Big Deal Column


(The New York Times) The question of who, if anyone, lives in the multimillion-dollar condominiums being built across Manhattan grows more intriguing with every new tower crane that hoists glass slabs and concrete blocks hundreds of feet into the sky.

New Yorkers want to know: Who are these people who hide behind limited liability companies while shelling out a fortune for a condominium — who see the apartment as an investment or even just a vanity play, and who are too busy sunning in St. Bart’s or skiing in Gstaad to actually show up and shop at the local market or pay for tickets to a Broadway show?

Many well-heeled New Yorkers are frustrated that while a large share of their income goes to taxes of all kinds, their non-New Yorker neighbors down the street pay a comparatively minuscule amount in property taxes. And an evening stroll through Midtown is starting to feel like the Wild West after the gold rush, with buildings like the Plaza — officially the Plaza Pied a Terre Hotel Condominiums — sitting mostly dark. It wouldn’t surprise some of us to see tumbleweed blow by the Apple cube on Fifth Avenue.

As it turns out, this is not just hyperbole.

Almost half the apartments on a stretch of Park Avenue are empty most of the year. Credit Joshua Bright for The New York Times

And for those of you interested....

I wrote my first Times Insider, where I briefly laid out how I came to the story. Take a read here

Puerto Rico Luring Buyers with Tax Breaks

(The New York Times) Alex Lemond is among a new wave of New Yorkers trading in their Manhattan condominiums for beachside villas in Puerto Rico. The former hedge fund honcho moved to San Juan from New York last year, and his company, the Encanto Group, is investing hundreds of millions of dollars in developing luxury real estate on the Caribbean island.

Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States, passed legislation in 2012 that shields new residents from paying most federal income taxes. After a slow start, Puerto Rico’s status as a tax haven is beginning to catch on, and some are betting big bucks that the trickle of buyers moving there will soon become a stream. Local officials hope that new investment will help turn around an economy battered by several years of recession.

New beachfront homes, along with a hotel, are planned for the Solarea Beach Resort. Credit: Alcom Productions

A Ranch With 1,000 Acres, for Your Inner Buckaroo

(The New York TimesMost New Yorkers would barely know what to do with 1,000 square feet of space, let alone 1,000 acres. But what’s to stop us from trying to figure it out.

Buying a ranch is the stuff of childhood cowboy fantasy — riding horseback past herds of bison or standing knee-deep in a rushing stream filled with trout. And while foreign investors and tech billionaires drive the New York market, in places like Colorado and Montana, it is cattle shortages and the price of grain that hold sway.

A short addendum and h/t to the WSJ...

There was a chart published recently comparing the value of Manhattan condominiums to hog futures and gold. Over the last decade, condos returned 6.5 percent, while hogs posted only a 5.3 percent return. Gold, meanwhile, returned almost 13 percent. It is a useful comparison. And maybe a ranch provides the ultimate investment trifecta: you can own a luxury property with a pigsty full of hogs. And while you’re at it, make sure it has a stream to pan for gold. 

Your Move, Their Headache

(The New York Times) New York City is always shifting, as new people arrive with suitcases stuffed with hope and ambition, replacing others who have packed up and moved on.

It’s now a distant memory, but the transience of our city was once a collective experience. For some 300 years, on every May 1, practically all city dwellers would chuck their belongings onto pushcarts and horse-drawn carriages and haul them to a new home.

But when housing shortages gripped the city in the 1940s and rent control as we know it was implemented, Moving Day — a Colonial holdover grounded in the English celebration of May Day — faded into oblivion. And while we no longer move en masse, the majority of New Yorkers continue to rent, and move, frequently.

Moving In, Slowly, to ‘Billionaires’ Row’

(The New York Times) As soon as Linda Phillips and her husband heard about One57, a luxury 90-story skyscraper that is nearing completion on West 57th Street, they raced from the pied-à-terre they rented at the Time Warner Center across Columbus Circle to take a look.

The couple, empty-nesters who also own a home in Saddle River, N.J., eventually plunked down $30.4 million for a three-bedroom four-and-a-half-bath apartment, with floor-to-ceiling windows facing onto Central Park. Their lease at the Time Warner Center ends in September, and they may sell their New Jersey home to live full time in the building.

“With beautiful views and just a block from Bergdorf’s, I think it doesn’t get any better,” said Mrs. Phillips, an interior designer.

And some personal thoughts on the story...

So much has been written on the new condominiums that are taking shape along 57th Street--it even inspired an exhibit at the Skyscraper Museum. But most of the stories have had to do with policy, or architecture, or large-scale development. No one had written from the perspective of those actually living in these new narrow towers. That was in part because the buildings are so new, few people have yet to move in. That was why, when someone mentioned that the first residents HAD begun moving in their furniture to One57, I jumped at the chance to write about it. 

