The ’burbs

A look at the wealthiest just-outside-NYC counties, including their top deals

Feb.February 01, 2012 07:00 AM
14 Buckingham Drive in Alpine, N.J., sold for $6.2 million.

14 Buckingham Drive in Alpine, N.J., sold for $6.2 million.

It’s a question many New Yorkers, especially those with children, ask themselves at some point: Buy an apartment in the city, or spend the same amount on a spacious house in the suburbs? When choosing the latter, New Yorkers often flock to the stately homes, McMansions and well-tended lawns of a few affluent counties just outside the city’s borders: Westchester and Nassau counties in New York, Fairfield County in Connecticut and Bergen County in New Jersey.

This month, The Real Deal checked in on these wealthy areas to see how their residential real estate prices are holding up.

We discovered that the real estate markets in these wealthy tri-state area suburbs mostly softened in 2011 compared to 2010 in terms of prices and sales activity amid national and global economic turmoil.

Like Manhattan, bucolic towns in these areas have star-studded residents ranging from Governor Andrew Cuomo to hip-hop artist Russell Simmons to Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira. But even the high-priced deals saw substantial price slashing. Still, suburban super brokers told The Real Deal that they are already more optimistic about 2012.

Shawn Elliott, founder and CEO of Shawn Elliott Realty Luxury Homes and Estates in Nassau County, said activity in the luxury market has been “tremendous” so far in 2012.

One helpful factor, he said, is the difference in weather between this winter and last.

“Last year, we had two feet of snow on the ground from December to March,” said Elliott, who was featured on the HGTV program “Selling New York” last month. “You want to be able to see what you’re buying. Photographs don’t always do [homes] justice.”

On the following pages is a closer look at these suburban counties, including their five priciest sales for 2011.

Nassau: From East Egg to West Egg
Real estate sales in the Long Island county see slight drop, but prices creep up

Nassau's priciest residential sales, 2011

Nassau County lost a piece of real estate history last year when the house that reportedly inspired F. Scott Fitzgerald to write “The Great Gatsby” was leveled to make way for a subdivision of five homes.

And while both the new money of Fitzgerald’s West Egg and the old money of his East Egg are still home to some of the priciest towns in the New York area, 2011 wasn’t a blockbuster year for the county.

The number of Nassau home sales dropped 4 percent last year to 8,434, compared to 8,782 in 2010.

Still, at $400,000, the median sales price in 2011 was slightly higher than the $396,000 median registered in the county for 2010, according to data provided by brokerage Prudential Douglas Elliman.

Meanwhile, Nassau properties lingered on the market longer than they did in 2010. The average number of days it took to sell a residential property increased last year to 121, up from 113 in 2010.

Harding Real Estate’s Patricia Shroyer, who brokered Nassau’s third-priciest 2011 home sale, for $13.88 million, predicted that the health of the real estate market in the coming year would depend on the mentality of sellers.

While “2011 was not a great year, [and] 2010 was not a great year,” she said, “I am a little more optimistic in 2012. People are coming to the realization that they can’t ask the prices that they have been asking. The market is just not there.”

Shawn Elliott, founder and CEO of the Woodbury-based Shawn Elliott Realty Luxury Homes and Estates, which sold the fourth and fifth priciest Nassau homes in 2011, said 2012 has already started off strong for high-end sales. Elliott said he already has two $10 million offers on the table this year — both from Chinese buyers. In addition, both of his firm’s sales on the top five priciest deals list went to Chinese buyers.

“We’re working in Shanghai and Beijing, and I just hired a translator to help work with these buyers,” he said.

Here’s a look at some of the county’s priciest 2011 sales.

