The Real Deal New York

Priciest homes in the ‘burbs: Feeling Golden Apple’s glow in Westchester

Sales of upscale homes in Westchester buoyed by demand for Bedford

March 04, 2008
By Marc Ferris

Go to chart: Top 10 highest-price Westchester properties sold in 2007

Westchester County is nicknamed the Golden Apple for its prosperity, and the luxury real estate market is certainly feeling the halo effect from all that good fortune.

Lately, overall prices have come down around 10 percent, said experts in the county’s housing market, but sales are brisk in the market’s high-end, which benefits from proximity to the waterfront and Manhattan in the lower Westchester region, and from sprawling country estate-like settings in the north.

The Cross-Westchester Expressway, I-287, which stretches from the Tappan Zee Bridge in Tarrytown through the Connecticut border, slices through the county to create a rough north-south border.

Northern Westchester is home to several properties fit for European royalty (with names to match) though the sprawling hunting grounds of Bedford and its environs have been chopped into ever-smaller parcels as land has passed down through families and secondary buyers.

Locales closer to the Bronx border, notably Scarsdale and three nearby communities that line Long Island Sound (Larchmont, Mamaroneck and Rye) also command top dollar.

The county’s top 10 priciest properties that closed in 2007 ranged from $6.7 million for 40 Old Corner Road in Bedford to $17.05 million (cash) for 144 Sarles Street in Bedford Corners.

Four homes cracked eight digits — $11 million and higher.

Northern peaks

The Town of Bedford, home of moguls like Martha Stewart and other A-listers in business and entertainment, tops all county locales with five homes in the top 10 sales. Divided into three hamlets, the community is about an hour from Manhattan.

Bedford and adjoining Greenwich, Conn. are akin to Park and Fifth avenues, said Craig Siano at Sally Siano and Associates in Bedford Hills.

Several sprawling Bedford properties are currently on the market for substantial eight-figure sums, including Devonshire, which lists for $43 million. Spread across 103 acres, the grounds are a haven for equestrians, who enjoy access to miles of horse trails that lace the surrounding woods, a holdover from fox hunting days. Modern amenities include a 10-bay climate-controlled car collector’s garage with a washing station and a hydraulic lift. In addition, the 21,000-square-foot main house features a Tiffany dome in the master bedroom.

Meadowbrook, another country estate on the block, features a 20,000-square-foot main house with 1920s guest houses in the heart of Bedford. It’s been on the market for six months, and the asking price of $42 million is negotiable, said Siano, since the owner passed away and his children aren’t interested in a country estate.

Though it sits on 70 acres in an area with four-acre zoning, “someone who takes the entire piece will likely buy nearby homes,” he said. “The thinking now is generally ‘if I see it, I want to own it.’”

Many blue-chip properties like these are sold in private. “Clients are mainly people well-known in the business world, not necessarily in the entertainment world,” said Siano. “These are people who own the studios, not the ones in front of the camera.”

Hillandale at 1233 Rock Rimmon Road in Stamford, the highest-priced property to ever appear on the Westchester MLS, is asking $95 million. The former retreat for the Sulzberger family, owners of the New York Times, the lavish French-style 20,000-square-foot mansion straddles the Connecticut-New York border with 97 acres in Stamford, Conn., and 168 acres in Pound Ridge, N.Y., which borders Bedford.

The current owner — Gilbert Haroche, founder of Liberty Travel — bought it in 1992 for $6.7 million. Though the stunning estate has a Stamford mailing address, it is being marketed as a Pound Ridge property.

Astor’s place

One piece of land wholly located in Westchester that could possibly top Hillandale’s asking price is Holly Hill on Scarborough Road in Briarcliff Manor, last occupied by socialite and philanthropist Brooke Astor, who died last fall. The future of the 65-acre parcel, near the Hudson River and Metro-North in the western portion of the county, depends on the impending disposition of her will.

One of the very few privately-owned Hudson River estates with substantial property, Holly Hill’s potential price, as one unit or broken into parcels, is difficult to determine, since there are no comps in the area, said Lerner.

Down the street on Scarborough Road, an 8,000-square-foot house that sits on 25 acres is in contract for $9.259 million, down from a listing price of $10.95 million said Phyllis Lerner, broker-owner at Legends Realty Group in Briarcliff Manor. The lot includes several other houses and lacks the cachet of Holly Hill and its association with one of New York City’s oldest and wealthiest families.

