NYC’s priciest pads

The year's top residential deals go to a mix of Wall Streeters, CEOs, international buyers and real estate titans

For most of America, spending $44 million on a place to live is mind-boggling, especially in the midst of an economic downturn. So it’s a sign of just how rarified New York real estate is that July’s $44 million Duke Semans mansion sale is an indicator that the residential market, while recovering, is still a shadow of its former self. The sale — the priciest residential deal of 2010 — doesn’t measure up to the $53 million Harkness mansion sale in 2006, or Harry Macklowe’s epic $52 million combination of seven apartments at the Plaza in 2007.

To get a sense of how the high-end market fared this year, The Real Deal compiled a list of the 50 priciest sales of 2010 so far, using closed sales data from real estate listings aggregator StreetEasy. (Since there’s often a delay between when a sale closes and when it appears in city records, some closed transactions may not have made it onto our list.) Ranging in price from about $14 million to $44 million, nearly all of the properties sold for less than their listing prices.

For all but a few select homes, “we’re still down 20 percent from the high,” said Prudential Douglas Elliman’s Raphael De Niro.

In many of these deals, the original buyer walked away in the midst of the financial crisis, leaving the seller with a substantial deposit — and thus willing to drop the price for a new buyer.

Still, 2010 was an improvement over last year. According to data from StreetEasy, the top 50 transactions of 2009 ranged in price from $12.73 million to $40 million, the latter being what Kenneth Griffin paid for socialite Lily Safra’s 12th-floor apartment at white-glove co-op 820 Fifth Avenue.

A particularly telling sign of improvement came last month, when a buyer signed a contract to buy William Zeckendorf’s 41st-floor apartment at 15 Central Park West for $40 million. The deal is not included on our list since it has not yet closed, but if it goes through, the buyer will pay a record $10,259 per square foot. Zeckendorf then agreed to pay around $27 million for the late Bruce Wasserstein’s duplex at 927 Fifth Avenue after a bidding war, broker sources said.

Now, prices are “starting to get up there,” De Niro said. He added: “There aren’t as many deals over $10 million as there were in ’07, but it’s pretty strong.”

What caused the change? “In 2010, the pricing caught up with the market,” said Elliman broker Howard Margolis, who sold a penthouse at 1 Central Park West in March for $33.18 million. And, he said, two potential buyers are currently negotiating for his $34.5 million listing at Millennium Tower at 101 West 67th Street.

“In 2009, the sellers were still under the impression that they could get these big prices,” said Margolis. “I don’t think they were ready to deal with the realities, or they weren’t real sellers. As we moved through 2010, the people at the high end who wanted to sell their properties got more realistic. The sellers realized that you have to be more competitive, even at that price range. That’s how deals got done.”

Below is a detailed breakdown of the 12 most expensive closed sales of 2010 to date, along with the brokers who represented the seller. Buyer’s brokers are not publicly listed in New York City and most selling brokers declined to name them, citing confidentiality agreements.

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The Duke Semans Mansion and Carlos Slim

1. The Duke Semans Mansion at 1009 Fifth Avenue

Price: $44 million

Seller:Tamir Sapir (through 1009 Fifth Avenue LLC)

Seller’s broker: Disputed

Buyer: Carlos Slim

Buyer’s broker: Soly Halabi, Venture Capital Properties

Last asking price: $50 million

The drama-filled sale of this landmarked Beaux Arts mansion is not only the priciest deal of the year, but one of the top residential deals of the past decade. Still, it represents a significant discount from its listing price. As The Real Deal and others have reported, real estate developer Tamir Sapir purchased the 19,500-square-foot home from the Semans family for $40 million in 2006, a record at the time. Sapir then put it on the market with Brown Harris Stevens’ Paula Del Nunzio and Shirley Mueller in January of this year for an ambitious $50 million.

