The Russians Are Coming

The rest of the world may be griping about the UnitedStates, but foreign buyers, especially Russians, doseem to like one thing about us: Manhattan realestate. Overseas shoppers have been pouring into theluxury market in recent months, drawn by the weakdollar and the seemingly endless potential forappreciation. “There’s a renewed interest in havingpied-à-terres,” says Patricia Cliff, the CorcoranGroup’s director of European affairs. “Six months ago,there was none.” And for the jet set, a pied-à-terredoesn’t mean a studio near Grand Central Terminal; itmeans a huge condo or a townhouse. Co-ops, which tendto reject investment buyers, are usually out of thequestion.

What sorts of properties are overseas purchaserssnapping up? “Russians like old-world,” says A.Laurance Kaiser IV of Key-Ventures, who recently soldfour houses to Russians, including a 60-unit, $22million building on the Upper East Side that the buyerplans to turn into a single-family home. Jed Garfield,whose father, Leslie J. Garfield, owns a firmspecializing in townhouses, just sold the New YorkObserver’s townhouse headquarters at 64th Street andPark Avenue to a Russian investor for $12 million.“The Russians are shopping all over the place,” saysGarfield, who estimates that foreigners now make up 15percent of his clientele, up from zero six months ago.

When they don’t go for townhouses, they’ve beenpicking up the newest and glitziest properties of all:the condos in Time Warner Center. At first, 70 percentof the building’s buyers were domestic, says Susan deFrança of the Related Companies, the center’sdeveloper. “In the winter of 2003, we saw that startto change, and now we probably have 40 percent of ourbuilding owned by international buyers,” she says. Thefather of Russian aluminum heiress Anna Anisimovarecently bought her a $15 million condo there. He’salso spent $23 million to turn Diane Von Furstenberg’sdouble townhouse into condos and is funding anotherdaughter’s house hunt.

The brokers, needless to say, are delighted. Theluxury market normally goes quiet in the summer, andthe European buying spree is offering relief. So areSouth Americans, Australians, and South Africans,fleeing their Southern Hemisphere winter. They alsotend to move faster than neurotic New York shoppers. Afew months ago, Douglas Elliman broker Shaun Osherheard from a British businessman who “was only herefor one day,” says Osher. The broker swiftly sold hima $1.3 million condo downtown.

Broker Michael Shvo of Douglas Elliman attributes thequick deals to investing rather than nesting, addingthat his overseas clients are “very unemotionalbuyers.” Shvo just showed a young Russian client anUpper East Side townhouse before it officially went onthe market; he instantly made a $10 million offer.“New York, all of a sudden, looks very cheap,” hesays, laughing.

150 Thompson Street
3-bed, 3½-bath, 6,000-square-foot co-op.
Ask: $6.9 million.
Sell: $6.5 million.
Maintenance: $2,250.
Time on market: 4 months.
ImClone founder Sam Waksal once owned this apartment,a huge penthouse with a party-ready rooftop terraceand ultraluxe details like Venetian-plaster walls anda double-height kitchen with two SubZeros. The mostrecent owners sold it with no trouble, after reducingthe price from the original $7.9 million. “This building was built in 1863, and it’sone of the oldest co-ops in Soho,” explains Corcoranbroker Patricia Dugan. “The maintenance, especiallyfor such a phenomenal place, is unbelievably low.” Thebuyers snatched it up, enduring six months of closing paperwork—then put the property right back onthe market, asking $7.85 million.

Murray Hill
415 East 37th Street
2-bed, 2-bath, 1,510-square-foot condo.
Ask: $1.1 million.
Sell: $1.075 million.
Charges and taxes: $2,874.
Time on market: 2 months.
This spacious apartment in the Horizon condos, on theeastern edge of Murray Hill just off the FDR Drive,has an impressive slate foyer and kitchen, as well asaccess to the building’s well-tended pool, gym, androoftop terrace. But the space sold itself, accordingto Douglas Elliman broker Jacky Teplitzky: “The priorowners were in the real-estate business, and they dida renovation that was just astonishing.” That rehabincluded an unusual split kitchen with a hallway downthe middle, plus adding on part of an adjacentapartment to create a funky new shape with lots of privacy.–SARA CADACE

The Russians Are Coming