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Property Peepshow

When it comes to luxury real estate, admit it, you like to watch


Illustration by Justin Metz

Ask Courtney Campbell why New Yorkers have the most serious case of real estate envy on Earth, and the executive producer of HGTV’s “Selling L.A.,” “Selling London” and, most famously, “Selling New York” throws up her hands. “I don’t know—perhaps it’s something to do with the fact that everyone here is trying to move up,” she says, echoing a line from the theme song of “The Jeffersons.” “But it’s true, there is an absolute obsession with real estate in New York City.”

Campbell should know, as her immensely popular shows follow the tribulations and mind-boggling commissions of high-end real estate agents and have been credited with single-handedly launching the property-as-Machiavellian-passion-play TV genre.

But on October 20, if you find yourself in New York City’s trendy TriBeCa neighborhood, you won’t need a television set to play voyeur, because a highly coveted ticket to the Inside TriBeCa Loft Tour will gain you access to 10 of the loveliest living spaces in this tony little slice of lower Manhattan. Of course, the impulse to peer through windows and over walls is a universal human trait, dating back to a time when cave paintings were coveted by envious and hirsute neighbors. But, as Campbell says, the tendency seems to be especially pronounced in New York.

“To live in New York is to be a real estate voyeur,” says Jennifer McAllister-Nevins, a board member of the Friends of Duane Park, the organization that hosts the one-day event. “We’re walking around, looking up at buildings all the time, and it just breeds a curiosity about what’s inside.” And once you get inside, once you get an eyeful of the drive-through closets and landing-strip countertops, you’re inevitably subjected to a farrago of conflicting emotions. Behind every ooh and aah there is an atavistic grunt of resentment.

Dawn Perry has been attending the tour for five years—ostensibly, she says, to get ideas for her own TriBeCa living space. But even the levelheaded Perry admits that, like everybody else on these tours, she eventually succumbs to the acquisitive aspect of the exercise. “I would describe my feeling as awe,” she says. “And, yes, I envy the fact that someone could possess such an amazing space.”  

As for those whose amazing spaces are featured in the tours, they are not immune to the curiosity bug. Megan Sheetz, owner of a lavishly renovated space on last year’s tour, says she wasn’t home for most of that day, and not only because being at home meant confronting a never-ending parade of gawkers. “We did not hang out at our apartment,” Sheetz says. “Instead, we enjoyed the other homes featured on the tour.”

For the rest of humanity, meanwhile, the voyeuristic itch must be satisfied by property peepshows like Campbell’s, websites like curbed.com and good-old walk-by rubbernecking. Which is nothing to be ashamed of. As serial TriBeCa tour-taker Dawn Perry points out, the craving to get a glimpse into other people’s lives “is in our DNA.” —Kris Frieswick

One Response to “Property Peepshow”

  1. David Buck Says:
    November 28th, 2013 at 6:29 pm

    Makes our prices in Honolulu not seem that pricey after all :)

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