The Trophy Craze That Wasn’t: The Biggest Real Estate Deals of 2013

  • In time, porcelain chips, silver tarnishes, silk fades and even the bubbliest trophy market goes flat. Nothing lasts forever, least of all the giddy highs of the ultra-luxury housing market, particularly one whose effervescence involves a lot of hot air.

    Alas, the deal that kicked off 2012’s trophy craze—the $88 million sale of Sandy Weill’s 15 Central Park West penthouse—looks more and more like a one-off with each passing month. The biggest sale of 2013, a six-story “loft mansion” at 144 Duane Street, clocks in at less than half that amount—a mere $43 million—and $11 million less than the top co-op sale of 2012. The bloom is off the rose. Or rather, the shine is off the trophy. Seems there are only so many Russian billionaires to go around.

    The top townhouse sale of the year, the Ellen Biddle Shipman house at 21 Beekman Place, which sold for $34.35 million, also paled in comparison to last year’s priciest townhouse, a $42 million Gilded Age Stanford White mansion on Fifth Avenue. Meanwhile, 2013’s biggest co-op sale, a $24 million penthouse at 720 Park Avenue, was even more of a disappointment compared to the 12,000-square-foot duplex penthouse that Denise Rich sold for $54 million to David Geffen in fall 2012.

    So 2013 was the year the residential market returned to reality, a comedown after the heady excesses of 2012, but not a shocking one—the party couldn’t go on forever. And we are still far from the touch-and-go days of the recession, when sellers felt compelled by embarrassment and fear to whisper-list their palatial Park Avenue spreads. So the trophy market was a little over-hyped, but the high-end residential market is thriving, with a number of $30 and $40 and even $50 million units having gone into contract this year, many of them Downtown.

    Indeed, as the top deal of the year (barring any late December closings), the $43 million Duane Street sale marks a new milestone for the Downtown, which has long been gaining ground on the rarefied Parkside precincts. Even as the most popular Downtown condos look increasingly like the pre-war co-ops lining Fifth and Park. To wit, 18 Gramercy, Walker Tower and the Abingdon at 607 Hudson. But 15 Central Park West, Lincoln Square’s historicist triumph, still shone, with two of the biggest sales of the year.  

    While the trophy market has returned to earth, sellers have been slow to follow. The triplex penthouse at the Pierre was listed for $125 million this year. River House, in its eagerness to modernize with the times, is trying to sell the River Club as a $130 million mansion. And just last week, the townhouse at 12 East 69th Street hit the market for $115 million.

    Meanwhile, 2014 looks more promising, with $90-million-plus contracts at One57 and 432 Park poised to close, along with Roman Abramovich’s $75 million buy at 828 Fifth. But for now, the top twenty deals of 2013, as compiled by Miller Samuels.

    >>Check out the top 20 deals of 2012>>

  • 775 Park Avenue, $20.9 Million: After a long and star-spangled career at Morgan Stanley, where she rose to the number two position, Zoe Cruz was publicly ejected from the firm in 2007 and, five years later, endured a divorce from husband Ernesto Cruz, something of a bigwig himself at Credit Suisse. This April, Ms. Cruz found shelter in a $7.34 million Fifth Avenue co-op, but she and her ex-husband didn’t manage to sell their Park Avenue five-bedroom until July, finding as a buyer yet another financier—Christopher Errico, a managing director at UBS. That they succeeded in getting nearly $1 million more than their asking price likely seemed cold comfort (and by the Cruzes’ standards, a pittance), after the personal and professional trials of recent years. Lucky for Ms. Cruz, her new place—the former home of a Polish immigrant who lived to the enviable age of 96 and made millions in sewing machines, having survived the Warsaw Ghetto and a concentration camp—is an auspicious place to make a fresh start.

