When Elaine Clayman was starting out as a real estate broker, she sold a four-bedroom luxury condominium for $1 million to a couple who had planned to spend $480,000.
"I said, 'I have another apartment I can you show you, but it's more money,'" Ms. Clayman, who is now a top broker at Brown Harris Stevens, said. "You hope they walk in and fall in love."
That's exactly what happens in "Sex and the City: The Movie," the hit film based on the HBO series. Ms. Clayman said the scene in which Mr. Big and Carrie purchase a pre-war Fifth Avenue penthouse priced far above their original budget is one of many that depicts — far more accurately than most films — the unique world of New York City real estate.
For a skilled broker, offering a pricey but beautiful penthouse is "a very realistic move," Ms. Clayman said.
Critics have panned the film, but brokers say it brought down the house, real estate-wise, despite a few less-than-believable "movie magic" moments.
"People who aren't going to see it are missing out, at least from a real estate perspective," a senior vice president at Corcoran, Sherry Matays, said.
When "Sex and the City" began airing on HBO in the late 1990s, the show, about four single friends in their mid-30s, quickly became known for its focus on New York City real estate. Carrie's struggle to buy her apartment, Miranda's tussle with her co-op board, and Samantha's move to the meatpacking district were central story lines.
"I can think of at least 10 episodes where real estate played a central role," Ms. Matays said. "That's enormous. Some of Carrie's boyfriends were in fewer episodes than that."
Brokers say the movie, like the series before it, accurately reflects the importance of real estate in New Yorkers' quality of life — or lack thereof.
"This city is passionate about real estate," Ms. Clayman, who saw the movie with her daughter, said. "It really belongs in the movie. It's such a big part of our lives."
The series' focus on housing helped fuel excitement last fall when the movie was filmed on location in Manhattan, the president and chairman of the residential brokerage firm Gumley Haft Kleier, Michele Kleier, said.
"It really was such a love letter to New York City," Ms. Kleier, who helped scout locations for the film, said. "This is the only movie I've ever been a scout for where every single person I called said, 'absolutely.'"
Homeowners often see movie shoots as an inconvenience, "but for 'Sex and the City,' people were begging me," she added.
Ultimately, none of the buildings Ms. Kleier recommended were used in the movie, she said, in part because they felt the hysteria surrounding the film was too disruptive. Constant Web log posts drew hundreds of spectators to locations such as the Hotel Giraffe, which served as the setting for Mr. Big's apartment, and 1010 Fifth Ave., where Big and Carrie go apartment hunting. "I've never seen anything like it," Ms. Kleier said.
Brokers said, true to their expectations, that the movie accurately depicts many aspects of Manhattan real estate.
"It's the movies, so everything was bigger, more exaggerated, but the essence was there," a sales associate at Corcoran, Jennifer Margnelli, said.
In particular, Carrie and Big's long search for a new home, ending with apartment no. 34, struck a chord with brokers.
"A lot of buyers go through that," Ms. Clayman's daughter and a Brown Harris Stevens sales associate, Justine Rosenberg, said. "A lot of people see between 15 and 30 apartments."
A senior associate broker at Citi Habitats, Caroline Bass, said Carrie's "Hello, I live here" house-hunting moment also rang true.
"I thought that was classic, the apartment search with Carrie and Big," Ms. Bass said. "It's an emotional thing, buying a place. You walk in and you just see yourself living there and you can't see yourself living anyplace else. That happens all the time."
Do high-ceilinged, light-filled pre-war penthouses on Central Park really come on the market? Though rare, "They are out there," Ms. Margnelli said. "There are gorgeous penthouses in the city that look like that."
Ms. Kleier cited the penthouse at the Pierre Hotel and the Plaza Private Residences as examples of similar high-end Manhattan real estate. She estimated that the apartment in the movie, a Fifth Avenue penthouse on the park with a terrace, would fetch between $40 million and $50 million.
To many Americans, the property seems impossibly luxurious, but it's a reality for some wealthy New Yorkers, she said. "I have clients who have closets that look exactly like that," Ms. Kleier said. "It's not that uncommon in these high-priced apartments. Some people might think it was unrealistic, but for a certain element of New York, it's not unrealistic at all."
Brokers also said Miranda's frantic search for a rental after her marriage runs into trouble is a frequent, and stressful, occurrence in the city.
"Someone getting out of a marriage, having to go into a rental, we see that all the time," Ms. Matays said. The sequence in which Miranda spies a moving truck in the street and runs inside to claim the empty apartment wasn't entirely realistic, though.
"By the time you're moving, it's usually already rented," Ms. Matays said. Still, the scene captures the frantic pace of New York apartment searches, even in the current economy. "The overall reality was there," she said.
The location of Miranda's new apartment — in what appears to be part of the Lower East Side, near Chinatown — is accurately portrayed in the movie as a gentrifying area, Ms. Bass said. "It's definitely one of those neighborhoods that are changing," she said.
Less realistic is the ease with which Mr. Big purchases the penthouse. Such a real-life sale would likely involve a bidding war and the months-long process of getting co-op board approval, brokers said.
"That whole process was left out," Ms. Margnelli said. "It was definitely movie magic."
But just like the clothes and shoes, fans don't need everything in the movie to be entirely true to life. "It's about fantastic fantasies," Ms. Kleier said.
To that end, brokers said the movie's least believable real estate moment comes when Carrie is able to buy back her apartment from the new owners shortly after selling it.
"There is no way that would happen," Ms. Clayman said. While she said she has seen deals fall through even after a 10% deposit is paid, it is almost always the buyer who backs out.
To get the apartment back, Carrie would have to reapply to her co-op board, Ms. Matays said, estimating that Carrie would have to pay the new buyers up to $100,000, including $25,000 for closing costs alone.
Still, Ms. Bass pointed out, anything's possible in New York. "In this city, if you have enough money to do something, you're going to be able to get it done," she said.