I was lucky enough to find a buyer willing to speak on the record--wealthy people are notoriously stringent about their privacy. I had a wonderful talk with Linda, the woman quoted in the piece, but when it came time to actually photographing her in her new home, she mentioned the photo session to someone at the building and word came down from the developer that it wouldn't be looked kindly upon. Since Linda is doing some renovations to her unit, she didn't want to risk ruffling the developers' feathers, and alas, our photo shoot was cancelled. 

Using Artists to Sell Condos in Miami and New York

(The New York Times) With cities like New York and Miami in the midst of another luxury condominium boom, developers seem to be tripping over one another in the scramble to announce their latest projects, and to stand out from the pack, they are locked in an escalating game of one-upmanship.

In a market where amenities like golf simulators and children’s playrooms barely raise a well-manicured eyebrow, the stakes are high. Add to this the fact that developers are asking buyers to shell out upward of $10 million for apartments that are, in many cases, still just a dirt pile on the ground, and they have no choice but to bring the razzle-dazzle.

Increasingly, the trick they are most often pulling out of their collective hat is art, with a capital A.

And some personal thoughts on the story...

The funniest part of doing this story was my interview with Julian Schnabel. As may not be surprising for one of the world's most famous (bad boy) living artists, Mr. Schnabel was impossible to reach. 

Despite cajoling from the developers who were paying his wages, and the public relations team tasked with getting some buzz for the building, Mr. Schnabel was "unavailable" when I called him at our scheduled time.

I'm used to that. But what made it great was that when we finally did speak, Mr. Schnabel refused to "stay on message" and clearly had little interest in discussing the condominium project he was meant to be marketing. Instead, Mr. Schnabel was far more intent on talking about a new exhibit of his work that is launching this fall. It was hard to disagree with him, since discussing the artistic relationship between his work and that of the late 19th century Danish artist J.F. Willumsen is far more fascinating that talking about the color of a condominium sales office. 

Sky-High Demand for Luxury: New York’s Multimillion-Dollar Condo Market Booms

(The New York Times) Up, up and up. That is the answer to the question I have been posing lately: Where is the luxury condominium market headed?

At least, that has been the case in the last several months, where multimillion-dollar apartments have been snatched up hours after they hit the market and buyers have shelled out $1 million over the asking price to secure a winning bid.

At 151 East 78th Street, for example, contracts were sent out to buyers within 24 hours of the listings hitting the market in March, and a month after sales began, 11 of the 14 apartments were in contract at prices starting at $10 million. A few blocks to the north, more than half the units at 60 East 86th Street were sold in the eight weeks after sales opened, also in March, including a $20 million penthouse.

More than half the condos at 60 East 86th Street were sold in the eight weeks after sales opened. Credit Archpartners

For New York City Doormen, Some Closed Doors

(The New York TimesIt has been more than two decades since the city faced a large-scale strike by the doormen’s union. But this could change when its contract expires on April 20. 

I remember well the citywide strike in 1991. I was in high school at the time and unaware of a contract dispute until I returned home from school one day to find a beefy security guard standing at our front door in place of Dean, the doorman who had greeted me with a high-five and a smile for as long as I could remember.

Doormen often play a strange role in the city’s psyche. They are a continual presence in the lives of those who live in buildings that employ them: buzzing up friends, standing in the snow to hail a cab, entertaining a cranky toddler with a lollipop. They know intimate details of your life, but typically, you know little of theirs.

The doormen’s union remains ensconced in the prewar  co-ops along Park Avenue. 

Karsten Moran for The New York Times 

And some personal thoughts on the story...

This was a challenging column. I got the idea when I was out to dinner with a friend who is a union organizer, when he mentioned an upcoming march to boycott several buildings along the High Line that were using non-union doormen. 

I had already been at work on a column that focused on how Park Avenue coops were a value play, with some buyers purchasing Park Avenue coops because they were significantly cheaper than many new condominium developments sprouting up around the city. 

I was determined to combine these two ideas, despite a somewhat tenuous connection. It proved challenging in the writing.

Then, on Friday afternoon, roughly 24 hours after we had gone to press, word came that the doormen union had struck a deal for a new contract. This was a week BEFORE the old contract expired, a definite rarity. 

Manhattan Real Estate Feels a Russian Chill

(The New York TimesWho doesn’t enjoy a good yarn about Russian oligarchs who throw their fortunes at New York real estate? Take the Russian fertilizer king Dmitry Rybolovlev, who is linked to a record-breaking $88 million sale at 15 Central Park West, or the composer Igor Krutoy, who bought three apartments at the Plaza Hotel. Yet these tales of excess could soon fade into memory.

