New Townhouse Standard: $20M

022006 toc fp New Townhouse Standard: $20MEven in the Upper East Side real-estate market, where already-astronomical prices continue to climb each year, there are standouts.

And this coming year, one new group of them is being closely watched over closed-circuit TV in Manhattan’s real-estate star-chamber: the 15 Upper East Side townhouses presently on the market for more than $20 million.

Sellers like Chinese mogulette Yue-Sai Kan, soda-pop heir Matthew Bronfman, dirty photog Bob Guccione and banker-socialite movie producers Jacqui Safra and Jean Doumanian are in on the act, as is Upper East Side newcomer and house-hondler Janna Bullock.

They’re hoping to get some serious capital out of huge houses made by people with names like Cass Gilbert, Stanford White, John H. Duncan and Trowbridge, Colt & Livingston.

Already buying in is Carnegie Hill refugee Woody Allen. Who’s next?

It’s not just a question for the inveterate Peeping Toms of Manhattan real estate. According to a recent study, the $20 million townhouse contributes significantly to the apparent health of the Manhattan real-estate market. And in real estate, as in so many other New York pursuits, appearance has a way of becoming reality.

Last year, there were 261 sales of one- to three-family homes in Manhattan, and just six of those fell within the $20-million-or-more category (with prices ranging from $20 million to $40 million).

However, while only accounting for 2.3 percent of the entire townhouse market, these six deals had quite an effect, according to the “2005 Manhattan Townhouse Sales Report” compiled by luxury broker George van der Ploeg of Prudential Douglas Elliman.

“The high end had incredible growth over $20 million,” said Mr. van der Ploeg. “A couple sales over $20 million can skew the numbers—even more so in the townhouse market, because it is a small pool.”

In Mr. van der Ploeg’s report, the high number of sales of ultra-expensive mansions led to a hefty percentage increase from the previous year: Only two townhouses were sold for above $20 million in 2004. Not surprisingly, the average townhouse sales price rose 20.5 percent in 2005—jumping from $4,254,738 to $5,124,985.

Of the six $20 million–plus sales, the price per square foot ranged from $1,173 to $2,548, which is pretty drastic. However, according to Mr. van der Ploeg, the difference shows that buyers will pay a premium for renovated properties. The least expensive buildings needed ample work; the remaining four were sold at over $2,000 per square foot and called for significantly less in terms of renovations.

As a result, Mr. van der Ploeg expects “to see developers and investors paying $1,200 a foot or more” this year, thereby continuing last year’s trend of buying dilapidated Upper East Side townhouses and configuring them back into grand, single-family homes.

And what will 2006 bring?

Currently, there are two townhouses under contract, at 9 East 69th Street ($25 million) and 28 East 78th Street ($34 million). In addition, The Observer has reported that Woody Allen is buying a $25.9 million townhouse at 118 East 70th Street, but since the listing isn’t currently in the real-estate broker’s database as a signed contract, Mr. van der Ploeg includes it as one of the 15 active listings currently on the market.

And just recently, the former home of philanthropist Paul Mellon—which had been listed for $24.5 million—went temporarily off the market, keeping it off this list.

So, herewith, a tour of Manhattan’s 15 most expensive townhouses for sale, beginning with the well-heeled block that currently has four active listings: East 67th Street, between Fifth and Madison avenues.

7 East 67th Street

Price: $34 million

In 1994, Seagram’s heir Matthew Bronfman paid just $3 million for this five-story mansion, but subsequently dropped $19 million to gut-renovate the place. This impressive townhouse, with paired Ionic columns, first landed on the market for $27 million in 2002. Later, the asking price decreased and then was raised again; it’s currently listed with Sami Hassoumi, of Brown Harris Stevens. Built in 1890, the 25-foot-wide limestone mansion includes a sweeping staircase, four-story glass atrium, several wood-burning fireplaces, herringbone-patterned wood floors and floor-to-ceiling French windows. In the basement, there’s a gym, sauna and bath.

