Traditionally, the limestone-clad blocks of prewar co-ops and townhouses bordering Central Park and lining Park Avenue have been the most expensive and sought-after shelter in town. And even with the prestige threat of TriBeCa and the West Village, nothing comes close to the prices up here. There’s been so much demand that they had to increase supply—”the prime moved,” says Douglas Elliman’s Dolly Lenz. It expanded south, where the social set moved into condos at Trump’s One Central Park West, across once-dowdy Central Park South and over to 515 Park Avenue. One condo at One Central Park West jumped in price from $7 million to $13.5 million. According to the Stribling Market Report, dollar volume for co-op sales over $4 million increased 106 percent last year. Giddy millionaires bought, and in their frenzy gutted, perfectly nice apartments and houses. “People went insane,” said one broker. Soon, co-op boards put tough restrictions on renovations.
WHAT’S NEW: Because these areas are landmarked, most of what’s new involved the reuse of an old building. “The conversion of the Mayfair Regent at 610 Park in 1998 exemplifies the beginning of the market frenzy,” says Gumley Haft Kleier president Michele Kleier. “They sold out in weeks and were flipped for huge profits.” The Union of American Hebrew Congregations sold its longtime headquarters at 838 Fifth Avenue, which were converted to condos. In the meantime, people were buying townhouses and converting them back into mansions. Investor Bruce Kovner paid $17.5 million in 1999 for the International Center of Photography on Fifth Avenue and 94th Street. He plans to live in it. The top twelve floors of the old St. Moritz on Central Park South are going condo, too. No onerous board interviews, but “now condos are asking for disclosure, too,” says Elliman’s Linda Stein.
TIPPING POINT: In 1998, a Goldman, Sachs partner paid $9.6 million for the kind of San Remo apartment that used to go for $4 million. Brokers still reminisce about Goldman’s May 1999 IPO and what the suddenly-even-richer partners did to the market: “They just ran around, throwing the money around New York without any rhyme or reason,” remembers one. But Stephen Schwarzman’s $37.5 million purchase of the 34-room John D. Rockefeller apartment at 740 Park Avenue last year “was the absolute high point of the market,” exclaims Kleier.
PROGNOSIS: “Buyers are in a holding pattern, but it’s still a seller’s market out there,” says Sharon Baum of the Corcoran Group. Her best example? A five-story Neo-Federal built in 1887 on 69th Street. The townhouse was bought in 1999 for $8 million and it’s now selling for $16 million. “It went on the market on a Friday, and by Tuesday we had an offer,” says Baum. Brokers say asking prices will be met, but that nobody wants to be stuck with a top-of-the-market price when the music stops.
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