The rich are different, and so are their comps. Just take Fifth and Park avenues. The two tony thoroughfares, between East 59th and East 96th streets, share much in common: large apartments in architecturally striking doorman buildings, with socially prominent neighbors on leafy Upper East Side blocks.
Yes, Fifth Avenue units are almost always more expensive, a premium that can be explained by their proximity to Central Park. But for the last decade, the difference in prices has varied wildly year to year, from as little as 8 percent to as much as 38 percent.
Those swings have a lot to do with the inherent volatility of the market’s highest end, regardless of the state of the economy, said Jonathan Miller, president of appraisal firm Miller Samuel, which collected data on the two avenues for The Real Deal. Miller analyzed the top 10 sales for each avenue during the last decade (and the top five this year).
“If you want to look at a very small sliver with the most volatility, this would be it,” said Miller, who explained that unusual floor plans resulting from the combinations of apartments over the years is a major factor. “When you’re dealing with a housing stock that’s not homogenous at all, you’re going to see inconsistencies.”
Fifth was the clear winner last year, and by considerably wider margins than at any other point this decade, thanks to a few outsize deals.
Indeed, Park’s top sales prices were 38 percent lower than Fifth’s, whereas they should usually be about 25 percent less, said Kirk Henckels, a Stribling broker. Two deals that jacked up the numbers involved one person, Lily Safra, who sold her apartment at 820 Fifth Avenue to Ken Griffin, the hedge fund executive, for $40 million. Safra, a Brazilian heiress, then turned around and bought a unit on a lower floor from Ara and Rachel Hovnanian, of the home-builder family, for $33 million.
A boost to Fifth’s totals was what remains the city’s biggest co-op sale to date: An unnamed buyer picked up the duplex penthouse at 1060 Fifth for $48.8 million from Scott Bommer, of hedge fund SAB Capital, who had purchased it just nine months before for $46 million.
But of note was a sale at 895 Park, where apartment #10B-11B traded for $6,100 a foot — tops for that year in price per foot, even though the unit’s $18.5 million total price tag only earned it eighth place on the avenue’s top 10 list for that year. Why a premium? The building is a rare Art Deco on Park, brokers say.
Early in the decade, Park’s condos helped it achieve near-parity with Fifth, though that leg up was pretty much erased when the condo conversion of the Plaza finished. Three of the top deals on Fifth for 2007 were in the 181-unit landmark hotel building, including #1209, for $22.6 million, or $5,600 a foot.
Two blocks away on Park, meanwhile, the biggest sale was #14 at 778 Park, a co-op. William Lauder, of Estée Lauder, bought the 14-room apartment with wood-burning fireplaces from Sherman Cohen, a developer, for $27.5 million, or $5,500 a foot, which would have landed it an impressive number-five ranking on Fifth.
One colossal Fifth deal tipped the scales for this year. That was media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s pickup of Laurance Rockefeller’s former apartment at 834 Fifth for $44 million, or $5,500 a foot, a then-record. The all-cash deal gave Murdoch a 20-room, 8,000-square-foot triplex.
But also posting strong numbers was 988 Fifth, whose exclusivity stems from having only 12 full-floor units, two of which traded in 2005. One, sold by the estate of Bernard Breslauer, an antiquarian bookseller, once belonged to actress Grace Kelly and was purchased for $10.6 million, or $3,200 a foot, by relatives of Alexander Byers, an Industrial Age steel tycoon.
Fifth Avenue’s top two deals took place at 820 Fifth and involved familiar players. The fourth floor of the 1916 limestone building, which also has only 12 units, was sold by heiress Lily Safra to Ara Hovnanian for $18 million; she bought back the same 6,500-square-foot apartment in 2009 for $33 million. (Before Safra, Tommy Hilfiger owned it.) Close behind was Goldman Sachs executive Jack Levy’s purchase of the eighth floor for $15 million from Stavros Niarchos, a shipping magnate.
Those deals helped Fifth pull ahead of Park, where prices, an average of $2,100 a foot, were 20 percent below its competitor.
