“I live in Brooklyn. By choice. Those ignorant of its allures are entitled to wonder why.” Thus wrote Truman Capote in A House on the Heights, which was authored, along with In Cold Blood and Breakfast at Tiffany’s, in the rented garden apartment at 70 Willow Street.
Last week, 70 Willow, a 45-foot-wide, 9,000-square-foot townhouse more Margaret Mitchell than Betty Smith, went on the market for $18 million. This wouldn’t shock Manhattan real estate; indeed, the island at any given time boasts dozens of $10 million-and-up listings.
But this isn’t in Manhattan. Seventy Willow is squarely in Brooklyn Heights.
It is the second-most-expensive listing in Brooklyn, trumped only by the Clocktower penthouse at 1 Main Street in Dumbo, which asks a feisty $25 million for its triplex with bi-bridge views.
In fact, despite the oft-cited “Manhattanization” of Brooklyn, the borough has only three residential listings over the $10 million mark, the third being the folkloric Gingerbread House, a landmark of Arts and Crafts architecture nestled in positively suburban Bay Ridge.
Manhattan, according to research site Streeteasy, has 342 residential listings over $10 million-and 54 of them are already in contract, confirming that the price was right. (There are 13 residential listings over $5 million in Brooklyn, but 498 in Manhattan, excluding those in contract.)
“You have to understand the history,” Douglas Elliman’s Michael Guerra, who runs the agency’s Brooklyn office, told The Observer. “One hundred fifty years ago, the wealthiest people in Manhattan built their summer homes in Brooklyn, but these were second homes. There are some fine, unique properties, but they aren’t of the same quality as the primary residences in Manhattan. Manhattan is the trophy destination and has the trophy properties; we just don’t have anywhere near the same amount.
“If you peel off the trophy properties,” he added, “you begin to see the mathematical relationship between Manhattan and Brooklyn pricing, and it’s about two to one. The same property in Manhattan goes for half the price in Brooklyn.”
Still. Asher Abehsera, vice president of sales and marketing at Two Trees, the developer of the Clocktower Building, said, “Brooklyn has graduated. A couple of years ago, it was all French to people-you know, ‘What? You’re moving to Brooklyn!?’”
A house in Gravesend set Brooklyn’s residential sales record when it sold for $11 million in 2006 (there are, however, rumors of off-market deals in the Syrian Orthodox Jewish enclave that exceed that, and of a $15 million Brooklyn Heights deal that has yet to close).
“Specific neighborhoods speak to different groups,” Mr. Abehsera said. “In Gravesend, they pay the big bucks for those homes to be close to their synagogue and schools.”
But what of the would-be $25 million penthouse in Dumbo? What’s setting its price?
“The more you ask for something, the more it’s worth,” Mr. Abehsera, who is marketing it, said. “People didn’t ask those kind of prices because there is no history of things trading at that amount. We’re definitely at the forefront of creating that platform for higher prices. It’s ballsy to come out in Brooklyn and say, ‘I’m going to price this at $25 million,’ but we were confident about it because there’s just nothing like it. Anywhere.”
And that is what unites these three kings of Brooklyn listings: a uniqueness and niche appeal unavailable anywhere else. These are properties that could not be found in Manhattan, which is why they can be priced like properties in Manhattan.
“It would be almost physically impossible to have anything like the Gingerbread House in Manhattan,” said Brown Harris Stevens’ Bill Radtke, who’s listing it.
At Capote’s old haunt in 70 Willow, the niche appeal may very well be provenance. In fact, a thread of comments on the blog Curbed aptly represents a pricing dilemma germane to Brooklyn. “I imagine the Capote name prompted the broker to double the asking price from real world value,” sneered a commenter tagged only as Royal77. “For $18m. one can own an UES brownstone in a far superior location with the ability to resell in the future. This will be a fun one to watch.”
But Karen Heyman of Sotheby’s, who has the listing, would disagree. “It’s unique; it’s like a country estate!”
And, besides, somebody has to be first into the pool. That’s how ripples start.
“Collectively, we are raising the platform,” Mr. Abehsera said. “If Karen’s listing sells, and I think it will, then the neighbors are going to think about putting their homes on the market for $10 million and up.”
Go, Brooklyn, go. “If things continue the way they are going, then I believe you will see more of these kinds of listings,” Mr. Radtke, the Gingerbread House broker, said. “You’re already seeing a hint of it with 1 Main Street, the Clocktower and the other apartment there that’s listed at $8.5 million. If those are successful …”