Handicapping ’09! Where Will the Very Next Mammoth Manhattan Sale Come From?

transfersbldgs Handicapping ’09! Where Will the Very Next Mammoth Manhattan Sale Come From?

Until this week, when news broke that hedge fund manager John A. Griffin paid $32.25 million for a co-op at 1030 Fifth Avenue, New York’s 10 most expensive residential listings looked more or less doomed. The thinking went that none of the three townhouses and seven apartments, each asking (officially or quietly) over $45 million, could possibly sell during this frozen downturn.

Now that Mr. Griffin’s deal spawns hope of a thaw—though there probably won’t be any more epic sales this year on account of the holidays—what might be 2009’s first massive sale?

First, consider that the $32.25 million apartment hadn’t been on the market—Mr. Griffin, as neighbor, bought directly—which goes to show that mega-deals are basically impossible to predict. Still, it seems fair to assume that the Plaza, which has recently been called a “nightmare” (Vanity Fair) and “ruined” (the Post), won’t be doing well anytime soon. Art dealer Guy Wildenstein is asking $46.5 million for his three-unit spread on the renovated hotel’s fourth floor, including what was once Frank Lloyd Wright’s suite. In September, listing broker Carrie Chiang told The Times that the sellers were “put off by the ‘fishbowl atmosphere’ at the Plaza.”

This August, a Russian oil oligarch sued the old hotel’s developers over a penthouse that he bought well before seeing the completed space, a bad omen for the duplex penthouse at the Mark listed for $60 million (plus $35,621 in monthly maintenance fees). Renovations there are ongoing.

That karma could also carry over to the $51 million duplex penthouse at Trump Park Avenue, which has been vacant since the nicely haired mogul bought the building seven years ago. In July, Elliman’s Victoria Shtainer was reportedly given the listing in order to lure Russian buyers; the Plaza suit came in August; an October Times story asked, “Are the Russian oligarchs going bust?”

Leighton Candler, a broker for the Mark penthouse, is also listing the $46.5 million penthouse at 1020 Fifth Avenue. Its grand salon’s ceiling was imported from a 17th-century Italian palace, but the 7,000-square-foot co-op has been off and on the market for 23 months.

By comparison, the three townhouses on the top-10 list are all bargains, which means it’s safe to guess one of them will be the first of the 10 to sell. Still, the numbers are hilarious: Richard Mack, whose father controls Apollo Real Estate, is asking $59 million for a 24,463-square-foot mansion at 4-8 East 94th Street. He paid only $23 million last year; no New York mansion has ever sold for more than $53 million.

But his asking price is below two rivals’ tags. “Mine is the cheapest,” Ms. Chiang, the listing broker, told The Observer earlier this year, referring to the art collector and developer Aby Rosen’s townhouse at 22 East 71st Street (listed with Sotheby’s for $75 million) and the 103-year-old, 11-fireplace mansion at 18 East 68th Street (listed with Brown Harris Stevens for $64 million).

Each is over three times bigger than the quietly listed duplex at 15 Central Park West, asking $90 million—the most expensive option in New York. The biomedical venture capitalist who paid only $30 million for the unit this April is asking a molar-rattling $15,332 per square foot; Manhattan’s average is $1,193. (A neighboring sprawl may or may not be quietly asking $75 million.)

Robert A. M. Stern’s strong-chinned, stone-faced design has been so fervently salivated over that it seems much more likely 15 Central Park West will see the next mega-sale than neighboring Time Warner Center, where a glassy condo is asking $65 million.

But the most frothed-over listing (though broker Edward Lee Cave would shiver if he heard the very quietly marketed co-op described as an actual listing) is widowed philanthropist Courtney Sale Ross’ duplex, the largest sprawl in the adored co-op 740 Park Avenue. Mr. Cave and Ms. Ross let it be known this October that they are very unofficially asking over $60 million for the sprawl, combined from units with 14 and 18 rooms. Writer Michael Gross has sniffed that the spread is on 740 Park’s C and D line, not on A and B like billionaire neighbor Stephen Schwarzman’s place.

But is there anyone who can actually elucidate in algebraic detail how A/B versus C/D matters? Or contrast a gutted townhouse to an unrenovated condo penthouse? “Nobody, if they are honest, knows what anything is worth. People are even gun-shy to step up to a good deal,” a broker with one of these top 10 listings said this week. “Then suddenly, before anybody knows it, they will be wringing their hands for not having bought. But that is how it always is.”

mabelson@observer.com