A diplomatic open house

Midtown East brokers report flurry of activity when the General Assembly meets each fall
By Sarabeth Sanders | October 01, 2010 07:00AM

Diplomats and other officials have checked out units at 100 United Nations Plaza.

When world leaders arrive for the UN’s General Assembly each fall, New Yorkers brace themselves for street closures, heavy traffic and beefed-up security. Brokers in the area, meanwhile, prepare to step up their game.

That’s because in the free moments between their meetings, parties and various public appearances, many diplomats go shopping for some of Midtown East’s priciest real estate.

“The phone’s been ringing, ringing,” said Debra Stotts, who works for Trump Sales and Leasing as the on-site agent at 845 United Nations Plaza. “This time of year, because it’s the changing of the guard in the different offices, I do have a flurry of missions, ambassadors, deputies.”

Last September, the Observer reported that the government of Afghanistan paid $4.2 million for a 2,840-square-foot unit there, to serve as the residence for H.E. Zahir Tanin, the country’s permanent representative to the UN.

Since the General Assembly convened this year, Prudential Douglas Elliman broker Gilad Azaria has already had three diplomats, from three different countries, check out his 82nd-floor, $5.95 million listing at the 72-story tower. Two of them followed up by scheduling second showings. The three-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bathroom unit is also available for rent at $24,000 a month.

At nearby 100 United Nations Plaza, brokers are also on alert. Sotheby’s International Realty broker Robert Thomas, with partner Kevin Brown, is marketing two adjacent apartments as a potential 4,821-square-foot combined spread. They recently showed the $9 million listing to a buyer associated with the General Assembly. Over the past few weeks, the pair has also rented a “high-priced penthouse” in the area to a diplomat and shown homes to two other UN-affiliated buyers.

“They’re certainly out and about,” Thomas said.

Foreign missions to the UN also have a special incentive to buy: no property taxes. Last year, the State Department designated the exemption as a benefit under the Foreign Missions Act, thwarting the city’s years-long bid to collect taxes on properties owned by India and Mongolia. The city plans to take its case to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Still, brokers who work frequently in the Sutton Place, Beekman and Turtle Bay neighborhoods say most government clients are renters, particularly if they’re looking for real estate on behalf of lower-ranking officials and personnel.

The General Assembly-triggered activity doesn’t begin and end with government officials. “Even if diplomats do not purchase, they know all the wealthy citizens of their countries,” Thomas said. “Business in the upper end has picked up noticeably in the last 30 days. … We have been showing [homes to] relatives of diplomats who seem to be staying in town for extended visits to shop for real estate.”