“For The Ultra Wealthy, Luxe New York Condos Are A Place To Park Cash”

For those of you that think downtown Toronto condos are expensive, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

The Globe & Mail featured an article yesterday about a NYC condo development that is changing the real estate landscape…

“For The Ultra Wealthy, Luxe New York Condos Are A Place To Park Cash”
By: Joanna Slater
The Globe & Mail
February 25th, 2013

Earlier this month, a buyer plunked down $32.5-million (U.S.) for a luxury condominium overlooking Manhattan’s Central Park.

Nobody batted an eye. To earn headlines in New York these days, a transaction has to be bigger than that – much bigger.

The broader U.S. housing sector may be entering a slow and unsteady recovery, but in a tiny sliver of the market something very different is happening.

Manhattan is in the throes of a boom in ultra high-end condos that has drawn wealthy people from around the globe and shattered previous sales records.

The four most expensive home sales in New York’s history have all taken place in the last 14 months – one for $70-million, one for $88-million and two others for more than $90-million.

At the forefront of the trend is a brand-new glass skyscraper called One57, now the tallest residential building in the city. Buyers have signed up to pay tens of millions of dollars each for apartments there – many without setting foot in the building, which is still unfinished.

The appetite to buy is not simply driven by the opportunity to own an apartment outfitted with opulent materials and offering one-of-a-kind views. Many of these purchasers are looking for a safe place to park their cash in an uncertain world.

“I’ve never seen a larger group of uber-wealthy people chasing real estate” in Manhattan, said Pamela Liebman, president of The Corcoran Group, a property firm. “The demand is unprecedented.”

In 2012, the number of homes in Manhattan that sold for more than $15-million doubled, according to figures from The Corcoran Group.

Through a combination of luck and audacity, Extell Development Co., the developer behind One57, was the first to tap into a well of demand that few believed existed so soon after the global financial crisis. But now others are racing to catch up; several other new super-luxury condos are under construction, including one at 432 Park Avenue that will eclipse One57 in height.

Unlike in the past, the purchasers aren’t concentrated in one region of the world. At One57, the buyers come from China, Russia, South America, Africa and the Middle East. There’s even at least one Canadian: Lawrence Stroll of Montreal, who made his fortune through fashion brands. His estimated net worth is $1.8-billion.

Many ultra-wealthy buyers are interested in preserving their capital outside the country where they earned it, said Edward Mermelstein, a real estate lawyer in New York who represents clients from Russia and former parts of the Soviet Union. These buyers have plenty of cash and “the U.S. is a great location to minimize risk.”

Condos, which are in short supply in New York, are in high demand among this crowd. Buyers can preserve anonymity and skip the trouble of getting screened by a nosy co-op board.

One57, which cost an estimated $1.3-billion to build, hits the sweet spots: It is a condo comprised of 92 trophy apartments and also a five-star Park Hyatt hotel. No pesky one-bedrooms share the space. “It’s a very exclusive club,” said Ms. Liebman, who acts as a consultant to the building. “The only way in is writing a big cheque.”

Last year, two buyers agreed to pay more than $90-million each for the two huge duplex apartments in One57. One is at the top of the building, and the other – featuring a giant glassed-in terrace – on the 75th and 76th floors.

It took a decade just to assemble the plots of land that make up the site where the building now sits, said Jeff Dvorett, Extell’s vice-president of development. The project required a good amount of “very politely put, patience,” he said. The building is also backed by Aabar Investments, a fund in Abu Dhabi.

More than 60 per cent of the apartments in the building are already sold. The cheapest one still available is listed at $17-million. Some owners will be able to move in later this year, Mr. Dvorett said.

Last fall, a major mishap occurred when Hurricane Sandy snapped the building’s construction crane, leaving it dangling high above the busy streets below. The crane was later secured.

Extell declined requests to go up in the building, but a recent visit to the sales gallery revealed a sense of the pitch to potential buyers.

Visitors are ushered into a room with a huge, curved, floor-to-ceiling screen. A video – shot from a small drone with a camera – shows the stunning view from the building’s upper floors: Straight up the length of Central Park and high above it.

The precise nature of the view, at least from some of the lower apartments, was the source of a minor controversy. One would-be buyer enlisted a construction worker to take an iPad up to the 47th floor, where he was considering a purchase. The resulting video, he said, showed the view was partially obscured by a sign on a neighbouring building (the transaction didn’t go ahead).

Residents will have their own dedicated concierge services (“in case you need tickets to Barbara Streisand or a helicopter,” the amiable sales agent offers). There are bathrooms where the walls are slabs of green onyx and the tubs are solid marble, all of the stone hand-selected by Extell’s director of design.

For some purchasers, the building already appears to be a good investment. Elizabeth Sample, a broker at Sotheby’s International Realty who has sold two apartments in One57, said that one of her clients bought a half-floor condo there about nine months ago.

