Country houses for sale

Signposts to Luxury

We are all aware of the ?special relationship? between Britain and the United States, but the degree to which New York?s luxury residential-property market currently mirrors what is happening here in the UK is almost uncanny.

As Kirk Henckel of leading New York agents Stribling & Associates (00 1 212 454 4402; points out: ?The rally which began in New York at year-end 2005, and is still continuing, is being driven by the very top end of the market?that for properties valued at $20 million and upwards?, adding, ?ironically, this group of buyers is not influenced by the big Wall Street bonuses; they simply have tremendous wealth. Meanwhile, the rest of the market has, indeed, been bolstered by recent bonuses.?

For New York, read London, and for Wall Street, read the Square Mile. Even the names of the international high-rollers currently making waves in Manhattan are no less familiar on this side of the pond. And the ?numbers? involved are as mind-boggling as those bandied about in Kensington and Chelsea.

New York offers three main types of elite property: cooperatives, townhouses and condominiums. Cooperatives, described by Kirk Henckel as ?the last legal form of housing discrimination in the country?, are the most exclusive. These are large luxury apartments in landmark buildings, which are privately owned and run, and where potential purchasers are subjected to rigorous scrutiny of their financial and social status before they are considered eligible to buy.

In 2005, despite a chronic lack of high-value stock, four cooperatives were sold for more than $20m. They included the extraordinary Lawrence Rockefeller apartment on Fifth Avenue, which sold for a record-breaking $44m?almost $4,500 per square foot, including the terraces.

Of the other sales at more than $20m, one was on Fifth Avenue, one on Park Avenue, and the fourth the remarkable $25m sale of Rupert Murdoch?s 9,800sq ft loft apartment in downtown Prince Street. As there are relatively few cooperative loft buildings downtown, this is a record which is not likely to be broken soon. But, as Mr Henckel points out: ?It does point to the growing parity between uptown and downtown prices for super-luxury properties?.

In addition, 31 New York cooperatives were sold for more than $10m in 2005, compared with only 24 such sales in 2004.

Trophy townhouses are New York?s next most exclusive category, of which three have sold since mid-December 2005, at prices ranging from ?the low $20 millions? to the much-publicised $40m sale of the Biddle-Duke mansion near the Metropolitan Museum on Fifth Avenue. The buyer was Tamir Sapir, a Russian-born former New York cab-driver, who is now ?big in Russian oil?, and a major collector of European ivory. Another high-profile sale was that of the Versace house on East 64th Street for $30m. And Woody Allen sold his townhouse for a modest $24.5m, before buying another.

Unlike the market for trophy cooperatives and townhouses, the market for condominiums (luxury modern apartments) in New York depends heavily on the supply of new buildings which offer the highest level of service and amenities.

In recent years, the appetite has been for buildings by big-name architects, such as Frank Gehry and Robert Stern. Last year?s ?most wanted? included Richard Meier?s building overlooking the River Hudson at downtown 165, Charles Street, where two full floors and the penthouse were sold to an uptown buyer for $35.1m. Other landmarks sales were Cesar Pelli?s Beacon Court, and David Child?s Time Warner buildings, where several apartments sold for more than $10m.

But none came close to the $42.25m paid by financier David Martinez for the 76th floor, and part of the 77th floor, of the Time Warner building. He recently bought the other half of the 77th floor for about $12m, bringing his total investment in the building to 54.25m?an all-time record for Manhattan real estate if taken as a whole.

This year?s trend in condominiums is clearly the conversion of hotels into partly or fully residential buildings, of which the best examples are the Plaza, the Stanhope, the St Regis and the Intercontinental, with the Mark and the Drake rumoured to be following suit. In addition, the old Mayflower hotel has been demolished to make for the new 15, Central Park West condominium. Business is brisk at the Plaza, the Stanhope and 15, Central Park West, where a 10,700sq ft apartment has been sold for $45m.

Stribling & Associates are handling sales of the 181 magnificent apartments in the iconic Plaza building, where prices range from $3,000 per sq ft to more than $4,000 per sq ft for the prestigious Astor suite, for sale at $25m. They are also offering Yves St Laurent?s pied-à-terre on the 39th floor of the Pierre hotel on Fifth Avenue, which has the added advantage of hotel service. The apartment, designed and decorated by Jacques Grange, Peter Marino and Jed Johnson, has spectacular views over Central Park and is on the market at $8.5m. Failing that, a triplex penthouse apartment which includes the old Pierre hotel ballroom, is for sale in the same building for $70m.

Other Stribling properties with international appeal include a 66ft-wide mansion in fashionable Sutton Square, overlooking the Queensboro bridge, at $42m; another mansion at 9, East 67th Street, at $29m; and, for the trendy young professional with a big end-of-year bonus to spend, a trendy downtown loft apartment at 30, Crosby Street?on the market for a cool $13.7m.

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