In July, rumors circulated that Del Nunzio had found a buyer who was willing to pay around $40 million. Then it got complicated: Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim purchased the home directly from Sapir for $44 million, cutting Del Nunzio out of the deal. Shortly thereafter, Brown Harris Stevens sued for some $880,000 in commissions it says it’s owed. In court documents, the firm claimed that Halabi and Slim had conducted secret negotiations with Sapir, then purposefully waited until Del Nunzio’s exclusive expired before signing contracts “in order to avoid the obligation to pay plaintiff its commission.” BHS declined to comment, and Halabi told The Real Deal that the suit is ongoing.

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Trump International and Vittorio Cecchi Gori

2. Trump International at 1 Central Park West, #PH52A

Price: $33.18 million (at auction)

Seller:Vittorio Cecchi Gori

Seller’s broker: Howard Margolis, Prudential Douglas Elliman

Buyer: Taek Jho Low

Buyer’s broker: unknown

Last asking price: $28.5 million

The priciest single-unit residential foreclosure ever in New York City, the March sale of this penthouse is even more remarkable because the apartment was an “unrenovated shell” at the time, Margolis said. Donald Trump owned the five-bedroom home before selling it to Gori — an award-winning Italian film producer known for movies such as “Life Is Beautiful” — for $10.4 million in 1998. Gori prepared to renovate the home, demolishing the interior walls and removing all of the fixtures, Margolis said, but the job was never completed, and lender Fortress Investment Group foreclosed on the unit. The spread was sold for $18 million at a foreclosure auction last July to a Russian buyer who reportedly walked away from a $1.8 million deposit after discovering the high costs of renovation. Margolis then relisted it, and a bidding war broke out at the auction, he said, with four bidders pushing up the sale price. Margolis wouldn’t identify the buyer, but the New York Post reported that it was Taek Jho Low, a Malaysian financier known for wining and dining celebrities.

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Superior Ink and Leslie Alexander

3. Superior Ink at 400 West 12th Street, #PH

Price: $31.5 million

Seller:Leslie Alexander

Seller’s broker: Dolly Lenz, Elliman

Buyer: Mark Shuttleworth

Buyer’s broker: Melanie Lazenby, Elliman

Last asking price: $33.5 million

As The Real Deal was going to press, Alexander, the owner of the Houston Rockets, flipped this unfinished penthouse for $31.5 million, setting a new record for a Downtown condo sale. Alexander purchased the apartment for $25.46 million in September 2009, then put it on the market a week later for $39.5 million. The asking price was later reduced by 15 percent.

The 6,300-square-foot apartment is unrenovated raw space and has four terraces, two wood-burning fireplaces and Hudson River and Empire State Building views, Lazenby said. She declined to name the buyer, but said he’s a European who will use the home as a pied-a-terre. Though the sale price is significantly lower than Alexander originally wanted, the deal shows that “in the best buildings in the best neighborhoods, you can still get a buyer, and at a great price, even though this recession is taking place,” she said.

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The Plaza and A. Laurance Kaiser

4. The Plaza at 1 Central Park South, #309

Price: $28.6 million

Seller:El-Ad Properties

Seller’s broker: Sassy Johnson, Alexa Lambert and Elizabeth Lorenzo, Stribling & Associates

Buyer’s broker: A. Laurance Kaiser and Craig Dix, Key Ventures Real Estate

Buyer: Kimara Holdings II

Last listing price: $39 million

The third floor of the Plaza, now known as the State Suite, is remembered by generations of New Yorkers as the “extremely grand” setting for weddings and other functions, Lambert said. When the iconic hotel was converted to luxury condos by developer El-Ad Properties, Italian businessman Luigi Zunino signed a contract for roughly $45 million to combine three apartments on the third floor into one 9,350-square-foot spread. Planning to flip the unit, Zunino spent millions reconfiguring the layout and redoing the plumbing before he had closed on the place. But he fell victim to the financial crisis and ended up walking away from his deposit. So when a new, mystery buyer came along, they “got a good deal,” Lambert said, since the sponsor already had Zunino’s $9 million in hand.

Moreover, Lambert said, the deal was important psychologically for the city. Closing in March, it came on the heels of a bleak 2009.

“I think it was an important sale in New York at that time in the market,” she said. Now that high-end deals have become more common, “we all forget that it was hard to make a $28 million deal [earlier].”