1. 39 Applegreen Drive (Old Westbury)
Sale price: $15.9 million
Original listing price: $16 million
Broker: Michael Berman, Automatic Real Estate Associates

The brick Georgian mansion at 39 Applegreen Drive in Old Westbury, built in 1925, was once owned by Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, founder of the Whitney Museum of American Art, according to Berman. It actually went into contract in late 2010, but didn’t close until 2011, and its $15.9 million dollar price tag made it Nassau’s priciest sale of the year. The 22,000-square-foot, eight-bedroom home — complete with an indoor pool — sits on just over nine acres. The stately home was on the market for just six days, and barely dipped below its original listing price of $16 million. Berman said the deal involved a Chinese buyer who paid all-cash, and a seller who works in real estate.

2. 127 Horseshoe Road (Mill Neck)
Sale price: $14 million
Original listing price: $20 million
Broker: Bonnie Devendorf, Sotheby’s International Realty

The seven-bedroom, eight-bath Tudor at 127 Horseshoe Road in Mill Neck sold in July for $14 million, making it the second-highest Nassau County sale for 2011. But before finding a buyer, the property sat on the market for more than a year and saw a price chop of nearly 30 percent from its original, $20 million listing price. The home has six fireplaces and a media room. Devendorf did not return calls for comment.

3. 240 Middle Neck Road (Sands Point)
Sale price: $13.88 million
Original listing price: $16 million
Broker: Patricia Shroyer, Harding Real Estate

The $13.9 million sale of 240 Middle Neck Road in August was a record setter for ritzy Sands Point, according to Shroyer. The seller, now retired, bought the four-acre property in 1988, Shroyer said, then tore the house down in 2000 and built this home in its place, evidently sparing no expense: The Mediterranean-style, waterfront home has six bedrooms, nine bathrooms, an indoor pool and spa, a sunroom and a three-car garage.“There is a theater inside the house that is a replica of a small New York City theater,” Shroyer said. “Everything in the house is just amazing.” Nonetheless, the mansion saw a 13.25 percent price drop and sat on the market for 114 days. According to Shroyer, the buyer is another Long Islander, also retired.

Thawing out Bergen County
Affluent towns see inventory move, but sellers, including Russell Simmons, take lumps with massive price cuts

Bergen's priciest residential sales, 2011

In 2011, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons unloaded his mega-mansion in pricey Saddle River, N.J. — four years after it originally went on the market, and 50 percent below its initial asking price.

That aggressive discount typified the soft real estate market throughout New Jersey’s Bergen County last year.

“I have lived through downturns in the past, but this is the most significant one I have seen,” said Vicki Gaily, of Special Properties in Saddle River, the buyer-side broker on the Simmons’ sale.

Countywide, the number of home sales fell 3 percent in 2011 to 4,418, down from 4,537 in 2010. Meanwhile, the median price for homes that sold in 2011 was down 5 percent to $421,456 from $445,313 in 2010, according to data provided by Coldwell Banker.

In addition, it took longer for sellers to unload their homes. In 2011, the average number of days a home spent on the market shot up by 9 percent to 98.9, up from 90.7 in 2010.

However, brokers said things are improving, especially for the luxury market. “I do see a change in the confidence of the buyers and in the number of [luxury sales our firm] has achieved in 2011,” Gaily said.

According to Ruth Miron, owner of Tenafly-based Miron Properties, which also has a location in New York City, there is evidence high-end homes are increasingly moving.

In all of 2010, only 21 properties countywide sold at $3 million or more. In 2011, the number of properties that sold in that category climbed to 35.

“During the downturn, the market came to a screeching halt and it very slowly started resuscitating,” said Miron, who’s worked in Bergen County residential sales for 25 years. Since then, “we have seen increased consumer confidence and people are not afraid to once again shop for high-end, luxury real estate.”

Another factor, however, is that many high-end Bergen County homes are now deeply discounted.

“There has been a thawing-out process,” said Dennis McCormack of Prominent Properties Sotheby’s International Realty, “where a lot of homes, the more tired homes that have been on the market for a good length of time, have sold at very aggressive prices — aggressive for the buyers, that is.”

