The inside scoop on NY real estate this spring

Brokers are bullish on the Manhattan condo and rental market this spring, especially when it comes to luxury properties. Buyers have been fighting over them, and there’s no end in sight.

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By any measure, Marcus Samuelsson has led an extraordinary life: As the young chef of the now-defunct Aquavit, he earned a three-star rating in 1999 from The New York Times. Just four years later, he was declared the best chef in New York City by the James Beard Foundation. Currently the impresario behind the tough-to-get-into Red Rooster and other restaurants, Samuelsson is also an author of a best-selling memoir and four cookbooks and has his own cookware collection with Macy’s and a line of teas.  

Born in Ethiopia in 1971 and raised by adoptive parents in Sweden, he now makes his home in Harlem with his glamorous wife, model and philanthropist Maya Haile, with whom he did some extensive house shopping last fall. Just after Hurricane Sandy hit, Halstead broker Kim McKeller showed the couple their dream home at 30 West 120th Street in the Mount Morris Historic District, which was on the market for $2.9 million.

The elegant 1909 townhouse—a sprawling 4,668 square feet, with five bedrooms, four marble bathrooms, two powder rooms, four wood-burning fireplaces, original stained glass, floor-to-ceiling bookcases, central air conditioning, and views of Marcus Garvey Park—has an impressive lineage: It once belonged to retired basketball pro Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who did a major overhaul of the property before selling it to a British couple, Roger and Sally Nelson, for $2.5 million in 2011. (McKeller brokered both deals.) “The renovation was superb,” says McKeller, who adds that there were multiple offers on the home, which went into contract within a few days. Samuelsson paid the full asking price. —Carmela Ciuraru



milla moves on

Milla Jovovich is a model, actress, fashion designer, and musician. Apparently, she is also very patient.

In 2005, she purchased a four-story Greek Revival townhouse—with four bedrooms, three-and-a-half bathrooms, multiple fireplaces, and a roof deck with a private garden and outdoor shower—for $6.375 million at 100 Greenwich Avenue in the West Village.

Three years later, she listed her home for $8.75 million, then dropped the price to $7 million in 2009. Only a year after that, it was suddenly upped to $7.5 million, and for the first time, available for rent at $24,500 a month.

In fall 2010, Courtney Love reportedly negotiated for weeks either to buy or to rent (depending on the source) Jovovich’s home. At the last minute, Love was outbid and said to be devastated at losing out. The victor was Richard Gelfond, CEO of the IMAX corporation, who ended up renting it. (Considering that his 2011 compensation, including salary, bonus, and stock options, was around $5 million, the purchase probably wasn’t much of a stretch.)

Just a few months ago, Gelfond decided to make 100 Greenwich Avenue his very own and bought the home from Jovovich for $6.7 million. (She has since moved to Los Angeles with her husband, film director Paul W. S. Anderson, and their young daughter.) Jovovich must have been eager to let the house go, as “it wasn’t technically still on the market,” according to listing broker Sharon Katzoff of the Corcoran Group. —C. C.


material goods

Perhaps Madonna, who is attempting to unload her 6,000-square-foot duplex at 41 Central Park West, could learn a thing or two from Jovovich. Even before putting the apartment on the market last November, she had already moved into a $32 million Upper East Side townhouse at 152 East 81st Street. Some brokers derided the property as overpriced and undesirable (it sits between Lexington and Third avenues), but Madonna might be having the last laugh as she settles into her 57-foot-wide, 12,000-square-foot home—actually two houses combined—with 13 bedrooms, 14 bathrooms, nine fireplaces, a two-car garage, and a 3,000-square-foot garden.

Meanwhile, there are still no takers for her duplex at historic Harperley Hall, as 41 Central Park West is known, which might explain why the listing price has dropped by 15 percent after languishing for a few months. Building amenities include a central courtyard entrance with a manned gatehouse, a gym, a private parking garage, and one of the most beautiful rooftop gardens in the city.

While Madonna’s apartment is just half the size of her new home, it’s anything but cramped. It has six bedrooms, eight bathrooms, five fireplaces, a formal dining room facing Central Park, ten-foot-high ceilings, oak floors, and what the listing describes as “a state-of-the-art sound and humidifier system.” Originally listed for $23.5 million, it is now a relative bargain at $19.995 million. The Modlin Group’s Adam Modlin and Arabella Greene Buckworth of Brown Harris Stevens have the listing. —C. C


spring market forecast: sunny, with a chance of surging

Brokers are bullish on the Manhattan condo and rental market this spring, especially when it comes to luxury properties. Buyers have been fighting over them, and there’s no end in sight. It’s a simple case of limited supply and lots of demand. The lack of availability at the high end is driving condo sales and rental activity, with prices poised to surpass those of 2012. (Last year marked the second highest level of sales in the city for the past decade.)

