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Good and Bad Super-Luxury Condo Buyers Love the LLC

February 9, 2015 | 9:46 am | nytlogo | Favorites |

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One of the great ironies of modern residential real estate has been the expansion in transparency of information, along with greater secrecy of ownership. I think the latter coincides with the much greater wealth that is being put into hard assets like real estate. Privacy and security are indeed very important to many, including the wealthy and especially those near the top of the financial pyramid. There is nothing sinister or unseemly about the desire for privacy. The use of limited liability corporations (LLCs) has been a legal vehicle (and a gift) from lawmakers who created it that allows people to keep certain transactions hidden from view. However the LLC also provides an opportunity for bad actors to shelter their often ill-gotten assets too.

Louise Story and Stephanie Saul of The New York Times have explored this in “Towers of Secrecy: Stream of Foreign Wealth Flows to Elite New York Real Estate,” an epic data visualization along the lines of “Snow Fall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek” This article is a must read covering the hypersensitive subject of high end real estate and privacy.

The ongoing debate about the dying middle class versus the booming fortunes of the wealthy, the lack of affordable housing versus the super-luxury residential tower boom and municipal governments grappling to keep construction and development moving forward to keep tax revenue flows coming in, have made this effort long overdue.

Towers of Secrecy” is careful not to stereotype users of LLCs in high end real estate transactions as exclusively foreign buyers. Within the Manhattan market, foreign buyers are not the majority of overall high-end real estate purchasers. However they tend to be concentrated around the Midtown central business district (aka ‘Billionaires’ Row’) whereas domestic purchasers tend to favor markets found to the north and south of Midtown.

UPDATE There’s a great recap over on Curbed NY too:
Scandal-Plagued Foreigners Park Millions in Midtown Condos

Here are a few screenshots of the embedded videos within the “Towers of Secrecy” piece.

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Bloomberg View Column: The $10 Million Home, Never Hotter

November 30, 2014 | 1:00 pm | BloombergViewlogoGray |

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Read my latest Bloomberg View column The $10 Million Home, Never Hotter. Please join the conversation over at Bloomberg View. Here’s an excerpt…

As the U.S. housing market cools from last year’s overheated state, sales of homes at the top haven’t been following the same script. Prices and sales at the upper reaches are soaring…

[read more]


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The $100M+ US Home Sale Trifecta – Without NYC – 2014 Edition

May 6, 2014 | 5:23 pm | Milestones |

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With the $147M sale in East Hampton, NY, it has been a busy couple of weeks for the .0000000000000000001% of the home buying public in the US. With the 3rd US home sale to close above $100M in 2014, it has left many thinking – why isn’t NYC in the fray?

After all, NYC arguably legitimized the US “trophy sale” frenzy a few years ago when Sandy Weill sold his penthouse at 15 Central Park West to a Russian oligarch for double what he paid for it. I’ve argued that this $88M sale was the launchpad for the new trophy market in NYC even though the transaction appears to be a divorce strategy. After that sale closed, the subsequent trifecta of trophy sales back then seems relatively affordable now.

As journalists tell me…three data points make a trend.

2014 US Sales over $100M
$147,000,000 Further Lane, East Hampton, NY
$120,000,000 Copper Beech Farm, Greenwich, CT
$102,000,000 The Fleur de Lys, Los Angles, CA

So is the era of US $100M+ sales a trend?

Yes, although it is probably more accurate to call it a “phenomenon” than a trend.

In NYC? Eventually.

To a few real estate brokers I engaged with on this topic, the idea that NYC would see the $100m threshold broken in 2014 seemed inevitable, only because of this 2014 US trifecta. It is the belief that we are experiencing a momentum swing over the $100m threshold because 3 sales by May, compared to a sale a year means a shift.

Meh. I view this phenomenon as “product-specific” and not “location-specific.” There is a randomness to the locations where these sales occur. However I do believe the probability is high that NYC will see such a sale in the not too distant future.

Then again, does it really matter? Do these $100M+ sales have anything to do with the remainder of the US housing market? No they don’t. But it’s fun to talk about.

The Manhattan $1M Average Sales Price Threshold broken in 2007
I remember when the Manhattan $1M average sales price threshold was broken in 2007, foreign media went gaga, struggling to find a deeper meaning to housing. There wasn’t. I always viewed it as simply a number on the spectrum.

Affordable Irony
Definitive proof that I have “hipster” tendencies – my never ending search for irony.

Yesterday’s announcement of the 3rd US $100m+ sale was one of record breaking irony: the announcement of NYC mayor’s 10-year plan to create 200k affordable housing units. The need for affordable housing – low and middle income – has always challenged NYC. The mayor’s affordable housing plan “moon shot” as the New York Times has described it came out on the same day as the $147M East Hampton sale story broke. Irony.

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