explained Michele Kleier, who along with daughters Sabrina Kleier-Morgenstern and Samantha Kleier-Forbes leads the Gumley Haft Kleier real estate brokerage in New York.
"If we didn’t (disguise them) we’d be out of business — no one would ever work with us again. But the things that people said in the book are real."
The Kleiers, who already have established a beachhead in another medium as fixtures in HGTV’s "Selling New York" on Thursday nights, recently collaborated on the novel, about a tight-knit family whose boutique brokerage’s clients tend to show up in the New York Post’s Page Six celebrity gossip feature.
The novel’s storyline wasn’t much of a stretch for the Kleiers, who not coincidentally happen to be a tight-knit family whose boutique brokerage’s clients tend to show up in the New York Post’s Page Six celebrity gossip feature.
Its scant reviews so far haven’t exactly been ecstatic ("lightweight narrative … the plot is minimal," according to Kerkus Book Reviews).
And the reviews have expressed weariness at its frequent celebrity name-dropping and ubiquitous mentions of Ralph Lauren cashmere sweaters, Manolo Blahnik shoes, Chanel bags and other brands that are the mainstays of New York uberconsumers.
Nonetheless, the three Kleiers are well aware that they’re on a media high.
They’re in the midst of filming more episodes of "Selling New York," where each week they, along with representatives of the CORE and Warburg brokerages, escort a coterie of exceptionally well-clad clients through a universe of marble floors, Central Park views and six-burner Wolf ranges.
The agents nod empathetically while buyers fret about such concerns as apartments with dated bathroom fixtures. They delicately confront sellers with the tough-love news that their listing needs a price chop.
The show’s fourth season just premiered, and they’re working on the fifth season. Nielsen ratings average well over 1 million viewers per episode, and a West Coast spinoff, "Selling LA," premiered Oct. 13.
The Kleiers have no doubt about what draws people to tune in each week.
"Oh, my God, it’s voyeurism," exclaimed Kleier-Forbes in an interview.
"People get access to apartments they would never dream of being able to see. We take people to the most pricey properties in the world. And they can’t get over the fact that you can spend $1 million in New York for a one-bedroom apartment."
Her mother theorized that she and her daughters humanize the real estate process.
"People like the family dynamic," Michele said. "People are very into the family because it’s unusual — there aren’t (many) other real estate businesses in Manhattan that have so many family members involved." (Her husband, Ian, co-owns the brokerage.)
She said her Maltese dogs, who sometimes show up on camera, draw the most fan mail. The Kleiers said they also hear from viewers who write in for career advice or to comment on the agents’ wardrobes and hair.
"I just got one where a woman asked, ‘Where do you get your jewelry?’ " Michele said. "Somebody whose daughter was turning 16 wanted a letter from me that they could put into a time capsule."
Better than fan mail, they said, they get clients.
"We get a tremendous amount of business from being on the show," Kleier-Forbes said. "You’d think they wouldn’t pick their broker from a TV show, but people do."
Still, they said, screening the wannabes is necessary — some people who ring up their office seeking to be on the show turn out to be less interested in real estate than in promoting themselves or their products.
The Kleiers — the three of them often speak in unison or finish one another’s sentences — said they’ve been surprised at many clients’ willingness to participate in the TV program, given that it means being upfront about their finances and, to some extent, their personal lives.
"A lot of reality shows are scandalous, but this show isn’t at all — it’s about real estate, and people want to be on it," Michele said.
"I spoke to a client just last night and asked her, ‘Would you want to do the show? It would be fun.’ I thought she would never do it, but she wants to. You never know."
The agents said that unlike the format of some other reality shows, the camera crew doesn’t follow the agents around on a daily basis. The crew turns up, with the agreement of all of the involved parties, at individual showings and meetings.
The producers recognize that the Kleiers must consider their real estate clients first, they said.
"As much as we love doing the show, we have to concentrate on selling apartments," Michele said. "Some weeks, we may have clients who have flown in from out of town and who don’t want to be on the show, and so we just can’t shoot on those days. They are respectful."
In the midst of it all, the three Kleiers managed to wedge in the writing of the novel this past year, though it required many late-night sessions and revisions, they said.
The book actually began six years ago — long before the television series, Michele said.
"The William Morris Agency approached us," she said. "This agent had been following our family, our company, and asked us if we had thought about writing a book. We had."
They put together about 30 pages ("a dishy story," Michele explained), and the publisher went for it, they said.
"But we got busy with our jobs, the TV show, and our children," Michele said. "It got put on the back burner."
Finally, earlier this year the publisher became impatient and set a deadline, phrased in the context of dollars and cents.
"They said, ‘If you don’t get it finished by April, we want our advance back,’ " Kleier-Forbes said, laughing. "We said, ‘We spent it — we can’t give it back!’ "
Whatever the book’s literary shortcomings, it’s full of the luxe locations and ostentatious house hunters — not to mention cutthroat bidding wars and backstabbing agent competition — that real estate groupies seem to find delicious.
The Kleiers insisted they were judicious about protecting the identities of those whose experiences helped fill in the story line. Maybe unnecessarily so.
"I ran into one of my clients the other day, and she was disappointed," Michele said. "She said, ‘I can’t believe I wasn’t interesting enough to be in the book. What do I have to do next time?’ "
Mary Umberger is a freelance writer in Chicago.
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