The highest-priced property sold in the county last year, 144 Sarles Street, is a secluded 34-acre waterfront parcel on the shore of Howlands Lake in Bedford Corners. Featuring broad lawns, apple orchards and a main house built in 1930, it sold for $1.25 million below its asking price.

The grand home, located minutes from the entrance ramp of I-684, is down the road from the county’s largest home, the Georgian mansion at Seven Springs, bought by Donald Trump in 1995 for $7.5 million. Trump floated plans to build either a golf course or a 17-home subdivision on the 213-acre site, the girlhood home of Katherine Graham, long-time publisher of the Washington Post, which overlooks Byram Lake and overlaps the towns of Bedford, New Castle and North Castle.

Local authorities opposed Trump’s plan, with the dispute centered on Trump’s proposal to provide secondary emergency access to the project by using a deactivated public road running through a nature preserve bequeathed by Graham’s father, Eugene Meyer, who built Seven Springs.

However, the developer celebrated an appellate court decision last month allowing him to proceed with an eight-home subdivision in the North Castle portion of the property.

Though Bedford properties dominated the top 10, four houses south of the expressway in the lower Westchester communities of Scarsdale, Purchase, Mamaroneck and Rye also landed on the list.

Different parts of the county cater to different tastes.

“In places like Bedford, it’s bucolic and beautiful and people from Manhattan jump up there, but after three years, they realize that it takes 20 minutes to drive to the supermarket or the train station and they can feel isolated,” said Claire Civetta, associate broker at Coldwell Banker Doernberg Real Estate in Scarsdale.

Scarsdale has the county’s highest median income per family, at $182,792.

“In Scarsdale, things never change: the schools are top-notch, it’s 32 minutes to Manhattan by train and 15 minutes to the [Westchester County] airport,” she said.

Manhattan isn’t the only commuting destination for residents; others drive to the emerging business hubs of Stamford and Greenwich, she said.

The village property that cracked the top 10, 12 Heathcote Road, is located in the mansion district, which includes Morris Lane, Dolma Road, Murray Hill Road and Cooper Road. Other tony homes dot the Fox Meadow and Greenacres neighborhoods, though land is at a premium.

Despite the restricted space, the drive toward greater ostentation has led to excesses. An executive from the Global Crossing, the once high-flying telecommunications company, knocked down an existing home on a four-acre lot to build a 15,000-square-foot extravagance more suited to the Moors of Scotland than the New York City suburbs.

Although “Scarsdale is a place where owners of estates knock down other estates on the adjoining property,” said Civetta, sometimes owners buy properties for other uses. “One guy bought the house next door and instead of tearing it down, he kept it and built a basketball court, an indoor pool, and a workout gym, along with a tennis court and soccer field; it’s a little fiefdom in the heart of Scarsdale.”

Land and water

Around 40 percent of Westchester’s high-end buyers consist of Manhattan exiles looking for relative bargains, along with a sizable number of European clients, said Gary Herbst at Buyer’s Edge Realty in Tarrytown.

“Compared to Manhattan, it’s a pleasant surprise for them to find fairly reasonable prices and some land,” said Herbst. “They want good schools and different lifestyles for the kids; generally they don’t mind the commute.”

Large and expensive estates also exist near big corporations: 3 Stoneleigh Manor Lane in Purchase, located near the corporate headquarters of PepsiCo and Master Card, took fifth place on the top 10.

Waterfront property, by contrast, determines the high end of the spectrum in Rye. “Most buyers are local owners looking to trade up,” said Diana Plunkett at Houlihan Lawrence in Rye, who also specializes in nearby Purchase and Harrison. She said most of these owners also keep a pied-à-terre in Manhattan.

She lists a unique opportunity in these parts: 2.58 acres on a peninsula known as Parsonage Point, with 950 feet of water frontage with expansive views of Long Island, for $15.5 million, down from the initial asking price of $20 million.

“You can build a 12,000-square-foot home with a swimming pool and tennis court,” said Plunkett.

The owner, an entrepreneur who lives close by on Milton Point, has owned the property for 25 years and planned to build his own dream house there one day. He subdivided it several years ago, so any new house would share the southerly view with a next-door neighbor.

Like the occupants of the old-world mansions in northern Westchester, residents of the southern portion of the county enjoy enviable lifestyles.

“We have the best golf clubs, sailing, yachting,” said Plunkett. “When you live in Rye, you don’t have to go on vacation.”

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