Moscow may be 4,500 miles from Manhattan, but with tensions intensifying over the annexation of Crimea, an Arctic Russian blast could chill the high-flying luxury real estate market here.

Wealthy Russians have been sinking fortunes into some of the priciest condominiums in Manhattan, including the Plaza Hotel, far left, 15 Central Park West, center, and the Marquand, at 11 East 68th Street. CreditMarilynn K. Yee/The New York Times

And some personal thoughts on the story....

This column got quite a bit of attention. Megan McArdle wrote a blog post on Bloomberg View riffing of this idea. She points out that too many foreign buyers in a market can result in a repeat of those Chinese ghost towns we have all heard about, noting, "outside of construction jobs, the ultrarich don’t add much to the city -- their apartments sit vacant for most of the year, which means they don’t generate demand for much except one-time construction jobs. String enough of those together and you’ll kill the streetscape."

I was also asked to go on Yahoo! Finance to talk about the topic. Other than looking a bit hunchback in the segment (note to self: do not lean over the anchor desk while wearing a blazer), I hopefully get the salient points across. 

Terrace for Sale, Includes Condo

(The New York Times) After a seemingly endless winter, the first hints of spring have teased us with a day or two of temperatures over 60 degrees. That fleeting glimpse of warmth sent many New Yorkers flying out of doors to enjoy the sunshine. For my part, I sipped my morning coffee at home last week and stared wistfully out the window at a neighbor’s balcony.

In our concrete jungle, there is a hefty dollar value attached to having your own garden oasis — even the smallest of shrubberies carries a price tag. And with so many residents suffering from a vitamin D deficiency these days, brokers are promoting listings that can claim specks of green, even if they’re barely large enough to hold a bonsai.

The developers of 215 Sullivan Street in the Village promote its “lushly landscaped backyard.”Credit Watson & Company

And some personal thoughts on the story.....

On a directive from my editor, I've written this column using the "I" format, something that makes most of us journalists super uncomfortable. But I'm starting to embrace the concept of having a viewpoint, or "voice." It's fun to have an opinion!

Manhattan Loft Guy took down my column here. He's a bit of a rambler, not sure I totally get it. But I welcome any thoughts on the matter! He also takes down perennial NYT commentator and super Jets fan Jonathan Miller

Higher Prices Migrate to Far Upper East Side

(The New York Times) Third Avenue has long been a dividing line on the Upper East Side. “West of Third” serves as shorthand for the stylish neighborhood in the TV show “Gossip Girl,” where private-school girls live in stately Park Avenue co-ops and shop in boutiques along Madison Avenue. “East of Third” refers to the delis and bagel shops that make up many of the storefronts around York Avenue, and the tenement style walk-ups filled with recent college graduates who flock to the cheap rent.

These boundaries, however, seem to be shifting. The penthouse at the Charles, a glass-and-limestone condominium rising on a nondescript block on First Avenue, well beyond the Third Avenue demarcation line, recently went into contract for $37.94 million. The price is more than double the previous sales record in the area, the $17 million paid for a condominium at 170 East End Avenue in 2009, according to data from

A penthouse in the Charles, a glass-and-limestone condo rising from a nondescript block on First Avenue, recently went into contract for $37.94 million. The buyer is creating a quadruplex with 1,300 square feet of private terrace space on two levels. Credit Williams New York

When Age Belies Buying Power: How New York’s Young Millionaires Live

(The New York Times) In the universe of ultraluxury real estate, much attention has been lavished on foreign investors who pay record prices for glassy Midtown condominiums, and the wave of previously staunch uptown residents suddenly spending big to embrace unlikely neighborhoods in LowerManhattan.

Now get ready for a new group of well-to-do buyers who are quickly gaining momentum: under-40 multimillionaires.

The Bahamas on the Radar

(The New York Times) For several years, wealthy New Yorkers, even those relatively unscathed by the financial crisis, seemed to put their second-home dreams on hold. But as the real estate market in the city has strengthened, many of these high-end buyers have started shopping for beachfront retreats again.

The Albany, a luxury resort in the Bahamas with boldface names like Tiger Woods and Ernie Els for investors, hopes to capitalize on this latest trend. And for a direct link between New York and this development, Howard M. Lorber, the chairman of Douglas Elliman and the chief executive of the investment firm New Valley, is developing a midrise condominium there. This is the first time that Mr. Lorber, who is based in New York, is developing in the Bahamas and also the first time Douglas Elliman is marketing there.

