The Voodoo Economics of 15 Central Park West: Why the $100 M. Listings Are All in Your Head

Even though the most expensive single residential deal ever documented in New York City is still a $53 million townhouse

Even though the most expensive single residential deal ever documented in New York City is still a $53 million townhouse sale (though that’s unofficially been beaten by combined-unit spreads at the Plaza), and even though Manhattan real estate is slouching toward dreariness, the biggest real estate story of the summer has been potential $100 million sales at 15 Central Park West, where buyers who closed on their new condos just this year are putting the places back on the market at massive markups.

But most brokers, even the ones who are listing the biggest units in the just-finished mega-condo, say nine-digit apartments are a fantasy.

On the last Sunday in May, The New York Times ran the first of two real estate stories on an 18th-floor duplex in the new limestone condo, which a physician turned biotechnology venture capitalist named Lindsay Rosenwald bought this April for $30 million. The piece, naming Dr. Rosenwald himself as the source, reported he had received “five or six calls from brokers, offering as much as $100 million.” According to the investor, he turned down the offers. But he also gave this quotation: “The only thing in my life that is not for sale is my wife and my kids.”

Within a week, the apartment had quietly gone on the market, via a memo to brokers asking $90 million. That’s exactly 12 times what Dr. Rosenwald actually put down for the apartment: According to city records, he took out a $22.5 million mortgage for his $30 million purchase, probably one of the most expensive residential mortgages ever filed in New York City.

Things got more absurd from there. In June, the broker Richard Wallgren, who represented the building’s developers in the original sales, listed a 40th-floor penthouse for $80 million, nearly four times the $21.9 million his client paid in April.

Days later, at a Portfolio magazine-sponsored breakfast at the Four Seasons, the exceedingly powerful broker Dolly Lenz told a crowd (which included an Observer reporter) that not two but three apartments in the building were “asking somewhere between $80 and $125 million,” and another was “quietly on the market at $150 million.”

It was enough to make a realty-obsessed city squeal: No New York home has ever been listed, let alone sold, above $100 million. But in an interview late last week, Ms. Lenz told The Observer that she had meant to say there were two apartments asking over $80 million—Dr. Rosenwald’s duplex and the penthouse—plus a spread higher than that penthouse that she said was very quietly being offered for $150 million.

According to Ms. Lenz, as she was taking a prominent American billionaire to see Mr. Wallgren’s $80 million listing, that broker said, “If this isn’t good enough, or you don’t like this enough, I have something.” Reached at his office, Mr. Wallgren said Ms. Lenz had indeed taken a billionaire to the building, but that he showed them nothing pricier than the $80 million penthouse. Does anything more expensive than Dr. Rosenwald’s $90 million duplex exist at 15 Central Park West? “No,” he said.

Technically, that $90 million listing doesn’t really exist, either: Despite that brokers memo, it hasn’t actually been put on the market, apparently due to Dr. Rosenwald’s reluctance. “It becomes an asset at a certain number,” said Felice Gross, one of his three brokers, and a relative. “Below that, it’s something to enjoy.” But will he find a $90 million buyer? Manhattan apartments sell for about $1,260 per square foot: Dr. Rosenwald is asking $14,480; the $80 million penthouse wants $15,180.

The Center for Responsive Politics named the doctor and his wife, Rivki, as the top heavily Republican individual donors in America.

“People were calling him directly and making offers, even prior to his closing,” said Ms. Gross, who also sold him the apartment. “I see him very often, and in conversation he was mentioning how these people were approaching. I said, ‘Well, let’s do it in a more professional manner.’”

The broker said she doesn’t know of anything in the building asking over $90 million.

As for Mr. Wallgren’s $80 million listing: “We don’t know what it will ultimately sell for,” he said, “but we believe it is a sincere asking price.”

The Voodoo Economics of 15 Central Park West: Why the $100 M. Listings Are All in Your Head