Loftiest deals found on Manhattan’s East 78th Street

It was an eye-popping year for real estate on both the East and West sides in 2006, but one block stood out, even in the stratospheric realm of elite properties.

East 78th Street between Fifth and Madison avenues, a beautiful townhouse block, was the site of $100 million worth of home sales in three of Manhattan’s biggest deals since 2005.

In September, Mayor Michael Bloomberg purchased 25 East 78th Street for $45 million. The six-story, 18,000-square-foot Stanford White-designed house will serve as the headquarters for his philanthropic foundation. It was the second-priciest sale of the last two years, following the record-breaking $53 million sale of the Harkness Mansion on East 74th Street.

In the same month, 6 East 78th Street sold for $21 million, which was not expensive enough to make the top 25 list.

Across the street, at 28 East 78th Street, is another six-story Stanford White-designed mansion, which sold in 2005 for $34 million.

Meredyth Hull Smith, a senior vice president at Sotheby’s International Realty, who handled the 25 East 78th Street sale, said the street is magnificent because it is all low-rise buildings except for the mansion that houses New York University’s Institute of Fine Arts.

Another block that saw a flurry of activity last year is East 70th Street between Park and Lexington avenues. Buildings there also fetched impressive prices, including 118 East 70th Street, which Woody Allen purchased for $22.625 million, and 125 East 70th Street, once the home of art collector and philanthropist Paul Mellon, which traded for $22.5 million.

Not everyone thinks there is a “best” street.

“I don’t think there is one,” said Ruth McCoy, executive vice president and director of residential sales at the East Side office of Brown Harris Stevens. “By price, there’s a new highest price all the time.”

Manhattan’s upper-end real estate market has extended its reach beyond the confines of posh Park and Fifth avenues, so “there could be a new block tomorrow that didn’t exist before,” she said.

Manhattan’s trophy homes have historically been clustered around the east side of Central Park on some of the city’s “best blocks.” But with high-priced luxury residential buildings cropping up on the west side of the park, some of the borough’s priciest sales are closing on blocks near Columbus Circle.

While the $45 million sale of a unit at 15 Central Park West set a record for a condo sale in the city and the contract was signed in 2006, it probably won’t close until next year because new development deals don’t close until the building is occupied, and therefore it is not on the list.

“We’re Central Park-centric as a city, unlike other metro areas, where they are water-centric,” said Jonathan Miller, president and CEO of appraisal firm Miller Samuel.

So residents on the park — East Side or West Side — have a shot at a record.

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Of the top 25 deals from January 2006 through the end of February, as determined by public records and PropertyShark.com, one thing is apparent: New condominium projects are fetching staggering prices and constituting a greater percentage of the list.

Additionally, “there’s surprisingly little representation Downtown,” Miller said. In fact, there are no Downtown properties on the list, mostly likely because pricey new condo units haven’t yet closed.

Downtown prices are not close to approaching the staggering figures on the Upper East and Upper West sides, either. The most expensive downtown sale since January 2006 was a $19.47 million purchase at 165 Charles Street, followed by a sale at 13 Bank Street for $14.95 million. In 2005, the top sale in Downtown was a co-op loft at 141 Prince Street, which traded to fashion designer Elie Tahari from media mogul Rupert Murdoch, for $24.68 million.

Seven of the 25 top sales by price were made on the West Side overlooking the park.

There were three major deals that closed in the Time Warner towers — two at 80 Columbus Circle (north tower of the Time Warner Center) for $28.7 million and $27 million, and one at 25 Columbus Circle (south tower of the Time Warner Center) for $27.606 million.

The record deals do not warrant a “best” block designation for Columbus Circle, which has little to offer beyond the vertical mall at the Time Warner Center, some brokers say.

The West Side will have even more whopping sales prices next year when condominium unit sales close at 15 Central Park West, on the southwest corner of the park.

“Top buildings on Central Park West are going toe-to-toe with Fifth Avenue,” Sotheby’s Smith said.

The East Side had 18 of the top 25 sales, with many of the homes purchased on tree-lined townhouse blocks close to the park, and in rich apartment buildings on Park and Fifth avenues.

The most expensive Manhattan sale since January 2006 is the 22,000-square-foot Harkness Mansion at 4 East 75th Street, which sold in October for $53 million.

It was “the largest residential sale in New York and the largest price ever paid for a townhouse,” said Paula Del Nunzio, a senior vice president at Brown Harris Stevens who co-brokered the sale of the 50-foot-wide mansion, in a previous interview. Del Nunzio also co-brokered the sale of the $40 million Duke Semans mansion at 1009 Fifth Avenue, at 82nd Street. It ranked third in the top 25 list. At the time of the March 2006 sale, it was a record-breaker for the price of a New York townhouse.

The outlook for 2007 is promising. “This year will be a continuation of ’06, because right now we’re seeing a tremendous amount of high-end properties,” Miller said.

More big deals are rumored to be under way: a full-floor co-op at 2 East 67th Street, which is asking $32 million; a full-floor at 4 East 66th Street, which is asking $29 million; and the penthouse co-op at 810 Fifth Avenue that Hollywood mogul David Geffen bought in February 2006 for $31.5 million is apparently back on the market. And of course there are incredible prices sought for the condos in the converted Plaza Hotel. Ask Eloise.

Go to chart: Manhattan’s top sales