The Stars Inside the Building

(The New York Times) The real estate industry in New York City continues to produce pricey new condominiums, seemingly at the rate of tennis balls spit out of a ball launcher. This market revival has pushed the role of the boldface architect back into the spotlight, although that position may have to be shared this time around with interior designers.

With nearly every project under construction intended for the ultraluxury market, it is essentially impossible to develop a building without attaching the brand of a star architect, better known by the eye-rolling portmanteau “starchitect.” Tapping such a person to help sell a building started more than a decade ago, in 2000, when the architect Richard Meier designed the gleaming white towers on the West Side Highway in the West Village that drew buyers like Calvin Klein and Martha Stewart. That trend persisted until the financial crisis, when building projects stalled and many architects looked outside New York for work.

Luxury Apartments for a Little Less

(The New York Times) For some developers, moderation seems to be the latest byword, and that is helping Manhattan become ever so slightly more affordable.

Bucking the trend of superluxurious condos with vertigo-inducing prices, a handful of developers are offering more moderately priced apartments in full-service, amenity-laden buildings. Of course, in Manhattan, where the going rate for new construction is about $2,500 a square foot, moderate price is a relative term. And these builders are not being altruistic as they undercut their competitors and offer apartments at less than $2,000 a square foot.

Buildings with units designed to sell for $2,000 or less a square foot include the amenity-laden 140 West Street (top row), where 22 floors are to be converted to apartments; and the Printing House at 421 Hudson Street (bottom row). Saul Metnick for The New York Times

Prospecting for Dollars: Developers Market Foreign Real Estate to New Yorkers

(The New York TimesInternational buyers are known for spending big money in New York, be it the woman from China who spent more than $6 million on a home for her toddler at the skyscraper One57, or the daughter of Dmitry Rybolovlev, the Russian potash magnate, who used a trust to pay $88 million for an apartment at 15 Central Park West.

But what of wealthy New York buyers who might set their sights elsewhere? As luxury real estate surges globally, developers with projects in cities around the world are increasingly turning their marketing dollars toward New York.


(The New York Times) A run-down parking garage is for sale on the corner of Perry and Greenwich Streets in the West Village, and at least one of the bidders wants to tear it down to its bones and replace it with a 40,000-square-foot mansion — creating what would be the largest single-family home in New York City.

Just down the road, at 145 Perry Street, the hedge-fund billionaire Steven A. Cohen paid nearly $39 million for a small commercial building that he is reportedly converting into a single-family home. And in the same neighborhood, the Texas oil heiress and novelist Hyatt Bass and her husband, Josh Klausner, a screenwriter, are transforming a former film studio where Martin Scorsese and Sandra Bullock once shot scenes. The new home will have nearly 12,000 square feet and is being designed by the architect Annabelle Selldorf.

Welcome to the new Gilded Age.


A building at 802 Greenwich Street is being transformed into a 12,000- square-foot home for the Bass family. Marilynn K. Yee/The New York Times


Michael Shvo Is Back, and as Brash as Ever

(The New York Times) At the height of the real estate boom, the broker Michael Shvo brashly coined the phrase “Let’s Shvo” to define his style of marketing. That meant 24-hour sales offices, parties featuring red carpets and leggy models, and aggressive selling tactics that some considered questionable. Then, when the market crashed, Mr. Shvo became as elusive as he had once been ubiquitous. Now, after having taken a few years off to work on his art collecting, he’s back.



Family Compounds, By Elevator

(The New York Times)  Some parents dream of owning a home where their adult children and grandchildren also can live. For those with the means, that translates into a family compound, with several generations living in their own houses within the same property line. But here in New York City, creating such expansive homes can be prohibitively expensive. Nevertheless, a lucky few are building multigenerational compounds in the sky.

At 10 Madison Square West, a 125-unit condominium at West 24th Street where asking prices top $4,000 a square foot, four separate families are hoping to create multigenerational homes. In each case, parents bought apartments for themselves and then a second, noncontiguous unit for their adult children.

Patrice Jacobs, right, calls the same building home as, from left: her daughters Stacy Westreich and Allison Schulman; their husbands (only Richard Westreich was home); and their children. Katherine Marks for The New York Times

The Story Of Madison Square Park's Half-Finished Skyscraper

(The New York Times) It’s been a long, strange ride for the pencil-thin building that towers over the south side of Madison Square Park.       

The bronze and glass skyscraper, known as One Madison, rises 60 stories above the foot of Madison Avenue and runs block-through from East 23rd Street to East 22nd Street. Conceived during the peak of the last real estate bubble by two developers who had never before built in New York City, the project eventually flamed out in a spectacular crash, piled under mountains of debt and multiple lawsuits.