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141 Prince Street and Elie Tahari

5. 141 Prince Street, #67PH

Price: $27.5 million

Seller:Elie Tahari (through 141 Associates LLC)

Seller’s broker: none

Buyer: Ted Waitt (through Tdub-NY LLC)

Buyer’s broker: none

Last asking price: $22 million

Fashion designer Elie Tahari and wife Rory purchased this Soho penthouse from Rupert Murdoch in 2006 for $24.67 million. Murdoch spent two years renovating the space, known for its distinctive duplex terrace, which uses a defunct water tower as its decorative centerpiece.

Then, in February of this year, word spread that Tahari and his wife were splitting up and quietly seeking a buyer for the 9,300-square-foot triplex. Like many pricey apartments, the home never officially went on the market before closing in June for $27.5 million. Broker sources said the Taharis sold it directly to a friend: Ted Waitt, the self-made billionaire who founded computer-maker Gateway Inc. on his father’s farm in Iowa. They did the deal with no brokers.

“A lot of things at that price level are never officially on the market,” one broker noted.

Tahari has since settled into a rental at 15 Central Park West, while Rory Tahari purchased a townhouse on the Upper West Side.

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950 Fifth Avenue and Alexis Bodenheimer

6 (TIE). 950 Fifth Avenue, #8-9

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Price: $25 million

Seller:Robert Hurst

Seller’s broker: Cathy Franklin and Alexis Bodenheimer, Brown Harris Stevens

Buyer: The 2010 Park View Trust (trustee: Harvey L. Armstrong)

Buyer’s broker: unknown

Last asking price: $29 million

In a relatively under-the-radar deal, Hurst, a Goldman Sachs alum and former president of the Whitney Museum of American Art, put his 12-room duplex on the market in April for $29 million, and it closed in August for a 14 percent discount of $25 million. The limestone prewar co-op — also home of Boston Properties CEO Mort Zuckerman — only has seven units. The buyer remains cloaked in mystery. Franklin and Bodenheimer declined to comment, and would not name the buyer’s broker.

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115 Central Park West and Conan O’Brien

6 (TIE). The Majestic at 115 Central Park West, #17BC

Price: $25 million

Seller:Conan O’Brien

Seller’s broker: John Burger, Brown Harris Stevens

Buyer: David Zaslav

Buyer’s broker: Chris Poore, the Corcoran Group

Last asking price: $29.5 million

Funnyman Conan O’Brien began shopping his spread at the Majestic on the Upper West Side this spring, after his contentious departure from “The Tonight Show.” He was said to be asking $29.5 million, though the listing was never made public and brokers wishing to show the unit were never given floor plans or photos. In July, the spread — a combination of two units O’Brien and his wife, Elizabeth, had purchased over the years — was reportedly sold to Discovery Communications CEO David Zaslav for $25 million.

Burger and Poore declined to comment, but sources close to the deal said the apartment has three terraces and a home theater. The buyer was willing to pay slightly more because the apartment was fully furnished. The O’Briens moved to California, where Conan made his comeback last month on TBS.

“The sellers got more, and the buyers didn’t have to spend X dollars on furniture,” one broker said. “It was basically a concession.”

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The Plaza and Steve Wynn

8. The Plaza at 1 Central Park South, #2001

Price: around $24.5 million

Seller:Steve Wynn

Seller’s broker: Sassy Johnson, Alexa Lambert and Elizabeth Lorenzo, Stribling

Buyer: unknown

Buyer’s broker: unknown

In July, casino mogul Steve Wynn closed on a nine-room Plaza penthouse for $23.46 million, after a previous buyer walked out on a contract to purchase the 20th-floor apartment. Wynn got a significant discount from the original $31 million asking price, and used it to his advantage. In a deal that closed last month, he flipped the apartment, selling it for roughly $1 million more than he paid without ever officially putting it on the market, according to broker sources.

