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Boards & Associations

Manhattan Penthouse Co-op Sold For 2nd Highest PPSF in History

June 9, 2014 | 2:57 pm | Milestones |

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Real estate reporter Katherine Clark at the New York Daily News got the scoop on the $70,000,000 penthouse sale at 960 Fifth Avenue, the highest price ever paid for a Manhattan co-op apartment. Curbed New York lays out all the (pretty?) pictures.

The previous record was held by David Geffen, who paid $54,000,000 in 2012 for the Penthouse at 785 Fifth Avenue. Although the Geffen penthouse was renovated, it was 12,000 square feet, more than twice as large as the 5,500 square feet within the penthouse at 960 Fifth Avenue – that just sold for a record price of $70M.

To further illustrate how much more expensive this new record price actually is, take a look at the two highest Manhattan co-op sales prices achieved, but on a price per square foot basis:

David Geffen paid $4,500 psf for the penthouse at 785 Fifth Avenue for the then record price of $54,000,000.

Nassef Sawiris paid $12,727 psf for the penthouse at 960 Fifth Avenue for the new record price of $70,000,000. On a sales price basis, the new record is 29.6% higher than the old record of 2 years ago.

On a price per square foot basis, the record sale was 182.8% above the previous record sale price set two years ago.

With all the attention focused on the newish or new development residential condo market, the all-time price per square foot apartment record was set 2 years ago, around the time of the Geffen purchase.  A Russian oligarch paid $88,000,000 for Sandy Weill’s penthouse condo that works out to $13,049 per square foot. That record breaking sale was largely viewed as a market outlier, that the buyer overpaid as part of a larger divorce strategy – since it was 31% higher than the previous record in the year prior within the same building.

Some other oddities about this new record co-op sale at 960 Fifth Avenue:

  • The 960 Fifth Avenue co-op board is old world and I’ve heard it is fairly tough. As a general statement, it is not that common to see a foreign buyer at the high end of the market approved by a co-op board.
  • The news coverage suggested the buyer was slow to pay his taxes and negotiated a reduced amount with the government. This would be a concern for most co-op boards in terms of collecting maintenance charges in arrears from a foreign national if they stopped paying.

Since these conditions would probably make any high end co-op board nervous, perhaps this is a sign that shareholders (board members are also shareholders) are concerned about damaging potential property values by limiting the universe of people that would be able to afford these types of prices in this new market condition.

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Floored: Can/Should A Governing Body Set Minimum Sales Prices?

May 6, 2014 | 2:47 pm |

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The concept of “setting a price floor” applies to gated communities, homeowner associations, planned unit developments – in fact any situation where a central governing body has direct influence over the sales price and/or buyer of your property. I believe the idea of “setting price floors” is surprisingly common in the outer boroughs of NYC, especially Queens.

Let me back up a second to provide context.

As the Manhattan market peaked in 2007/2008, we began to observe some co-op boards setting floors to prices in their buildings to “maintain value” for their shareholders. While a fiduciary responsibility, it is steeped in contradictions to free market principles. There was a great New York Times summary piece about this practice back in June 2007: “Should Co-op Boards Set ‘Floor Prices’?

About 15 months after the NYT article was written Lehman Brothers had collapsed and AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were all bailed out. Manhattan sales prices had fallen about 30% from 2008 to 2009. During this period I observed an increase in the practice of setting price floors. A hypothetical scenario (the type I often observed first hand) for – let’s call it – “Apartment XXX” and the timeline might go something like this:

  • Sold in 8/2007 for $1,000,000
  • Listed in 8/2008 for $1,100,000
  • Zero activity until 1/2009, offered $700,000. Offer rejected by shareholder.
  • Offer made by new buyer in 2/2009, offered $705,000. Offer rejected by shareholder.
  • Offer made by new buyer in 3/2009, offered $700,000. Offer accepted by shareholder.
  • Board turndown – “price too low.”
  • Offer made by new buyer in 4/2009, offered $695,000. Offer rejected by shareholder.
  • Offer made by new buyer in 5/2009, offered $710,000. Offer accepted by shareholder.
  • Board turndown – “price too low.”
  • Taken off market by shareholder.

A co-op board CAN’T dictate sales prices
It is clear from the steady stream of new offers in my hypothetical that the market had reset to a significantly lower level during the year. If that was the case (it was), then the board was actually doing a disservice to their shareholders by making their apartments essentially unsaleable. A buyer isn’t going to pay what the seller or the board wants the price to be. Econ 101. Housing market prices change over time, hopefully rising more than falling in the long run. The brokerage community also has a fiduciary responsibility to get the highest price for their seller under market conditions at that time. Although the board is trying to protect their shareholders (and themselves as shareholders), they have in effect, temporarily nullified the market in their building. The brokerage community is less likely to bring offers to sellers because they assume the board will reject the price even though the property had been properly exposed and vetted in the marketplace.

A co-op board CAN protect their shareholder against price outliers
One of the misnomers of the “setting a price floor” discussion is the fact that appraisal quality for lenders has been decimated since the financial crisis as banks now fully rely on appraisal management company ie “AMC” appraisers and most have no “local market knowledge.” An out of market appraiser will likely be more influenced by outliers than a local appraiser because the out of market appraiser is data starved and has no experience in the nuances of that market. It is clearly prudent for a board to be vigilant about outliers as reflected in the video. I’ve consulted on transactions for boards that don’t represent market value – ie the heir or executor lives on the other side of the country, doesn’t care about the market value and simply wants to dump the unit, make some money and move on. The out of market appraiser will probably use that sale as a “comp.”

“Protecting against outliers” is very different than “controlling prices” in a market.

In the outer boroughs especially in Queens, I believe the practice of setting a price floor has remained a widespread practice for years. Here’s a co-op attorney who is providing tips on how to “maintain values” on Habitat Magazine‘s web site. Concepts like setting up “sliding scales” to sell at 95% of the average of past sales may work in a stable market but worry me because the co-op won’t be able to respond to downturns and is in danger of choking off the market, potentially depressing prices even more.

This video also talks about apartments being different in condition and boards need to consider this because real estate appraisers don’t take into consideration whether or not an apartment was renovated.

No! This is absolutely an incorrect or the appraiser is not being asked to provide an opinion of market value – appraisers are supposed to take condition into consideration if they are being requested to provide an opinion of market value.

As I mentioned earlier, with the proliferation of AMCs, appraisers working for retail banks are generally being paid 50% of the market rate and can’t or won’t confirm condition of their comps. Higher up banking executives don’t yet equate appraisal fees with appraisal quality.

“Maintaining Value” in a co-op (or multi-unit housing entity with a governing body) Here are a few (non-legal) valuation thoughts on “maintaining” values in a co-op. I’ve personally always taken this to mean that the corporation is run efficiently for the benefit of the shareholders and when that happens, property values are “maintained” relative to the market. I also believe their values will ebb and flow with the world that surrounds the building – ie supply, demand, credit, interest rates, economy, employment, etc. These are outside factors tend to be things that the board has no control over. If the board takes actions to control “market forces” they can potentially damage shareholder value and they are potentially not fulfilling their fiduciary responsibilities.

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