9 East 67th Street

Price: $29 million

Last fall, loads of curious Upper East Siders plunked down 25 bucks to smudge their plebeian fingerprints all over this 12,400-square-foot limestone mansion when it opened its doors as an interior-design showhouse benefiting the American Hospital of Paris Foundation. The seller, Janna Bullock, makes a practice of buying townhouses, getting a showhouse in and then flipping them—which is what she’s done with this place, listing it with Shel Joblin and C.B. Whyte at Stribling and Associates. She bought it for just $10 million last April, when it was still configured as 13 apartments. In the six months that followed, extensive renovations continued—with as many as 200 workers onsite at one time. Now a single-family home, it has seven bedrooms, five full baths, two half-baths and maintains its original architectural details. Recently, Ms. Bullock purchased a townhouse shell on East 82nd Street for $12.2 million: Could another showhouse be coming?

10 East 67th Street

Price: $32 million

Originally built in 1881, this mansion was modified eight years later by acclaimed architect Cass Gilbert for his client, financier Jules S. Bache. The five-story, 13,000-square-foot townhouse includes a landscaped roof garden. Unfortunately, this building was the site of a terrible fire in 1997: The owner, as well as art collector and socialite Kitty Meyer, died while saving a guest’s life. That sad history aside, in the past few years, the townhouse has been completely restored.

14-16 East 67th Street

Price: $99,999,999

Of course, the asking price screams for attention. Although this is a private sale, brokers are mandated to assign a listing price, and this 48-foot-wide mansion was given the highest possible number that fits in the system of shared listings used by Manhattan brokers. (Also, it dwarfs the other listings on the Corcoran Web site for real-estate porn surfers who set their searches “Price: High to Low.”) But like the man who previously occupied this palatial home, Penthouse founder Bob Guccione, this is not a conventional sale. Luxury brokers Leighton Cand-ler and Lisa Simonsen, of the Corcoran Group—alongside agents from premier London firm Knight Frank—will begin giving tours to prescreened buyers next month. In April, once all the bids are received, the sealed envelopes will be opened. The 17,000-square-foot, double-wide mansion was cobbled together from two adjacent townhouses way back in 1920 for powerful banker and philanthropist Jeremiah Milbank. Mr. Guccione—who was forced by bankruptcy to sell the six-story townhouse to an investment fund in 2003—certainly added his own touch, including the Carrera marble entrance, columned balcony and antique Italian chandeliers hanging over the 40-foot Roman swimming pool. And that’s on the first floor alone!

8 East 62nd Street

Price: $31 million

Sure, architect Emilio Ambasz has an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art featuring one of his more experimental structures, but his Beaux-Arts mansion is also getting plenty of attention. In the late 19th century, architect John H. Duncan—fresh off his successful design of Grant’s Tomb—became sought after by Manhattan’s prominent families; he was commissioned to design this townhouse in 1902. At 14,700 square feet, this unique building includes a curved limestone and wrought-iron staircase, original mantelpieces and wood-burning fireplaces. Mr. Ambasz purchased the building in 1992 and first tried to sell it eight years later. Since 2000—when it was listed at $22 million—Mr. Ambasz has moved the townhouse on and off the market several times, but now he’s signed exclusively with broker Paula Del Nunzio of Brown Harris Stevens. Considering that the $20 million threshold has been shattered many times over, perhaps the mansion will move off the market more quickly this time around.

8-10-12 Sutton Square

Price: $42 million

Cosmetics mogul Yue-Sai Kan isn’t only China’s most famous woman; she also has one of Manhattan’s most expensive residential properties on the market. Ms. Kan already owned a massive townhouse at 6 Sutton Square when she dropped $16.2 million on the 23-room townhouse next-door last summer. Shortly thereafter, she put both properties on the market together as a possible 66-foot-wide mansion, listed with Barbara Evans-Butler of Stribling and Associates. (You can buy each separately, but wouldn’t it be more fun to own the whole thing?) Overlooking the East River, the combined 20,000-square-foot mansion includes three elevators, 12 wood- burning fireplaces and up to 40 rooms. In addition, the private community garden is an added bonus: It’s shared with well-heeled neighbors like United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and architect I.M. Pei.

