Ever since the masters of the Universe learned in November that their bonuses were returning, Dolly Lenz, a powerhouse broker and managing director at Douglas Elliman, has been showing properties nonstop. “When they found out they had two or three million extra to play with, they came out with a vengeance,” she says. As we speak, she fishes out her BlackBerry to check the messages, and the screen says it all: OVERLOAD.
Call it divine retribution, whereby the rich and powerful face a version of the same problem plaguing buyers who can only afford dinky studios in Murray Hill or Washington Heights: There’s nothing to buy. “I have three clients who would pay anything if they could find exactly what they want—which is a Fifth Avenue apartment with a view of Central Park that clears the trees, is at least 3,000 square feet, and has outdoor space—and there’s nothing,” says Sharon Baum, director of the exclusive-properties division at Corcoran. “In one deal, I had seven bidders, and in another deal three,” adds Kathryn Korte, executive vice-president at Sotheby’s Manhattan Brokerage.
Take broker Reba Miller’s client, who wanted at least 4,000 square feet, a library, and a grand space that hadn’t been chopped up. Miller showed him an apartment at 93rd and Park in Carnegie Hill for $8.5 million. He did the math and realized the apartment would cost him more than $2,000 per square foot, and although he had plenty of cash, “it was such sticker shock for him that he couldn’t pull the trigger,” Miller says. Somebody else did. “Now he can’t find what he’s looking for.”
So does money buy everything? Close, but not quite. “The people in the six-rooms are trading up to the eights, the eights to the tens, the tens to the twelves,” says Baum. As ever, $8 million buys 4,000 prime square feet, most of them in the classic prewar co-ops lining Central Park and Park Avenue. “There are so few large apartments in New York that have a footprint larger than that,” says Baum. “They’re buying style,” agrees Elaine Flug of Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy, who has a listing in the Beresford, one of the city’s best. “It’s a graciousness you can’t find anymore.”
But even buyers with deep pockets don’t get everything they want. “Reasonably so, people have high expectations. They shouldn’t have to make compromises,” says Alexa Lambert, one of Stribling’s elite brokers. “But these days they may have to.” They may have to live sans vista, for one. “A top apartment with views of Central Park on a high floor would go in the high teens,” says Hall Willkie, president of Brown Harris Stevens. “Your real showplaces that are in any sort of good condition are priced between $13 million up to more than $20 million,” says Stribling’s Kirk Henckels.
One thing $8 million won’t get you is a townhouse between Fifth and Park. “Triple-mint ones are going for double digits now,” says Corcoran’s Carrie Chiang, adding, “I have a townhouse that needs three years’ worth of renovations, and the buyer still paid over nine.” Houses sell for under $10 million on the West Side off the park, says Chiang, “but the streets aren’t as nice.”
Multimillionaires who want to avoid the hassle of the co-op process, or want a sexy new space with Miele appliances and acres of Brazilian granite, are going for high-profile buildings like One Central Park (a.k.a. Time Warner Center), One Beacon Court, and the Hubert and Sky Lofts in Tribeca. High-end buyers there get floor-to-ceiling windows, bird’s-eye views, and “the chance to live in design excellence,” says Louise Sunshine, CEO of the Sunshine Group, which markets luxury condos, including Time Warner’s. Residents are heaped with valet and butler service, as well as such fillips as refrigerated lobby storage for food and flower deliveries (at the Hubert), and in-the-building spa treatments and infinity pools (at Time Warner). They also secure bragging rights and a trophy. “It’s like buying a Ferrari for a million dollars,” says Michael Shvo, executive vice-president at Douglas Elliman.
Downtown, that kind of money buys what in this peculiar world might be called a “bargain.” Says Diane Levine, manager of the downtown office of Sotheby’s International Realty, “they’ll get lofts with eleven-to-fourteen-foot ceilings, penthouse duplexes with terraces and setbacks, especially in Tribeca, or a single-family, four- or five-story townhouse with its own backyard in Greenwich Village.”
Upper East Side
10 Gracie Square. Five-bedroom co-op. Approx. $8 million.
Flora Whitney Miller, daughter of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, lived in this fourteen-room apartment. The building’s “history is amazing,” says Corcoran’s Sharon Baum, who sold it with Alexa Lambert. “You can still see where boats used to come up to the building.”
Upper West Side
Central Park West at 85th Street. Five-bedroom townhouse. $7.5 million.
A French bidder kept this house off the market for months, citing Swiss-bank snafus when he failed to deliver his euros. Turned out it was a con, says Carleen Spencer of Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy, who shared the listing with partner Rosie Ehrenkranz Cohen. When they got wise, the Frenchman vanished; in November, it finally found a real buyer.
Upper West Side
Central Park West in the mid-seventies. Five-bedroom co-op. approx. $10 million.
This fourteen-room apartment sits atop a legendary building and has unbroken views, says Alexa Lambert of Stribling & Associates. “You can see Manhattan in all four directions from huge arched windows.”