Billionaires Go Trophy Hunting: The Biggest Real Estate Deals of 2012

Some would say that 116 East 70th Street is located on the loveliest stretch in all of New York. The prices certainly reflect the fact that buyers will pay a premium to live here. This copper-clad beauty sold for $22.39 million, passing from the mysterious Copper House LLC to 116 East 70th LLC. How's that for an anonymous deal? At least we know one name on this block: Woody Allen lives right next door.
The eighth-floor co-op was the more modest of the two apartments at 907 Fifth Avenue belonging to late copper heiress Huguette Clark. Like its upstairs neighbor, it sat essentially vacant for decades while its eccentric owner elected to live in the hospital, and was said to be in need of extensive renovations. None of which stopped CI Capital Partners principal Frederick Iseman from paying $22.5 million for 8W and a chunk of 8E, Clark’s other eighth-floor apartment. In fact, buying the apartment for a lavish sum was a privilege, one allegedly denied the Qatari Prime Minister, who was said to have offered $31 million to take both apartments.
The rules of real estate appreciation don’t apply at 15 CPW. Case in point? No. 37C, which Meridian Capital Management founder and CEO William Lawrence and wife Gloria bought for $10.6 million in 2008. This May, the three-bedroom tower apartment sold for a dizzying $23.35 million. “The resales established that that building is a micromarket all in itself; it commands a higher price per square foot than any other building,” broker Paula Del Nunzio remarked.
A rare bird, this 15-room duplex at 834 Fifth Avenue. And we're not talking about the blue heron wallpaper. As is the tradition in this tony co-op, hedge funder Philippe Laffont paid $1 million above ask for 3/4C, plunking down $24 million to join the coterie of international billionaires who call the building home, among them Anne and Robert Bass, Rupert Murdoch and Charles Schwab. And that’s $24 million in cash. The building insists on all-cash purchases.
Why settle for one floor-through when you can have two? Clearview Partners founder and former UBS vice chair Blair Effron was certainly of that mind when he decided to pay $24.5 million for the eighth and ninth floors of 39 East 79th Street—a spacious 9,000-square foot duplex. Mr. Effron, who moved from a nearby Park Avenue apartment, also helped dispel rumors that only foreigners were buying Manhattan’s trophy properties.
The winner of the bidding war over Huguette Clark's 12th-floor penthouse was Saba Capital Founder Boaz Weinstein. Mr. Weinstein shelled out $25.5 million for the late heiress's long-vacant home, a full $1.5 million over ask. In return he got antiquated splendor, rarely matched scale, ornate moldings done in the style of Louis XVI, and one hell of a renovation job. Not included: Clark’s huge doll collection.
Much like those who fell in love with 15 CPW, the buyers of 24 Downing and its neighbor 22 were no doubt charmed by the brand-new old-fashionedness of these West Village townhouses. Certainly, a buyer can retrofit and revamp and thoroughly modernize an old house, but why bother when you can get all the gracious touches of yesteryear in a just-finished sandstone rowhouse? The buyer, hidden behind an LLC, paid $26.89 million for the pair in February.
Much like the safes built into their walls, the lavishly laid-out co-op apartments at 998 Fifth Avenue aren’t much given to revealing their contents, but there’s little doubt that they are both opulent and very, very valuable. Rumor has it that just months after the Lehman Brothers collapse, the ex-vice chair of Morgan Stanley, Bruce Fiedorek, was quietly shopping his apartment around for $45 million, but no one was buying. One public $34 million listing and three years later, it finally sold to businessman Paul Fribourg for a humbling but still colossal $27.2 million. It proved the first big closing of many on discounted recession-era wares.
The last sponsor unit at the old Stanhope Hotel was another case of a long-lingering listing finally selling. And for a pretty penny, too: $27.37 million. The 16th-floor spread—which stretches out over 8,360 square feet—was nestled in an unusual market niche. A cond-op in a Rosario Candela-designed building with a fresh renovation courtesy of Extell is a rare thing. The buyers even got a $2.7 million discount. The only problem (well, besides the floods caused by departing beer heiress Daphne Guinness)? The monthly common charges run $37,402.
It numbers among the top residential deals, but the townhouse at 19 East 82nd Street won’t be residential for long. The Cy Twombly Foundation purchased the house for $27.75 million this spring to use as an education center and small museum, in hopes of burnishing the late artist’s reputation.
Look West! Duquense Capital Management honcho Zachary Jared Schreiber and wife Lori swapped their spread at 15 CPW, also with park views, for the chance to see the sunset. They paid Cellular Communications giant George Blumethal $31.5 million for the “baronial” floor-through at 1030 Fifth Avenue—a big chunk of change, but not enough to break the building’s $34 million record (held by the 11th floor).
Alas, we never got to see the inside of 730 Park Avenue’s 12-room duplex penthouse, but listing broker Meredyth Smith assures us that was “among the prettiest apartments” that she’s ever seen. We’ll have to take her word, since the co-op was a whisper listing, but the fact that Andor Capital Management’s Dan Benton and wife Anna paid $39 million to move from their $21 million apartment downstairs bears the claim out. That and the five terraces, the solarium and the greenhouse breakfast room with a glass ceiling.
Meredyth Smith and Serena Boardman’s other big whisper listing this year fetched even more after it coyly came on the market this spring. Laure Sudreau-Rippe, a minority holder in Louis Dreyfus Holding BV, paid $40 million for late billionaire Teddy Forstmann’s penthouse at 2 East 70th Street. Rumor had it that casino king Steve Wynn was smitten, but was snubbed by the board. Don’t feel too bad for the Las Vegas showboat though: he consoled himself with a $70 million penthouse at the Ritz-Carlton.
You know who laid down even more cold hard cash than Philippe Laffont to move into 834 Fifth Avenue? Texas oil tycoon Paul Bass and wife Anne, who welcomed 2012 by closing on a 12th floor spread for an astounding $42 million. No big deal for billionaires like the Basses! We hear that seller Damon Mezzacappa even threw in the furniture.
While it may not be to everyone’s taste, a good Gilded Age mansion never goes out of style. The buyer (an LLC) of the opulent truffle at 973 Fifth Avenue will not only have the pleasure of forever replying “no apartment number,” but also a 15,225-square-foot townhouse designed by Stanford White. And for just $42 million! The seller had been trying for $49 million, but the house was said to need extensive renovation.
Howard and Nancy Marks made co-op history when they paid $52.5 million for Courtney Sales Ross’s duplex at 740 Park Avenue. The 30-room apartment in the limestone godhead boasts not one, but two libraries, and not one but two dining rooms (informal and formal, naturally). Unfortunately, the Oaktree Capital founder lost the distinction of owning the most expensive co-op in the city when David Geffen paid $54 million for the duplex penthouse at 785 Fifth Avenue.
Howard Marks may have netted two libraries and the building with the better pedigree (there’s no competition between 740 Park and The Park V), but Dreamworks co-founder David Geffen got three kitchens and a professional recording studio when he bought Denise Rich’s duplex penthouse for $54 million. Ms. Rich was trying for a boldly ambitious $65 million when she listed her longtime apartment at 785 Fifth Avenue in January, but the socialite and singer apartment apparently followed her own advice: don’t waste your time. After all, how many $54 million offers was she going to get?
Luck had nothing to do with casino king Steve Wynn’s $70 million purchase at 50 Central Park South. It all came down to money, and even at $7.5 million under ask, Mr. Wynn was apparently willing to put more money on the table than any other buyer. The take was the glitzy Ritz-Carlton condo of Millennium Partners’ Christopher Jeffries. Spanning the 30th and 31st floors, the lavish apartment has a 900-square-foot living room crafted from a double-height ballroom with 26 Central Park-facing windows.
The most beautiful, most expensive student crash pad in the city, and perhaps the world—the $88 million 15 Central Park West penthouse. Dmitry Rybolovlev claims he bought this palatial apartment for his daughter, although his soon-to-be-ex-wife claims it was a move to hide marital assets. In the meantime, is anyone even living in this gem?
The billionaires’ clubhouse atop the ultra-luxe skyscraper is said to be getting snapped up fast. The buyers remain mysterious, as do the closing prices, but Gary Barnett has confirmed that two of One57’s penthouses are in contract for more than $90 million. Neither apartment will be ready for occupancy for some time, and the skyscraper suffered through that embarrassing dangling crane episode, but for this year, at least One57 rules both the sky and the sky-high prices.