  • 3 East 77th Street, $21 Million: The 10th and 11th-floor duplex that Carlos Rodriguez-Pastor—a billionaire banker who ranks as Peru’s second-richest man—bought at 3 East 77th Street (also known as 960 Fifth Avenue), was his second choice. (Perhaps that’s why he paid $4 million less than the asking price.) Mr. Rodriguez-Pastor had purchased a $27.5 million penthouse just a year earlier, but sued the sellers upon discovering that the building’s co-op board intended to make his exclusive access to a terrace and roofdeck, well, somewhat less exclusive. But his new duplex co-op makes for a pretty nice consolation prize. Soaring ceilings, enormous windows and views of the park ought to sooth any lingering ire. The seller, Toys “R” Us founder Charles Lazarus certainly found it suitable. And the Candela-designed co-op understands the meaning of exclusive: it boasts a private French restaurant, though the billionaire does have to share it with other residents.

  • 733 Park Avenue, $21 Million: The former owner of the penthouse at 733 Park Avenue, Wall Street heavy Herbert A. Allen, of Allen & Company, made his fortune as a pioneer in corporate takeovers. (Mr. Allen died in 1997.) But his one-time home passed from the estate of his wife Ethel Strong Allen into the hands of the rather bland-sounding Park Avenue Family Trust Agreement without a hint of piracy. Anything less than civil, after all, would have been unsuitable to the white-glove building, where the 4,250 square-foot duplex co-op occupies space on the 30th and 31st floors. It was reported that the buyers were moving to Park Avenue from an estate in the tony North Jersey town of Short Hills. But whatever their previous landholdings, it is unlikely that they were able to adorn the co-op’s walls with the same high style as the Allens. Longtime collectors of Impressionist art, the couple owned works by Sisley, Pissarro and Monet, among others. We’re sure they thought of something, though. One does not come to preside over an estate without a certain store of resourcefulness. (Or an interior decorator.)

  • 1 Central Park West, $21.85 Million: We were a bit perplexed over the summer, when Johnson and Johnson heiress Libet Johnson let go of yet another multimillion dollar penthouse at the Trump International Hotel and Tower, a building that she once loved so much that she purchased its penthouses in multiples. What killed the romance? Was it the library with park views that set her off? The staff accommodations? Perhaps it was those floor-to-ceiling windows in the master suite. We may never know. These heiress types, for some reason, make for a fickle breed.

  • 950 Fifth Avenue, $22 Million: Mica Ertegun and Chessy Rayner are neither cartoon characters nor varieties of cheese, though their names might lead you to either conclusion. Interior designers, Ms. Rayner—who died in 1998—and Ms. Ertegun are responsible for many opulent spreads, and the four-bedroom co-op duplex at 950 Fifth Avenue that sold last fall to the mysterious JIE Trust is no exception. Park views, fireplaces, a convenient night kitchen beside an upper-level bedroom and a breakfast room overlooking the Carlyle Hotel, all seem appropriate to a building that once housed Starbucks chief exec L. Dennis Kozlowski, and whose co-op board is headed by media mogul Mort Zuckerman. At more than $5 million shy of the asking price, the folks at JIE Trust must have felt lucky to squeeze in the door. The building has just seven apartments, all of whose owners sit on the board.

  • 607 Hudson Street, $22.4 Million: With nine rooms and just over 5,600 square feet, No. 10 is not one of the Abingdon’s flashiest condos, but the buyers were even more under the radar, insisting on anonymity under the guise of Abingdon Investment LLC. Whether the purchase was truly an investment, or carried out with nesting in mind, the new owners will probably make out well. The seven-story 1906 Georgian building, recently renovated by Flank into 10 expansive homes, also contains a triplex that accounted for one of the West Village’s costliest sales, and an apartment owned by embattled hedge-fund giant Steven Cohen. Now, if they can only refrain from exchanging stock tips in the elevator with a certain neighbor, they ought to be in better than good shape.

