A photographer pretended to be a Hungarian billionaire to get into some of NYC’s priciest ‘Billionaires’ Row’ penthouses, and she said they’re ‘all the same’

billionaires row nyc

  • Andi Schmied, a photographer from Budapest, crafted a fake identity as a Hungarian billionaire art gallerist to tour some of New York City's most expensive penthouses last year, Christopher Bonanos reported for Curbed. 
  • In an interview with Bonanos, Schmied said she created a fake personal assistant, used an artist grant to splurge on new clothes and bags, and pretended she had a private chef to convince real-estate agents she was wealthy enough to afford the apartments.
  • She says she toured 25 luxury buildings in Manhattan, including several in the ultra-exclusive wealthy enclave of Billionaires' Row.
  • "They are all the same," Schmied said of the penthouses. "I mean, really! For example, the layout of the apartments are essentially identical."
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Photographer Andi Schmied duped New York City real-estate agents last year by posing as a Hungarian billionaire art gallerist to get inside 25 luxury condo buildings in Manhattan — many of which sit along the city's ultra-exclusive "Billionaires' Row," Christopher Bonanos reported for Curbed. 

In an interview with Bonanos, Schmied, who is from Budapest, explained how she convinced real-estate agents to show her the priciest pads in some of the city's most coveted buildings, including 432 Park Avenue, Steinway Tower, and Central Park Tower, which became the world's tallest residential building when it topped out last fall.

"I obviously built a persona, because my real persona would not be granted access," Schmied told Curbed.

She said she went by her middle name, Gabriella, so that her previous projects on luxury buildings in China wouldn't raise suspicions if agents Googled her, and invented a fictional husband and 21-month-year-old son. Her persona was that of a wealthy art gallerist with a personal chef and a personal assistant named "Coco."  


Schmied told Curbed that she toured the New York skyscrapers with her phony identity during an artist residency in Brooklyn. She compiled her photography, essays, and transcripted dialogues from the real estate showings into a book: "Private Views: A High-rise Panorama of Manhattan."

She did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment for this story.

"They'd just put me in this box of 'artsy billionaire'"

Schmied told Curbed she spent her "entire budget" for her arts residency on clothes, bags, manicures, and makeup to project the image of a "sophisticated lady."

To master this guise, Schmied adapted Gabriella's persona based on the questions she got from real-estate agents. If an agent asked about the designer of her necklace, for example, she would simply tell them it was a Hungarian designer. Or if an agent asked if she had a chef, at the next viewing she would start talking about "our chef" and his needs, she said.

To take the photographs for her book, Schmied used a film camera and told the real-estate agents they were to show her husband. When some agents asked about it, she would tell them, "'Oh, my grandfather gave it to me — to record all the special moments in my life,'" she said. "And they'd just put me in this box of 'artsy billionaire,' and would start to talk to me about MoMA's latest collection. So anything goes."


As for the fancy apartments themselves? Schmied wasn't particularly impressed.

"They are all the same! I mean, really!" she said. "For example, the layout of the apartments are essentially identical."

The developers and sales teams for 432 Park Avenue, Steinway Tower, and Central Park Tower did not immediately respond to Insider's requests for comment.

The crème de la crème of Manhattan real estate

The buildings that Schmied toured for her project are home to some of the most coveted and expensive real estate in New York City.

As Schmied pointed out in her interview with Curbed, most people can only get such views of the city by visiting one of the city's observation decks at places like the Empire State Building or One World Trade Center. 

Several of the skyscrapers she toured for her project sit on Billionaires' Row, a wealthy enclave made up of eight recently-built luxury residential skyscrapers along the southern end of Central Park in Manhattan. 

The view from Central Park Tower's 107th floor, looking toward downtown Manhattan.
Katie Warren/Business Insider

One of these towers is 432 Park Avenue, which was the tallest residential building in the world at the time of its completion in 2015. In 2016, its highest penthouse — an 8,255-square-foot unit that occupies the entire 96th floor — sold to Saudi billionaire Fawaz Alhokair for $87.7 million. Today, an 82nd-floor penthouse in the building is currently on the market for an eye-popping $90 million.

Another building Schmied visited, Steinway Tower at 111 West 57th, is considered the world's skinniest skyscraper when you look at its height-to-width ratio. The 1,428-foot tower is 24 times as tall as it is wide and has only one residence on each floor. Its current listings range from $8.75 million to $66 million for the 72nd-floor penthouse.

And Central Park Tower — where Schmied says she toured the 100th floor — boasts the ranking of second-tallest skyscraper in the city after One World Trade Center and the tallest residential tower in the world. A full-floor residence in the building is currently listed for $65.5 million.

The tower is right around the corner from 220 Central Park South, where billionaire hedge-fund CEO Ken Griffin paid $238 million for a penthouse spread last year, breaking the record for the most expensive home sale in the US. 

Read the full interview with Schmied at Curbed.

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