Why this developer isn’t worried about selling off his spec mansions

The Greystone Mansion Group talks about his modern-day Gilded Age estates, the buyer who asked for a “Sex and the City” shoe closet and his next project in the Hamptons

TRD ISSUE /
Nov.November 29, 2019 08:00 AM

Andy Todd speaking at an event as Douglas Elliman Chairman Howard Lorber looks on

Andy Todd is not afraid of a soft luxury market. But that may be because his ultra-luxe Greystone on Hudson development in Tarrytown has had a banner year, closing on nine homes, all priced at $5 million and up.

Branded as a modern-day Gilded Age Millionaire’s Row, the 23-estate speculative development is located on the same stretch where the Lehmans, the Astors and the Rockefellers once lived. And the properties — think the Great Gatsby in Westchester — are perched on two- to five-acre plots overlooking the Hudson River and Tappan Zee Bridge.

Todd and his business partner, Barry Prevor, bought the land in 2012 and began construction in 2015.

As of early November, their firm, the Greystone Mansion Group, had 15 homes either sold or in contract, plus one more contract pending. And despite the sagging luxury market, the firm, which was originally planning on building 21 houses, added two additional lots this year.

Todd declined to say how much the firm spent on the project or disclose any financial information about it, noting that the company is privately held.

But it’s clear that the developers spared no expense at the project.

In addition to expansive grand driveways and exteriors complete with verandas and wraparound covered porches, the estates include features ranging from basketball courts to movie theaters to, in one case, a mahogany library modeled after J.P. Morgan’s original library in Manhattan.

Todd — who was born in Westchester but lives on Long Island — said that part of the pitch (at least to buyers coming from New York City) is that the homes are a “bargain” compared to what they could buy in Manhattan.

He said the company has developed more than 10 million square feet of residential and commercial real estate nationwide in the last 10 years.

The developer, who is married and has three daughters, sat down with The Real Deal to talk about the project and the broader luxury market.

How and why did you choose this site for the Greystone project? My partner and I were looking for a new project and searching throughout the tri-state — we looked all over Westchester, Long Island and Southern Connecticut — and we found this amazing piece of land. It had falling trees and dead animals — it was the heart of the woods — but we looked at it and saw bits of the Hudson River peeking out.

Sounds like a Kevin Costner in “Field of Dreams” moment. Yes! I remember thinking, “Wow, how does this exist and no one has ever done anything with it?”

How did the Gilded Age development vibe come about? We found out that the land is the former estate of Josiah Macy, who was John D. Rockefeller’s partner in Standard Oil, and that there had been 60 castles located on our road during the Gilded Age. Once we learned that, we knew what our brand was going to be. We actually dug up an antiquity buried on one of our lots that we were able to trace back to 54 AD, back to the Roman emperor Claudius.

18 Carriage Trail

What kind of due diligence did you do on the luxury market to give you the confidence you needed to sell homes at this price point? We did some due diligence, but in the end, it was just the feeling that there was no better dirt and that there was a need for a super high-end project. For the busiest people in the world … to have to go all the way up to Bedford or out to Greenwich every day [to get a comparable luxury product], it’s just too far.

Did you have any sleepless nights about building such a high-end project on spec? When you’re in real estate, you’re a cowboy by nature, right? There’s always an element of risk.

How long was it between when you purchased the land and when you started selling? We purchased the land in 2012, then we had to subdivide it and build roads and other infrastructure — that took few years. We launched in 2016 when we finished our first house, 8 Carriage Trail. We were planning on using that as the model home. But we sold it for $9 million within nine days. We built a new model home, 6 Carriage Trail [which is currently on the market for $12.9 million]. We’re at the point now where we are getting close to the end of this project, so we’ll start trying to really sell that one now.

Who are your buyers? Any big names? Our buyers are Fortune 100 CEOs, finance people, entrepreneurs, celebrities — but no, I cannot share names. Some of them come from within Westchester, but most are coming from the city.

In New York City, a $13M sale doesn’t even make the news these days. Do you pitch Greystone as a bargain for NYC buyers? Yes, what we offer is totally a bargain for them. In Manhattan, for $10 million you get a few-thousand-square-foot apartment with nice amenities. [Here] you get a multi-acre lot and a pool, movie theater, basketball court — whatever you want.

What was the most lavish request from a buyer? One of the coolest things a buyer ever asked us to create was a shoe closet directly modeled on Carrie Bradshaw’s from “Sex and the City.” The buyer has a giant closet of her own already but wanted an additional closet just for shoes. 

What were some of the biggest challenges you faced with the project? Buying the land and going to the municipality and saying, “We want to develop these super high-end estates.” Because we’re at such a high price point, when we first came in and went to the planning board saying, “We’re going to sell houses for $5 million and up,” they were like, “OK, yeah right.” But over time, once they realized we were bringing back Millionaire’s Row and honoring the history … they wanted to work with us. What helped to win them over was that we self-upzoned to a minimum two-acre lot, even though we were zoned for a one-acre minimum.

Third-quarter market reports for the tri-state show only slight gains in the luxury market, and sales often require price reductions. How does that square with what you’re seeing at Greystone? We haven’t experienced [the soft sales and discounting] as much. We’ve sold nine homes in the [past] 12 months. We’ve [also] not done much discounted pricing. Buyers who want this type of product and can afford it are still buying.

Do you have concerns about a pending recession? You always need to be concerned about an economic downturn when selling large estates like ours. I would have been more concerned a few years ago when we were first starting out. But we’re toward the end of the project now, and I feel like we have enough in the pipeline, so I’m not too concerned.

Are you working on or planning any other projects? If so, where? I’m always looking around for great deals. Our next project is in the Hamptons. We’re working on plans right now to submit and hope to start within the next few years. We’ll be converting an old hotel on an oceanfront site on Dune Road in East Quogue into condos. It’s on the beach and the bay. We also [just sold] a 28-acre parcel in Bedford located 702 feet above sea level — at the highest point in Bedford.

What’s your take on the luxury sector overall in the tri-state? What do you think is causing the soft market? We have to get though old inventory that’s been on market for a long time and is not priced right. If it was, I believe it would have sold. Also, you have to remember, prices have to go down a little in order to go back up again. In Manhattan, prices went up like a rocket ship, the dollars-per-square-foot that apartments are selling for now is incredible. So even if the market is a little down now, it’s still strong. We just have to push through this bad inventory, which is bringing the market down.

—This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.


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