Real Estate

Realty Bites: Homes Alone
Why live here when you can just own?

The rich are hoarding more and more of Manhattan for themselves, combining apartments, making multi-unit houses into single-user mansions, and even buying up whole floors of new buildings. Increasingly, brokers say, they aren’t even living there. Take the full-floor, $9 million-plus apartments at 838 Fifth Avenue – the love thy neighbor building – with “huge, baronial rooms, enormous staff, doorman, and elevator operators,” says one broker. “Nobody will be living there.” Instead, most of them will be 5,400-square-foot pieds-à-terre. The European who paid $38 million for the top two floors of the Trump World Tower told his broker, Dolly Lenz of Sotheby’s, he has no plans to move in. She’s been through this before: Lenz says she sold the penthouse of 1 Central Park West a year ago for $17 million to a buyer who hasn’t moved in or renovated, but won’t sell. “The truth is that there’s so much money out there that people are just trying to lock in the real-estate values,” says Richard Steinberg of Ashforth-Warburg. He recently sold an entire floor at the Empire, a new building on East 78th Street, for more than $6 million, unfinished, to a guy who just unloaded his company and lives elsewhere. The owner of the $20 million Pierre Hotel penthouse is based in Cincinnati. The buyers of a $7 million penthouse at 610 Park live in Florida, and their neighbors have “a 30,000-square-foot house in Greenwich and don’t come in that often,” says a source familiar with the building. And does anyone really think Paul Allen spends much time in the $13.5 million place he bought at 4 East 66th Street in 1996? “The more expensive the apartment,” says Joanne Greene of William B. May, “the less time they live there.”

Devalue Judgment
When the board gets tough, the buyer pays less.

After nearly three years, it looks like socialite Nancy Richardson has finally been able to find someone whose $17 million is good enough for the notoriously fussbudgety co-op board at 820 Fifth Avenue. Richardson first put her fifth-floor, 6,500-square-foot apartment on the market in 1997, looking for a new life after she split from her husband, financier Frank Richardson. Former Warner Brothers co-chairman Terry Semel and art dealer Bill Acquavella also live at 820; and Tommy Hilfiger will move in soon. Richardson almost sold the apartment to Band-Aid heiress Libbet Johnson, who wanted to combine it with the place downstairs (total price: $27 million), but the board’s renovation restrictions scared her off. Later, the building’s gatekeepers, overseen by socialite Jayne Wrightsman, warned off bids by fashion designer Valentino Garavani and casino man Steve Wynn – and “there were others as well,” says one broker. But Richardson may have at last found a winner in billionaire manufacturing conglomerateur Steven Rales (No. 174 on last year’s Forbes 400, with $1.4 billion). Rales is fresh from flipping a 7,200-square-foot apartment at 740 Park Avenue, for which he paid $13 million a year ago but never moved into. Brokers say it resold for close to its $16 million asking price and that Rales’s approximately $17.5 million offer for Richardson’s place is practically a steal. “It’s one of the grandest of the apartments that have been on the market,” says one. “It could have gone for significantly more if it wasn’t for the co-op board.”

Big Deals

Upper East Side
55 East 75th Street
Five-bedroom, five-bath townhouse. Asking: $11 million. Selling: $11 million. Time on market: six weeks.

The Michael Jordan who bought this townhouse used to run Westinghouse (now CBS) before ceding control to Mel Karmazin in 1998; now he chairs a pair of online firms. He’s moving not because of an IPO windfall but because he got married last month, to executive recruiter Hilary Cecil. Think of it as an $11 million starter home. Key Ventures’ A. Laurance Kaiser was on Jordan’s team. Sellers Oswaldo and Ella de Cisneros of the Venezuelan industrialist family (represented by Jed Garfield of Leslie J. Garfield & Company) had bought the twenty-foot-wide redbrick building in 1986 for $2.33 million and thoroughly renovated it. The Cisneroses vacillated on whether they wanted to sell, taking it on and off the market several times in the past three years before finally committing. And then Jordan came along and paid cash.

Morningside Heights
528 West 111th Street
Two-bedroom, one-bath, 1,200-square-foot prewar co-op. Asking: $495,000. Selling: $495,000. Maintenance: $756. Time on market: one day.

“First thing that has to go is the seven-foot live iguana,” Corcoran’s Pat Palermo told the seller, who’d been living here since before he got married. Not to mention the two turtles, the ten drums, the xylophone, and the various single-guy stuff that had turned the dining room into a storage locker. Out went the menagerie; in came fresh paint, new grout, and temporary window valances. All told, the seller spent about $2,200 on wildlife removal. He got his asking price the first day (from buyers represented by Corcoran’s Pam Wright) and is moving to Connecticut. The iguana and turtles have gone to a home for wayward reptiles.

Real Estate