Below is a breakdown of the county’s priciest sales of 2011.

1. 101 Fox Hedge Road (Saddle River)
Sale price: $10 million
Original listing price: $24 million
Broker: Stephanie Rosken, Prominent Properties Sotheby’s International Realty

This 35,000-square-foot Saddle River mansion belonged to hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons and his ex-wife Kimora Lee. The home was first put on the market in 2007, for an astonishing $24 million. But while the February 2011 sale was Bergen County’s priciest of the year, the 10-bedroom, 12-bathroom mansion — which has indoor and outdoor swimming pools, staff quarters and, according to published reports, a home movie theater with a ticket booth and popcorn machine — sold for less than half that, after multiple price chops. The house, which the couple reportedly bought for about $13 million in 2001, was also featured on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and MTV’s “Cribs.” The buyer was described by Gaily only as a “businessman.”

2. 14 Buckingham Drive (Alpine)
Sale price: $6.2 million
Original listing price: $9.98 million
Broker: Michele Kolsky-Assatly,
Coldwell Banker

This home in ritzy Alpine — which has counted Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Lil’ Kim and rapper Fabolous as residents, in addition to Stevie Wonder, Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia and many other celebrities — sold for $6.2 million in September, nearly 38 percent less than its original $9.98 million asking price. The 15,000-square-foot colonial was first put on the market in February 2010. It has a pool, movie theater, arcade room, elevator and wine cellar to go along with six bedrooms and seven full bathrooms. “It was a very unusual property because the backyard was all pool,” said Coldwell Banker’s Kolsky-Assalty, the listing agent. “So it took a different kind of client. As it turns out, we sold it to another grown-up couple with grandchildren.” She said the seller was in finance, while the buyer was in “real estate and investments.”

3. 20 Timberline Drive (Alpine)
Sale price: $5.3 million
Original listing price: $12 million
Broker: Dennis McCormack, Prominent Properties Sotheby’s International Realty

The third priciest sale in Bergen County was 20 Timberline Drive, also in Alpine. Like Simmons’ home, this 10,400-square-foot, six-bedroom home also came on the market in 2007 and also saw its price chopped by more than 50 percent before selling last September. The home has a banquet-size dining room, a pool and a tennis court. McCormack, the broker, said the seller was a large Korean corporation that also owns homes in Manhattan and Beverly Hills, while the buyer was an international business executive who intends to gut renovate the house.

Fairfield top sales trounce suburban rivals
Greenwich delivers all of the county’s priciest sales, but overall market still slips

Fairfield priciest residential sales, 2011

As Connecticut’s closest town to New York City, Greenwich — with its spacious estates overlooking Long Island Sound — has long served as a bedroom community for wealthy Wall Streeters.

So it’s perhaps not surprising that Fairfield County’s top three sales — all of which were in Greenwich — trounced the top sales in the three other counties The Real Deal looked at this month. In fact, two of those three top sales were even on the same street: Field Point Circle.

But despite those blockbuster sales — which saw less-severe discounts than high-end properties in the other New York suburbs — the median sales price in Fairfield County as a whole still slipped 2 percent in 2011 from a year earlier.

The median Fairfield County sales price in 2011 was $465,000, down from 2010’s $475,000, according to data provided by the Wallingford-based Prudential Connecticut Realty, the largest full service real estate firm in Connecticut. Sales activity in the county — which in addition to wealthy suburbs like Greenwich, Darien and New Canaan, is also home to the struggling cities of Stamford and Bridgeport — also dropped last year to 5,610 sales, falling 6.4 percent from 2010’s 5,994 sales. In addition, homes stayed on the market a little longer in 2011 — 153 days, compared to 148 in 2010.

Sotheby’s International Realty’s Joseph Barbieri, the broker on the highest-priced Fairfield County sale of the year, said that those who priced their properties strategically came out ahead.

