No One Wants Joan Didion’s Apartment

Photo: Neville Elder/Corbis via Getty Images

While Joan Didion’s sunglasses and assorted bric-a-brac sold for a premium at auction last fall ($27,000 for a pair of sunglasses), her apartment, an 11-room behemoth on the Upper East Side, has not produced quite the same feverish response. Put on the market in late January for $7.5 million, the four-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bath co-op has just taken a million-dollar price cut, as the New York Post first reported.

The initial asking price did seem ambitious given other sales in the building, and considering it’s in estate condition. Nice estate condition, to be fair, with pretty blue built-in bookshelves in the living room and pristine-looking herringbone floors, but buyers at the $5 million-plus price point don’t generally go in for dated if functional kitchens. “This is a very high-level building. People moving in want something in mint condition,” says a broker who has had listings there. “If it’s not mint, they will make it mint.” Another described it as “a total gut.” He added, “At $7.5 million, the numbers are not there with the cost of renovation, but at $6.5 million, they might be able to push it through.”

The library and living room — and the bad views. Photo: Real Estate Production Network for Sotheby’s International Realty

Daniela Kunen, a Douglas Elliman broker with a $3.5 million three-bedroom listing in the building, says it’s a challenging market for apartments that need work. (Her listing, also an estate, was originally priced at $5.5 million, and has been on the market since last September.) “Apartments that require renovation are much harder to sell than in the past. It’s really the cost and time, labor and material shortages. We lost so many contractors that moved out to Texas or Florida.”

The kitchen. Yeah. Photo: Real Estate Production Network for Sotheby’s International Realty

High-end renovations run to about $1,000 per square foot, meaning a gut of the Didion apartment would likely run close to $3 million. Which is steep, especially considering that the apartment doesn’t have any views to speak of. “You’re looking at wall after wall after wall,” says one broker. “There’s a rooftop, then another wall.”

The last time it was on the market, it wasn’t the easiest sell, either. Initially, Didion and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, refused even to look at the apartment because they thought the price was way too high. But after Wall Street crashed, the apartment had four price cuts, and the couple finally bought it in 1988. They were won over, they said, by the landmarked church next door. As they told the L.A. Times, the fact that no one could build anything new on the site would protect their view from becoming even worse.

No One Wants Joan Didion’s Apartment