“We don’t expect inventory to keep up with demand, and upward pressure on housing prices will continue,” says Dottie Herman, president and CEO of Douglas Elliman. “Strong demand from international buyers will keep fueling activity in the upper half of the condo market—and credit will remain tight, so those with cash definitely have a distinct advantage.”

Big Deal Signs of a strong market include this penthouse at the Park Laurel on West 63rd Street, which sold for a whopping $23.75 million.

Although prices rose in the Manhattan rental market last year, says Herman, “we might see a much slower pace of price growth in 2013, as low mortgage rates continue to pull renters into the buying market.”

Ken Scheff, executive vice president and managing director for Stribling & Associates, agrees. “The buyer was in retreat after late 2008, but that’s no longer the case,” he says. “There’s a stronger feeling about the economy and a newfound optimism.”

Thus far in 2013, Stribling’s condo sales volume and price points have easily outpaced last year’s levels. “I don’t see any place for prices to go except up, unless we have an unforeseen economic or political crisis,” Scheff says.

At Stribling, sales of luxury properties (apartments $5 million and up) represent the most active part of the market, with sales of residences between $10 million and $20 million remaining strong.

Three-bedroom apartments from $2.5 million to $5 million are another sweet spot. “Anything that is reasonably priced results in a bidding war,” says Scheff. “A year ago, that just wasn’t the case.” —Barbara Thau


gramercy chic

The pristine, quiet square surrounding Manhattan’s only private park is now home to one of the city’s splashiest condominium developments: 18 Gramercy Park, just a few doors down from the National Arts Club on the southern edge of the gated two-acre garden, has just over half its full-floor units in contract—all sold at full asking price. The $42 million, five-bedroom penthouse duplex is the largest in the 16-unit building, at 6,300 square feet. It includes a master suite, four terraces (nearly 2,000 square feet of outdoor space), and an infinity pool and whirlpool. The buyer is said to be Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander.

The team behind this project, developers William and Arthur Zeckendorf and renowned architect Robert A. M. Stern, are the same group behind the ultra-elite 15 Central Park West. The 1927 Gramercy building was once a Salvation Army residence for women, known as the Parkside Evangeline, which the Zeckendorf brothers bought for $60 million in 2010. “The original design as a single-room-occupancy building turned out to be a real advantage,” says Paul Whalen, a partner at Robert A. M. Stern Architects. “Having lots of windows brings in lots of light. And the double-courtyard footprint gave us really great three- and four-bedroom apartments with huge living rooms facing the park. Eventually, everything fell into place, just like Cinderella into her slipper.”

Among the perks that the condominium has to offer is a key to Gramercy Park (free for first-year residents). Even the lobby makes a grand statement, with a marble fireplace, pilasters of cast glass with antique mirror backing, and a blue-chip art collection featuring works by Damien Hirst and Cy Twombly, among others. —C. C.


fashion houses

In mid-February, Marcus Wainwright, co-founder of Rag & Bone, and his wife, model Glenna Neece, bought a three-story Federal-era townhouse at 491 Henry Street in Cobble Hill for $6.75 million. The prized home, built in 1844, is just one of three in the neighborhood to occupy a double lot, with gated parking for four cars. After a three-year, top-to-bottom renovation, the property boasts landscaped garden areas on all four sides, a roof deck, a bluestone patio just off the kitchen, and an art studio. Meanwhile, Andrew Rosen, founder of the once-cool and now mainstream label Theory, sold his 4,266-square-foot duplex at the Trump International Tower for $15.6 million. Kyle Blackmon of Brown Harris Stevens had the listing, which initially hit the market in January 2012 for $18 million and reappeared in September for $16.4 million. (Rosen purchased the condo in 2006 for $6.9 million, so he was clearly angling for a steep profit.) Because Rosen disliked the apartment’s traditional staircase, he worked with an architect to redesign it into a sleek glass-and-steel spiral, which he once described as a “sculptural centerpiece.” Still, this four-bedroom, four-and-a-half-bath apartment, with polished concrete floors and a home cinema, has no views of Central Park—which may have been an issue in selling the place at this price point. In the end, someone bought it under an LLC called Huddygirl. —C. C.




In Westchester County, real estate brokers are cautiously giddy over the recent increase in sales, both of suburban Westchester listings and second-home properties farther upstate. At the end of 2012, Westchester’s pending home sales posted a 51 percent increase, as compared with the same time period in 2011. Another encouraging figure was the 4 percent increase in the median price for a single-family home in Westchester and Rockland counties. And surprisingly, the market didn’t slow down after the holidays, either, says Michael J. Norton, owner of North County Sotheby’s International Realty. “In the past few months, we’ve experienced a great deal of activity,” he says. “Buyers seem to have finally agreed that the market bottomed out, and they are looking to purchase.”



