THEY’RE FORGOING THE SUBURBS.
Single women may be a new marketing niche, but their married friends are definitely putting down urban roots, too, and these new buildings are, to a degree not seen in decades, appropriate to house them. Half of the buyers at 141 Fifth Avenue are about to start a family or have already. Couples and families make up 57 percent of 101 Warren; 58 percent at 310 East 53rd Street. At the Element on West 59th Street, exactly half the buyers have kids. Even in Williamsburg, still a playground of the hip, single, and carefree, condos are keeping the Peg Pérego posse from leaving: At North 11th and Roebling on McCarren Park, slightly more than half the buyers are couples, and 11 percent have kids; at Schaefer Landing, 40 percent are married. Reduced crime, an economy that’s less fundamentally unstable than it was 30 years ago, and a general migration toward urban living has families staying in town once the kids are born, and they need big apartments with rooms for the kids.
The new condos are explicitly built thus, with larger, almost suburban apartments. “The mix used to be much more heavily weighted to studios and one-bedrooms,” says Jonathan Miller. “One of the problems of eighties condo architecture was that kitchen size was [usually] the same for a one-bedroom, two-bedroom, or three-bedroom.” Not so the new buildings. And, adds Corcoran’s Shlomi Reuveni, project manager for the Element and for the Olcott on West 72nd Street, “the suburbs are also expensive now. Prices went up everywhere.”
THEY’RE FORGOING PARK AVENUE.
When the Plaza and 15 Central Park West, both world-class properties, opened last year, brokers expected lines of foreign investors and pied-à-terre buyers outside their sales offices. (They’re the buyers who usually go for high-priced, name-brand projects.) But although those folks did turn up, these buildings have largely been sought out by New Yorkers who, a couple of decades ago, wouldn’t have been caught dead looking anywhere except a Candela building on Fifth or Park Avenues or a townhouse just off Central Park. “A condo [used to be] a slight notch up from a rental,” explains Prudential Douglas Elliman’s Leonard Steinberg. “They had popcorn ceilings and cheap veneer parquet floors and through-wall air-conditioning.”
But as their look and feel have improved—name architects were hired, the battle of amenities began, brand-name fittings and finishes like Wolf and Miele and Waterworks became de rigueur—new buildings began to lose their ticky-tack reputation, and Social Register types have begun to come by for a second look. At 985 Park, the prospectus touts its “new interpretation of classic Park Avenue style”; the Veneto, Related’s new building near Sutton Place, evokes “50s European glamour.” Some buyers are realizing that a century-old building, even an immaculately kept one, has its drawbacks. “These condos are better,” says Shaun Osher, CEO of CORE Group Marketing, which handled the sales at Blanca, a boutique project on East 73rd Street that has attracted transplants from traditional Upper East Side co-ops. “The kitchen, the plumbing, the air-conditioning are all new.” (Though there are stories that they’re not as sturdy as the dowagers: A number have had problems with leaks, mold, and quality control.)
These off–Park Avenue buyers have been willing to pay almost anything for space that meets their demands. According to the most recent Stribling Luxury Market Report, a penthouse at 15 Central Park West is in contract for an astounding-even-in-Manhattan $4,500 per square foot. (The $40 million Duke-Semans mansion, the highest-priced townhouse ever sold, rang up at $2,000 per square foot.) The Plaza has also seen a few $45 million deals; Kirk Henckels, who wrote the Stribling report, says the ones who bought at the Plaza were mostly Americans, “and the majority of the Americans are New Yorkers.”