Sat, Oct 15, 2005 - Page 16 News List

Living in the lap of luxury

It's tough being a billionaire media baron with seven homes, especially when no one wants to buy your US$28 million pad


No expense was spared for the lavish deocoration of the Murdoch's New York abode, but now the media moghul has decided to move on.

Wendi Deng is feeling bittersweet about leaving SoHo. Soon she'll be abandoning the apartment she loves for one on the Upper East Side that her husband has dreamed of owning for decades. One immediate change: "I'll have to get a better wardrobe," said Deng, who was wearing jeans, a white blouse and leopard print flats.

It sounds like any other marital dilemma in which the husband is ready to move and the wife would prefer to stay. Except that in this case the couple is Rupert Murdoch, the media billionaire, and Deng, his third wife, and the home in question is a SoHo triplex loft that they are trying to unload for US$28 million, a price that would make it the most expensive residence ever sold below 14th Street.

Now, if only they could sell it. Like an increasing number of people in Manhattan, they are finding that it's not so easy to do.

After paying a record-breaking US$44 million for a Fifth Avenue penthouse

previously owned by Laurance S. Rockefeller -- the most expensive

residence ever sold above 14th Street -- the couple is trying to sell their SoHo home at a time when the market for residential real estate in Manhattan appears to be slowing and properties are generally lingering in the listings longer. Only six prospective buyers have come to see the apartment since it was quietly put on the market in June, their broker says, and no one has made an offer.

Rich man's dilemma

So what's a media mogul to do? In this case, reach out to the competition. Although Deng, 36, normally shies away from interviews, the imperatives of New York real estate have driven her out of her domestic world as a stay-at-home mom to help sell the apartment she owns with Murdoch, the 74-year-old chairman of the News Corp., owner of the New York Post and Fox News. Before they married six years ago, Deng, who received an MBA from Yale in 1997, was a vice president of Star TV, a News Corp. subsidiary in Hong Kong. Since marrying Murdoch, she has often been the subject of speculation and investigation about her role in his empire, but she has steadfastly refused to comment.

In this case, when their broker, Deborah Grubman of the Corcoran Group, suggested they talk to the New York Times about their apartment, they agreed. But if the couple obtained the publicity they desired in their joint

interview, they also wound up giving a rare glimpse into the married life of one of the world's richest and most powerful couples at a time when the wranglings of the Murdoch family have been well-nigh Shakespearean.

In recent months, the clan -- including Murdoch's second wife, Anna Murdoch Mann -- has been in a tug-of-war over whether Grace and Chloe, the young

children of Deng and Murdoch, will have a say and an equal share in the family trust that controls the News Corp.

Deng declined to comment on discussions about the trust and her

children's role in it; instead she focused on how sad she was to be moving them from SoHo. "I love downtown," she said. "It is casual, and my children have all kinds of friends here."

Murdoch said he definitely had no interest in holding onto the SoHo apartment, despite the fact that Deng is clearly fond of it.

"We are trying to simplify our life," Deng said. Of course, these are people for whom simplification means going from seven homes to six. The others are in Los Angeles; London; Canberra, Australia; Carmel, California; and Centre Island, New York. They are also considering buying property near Beijing.

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