“Value was the name of the game,” he said. “People are looking for exceptional properties and for value.”

Fairfield County broker Terry Keegan, vice president of Fairfield County Real Estate Company, echoed that point, noting that part of the problem is that there are unrealistic expectations in the marketplace.

If sellers are being realistic, then there are plenty of buyers,” he said.

TV personality Regis Philbin is a case in point. He unloaded his 5,919-square-foot Greenwich home last month for $3 million — far less than the $5.9 million he’d listed it for in 2008. (Other celebrity residents in the town include director Ron Howard, TV show host Kathy Lee Gifford, Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira and countless others.)

“This is a simple business,” Keegan said. “There are plenty of buyers with plenty of money, but realtors are making it tough because they are afraid to tell sellers the way it is. They tell them what they want to hear, and that is why you see those markets dive.”

Below is a look at the three priciest Fairfield County sales in 2011.

1. 80-84 Field Point Circle (Greenwich)
Sale price: $39.5 million
Original listing price: $42.5 million
Broker: Joseph Barbieri, Sotheby’s International Realty

With a closing price of $39.5 million, 80-84 Field Point Circle in Greenwich can lay claim to the largest transaction in any of the suburban areas surveyed by The Real Deal this month. After 258 days on the market, the 21,000-square-foot mansion, which sits on 4.25 acres on the Sound, was snatched up in June after dipping from its original listing price of $42.5 million. The house is a century-old compound that was recently renovated. It has indoor and outdoor pools, two guest houses, a koi pond and, according to Barbieri, an exact replica of the Brooklyn Bridge, which, in photos, appears to be connecting the property to a dock in the Sound. “The house is just extraordinary,” said Barbieri.

2. 14 Meadow Lane (Greenwich)
Sale price: $32.5 million
Original listing price: $36.5 million
Broker: Brad Hvolbeck, Prudential Brad Hvolbeck Real Estate

Coming in at No. 2 is 14 Meadow Lane, which sold after 349 days on the market for $32.5 million. The 14,000-square-foot new-construction home, which was completed in February 2011, sits on a 14-acre estate and has an infinity pool, a four-stall horse stable, a mile-long bridal-walking path and a 3,000-square-foot guest house. The home was originally listed for $36.5 million. Hvolbeck declined to provide details about the buyers or sellers, citing confidentiality. He did say, however, that, “once [the buyers] saw the property, it was not long before they made an offer. The transaction happened quite quickly.”

3. 120 Field Point Circle (Greenwich)
Sale price: $25 million
Original listing price: $29 million
Broker: David Ogilvy, David Ogilvy & Associates

A second home on Field Point Circle rounds out the top three priciest sales for Fairfield County. The waterfront stone manor sold for $25 million in April after being on the market for 627 days with an original listing price of $29 million. The 10,000-square-foot home, which was built in 2003 and designed by architect Thomas Kligerman, has five bedrooms, seven bathrooms, an indoor pool and also has a koi pond. It also has a 70-foot-long great room, with three fireplaces. Ogilvy called it the best built house he had ever been in. The seller, he said, works in finance and the buyer is in the manufacturing industry. “The house is just total perfection. … You feel as if you are in Europe,” he said. “It really is a remarkable house.”

Tony Westchester slides into 2012
While home to some of New York’s most powerful players, the real estate market in the county lost value last year

Westchester's priciest residential sales, 2011

There’s no arguing that Westchester County is exclusive. Indeed, four of the state’s most influential residents — Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Governor Andrew Cuomo and Hillary and Bill Clinton — all own homes in different Westchester County towns (Bloomberg in Bedford, Cuomo in Mount Kisco and the Clintons, of course, in Chappaqua).

But last year, New York’s biggest politicians likely lost some value on those properties. That’s because the county, which is known for its quality schools and high taxes, experienced a slight slowdown in 2011 compared to 2010.

