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Real Estate

Luxury Apartments

Park and Fifth may be attracting a new generation of buyers, but downtown neighborhoods like TriBeCa and Chelsea still offer a wider range of posh choices.


Screen dream: Brenda and Gene DeRose paid $3.25 million for this 3,000-square-foot, four-bedroom penthouse atop the Fischer Mills building in West TriBeCa in July.
Miramax co-chairman Bob Weinstein first put his 3,000-square-foot condo on the thirty-ninth floor of the Bristol Plaza for sale at the end of 1999, asking $4.24 million. Last month, after more than two years on the market, the three-bedroom with floor-to-ceiling windows and a library finally went to contract for $4.2 million. That same week, another unit in the building, which had been on the market for months, sold for $3.85 million. After languishing for over a year, the luxury market is beginning to show signs of life.

Much less sensitive to lower interest rates (most pay cash, don't you know), the city's wealthy were the last to jump back into the market. Since January, though, the market has rebounded and brokers are now complaining about the lack of inventory. While not up to the "pay anything" levels of the market's peak, prices are solid and may even be rising. The universe of ultra-luxe apartments is tiny, so once a few places sell -- like the four prewar co-ops on the Upper East Side ranging from $5 million to $7 million that sold in the first two weeks of February -- not a lot comes in to pick up the slack. There's even been a return of bidding wars. Alexa Lambert of Stribling reports that she had a back-and-forth battle between two couples for a $7.3 million co-op on the Upper East Side last month that cost the winner more than half a million.

The price is right: There is still more room for negotiation downtown than uptown. Brenda and Gene DeRose moved into their $3.25 million, four-bedroom penthouse atop the Fischer Mills conversion in West TriBeCa last July. Wanting a bigger place for their second child, they've customized the 3,000-square-foot interior to be more kid-friendly -- including converting a breakfast bar to a kitchen playroom and putting a sandbox on the 1,000-square-foot terrace. Their agent, Stribling's Sean Murphy Turner, says it would go today for about $3.8 million.

Over the ask: Like Burberry, the Upper East Side has regained its standard-bearer status. After flirting with downtown or even the West Side, a whole new generation has learned to appreciate the long-held value Park and Fifth Avenues offer. "Especially if they have school-age children or younger," says Robert Bland, a director at Brown Harris Stevens. Last November, practically nobody was interested in looking at an $8.5 million, 3,200-square-foot condo at prestigious 515 Park Avenue, despite the ten-foot ceilings, four bedrooms, and four baths. By the end of February, things had definitely changed, and potential buyers were trooping through the top-of-the-line kitchen with custom cherry cabinets.

Medium Rare: What's hot now among the hunt-country set? Anything mint. Blue-chip real estate is a good place to park a small fortune when the outlook for bond and equity investing remains hazy. Consequently, prices for the very best condos never really bottomed out, even as volume fell last year. "These condos are almost like a commodity, like a pink diamond. If you have a rare, exceptional pink diamond, it doesn't matter what the market does. There will always be someone who wants it," says Stribling's Robin Rothman.

Coming Attractions: "The condo market at this end is always about the latest building, like driving a car off the showroom floor," Kirk Henckels of Stribling says. And this year, the buzz is about AOL Time Warner's towers at Columbus Circle, scheduled to be ready for occupancy in fall 2003. Almost 200 units have been available since late August, with more than 60 sold. The biggest property to download so far: an 8,400-square-foot penthouse with a private security station and "airplane views," which sold for more than $30 million. Downtown, developers are still planning on very expensive penthouses for new loft conversions, including the Sugar Warehouse at 79 Laight Street and Tower 270 near City Hall, which is offering two penthouses for $8.5 million and $10.5 million. But with financing harder to come by for developers, there will be fewer of these high-end downtown properties coming online in 2002 and 2003 than in years past. — CARL VOGEL


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