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Topping Out?

Developers try to push Fifth Avenue luxury past 96th Street.

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Where does the Upper East Side end? The traditional northern border has been 96th Street, but recent years have seen that edge grow fuzzy. That’s especially so on Fifth Avenue, where a park view is just as desirable above 96th as it is below—and real-estate people know it. Last year, 1280 Fifth Avenue, the Robert A. M. Stern–designed project at the corner of 109th Street, hit the market to much fanfare and promptly broke a local record with a penthouse that fetched $1,700 per square foot. Last month, 1212 Fifth Avenue, a conversion of a prewar rental at 102nd Street, began sales; four apartments are already in contract, with 500 people on a wait list, says developer Hal Fetner of Durst Fetner Residential. One unit sold for $1,400 per square foot. (Other properties nearby are on the market for at least 5 percent less.) And in the spring, another building—4 East 102nd Street—will join the game.

Is the prestige of Fifth Avenue sustainable up to 110th Street? Brown Harris Stevens’ Nancy Packes, who’s leading sales at 1280 Fifth, says that, apart from the Stern provenance, the address itself has been one of the big draws, especially among foreign buyers, for whom a world-famous street name is reassuring. “There’s only so much real estate on Fifth Avenue facing the park,” she says.

The numbers, though, suggest that upper Fifth has a ways to go before it catches up with the addresses down by the Met. According to appraiser Jonathan Miller, Fifth Avenue property above 96th shows a drop-off of up to 10 percent. There’s still a premium to the park frontage, though: An address on Fifth adds at least 5 percent to any price, all things being equal (size, views, amenities), putting the area on a par with off–Fifth Avenue real estate in Carnegie Hill below 96th. (In other words, a place at Fifth Avenue and 100th Street will cost you roughly the same as one at 92nd Street and Madison.)

The real question, however, isn’t whether upper Fifth has caught up; it’s whether it ever will. Head a couple of blocks east on, say, 108th Street, and you’ll very quickly find yourself in an area that’s markedly less affluent than the core Upper East Side. That is a potential turnoff to the multi-million-dollar Fifth Avenue buyer. Donna Olshan, a veteran broker who monitors the luxury market, says only two apartments have had contracts signed at $4 million or more between 96th Street and 125th Street so far this year, compared with 26 south of the 96th Street border. Indeed, says Miller, apartment hunters may be looking here not for prestige but for the unique inventory—large apartments in well-appointed condo buildings. (Fetner notes that a number of buyers have explicitly told him they didn’t want to deal with a co-op board.) “Fifth Avenue improved significantly, and that’s great for the city,” says Miller. “But it doesn’t mean that everything [on Fifth Avenue] is the same. There’s a reason core markets are core markets.”


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