  • 106 East 71st Street, $22.85 Million: With seven wood-burning fireplaces, this townhouse might inspire its new owners to hire an in-house lumber jack next year—if they haven’t already. In a pinch, though, there is already plenty of timber inside: white oak plank floors, a mahogany-paneled living room and more mahogany in the window trim. Known in city records only as “Hash Bass LLC,” the buyer will have the pleasure of returning each day to a 25-foot-wide limestone edifice whose presence—and interior marble staircase—is downright aristocratic. Built in 1910 for an Orange County heiress, the home served as the Kips Bay Boys and Girls Club’s spring decorator show house in 2010. No word on whether Hash Bass intends to host any charitable functions, but twin wet bars and rooftop terrace make it more than suitable for entertaining guests of all ages.

  • 720 Park Avenue, $23 Million: The co-op at 720 Park Avenue needs but one name to get your attention: Rosario Candela. Designer of many of the city’s most coveted luxury buildings—834 and 960 Fifth Avenue, 740 Park, 1 Sutton Place—Mr. Candela is considered by some the most famous and influential of pre-war New York architects. “Rosario Candela has replaced Stanford White as the real estate brokers’ name-drop of choice,” New York Times columnist Christopher Gray once wrote. With a pedigree like that, it’s a wonder the corporate vice president and asset manager Peter A. Aron couldn’t get the full asking price of $25 million for his 14-room spread out of the buyer, chief executive of Golden Tree Asset Management Steven Tannenbaum. Still, $23 million isn’t half bad, tie-ing it with the floor-through at 640 Park for number 12.

  • 640 Park Avenue, $23 Million: A floor-through with a two-room staff suite, Brazilian walnut floors and no fewer than five marble fireplaces, the eighth-floor co-op at 640 Park Avenue finished the year in a dead heat with a Candela confection just a few blocks north. The buyer, Stanley Cayre—a commercial real estate investor—and wife Frieda intended to create a grand master suite by annexing two additional bedrooms, the couple’s broker. That move would bring the unit’s total number of bedrooms to three—to give you some idea of the co-op’s size. But however large their private quarters, the Cayres have little chance of eclipsing the glamor of the apartment’s former owner, model and actress Sue Erpf Van de Bovenkamp, who appeared in La Dolce Vita. Surely, though, they are no strangers to the sweet life.

  • 607 Hudson Street, $23.4 Million: Steve Cohen’s greed doesn’t only extend to SAC Capital Advisors, which pleaded guilty to securities fraud this fall; Mr. Cohen is also something of a house hoarder. The billionaire (at least for now) paid $23.4 million for a triplex maisonette at 607 Hudson Street, the Abingdon’s second mega sale of the year. It’s said that the (former?) hedge funder plans to live in the 9,600-square foot sponsor unit while his 145 Perry Street pad undergoes renovations. Apparently, his on-the-market $115 million Beacon Court penthouse and 36,000-square-foot mansion in Greenwich were not going to cut it. At least the maisonette seems cheap compared to the $1.2 billion fine he owes to the S.E.C.

  • 40 Bond Street, $23.5 Million: The listing for the 40 Bond Street floor-through, which sold for $23.5 million in November, name drops like Kathy Griffin: designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architects Herzog & de Meuron, developed by Ian Schrager (who lives upstairs), interiors by David Mann and 20-foot-deep terrace that runs the length of the apartment landscaped by Jeff Mendoza. Nor has the seller of the Noho pad, French energy mogul William Kreigel, gone to any lengths to remain anonymous. So why did buyer Minm LLC insist on hiding his?

  • 720 Park Avenue, $24 Million: With five terraces and 90 feet fronting Park Avenue, the 10-room spread at 720 Park Avenue does not lack for light, air, or places to check for better cell phone reception. Not that bad reception should ever be a problem. The seller was former Verizon chief Lawrence T. Babbio Jr. and wife Sheri, who disconnected from the co-op for $24 million, selling to Leah and Michael Weisberg.

  • 15 Central Park West, $25 Million: Jeff Gordon’s desire for a change is entirely understandable—the stock car superstar spends his days driving around in circles (admittedly, at speeds approaching 200 miles per hour). In October, the Nascar driver and wife Ingrid Vandebosch sold their seventh-floor pied-a-terre with built-in sushi bar at 15 CPW for $25 million to their downstairs neighbors. We just hope that the neighbors—who go by Mossullo LLC in city records—are a little friendlier in the elevator.