The end of 2012 also brought the $21 million purchase of a Bedford Corners estate called Devonshire by undisclosed international buyers. (It had been listed initially for $43 million in 2007.) The Georgian manor, built in 1901 for banker J. Borden Harriman, sits on 100 acres and includes equestrian facilities. Its formal gardens were designed by architect and horticulturalist Guy Lowell, who designed the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, among other major buildings. The 21,000-square-foot mansion has gold-leaf moldings, wood paneling, marble floors, a Tiffany glass–domed ceiling, a solarium, a billiards room, and a 10,000-bottle wine cellar. The sale topped the highest price previously paid for a Westchester home, set 10 years ago when billionaire George Soros purchased author Michael Crichton’s Katonah mansion for $19 million.



The Devonshire sale doesn’t mean that you’ve missed your chance to drop millions on a Westchester estate. The county’s current highest-priced house is Twin Ponds, a Bedford Hills property on nearly 22 acres, listed for $30 million. The 3,600-square-foot home, with floor-to-ceiling windows throughout, was built in 1983 for the late Robin Roberts, a co-founder of Clarence House, the American textile firm. Roberts commissioned architect Milton Klein to design the glass-and-concrete contemporary as a showcase for his art collection, which included pre-Columbian pieces, Ming furnishings and sculpture, and works by Pablo Picasso, Fernando Botero, and Louise Nevelson. Roberts also favored follies, apparently: On the Twin Ponds grounds is a gypsy wagon—called a roulette—painted in fanciful colors and used as a teahouse. The seller is financier Marvin Schwartz and his wife, Donna, who own another place nearby and never actually made the move to Twin Ponds. The home includes a climate-controlled wine cellar and tasting room, a pool, a two-bedroom cabana with a gym and hot tub, a tennis court with a stone pavilion, and Japanese gardens with walking paths around one of the ponds, which is stocked with koi fish. Sally Slater of Douglas Elliman in Bedford has the listing.



I Got You, Babe Babe Ruth’s former cottage on Lake Oscawana is listed for $848,000 with North County Sotheby’s International Realty’s Nina Gail Betancourt, 914-862-0770.


In Putnam Valley, the house that Babe Ruth built is listed for $848,000 with Nina Gail Betancourt of North County Sotheby’s International Realty in Croton-on-Hudson. Built by Ruth in 1903, the 2,000-square-foot cottage sits on Lake Oscawana, with 165 feet of private waterfront and a pier where Ruth used to amuse neighborhood children by batting beer cans into the lake. (The area has also been a popular draw for artists, including photographer Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, and another Ruth—Dr. Ruth Westheimer—both of whom own residences on the lake.)

By 1998, though, the property was in such disrepair that it had taken on shades of Grey Gardens, with raccoons in the living room and bats (the non-baseball kind) in the rafters. Fortunately, Manhattan-based interior designer Bob Altavilla purchased the neglected property and spent a year converting it into a four-season residence, restoring its antique details—such as the massive stone hearth and an exposed rock wall in a bedroom—and adding a 900-square-foot enclosed porch with views over the lake. —Diane di Costanzo




Gatsby-Era Steal This 1927 Sands Point beachfront estate is listed for $7.9 million with John Russo of Coach Realtors, 516-627-0120.


Bordered almost entirely by water—Long Island Sound, Manhasset Bay, and Hempstead Harbor—Sands Point is one of the most coveted villages on Long Island’s Gold Coast. It was also the basis for “East Egg” in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. (Baz Luhrmann’s film adaptation of the novel is due out next month.) Sands Point was once the home of famed publishers William Randolph Hearst and Condé Nast, and it remains an in-demand enclave for business tycoons such as Kenneth Langone, co-founder of Home Depot, among other notable corporate executives. Surprisingly, of three choice waterfront properties currently on the market, the cheapest is the best: 73 Cornwell Beach Road, a romantic Mediterranean estate that’s listed for $7.9 million with John Russo of Coach Realtors.

It has much better views than the other two (priced at $15 million and $18 million) and the most pristine private beach—200 feet of it. The 1927 estate offers 11,000 square feet of living space, including an eight-bedroom, six-and-a-half-bath home, an indoor pool, a dramatic central staircase leading to a “tower room” with 360-degree views, two fireplaces, and multiple balconies. Its three acres of landscaped grounds feature mature trees, an outdoor pool, a tennis court, parking for several cars, and a garage with a guest apartment above. “It’s a fabulous setting,” says Russo, who adds that the sellers are a heart surgeon and his wife who have lived in the home since 2002. With two sons in college, the couple is looking to downsize nearby. —C. C.