Divorces spawn extreme real estate renovations

Mood of the Market

By Inman News Feed
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Oct. 31, 2011

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Mood of the Market

Tara-Nicholle Nelson
Inman News™

When a couple gets divorced, the range of emotions that arise in the course of splitting up their belongings can range from awkward on one end to vicious hatred on the other. Even when one party doesn't want the stuff anymore, there is a strange and bitter element to the other's decision on what to do with it. (To wit: the recently published book and blog chronicling the 120 possible uses for his ex-wife's wedding dress.)

When the property is real estate and the parties are wealthy or well-known, most often everyone just moves out and allows the lawyers to dispose of the lovely homes. Divorcing celebrity A-listers Courtney Cox and Christina Aguilera, for example, both have amazing abodes currently on the market. (Eye-candy alert!)

In other cases, the love of the marital home itself long outlasts the love the spouses have for each other; so much so that neither husband nor wife can or will let go of the place. And these situations make for strange housemates, even if they are no longer bedfellows.

In the 1980s, Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner turned such a tragedy into dark comedy in the film "The War of the Roses," in which their divorcing characters shared a home and battled over it, literally (spoiler alert), to the death.

Earlier this year, we discussed the curious (and sad) case of Simon and Chana Taub, who made headlines worldwide when Simon fought for -- and won -- a divorce court's order to put up a plywood wall giving them each 1.5 floors of their Brooklyn, N.Y., home (which, in the end, was ordered sold in bankruptcy after the couple spent more on legal fees than the home was worth).

This case grew even more curious (and sadder) this summer, by virtue of a terrible trickle-down effect, when the single mother to whom Chana had been renting some rooms was forcibly evicted from the property and arrested by the New York Police Department in front of her children.

Perhaps the wildest real estate eye candy-studded, divorce-driven story of property division I've ever heard is the tale of 810 5th Ave. in Manhattan, which was once the home of former Vice President Nelson Rockefeller. Rockefeller and his first wife, Mary, lived in the 30-room, three-floor apartment at the top of the building.

After having five children together, they split, and Mary kept the top two floors, leaving Nelson with the lowest. The following year, he married his second wife, Margaretta, who was and still is widely known by her childhood nickname, "Happy."

Unlike those of us who move to the other side of town (or the other side of the country) to create lives apart from our exes, Nelson stayed in his floor at 810 and expanded it by -- get this! -- purchasing the adjacent floor in the building next door, (812 5th Ave.), and breaking through, installing a half flight of stairs between the buildings.

His new wife entered through 812, his first wife entered through 810, and all lived "happily" (it seems) ever after, despite their very close proximity, until he passed away in 1979.

After Rockefeller's death, Happy redivided the spaces and sold the portion at 810 5th Ave. The apartment that Happy sold off is now on the market for $27.5 million.

It's fascinating, the lengths some people go to stay in homes with their warring exes out of a malicious and self-destructive desire to keep them from getting the place, while the Rockefellers seem to have gone to even more exceptional lengths to keep both families very nearby. Apparently, it is not just a wide range of emotions divorce spawns, but also a wide range of renovations.

Tara-Nicholle Nelson is author of "The Savvy Woman's Homebuying Handbook" and "Trillion Dollar Women: Use Your Power to Make Buying and Remodeling Decisions." Tara is also the Consumer Ambassador and Educator for real estate listings search site Trulia.com. Ask her a real estate question online or visit her website, www.rethinkrealestate.com.

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