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It takes a fortune to enjoy the views from the penthouses lining Billionaires’ Row — or a very convincing cover story.
Hungarian artist Andi Schmied reportedly impersonated an eccentric uberwealthy potential buyer to gain access to Manhattan’s most expensive apartments and photograph their vistas for her new book “Private Views: A High-rise Panorama of Manhattan.”
While in Brooklyn for a residency at DUMBO’s Triangle Arts Association, the young artist and architect was inspired to craft a new identity to persuade elite real-estate brokers that she had the means to rent or buy apartments in new Midtown residential towers that could be worth as much as $238 million, according to Curbed.
Schmied told the site that she went by her middle name, Gabriella, to both circumvent Google background checks and also be able to legitimately show her passport as identification.
After the first broker she talked to asked who her husband was, she brainstormed a scheme to get past the gatekeeper.
“So I have a very good friend in Budapest, an antiquarian and a gallerist — he wouldn’t be able to afford those apartments but he has professional websites that somehow put him in this sphere of ‘well … maybe‘,” Schmied told Curbed.
She also invented a fake personal assistant named Coco, who told inquiring brokers on a made up email account that her supposed husband’s line of work was “antiquarian business, dealing with art from medieval to contemporary.”
Additionally, she spent all of her allowance from her residency on clothes, makeup and manicures to look the part.
That was enough to gain access to 25 of Manhattan’s priciest pads, as none of the brokers asked her for a credit check before viewing them, or asked her to provide proof of her net worth.
Schmied took a taxi from a half block away from the first showing to calm her nerves, get into character, and arrive in style.
“I got a lot of questions like, ‘Oh, wow, I love your necklace, who’s the designer?’ For that one, my answer was that ‘it’s a Hungarian designer,’ . . . Or they asked me if we have a chef in the family. And then at the next viewing, I directly started talking about ‘our chef’ or his needs,” she told Curbed.
Once she was in the penthouses, brokers would reportedly try to appeal to her character’s cultured European background and Hungarian roots by asking her to imagine the aroma of golaush emanating from a luxury kitchen, and putting on French music.
In the Ritz-Carlton Residences on Central Park South, a broker closed the curtains and asked Schmied if she liked Édith Piaf.
“I said, ‘Of course,’ and I asked, ‘How do you know?’ and she said, ‘Oh, because of your European sophistication.’ And she sat me down and put on Édith Piaf,” Schmied said.
Schmied used a film camera to capture the abodes in more earthy tones than their glossy, high resolution advertisements, telling brokers they were for her husband to review.
“There were a few agents who noticed that it was a film camera, not a digital camera, and those who noticed asked, ‘Oh, wow, is it film?’ And I’d always say something like, ‘Oh, my grandfather gave it to me — to record all the special moments in my life.’ And they’d just put me in this box of “artsy billionaire,” and would start to talk to me about MoMA’s latest collection. So anything goes,” Schmied told the site.
For all the jaw-dropping views documented in her new crowd funded book, Schmied said the apartments were uniformly cookie cutter.
“They are all the same! I mean, really! For example, the layout of the apartments are essentially identical,” she said.
She told the site she wouldn’t want to live in the apartments she toured, even if her budget allowed for it.
“No. I don’t think so. I would have to become like Gabriella was — a fictional persona — and that’s an immensely tiring job, to be like her,” she said. “I don’t think I would feel comfortable in such a context.”
In a city with sky high real estate stakes, this is not the first time brokers have been duped into having their time wasted.
“There are a lot of people like that. Brokers wine and dine them, send cars for them, and they get to feel important for a day,” said top broker Dolly Lenz.
Brokers are not required to do due diligence, and that’s in part why so much money is laundered through real estate, according to Lenz.
Brokers say they do unofficial background checks on people. In this case, Lenz said, that should have included brokers in other countries who deal with Hungary’s one percent.
“We have friends, in banking, at the auction houses. You call and ask around,” Lenz said.
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