Superrich continue to set real estate records downtown

Move over Billionaires’ Row. Since the pandemic shook up the city, the superrich are ditching Midtown and heading south to Lower Manhattan.

Now, properties below 34th Street are setting record after record.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos just dropped $23 million for a unit at 212 Fifth Ave. (left) where he already owns $96 million worth of apartments including a triplex penthouse. The world’s richest man now has a total stake in the building of $119 million.

Fellow tech billionaire Eric Schmidt picked up a four-bedroom apartment with nearly 6,400 square feet at 25 Bond Street in Noho for $27.5 million this month.

Also this summer, a $50 million penthouse went into contract at 56 Leonard St., a 60-story glass Herzog & de Meuron-designed skyscraper in Tribeca that’s known as the “Jenga Building.”

The 7,779-square-foot spread with 19-foot ceilings, double-height windows and three terraces was sold to a yet-to-be-named buyer who will be in good company with boldfaced residents such as the singer Frank Ocean.

Inset of Eric Schmidt over his Bond Street building.
Google billionaire Eric Schmidt (inset) shunned Midtown supertowers for a $27.5 million trophy spread in a boutique Bond Street (above) building.
Desiree Navarro/WireImage; Warzer Jaff

That deal is the most expensive downtown penthouse sale of the year, said listing broker Clayton Orrigo of Compass, and it’s also the most expensive sale overall in Manhattan for residences below 34th Street, according to data from Corcoran Group Market Research.

There’s also a penthouse in contract for $45 million at 67 Vestry, a 13-unit building in Tribeca that overlooks the Hudson and was the former warehouse for the Great Atlantic & Pacific Tea Company.

A side by  side of the exterior of 67 Vestry and an interior of its penthouse.
The penthouse at 67 Vestry is in contract for $45 million.
VUX

Then there’s the penthouse at 293 Lafayette St. that saw a signed contract for $42.5 million on Sept. 1.

Called the Puck Penthouses, the building has just six units atop the Puck Building in Soho.

A side by side of the Puck Building and an interior of one of its penthouses.
Atop the Puck Building are a half dozen units dubbed the Puck Penthouses.
Gregory P. Mango; Adrian Gaut

Celebrities who are plunking down dough to establish downtown roots include Daniel Humm, the famed chef behind Eleven Madison Park, who spent $14.5 million to buy a duplex penthouse in Greenwich Village in June. His new home is in a 15-story neo-Georgian landmarked building from 1929 and has a living room with a fireplace and windowed kitchen.

‘Billionaires’ Row has a very transient feeling to it… buyers are in and out. Downtown is the opposite with a very neighborhood-y vibe.

Douglas Elliman agent Josh Rubin

Further evidence of the boom: Research from Compass shows that 2021 has seen a total of 3,536 year-to-date sales downtown, defined as below 23rd Street, compared with 1,601 for the same period last year. That adds up to $8.14 billion in deals, up 139% from last year.

The area below 34th Street saw 356 contracts signed for over $5 million through August of this year, according to Corcoran Group Market Research. In pandemic-ravaged 2020, that number was just 103.

Compare this brisk market downtown with the sky palaces of Billionaires’ Row, where nearly half of the luxury units across the seven top buildings remain vacant, according to exclusive data from Ryan Serhant’s eponymous brokerage.

Research from Compass paints an even gloomier picture: sales on Billionaires’ Row declined 30% year to date from 2020 — granted sales slumped across Manhattan in that period but not to the same degree as this fabled stretch of 57th Street.

A wide shot of Billionaires' Row.
Billionaires’ Row is not the magnet for the superrich it once was.
Paul Martinka

So why has Midtown fallen out of favor with the superrich?

Compass agent Brett Miles says that it’s because Billionaires’ Row has mostly attracted pied-à-terre buyers, many of whom live full-time in other countries these days.

“Owning there is mostly about having a New York perch with Central Park views and a full-service building,” he said.

An exterior of 56 Leonard Street.
This summer, a $50 million penthouse went into contract at 56 Leonard St., or what’s otherwise known as the “Jenga Building.”
Stefano Giovannini

Conversely, downtown owners are full-time residents, said Miles, who sold a West Village condo earlier this month for $32 million to a family with school-aged children.

“With New York coming back after the pandemic, buyers are settling downtown because they want to be immersed in a vibrant life with great restaurants around them and lots of people out and about,” he said.

Some of the most upscale downtown buildings don’t have the vast number of units as their uptown counterparts, added Miles, and offer more privacy.

An exterior of 70 Vestry.
70 Vestry is a celebrity haven.
Noë & Associates with the Boundary

For example, celeb-favorite 70 Vestry, which was designed by the celebrated Robert A.M. Stern Architects and has a squash court, swimming pool and other appealing amenities, has just 46 units.

Douglas Elliman agent Josh Rubin agrees that downtown is more appealing to buyers who live year-round in New York.

“Billionaires’ Row has a very transient feeling to it because the buyers are in and out,” he said. “Downtown is the opposite with a very neighborhood-y vibe.”

Jonathan Miller, the president and CEO of the real estate appraisal firm Miller Samuel, added that 85% of the demand for Billionaires’ Row came from abroad in the past but that’s no longer the case for a variety of reasons.

“To start, as the dollar has gotten stronger, the currency play for international buyers is not compelling,” he said. “On top of which, COVID has imposed international travel bans.”

Lastly, said Miller, China was a big driver of demand, and in the last five years, the Chinese government has clamped down on outbound capital.

“The combination of all of these factors has led to a weaker international market for these condos,” he said.

And while this uptown swath of Manhattan is famous globally for its eight- and nine-figure listings, Lower Manhattan is catching up with plenty of heavy-weight listings.

A side by side of the Woolworth Building and its penthouse's pool.
Inside the $79 million Pinnacle Penthouse in the Woolworth Tower Residences.
Michael Sofronski; The Woolworth Tower Residences

The biggest at the moment, according to the real estate research firm UrbanDigs, is the $79 million Pinnacle Penthouse in the Woolworth Tower Residences, a nearly 10,000-square-foot, five-story home designed by Thierry W. Despont, who also designed the Hôtel Ritz Paris.

Coming in second is a triplex at 165 Charles St. for $53 million with six bedrooms and baths.

But if these two properties are over your budget, there’s always the four-bedroom unit at 551 W. 21st St. that has a private rooftop and 360-degree views of the Hudson, the Statue of Liberty and the George Washington Bridge. It costs just $49.99 million.

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