The median sale price for the county dipped 4.8 percent to $600,000, down from 2010’s median price of $630,000, according to market data from brokerage Houlihan Lawrence, the largest residential brokerage in the county. (Still, that median was higher than the other three wealthy suburbs in The Real Deal’s spread this month.)

Meanwhile, the number of Westchester home sales also slipped 4.5 percent last year to 3,838 from 4,018 in 2010. And the average time a listing in the county sat on the market rose 2.8 percent from the prior year to 181 days.

In addition, the Journal News, which covers Westchester, cited a report last month from the Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors showing that while sales of homes priced at $1 million-plus have traditionally made up about 16 percent of the county’s annual sale numbers, that has now fallen to 13.7 percent.

“We saw some weakness in the upper end,” Richard Haggerty, CEO of the association, told the newspaper. “I think that was because of layoffs on Wall Street and lower bonuses on Wall Street.”

Still, Houlihan Lawrence CEO Christopher Meyers said he expects sales volume to pick up in the first two quarters of 2012.

“The volatility on Wall Street put a lull out there, which affected us,” he said, “but we had our strongest holiday sales period in years. There were more deals in contract on Dec. 31 than any year since 2002. It feels like there was an inflection point in the fourth quarter.”

1. 290 Stuyvesant Avenue (Rye)
Sale price: $11.6 million
Original listing price: $12.5 million
Broker: Diana Plunkett, Houlihan Lawrence

After 135 days on the market, 290 Stuyvesant Avenue in the town of Rye sold in September for $11.6 million, making it the priciest sale in Westchester County — for both 2011 and 2010. Originally listed for $12.5 million, the six-bedroom, 7,991-square-foot home has views of the Long Island Sound and a private dock, as well as a guesthouse and a large exercise room. Plunkett said the buyers, who were represented by brokerage William Raveis, were a young couple with the husband working in finance. The sellers were also a young couple “looking to make a lifestyle change,” she said. Meyers said he expects more high-priced luxury deals like this one in the coming months as sales volume and prices climb. “This area’s supply is not quite fixed, but it is very limited due to the zoning and other regulations,” he said.

2. 9 Heathcote Road (Scarsdale)
Sale price: $10.9 million
Original listing price: $18.5 million
Broker: Mary Katchis and Dawn Knief, Julia B. Fee Sotheby’s International Realty

The second-priciest sale for Westchester County last year was this new-construction Scarsdale home — with a home theater, tennis court and pool — which sold for $10.9 million. But the sale did not come easily. Not only did the original listing price of $18.5 million get chopped by 41 percent, the home, which is 9,160 square feet and has seven bedrooms, was also on the market for almost two years. That, sources say, speaks to the correction that has occurred in some of the luxury residential markets in the New York suburbs since the Great Recession. Katchis and Knief were the listing agents, while Lisa Pitt of Paddington Stone Realty represented the buyer. Katchis declined to discuss the buyers and sellers on the deal.

3. 336 Stone Hill Road (Pound Ridge)
Sale price: $8.4 million
Original listing price: $10 million
Broker: Kathy Needell, Vincent & Whittemore Real Estate

After spending 515 days on the market, 336 Stone Hill Road in Pound Ridge — a town that, according to published reports, has been home to celebrities including newsman Tom Brokaw, actors Tim Robbins and Richard Gere and others — finally sold and, in doing so, became Westchester’s third-priciest sale of 2011. Built in 1935, the 6,954-square-foot home, which is on 12 acres and abuts more than 70 acres of conservancy land, saw a 16 percent price drop. It has five bedrooms in the main house, a two-bedroom guest house and a pool. Needell was the listing agent, while Renwick Sotheby’s International Realty represented the buyer. Needell declined to comment on the buyers and sellers, but noted that the house had extremely detailed woodwork and fixtures, and that the stone floors in the kitchen came from a palace in France. “It was an extraordinary house in detail, style and amenities, and has an unbelievable English garden,” she said.

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