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2 North Moore Street and Steven Schnall

9. 2 North Moore Street

Price: $24.07 million

Seller:Sherri and Steven Schnall

Seller’s broker: Deborah Grubman and Carol Cohen, the Corcoran Group

Buyer: Mark and Noelle Zittman

Buyer’s broker: unknown

Last asking price: $29.5 million

New York Mortgage Company founder Steven Schnall and his wife, Sherri, purchased this site for $5.57 million in 2005 and built a mansion with a heated indoor lap pool, three-car garage and billiards room. They famously referred to the 11,300-square-foot house as “Our Suburb”– earning endless jabs from the blog — and put it on the market in the spring of 2008 for $35 million. At the time, it was Tribeca’s most expensive single-family townhouse listing ever. But when Zittman, a managing director at financial services firm Guggenheim Associates, purchased the mansion in July for just over $24 million, he fell short of the $33.15 million record for a Downtown townhouse, set in 2007. Grubman and Cohen declined to comment on the sale.

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15 West 63rd Street and Raphael De Niro

10 (TIE). Park Laurel at 15 West 63rd Street, #29A

Price: $23.98 million

Seller:Ephraim and Catherine Gildor

Seller’s broker:Raphael De Niro and Claudine De Niro, Elliman

Buyer: Peter Edward Chadney and Simone Cecile Von Graffenried Simperl (through Park Laurel LYD)

Buyer’s broker: Janice Chang, Elliman

Last asking price: $28 million

This 15-room duplex, owned by investor and philanthropist Ephraim Gildor, closed in February, according to city records. Gildor is a former Israeli Air Force fighter pilot and founder of the hedge fund Axiom FX. Because the buyers are foreigners (according to city documents, Simperl and Chadney are residents of Switzerland), getting the correct paperwork together was “a little challenging,” Raphael De Niro said. Still, “we had two backup offers,” he said. “There was a lot of demand for the apartment.”

De Niro declined to identify the buyers’ broker, but Elliman confirmed that it was Chang.

10 (TIE). 515 Park Avenue, #2728

Price: $23.98 million

Seller:Louis Cappelli (through 515 Partners LLC)

Seller’s broker: Fritzi Kallop, Brown Harris Stevens

Buyer: Eric Ryd (through Pasia Development Limited)

Last asking price: $29.5 million

Swedish lingerie manufacturer Eric Ryd purchased developer Louis Cappelli’s 13-room spread at 515 Park Avenue in January for nearly $24 million, an 18.7 percent discount from the $29.5 million asking price. Kallop noted that international buyers have helped prop up the high-end New York real estate market, as this deal shows. “Because of New York’s international population, there are some very wealthy people that will pay for the good apartments,” she said.

Still, “I think it’s coming back slowly,” she said. “We have a ways to go.”

This particular apartment is a duplex, she said, which is rare for the full-service condominium. The apartment also features a mahogany-paneled media room and sought-after Clive Christian kitchen, she said.

12. 1 York Street, #PH

Price: $23.69 million

Seller:One York Property LLC (developer Stanley Perelman/Jani Real Estate)

Listing broker: Wilbur Gonzalez, Brown Harris Stevens (now at Elliman)

Buyer: Richard Handler (through Raesky LLC)

Buyer’s broker: Holly Parker, Elliman

Last listing price: $34 million

In June of 2009, the sponsors of the Enrique Norten-designed condo One York in Tribeca made the seemingly bizarre choice of upping the price of the 6,000-square-foot penthouse from $24 million to $34 million. So when the penthouse was sold a year later for less than $23.68 million — around $3,886 per square foot — it was hailed as both good news because a high price was achieved, and bad news because of the $10 million discount.

At the time, the name of the buyer was not revealed, although the New York Post reported that the purchaser was a “Wall Street heavyweight” who lives outside of the city and would use the apartment as a pied-‡-terre. An analysis of city records by The Real Deal revealed the buyers: Handler, the CEO of investment bank Jefferies & Company, and his wife, Martha, whose name is listed on mortgage documents. The two currently live in South Salem in Westchester.

Gonzalez, who said he couldn’t talk about the project, sued the sponsor over commissions in the building in 2008. He is also in the midst of suing Brown Harris Stevens for commissions he feels he is owed by the firm, which he left in May.