Back before the boom, Park was on a par with Fifth in terms of price. Stephen Schwarzman’s record-setting purchase at 740 Park didn’t hurt. The cofounder of the Blackstone Group bought the 15th-floor penthouse from insurance executive Saul Steinberg for $30 million, or $1,600 a foot. (John D. Rockefeller Jr. lived in the 34-room spread until his death in 1960.)
But even though Park had several marquee sales, the per-square-foot value of property on Fifth was still stronger.
It’s been a game-changing year for Park, which has pulled ahead in prices for the first time. The blue-ribbon sale that put Park on top, perhaps, was for apartment #27-28 at 515 Park, which sold for $23.9 million, or about $7,400 a foot, to a Swedish buyer, said Fritzi Kallop, the Brown Harris Stevens broker who marketed the unit.
Kallop said foreigners prefer the building because it’s a condo and getting in doesn’t require a once-over by nosy boards. “People not from New York are like, ‘Do I want them to know my tax return from last year?’ ” Kallop said.
Also buoying the avenue’s price average was another condo, 525 Park, where unit #6S sold for $7.8 million, or $3,000 a foot, which was more expensive than all but one of Fifth’s 2010 deals. The 14-story prewar building, which went condo in 1989, boasts fireplaces and high ceilings, but lower maintenance charges than Fifth’s co-ops.
Park Avenue isn’t bereft of Central Park views; units on the high floors in the even-numbered-address high rises along the western side of the avenue can also glimpse the greenery, which can neutralize Fifth’s advantage, said Michele Kleier, of Gumley Haft Kleier.
Indeed, in 2006, Park buildings like No. 740, 720 and 760 all saw sales on upper stories for $3,000 to $4,500 a foot, which helped to create the decade’s narrowest gap: Fifth’s average was $3,800 a foot, versus $3,500 for Park.
Plus, “a lot of people prefer Park because they don’t have to contend with the parades,” Kleier said. “And you have a two-way street, which means more of a chance to hail cabs.”
In his eponymously named book, Michael Gross called 740 Park the “world’s richest apartment building.” And this year helped prove why.
Apt. 17B sold to George David, the former chief executive of United Technologies, whose messy divorce with Swedish countess Marie Douglas-David made headlines in 2009. The 21-room triplex was $25 million, or $3,300 a foot.
Also trading hands was #4B-5B, an 18-room duplex, which was snapped up by David Koch, an oil executive with a theater named for him at Lincoln Center, for $18 million, or $2,400 a foot.
When buyers hunt on Fifth or Park, they are often looking for a building designed by Rosario Candela, a Sicilian immigrant known for his lavish, roomy interiors. Park has 10 Candela buildings between East 59th and 96th streets; Fifth has eight. “Not everybody likes the big, tall skyscrapers with the tall glass windows from top to bottom,” said Guida de Carvalhosa, a broker with Brown Harris Stevens.
In 2002, Candela’s buildings accounted for five of the top 20 deals on the two avenues, including a pair at 770 Park, a red-brick edifice taller than some neighbors due to more permissive zoning changes in the 1920s. One unit, #9D, a three-bedroom duplex, was sold by David Dangoor, a Swedish executive at Philip Morris, to an undisclosed buyer for $8.6 million, while #13D, another three-bedroom, went for $8.2 million.
If there’s one building that makes Park competitive in the price battle between the two tony avenues, it’s probably the 43-story condo at 515 Park. A Zeckendorf Development project, the 38-unit high rise is viewed as a precursor to the company’s megasuccess at 15 Central Park West.
Units changed hands there regularly, but few years were as busy for 515 as this one, when six resales made Park’s top 10. The biggest, a duplex on the 42nd floor, was purchased by Charles Brandes, founder of a San Diego investment firm, for $29.5 million.
Despite the flurry of activity, Park’s prices were still 11 percent lower than Fifth’s, though Brandes’s buy was the highest per foot anywhere, at $5,900. The only apartment on Fifth to come close was a $17.5 million sale at the Pierre Hotel, #3101, which went for $5,000 a foot.