The beginning of 2012 started with a closing, the most spectacular closing this city had ever seen: Russian fertilizer king Dmitry Rybolovlev spent $88 million on Sandy Weill’s 15 Central Park West penthouse. Of course, the question on the real estate community’s lips back then was what Mr. Rybolovlev’s buy could mean. Was it just a weird one-off—a tycoon trying to hide funds in the midst of a divorce—or something more? Did we dare to dream that it might be the opening salvo in a trophy hunt?

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Indeed, it was. In the months that followed, some of the world’s wealthiest individuals made it clear that they had money to burn and wanted to spend it on New York real estate. Super sales bloomed with the spring flowers. Steve Wynn spent $70 million for a 10,882-square-foot penthouse at the Ritz Carlton. Gary Barnett announced that not one, but two penthouses were in contract for more than $90 million at One57. The penthouse of 18 Gramercy, the Zeckendorfs’ new collaboration with Robert A.M. Stern, in contract for $42 million, is poised to set a new downtown record when it closes.

Co-ops also had a stunning year, setting record highs not once, but twice (for $52.5 million, then six months later for $54 million), proving that the trophy phenomenon wasn’t just running on foreign fuel. Even if co-op prices do continue to lag behind their park-side, board-less brethren. As one broker said of the 730 Park penthouse, which sold for $39 million: “If Russians could have bought the apartment, it would have sold for much, much more.”

And there were more than a few ridiculous overreaches—like the $100 million CitySpire penthouse, which induced more eye-rolling than desire and was promptly followed by three still-on-the-market $95 million listings.

Will the gold rush continue in 2013? Will grotesquely wealthy individuals continue to flood the city, tallying wraparound terraces and wood-burning fireplaces, touting double-height living rooms and converted ballrooms, debating the merits of tony duplexes versus sprawling floor-throughs? No one knows for sure, but Extell, Macklowe and the Zeckendorfs are certainly counting on the dream that if you continue to build ultra-luxurious condos, the billionaires will continue to come.

But for now, how about a look back at the 20 biggest deals of the year? (As compiled by Miller Samuel.)

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