4 East 75th Street

Price: $55 million

Last October, rumors began flying among high-end brokers that investor Jacqui Safra and his longtime girlfriend, producer Jean Doumanian, were quietly offering their sprawling mansion, commonly referred to as the Harkness House. A day after The Observer reported that the couple was preparing to put it on the market, the building was listed with Ann Cutbill Lenane, of Prudential Douglas Elliman. Later, it was temporarily taken off the market before coming on again in January. Built in 1896, the Neo–French Renaissance townhouse was designed by the firm of Trowbridge, Colt and Livingston. Famous residents have included real-estate tycoon Nathaniel L. McCready, I.B.M. founder Thomas Watson Jr. and Rebekah Harkness, the Standard Oil heiress who transformed the building into the Harkness House for Ballet Arts. When it was first listed, several Upper East Side brokers told The Observer that drastic renovations were needed to bring it up to date. But Mr. Safra and Ms. Doumanian might have more luck selling it now: The mansion was chosen as the Kips Bay Designer Showhouse for 2006. (Alert Janna Bullock!)

35-37 East 63rd Street

Price: $31.5 million

Like Bob Guccione’s former palace, this 41-foot-wide Georgian mansion includes two 100-plus-year-old townhouses combined. The exterior features a brick façade with a limestone-and-granite portico (complete with imposing Greek-ish columns). Inside, ceilings reach as high as 25 feet. In addition, the double-wide mansion—currently listed with Allison Koffman, of Sotheby’s International Realty—includes 16 wood-burning fireplaces, 10 balconies, a terrace and a roof deck.

601-603 Park Avenue

Price: $30 million

Although it doesn’t have the highest asking price, this red-brick mansion at 601-603 Park Avenue carries another distinction: the longest time on the market! Almost since the day that developer Sherman Cohen purchased it in 1989 for $12.5 million—a shockingly high price at the time—the five-story building has been on and off the market. (In the past, it has been listed for as much as $35 million.) The rare Park Avenue townhouse (the avenue is mostly lined with large, famous co-op buildings) was built in 1920 for sugar tycoon Thomas Howell, and the 25-room residence stretches wide along the avenue, with over 100 feet of frontage.

36 East 75th Street

Price: $24.75 million

Originally built in 1893, this 25-foot townhouse was acquired roughly two decades later by R. Horace Gallatin, whose great-grandfather was a former Secretary of the Treasury. The 12,000-square-foot, newly renovated mansion includes a family room, living room, formal dining room and paneled library. There are also six bedrooms, eight baths, three powder rooms and three staff rooms. Several years ago, the mansion belonged to Habsburg Feldman, a Geneva-based auction house, before returning to residential use in the early 1990’s.

41 East 70th Street

Price: $25 million

Architect Aymar Embury II was no stranger to iconic Manhattan structures: He designed the Triborough Bridge, the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge and several buildings in the Central Park Zoo. But he also wasn’t averse to residential buildings, and in 1929, he designed this Neo-Georgian mansion for Mr. and Mrs. Walter N. Rothschild. The 28-footwide, 11,000- square-foot mansion includes high ceilings and original details. There is also a curved staircase that stretches up six levels. In 2004, Woody Allen was reportedly under contract to purchase this building, but the deal eventually fell through.

19 East 82nd Street

Price: $27.9 million

Just steps from the Metropolitan Museum is this 25-foot townhouse, measuring approximately 12,000 square feet. Some notable details include high ceilings, a majestic, curved, classic grand staircase, a grand gallery, three entertaining spaces and a wood-paneled library. There is also a master suite that comprises the entire fifth floor.

47 East 68th Street

Price: $26.8 million

Similar to its East 67th Street neighbor, this limestone mansion was also a designer showhouse for the American Hospital of Paris—in 2001. Built in 1906, the Beaux-Arts mansion includes seven bedrooms and 10 baths.

163 East 64th Street

Price: $27 million

This four-story, red-brick townhouse is owned by corporate real-estate mogul Kenneth Laub. Built in 1872, the 20-foot-wide residence includes carved wood moldings, 8 marble fireplaces, and several chandeliers. Currently, no broker has the exclusive listing for this townhouse.

118 East 70th Street

Price: $25.9 million

As The Observer recently reported, Woody Allen is buying this 20-foot, Georgian-style townhouse, according to a source with knowledge of the deal. Architectural firm Trowbridge & Livingston built the five-story townhouse in 1901; for over four decades, the late Dr. Ernest Kulka, a renowned gynecologist, owned it. One of the most remarkable features is the lush garden. The residence measures 6,400 square feet, according to city records. If sold at the asking price, the deal could shatter the previous price-per-square-foot record for a townhouse at a whopping $4,047 a foot.