Watchcase Factory Is Ticking

New broker and new look to push sales
The living and dining area of penthouse 406 at the Watchcase Condominiums complex Deborah Srb

When Watchcase Condominiums, a 64-unit luxury residential complex, began to emerge from the crumbling shell of the former Bulova Watchcase Factory in Sag Harbor in 2013, the real estate market reacted with exuberance. “We sold the first 20 units out of a trailer on the site,” Cee Scott Brown, one of the Corcoran Group brokers assigned to the property, said. “There was nothing to even go look at, so we were showing people samples of the materials.” 

Sales success continued through December of 2016, Mr. Brown said, at which point more than 80 percent of the residences had been sold. Just 12 remained available — a loft apartment, three penthouses, and eight townhouses — each of which has yet to attract a buyer. In a renewed effort to sell the remaining inventory, Cape Advisors, the real estate development firm behind the project, has now been making improvements and lowering some prices.

By the time the residences were move-in ready in 2015, Cape Advisors had spent more than $40 million restoring and retrofitting the 1881 factory and building townhouses on neighboring lots on Church Street and Sage Street. The complex’s amenities include an outdoor pool, a fitness studio, and a spa treatment room, among others. 

One of the first finished units in the former factory debuted in June 2013. It was a two-bedroom penthouse model featuring marble countertops, custom oak cabinets, high ceilings with exposed beams, and an abundance of seven-and-a-half-foot-high windows. The Cape Advisors team was so enthusiastic about the results, it hired seaplanes to bring out journalists from Manhattan for a first-hand look. 

At the time, the lofts ranged in price from just over $1 million to $2.7 million, with penthouses from nearly $3 million to $10.2 million. The townhouses started at $3.5 million and went up to $6.5 million. Sales were brisk, with many buyers eager to own a high-end condo rather than a house, Mr. Brown said. “I was amazed at how desirable they were to people.” 

Mr. Brown was so taken with the results that he bought a unit, which he rents out year-round. “We dealt with everyone who’s purchased there,” he said. “They’re interesting, quirky folks. Many of them downsized from Amagansett or Southampton or East Hampton to get into something that was turnkey. When they leave, the building’s concierge helps them with their bags, and they come back in a week or two or whenever.” 

One resident who is particularly fond of the concierge services is Barbara Toll, an art adviser, who bought her apartment in the old factory early,  when “it was still a hole in the ground,” she said.  Ms. Toll, who lives alone, had been faced with either renovating her Sag Harbor house or moving, and chose to decamp to the Watchcase. “Now I know someone will come help me if I fall off a ladder. It’s also terrific because you’re right in the village, but that means I don’t cook as much as I used to.” 

Mr. Brown and his colleagues at the Corcoran Group continue to handle apartments they previously sold, but last year executives at Cape Advisors gave exclusive listings of the 12 never-sold units to Water Mill-based Bespoke Real Estate. They continued to linger on the market. 

Earlier this year, representatives of Cape Advisors conducted interviews with several real estate agents, looking for someone else to take over the account, according Deborah Srb, an associate broker at Sotheby’s International Realty, who landed the listings. “They wanted a price opinion and an experienced real estate opinion,” she said. “I love the product. It’s so unusual and so special to Sag Harbor, I’ve always wanted to be attached to this building.” 

Ms. Srb said she convinced the developers that the price had to come down on some of the units and presented them with “a punch list of design flaws” that had to be corrected in others. 

The penthouses, which have rooftop terraces complete with fire pits and expansive water views, are among the units for which prices have been reduced. Penthouse 406, for example, had been listed at $5.5 million in March 2016 and is now under $4.8 million, Ms. Srb said. Penthouse 418 is for sale at under $5.5 million, compared to $7.5 million in 2015. The prices, she said, are now more in line with comparable residences that have sold recently as well as with the existing inventory of houses for sale. 

One of the developers’ most glaring oversights, according to Ms. Srb, was the lack of elevators in the two-story townhouses, which are on a steep incline. Nine were built, but only one has sold. 

“The townhouses had plans and approvals for elevators that were never installed,” Ms. Srb said. “I don’t care how old or young you are, nobody wants to be carrying groceries up two flights of stairs.” Elevators, she said, are now to be in place by the end of the month.  

Ms. Srb, who is a co-cofounder of Blue Ocean Design, an interior design firm based in Sag Harbor, said she had been allowed to suggest enhancements. They include the addition of privacy walls and doors in units whose bedrooms were a bit too loft-like, she said, and a walk-in closet in Penthouse 314, where a master bedroom lacked storage space.

Other renovations under Ms. Srb’s direction range from “a light facelift,” or coat of fresh paint, to plumbing repair. “The few water leaks I noticed were traced back to their origin, not just spackled over and painted,” she said. 

Ms. Srb is confident that the “refreshed and reimagined” units, as they are described on Sotheby’s website, will finally move the residences into the sold category. “It’s all about the details,” she said. She’s especially optimistic about the improved penthouses. “They’re gorgeous now and, oh, those rooftop terrace views. There’s nothing like them anywhere.”