  • 45 East 74th Street, $26 Million: Something of an ugly duckling, 45 East 74th Street was an unsightly red brick townhouse with air conditioning units puncturing its undistinguished facade when Italian developer and film producer Valerio Morabito bought it for $10 million in 2009. One massive white limestone renovation by architect Joseph Pell Lombardi later, it impressed Chinese billionaire Zhang Xin so much that she bought it for $26 million. After all, how many other townhouses feature an interior swimming pool with a waterfall illuminated by a skylight?

  • 12 East 76th Street, $27 Million: When fashion heavy Luca Orlandi and his supermodel wife Oluchi Onweagba bought 12 East 76th Street for $12.35 million back in 2008, the brick townhouse was the homeliest thing on the block. Even the Landmarks Commission deemed the five-story home a “no style structure,” allowing Mr. Orlandi to essentially to replace it with far more appealing classic limestone manse. After some whispering and just three viewings, it sold for $27 million to an LLC that goes by “Mou.” (Noticing a pattern here?)

  • 15 Central Park West, $29 Million: Though it can’t compare to last year’s $88 million sale (but then, what can?), No. 33D was 15 CPW’s biggest sale of the year, ringing in at still impressive $29 million (especially when you consider that sellers Zachary and Lori Fischer Schreiber bought the place for just $11.9 million in 2008). The Schreibers moved across the Park last year to 1030 Fifth, selling the three-bedroom near the top of the 35-story tower to Mussik Capital Corporation, who will enjoy a 16-foot bay window, venetian plaster and a striped-tiger-maple-paneled library (!).

  • 607 Hudson Street, $29.7 Million: The West Village isn’t what it used to be. The Abingdon, as 607 Hudson Street was christened by developer Flank, was once a home for working women and later, a nursing home with 200 beds. Now, it houses a much smaller population, with just 10 sprawling condos, among them the 8,400-square-foot triplex penthouse that sold for $29.78 this spring. The triplex came about when the buyers, an LLC named after the building (as is the fashion), unsatisfied with the size of the 5,200-square-foot duplex being offered, elected to combine it with the 3,200-square-foot spread below.

  • 21 Beekman Place, $34.3 Million: Prices in the East River enclave of Beekman Place have long lingered behind those on Park and Fifth. But the exceedingly lovely townhouse at 21 Beekman, the former home of pioneering landscape architect Ellen Biddle Shipman, which sold for $34.35 million in June, could help turn the tide, in much the way Shipman helped transform the neighborhood into a fashionable district in the 1920s. “There is not in all New York another piece of property like it, for it has the seclusion of Beekman Place, southern exposure, beauty of architecture combined with the extended view of the East River,” Shipman once boasted. The buyer, Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, who plans to use the home as an ambassador’s residence, must agree.

  • 18 Gramercy Park, $42 Million: The $42 million sale at 18 Gramercy Park proves that Central isn’t the only greensward whose proximity merits sales north of $40 million. Billionaire buyer Leslie Alexander, who also counts the Houston Rockets and five other residences among his trophies, scored the penthouse atop the former Salvation Army women’s rooming house that the Zeckendorfs and Robert A.M. Stern transformed into an uber-luxurious confection. Mr. Alexander’s new pied-a-terre features marble and onyx bathrooms, a heated infinity pool, 2,000-square-feet of outdoor space and best of all, a key to Gramercy Park.

  • 144 Duane Street, $43 Million: Tribeca has been edging its way to the top of the expensive neighborhood list for some time now, so it seems only fitting that the top sale of the year should go to 144 Duane, a six-story loft-mansion with a half-court basketball court in the basement that sold for $43 million last month. Speculation abounds as to whether the new owner plans to keep the entire building, a former department store and shoe warehouse that is currently configured as a triplex with two full-floor lofts and a German parfumier on the first floor, for himself. Too bad the year’s splashiest sale had such spectacularly dull principals, passing from 144 Duane Street Corporation to Duane Street LLC.

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