The Mysterious, Highly Lucrative Sale of 14 East 94th Street

It's a lovely house, but $24 million?

It’s an attractive place, but $24 million?

In the final days of 2012, high-end properties passed between wealthy Manhattanites like a cold in a classroom full of kindergarteners. Among the last properties to slip in before the tax codes changed on the first of the year was 14 East 94th Street, which traded hands for $24 million on December 20.

Coming at the end of a year that was gloriously triumphant for the trophy market, no one paid particular attention to this sale. It was one of three townhouse closings in the $20 million range that hit city records the second week in January, The Real Deal noted. The New York Times made a passing reference to the sale, burying it at the bottom of their weekly “Big Ticket” column that featured a more impressive townhouse sale.

They could be forgiven—the only remarkable thing about the townhouse at 14 East 94th Street was its price: more than $4,000 a square foot, which is among the highest prices ever paid for any townhouse in the city.

The kitchen is nice, but nothing exceptional.

The kitchen is high-end, but not the most exceptional we’ve ever seen.

Moreover, the house, which was not technically on the market when it sold, fetched $9 million more than its most recent 2011 asking price of $15 million.

How did the property—a perfectly lovely Carnegie Hill townhouse, but nothing exceptional—manage to get so much money?

One broker snorted in disbelief when we called to discuss the sale. “Twenty-four million for that twenty-footer?”  the broker cried after examining the listing and sales details. “That is very, very odd.”

In fact, all the brokers whom The Observer spoke with found the sale befuddling. The house, we were told by the brokers, many of whom had been inside at some point or another was “very simple” and “nice, but nothing special.”

In a city where townhouse width is among the most important factors in determining price, 20-feet is quite narrow. Nor had the house undergone any kind of massive or celebrity designer renovations that might explain its 5,480 square-feet commanding $4,379 each. Especially given that the very similar townhouse across the street, 13 East 94th Street, had sold for just $12.5 million the year before, or $1,947 per square foot. The only other townhouse on the block to even approach that price-per-square-foot was the 7,500-square-foot 1 East 94th Street, a 25-footer that went for $24.9 million back in 2010, or $3,318 per square foot.

“There’s something spooky going on there, something funny,” said one broker. “It’s just not a grand house.”

Another broker said that it was the kind of deal you generally see when the buyer is a developer, but the house in within the Carnegie Hill Historic District, so that couldn’t be the case this time.

When we reached Bill Pfaff, the Douglas Elliman broker who had the listing back in 2011 with Millard Dixon, he confirmed that he had brokered the sale, and said that the new owner planned to use it as a single-family home, but declined to comment further.

Another broker who was familiar with the sale proceedings said that the buyer, Bresac LLC, had so been taken with the house that he was willing to pay a premium. And Emad Zirky, the CEO of Vanderbilt Asset Management, was the lucky recipient of the buyer’s spendthrift ways. Mr. Zirky did not return a request for comment.

Appraisal guru Jonathan Miller said that while 14 East 94th Street didn’t set the townhouse record, it wasn’t far off. Only two other townhouses had managed to get more per square foot. One of them, 1108 Park Avenue, was a development site (it sold for $5,002 per square foot) and the other was 4 Riverview Terrace, an unusual house right on the East River that sold at $4,399 per square foot back in August 2008.

The sale, he agreed, was “weird.” Mr. Miller chalked the insanely high price up to the shortage of inventory, which can coincide with erratic buying behavior.

“It’s definitely an outlier,” he said. “But you’ll probably see a lot more sales this year that don’t make a lot of sense.”

kvelsey@observer.com