“He is a very, very wealthy guy, who just wanted a place to park the money,” she said. Since the contract was signed, she said, the price on similar apartments went up by almost $4-million.

With prices for super-luxury buildings increasing, brokers are already talking about potential froth in the market. So when does the dance stop? “That’s the hundred-million dollar question,” said Ms. Liebman . With a pool of buyers from the U.S. and abroad across a range of industries, she doesn’t see demand slackening any time soon. “This market is bigger than any one segment.”

 


 

I know what you’re all going to say, “Toronto is NOT New York City.”

But if condos in prime Manhattan that overlook Central Park are selling for upwards of $10,000 per square foot, then whats the big deal about the average price in downtown Toronto hovering around $600? 🙂

Okay, we’re talking about a completely different animal here.

But to be honest: can you think of another place on the planet where you could spend $30 Million on a 3,000 square foot condo?

Dubai?  No way.  That’s the middle of nowhere, with tons of available land, where the real estate market crashed.

Los Angeles?  I don’t think so.  It’s not classy like NYC

Paris?  London?  Istanbul?  Sydney?

Is it possible that New York City is the most famous and infamous city in the world?

Is it any wonder why 60% of units in this building are sold, even at these insane prices?

I don’t think so.

The article draws attention to the fact that many of the world’s richest players are looking for a safe place to park their money.  A cynic would argue that purchasing a $30 Million condo isn’t the safest option, but I’m seeing the same thinking here in Toronto.

Many international investors have purchased Toronto real estate over the past decade because they fear American real estate (save for NYC, of course), they don’t trust the stock market, and in many countries throughout the world – there are no property rights.  Wealthy people in communist countries don’t to “invest” in a political climate that doesn’t protect them.

What good is the money in your mattress?  What “fun” is that?

People often ask, “Who would buy in that building?”  Or “Where are all these buyers coming from?”

Well consider the ‘plight’ of the multi-millionaire in China, Russia, or Iran, who doesn’t want to purchase real estate in his or her homeland for fear of losing the property down the line as the political climate leans more and more to the left.

These people consider themselves lucky to own something, even if it sits vacant for months on end.

So who are buying these $30 – $60 Million condos in Manhattan?  Those that can afford them, first and foremost.  But also those that seek exclusivity in the extreme, which is exactly what the developers at One57 are selling.

9 Comments

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  1. ivan says:

    shang hai, hong kong, toyko, bei jing all those cities you can find 30 Million dollar over in value for condos that around 3000-5000 total sqft.

  2. Eric says:

    Im in Hong Kong right now and hearing stories about units going for over 10k per square foot. Its not just in NYC! Low income tax, low supply and incoming money from the mainland are all inflating HK prices.

    When I mentioned to a local that Toronto prices might be inflated he kinda laughed.

  3. Harry says:

    In this country we are one election away from a French socialist as PM. Obama and the democrats for all their faults are still miles to the right of the NDP and a substantial part of the Liberal Party. It’s not hard to imagine a prime minister Mulcair or Trudeau imposing a 75% top income tax rate like French President Hollande. Don’t look for the world class rich to migrate here.

    1. ScottyP says:

      Actually, a Hollande-like 75% top income tax rate is incredibly hard to imagine in Canada, Harry.

      This just in: NDP or no NDP, we’re not France.

    2. Ralph Cramdown says:

      You know that the top rate in the United States was 70% as recently as 1981, right?

      1. ScottyP says:

        From the Congressional Research Service:

        “In the 1970s, the top marginal tax rate on earned income was capped at 50%; only unearned income (e.g., interest and dividends) faced the 70% top marginal tax rate.”

        Karl Marx’s great-grandson could become our next PM, neither Canada nor the U.S. will ever tax earned income at 75%.

        1. Ralph Cramdown says:

          I don’t think it too likely, either. But I’ve already seen a lot of things that I would have considered highly improbable just a few years beforehand, like the Tories being reduced to a two seat rump in the House of Commons, separatists as the official opposition, the NDP as the official opposition, federally guaranteed 0 down 40 year mortgages, a black president of the United States, General Motors declaring bankruptcy…

          I find it amazing how much I can legally shelter from tax, and how much less my household pays than many typical salaried high earning, high spending households.

          1. ScottyP says:

            Fair enough, I suppose anything is technically possible.

            Looking back, I should’ve addressed a different point in the first place: In his post, David is talking about rich people parking their cash, not about the rich wanting to “migrate” here as the OP stated.

            From what I determined through some rudimentary research, New York’s property taxes are about 25% more pricey on average than those of Toronto. Of course, there’s only one New York… but taxes are not much of a reason for the rich to avoid parking their cash here.

            Though wealthy overseas investors are only one segment instigating this insane condo boom, the multitude of cranes within view of my window are testament to the fact that Toronto real estate is also a place where the rich like to park their cash.

            Your point about tax shelters is also well-taken, BTW.

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