New Century

Los Angeles’ crescent-shaped Century Plaza Hotel was built in 1966 — hardly historic vintage by European (or even East Coast) standards — but with its significant role in the entertainment industry and presidential politics, the iconic building is a bona fide landmark. Local preservationists saved it from the wrecking ball, and now it is being reimagined as part of an ambitious
$2.5 billion project.

The 19-story midcentury hotel was originally designed by Minoru Yamasaki, the renowned architect for Manhattan’s now-defunct World Trade Center as well as a familiar pair of twin towers in Century City. The Century Plaza will be reopened as the Fairmont Century Plaza Hotel & Residences, a new jewel in entertainment industry-saturated Century City.

Behind the 400-room hotel will soar a pair of 44-story high-rises accommodating some of L.A.’s most luxurious condominium residences, an homage to Yamasaki’s penchant for twin towers. The project, a venture of Next Century Partners, with primary funding from Century City-based Woodridge Capital Partners, reflects an ongoing renaissance of Century City, which was originally developed on the back lot of 20th Century
Fox studios.

Mary Ann Osborn, Managing Director of Sales & Marketing for the Century Plaza Residences, indicates Century City is evolving into a more 24-hour, walkable neighborhood. “We’re receiving considerable interest from people who work in Century City, so they have an opportunity to walk to work, which is quite a rarity in L.A.,”
she reports. 

 

A total of 268 residences will be accommodated in the two towers rising above the hotel. Condominiums in the north tower are currently being marketed, ranging from a 962-square-foot unit priced at $1.7 million to a 3,954-square-foot (3-bedroom/4.5-bath) condo on the 35th floor offered at $10.8 million. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide panoramic views from Hollywood to the Pacific Ocean, while generous glass-railed balconies capitalize on L.A.’s signature indoor-outdoor lifestyle. “Many buyers are downsizing from large homes in the area, but still demand the amenities of a luxury estate property,” says Osborn, who adds, “They want a lock-and-leave lifestyle with every need taken care of.”

The amenity package for the tower residences includes fully-staffed health-and-wellness facilities, children’s playroom, business center, screening room, game room with bar, wine lockers, and dining rooms. Also provided is an outdoor swimming pool, gardens that encompass a yoga/meditation lawn, dining terrace and dog park. Occupancy for the north tower is anticipated in the fourth quarter of 2020.

Hotel’s grand lobby. 

Exclusive event venue. 

The new Fairmont Century Plaza Hotel transforms a landmark for a new generation but recaptures the glamour of the former hotel, popular with celebrities and heads of state. The original architecture, a 20th century style known as New Formalism, is generally being retained by the new design team, but modernized both aesthetically and functionally.

Three acclaimed architectural firms — New York-based Pei Cobb Freed & Partners and L.A.-based Gensler and Marmol Radziner — are collaborating on the project along with international luxury hotel interior designers Yabu Pushelberg. Entrance to the hotel will be through a plaza anchored by a large-scale, interactive sculpture by celebrated Spanish artist Jaume Plensa and refreshed by water features.

Bedroom at Fairmont Residences. 

In addition to the tower residences, 63 Fairmont-branded luxury residences are offered in the new hotel, available for occupancy in the fourth quarter of 2019. The Fairmont Residences, accessed through a 24-hour security gate leading to a private building entry and dedicated elevators, will enjoy the services of a five-star hotel and privileges at all of its facilities. Currently offered at the Fairmont is a 2,550-square-foot unit at $5.7 million, while a one-bedroom, 1,539-square-foot condominium is priced at $3.232 million.

Homeowners at the Fairmont Century Plaza will appreciate state-of-the-art technology while residing in an iconic, historic hotel that represents the very essence of the Century City lifestyle. Each of the hotel residences reflects a blend of classicism and modernism, with usable terraces blurring the lines between indoors and out. These units represent ideal pieds-à-terre for international entrepreneurs, professional athletes or entertainment industry executives who insist on privacy and convenience, along with a subtle dose of Hollywood glamour.

Century City, overshadowed by Beverly Hills and West Hollywood a decade ago, has reemerged as one of the hottest luxury markets in L.A., and this Century Plaza development is occurring during an impressive renaissance of the district. The neighboring Westfield Century City shopping center recently completed a $1 billion renovation, making the venue a regional attraction for high-end boutiques, restaurants and entertainment.

Fairmont Residences duplex.

Osborn notes that an additional 100,000 square feet of retail space incorporated into the project will further ensure a 24-hour, amenity-rich experience, and that Century Plaza Residences is responding to Angelenos’ newfound appreciation for vertical living. Osborn also reports considerable interest from international buyers, both European and Asian, who are familiar with Century City through business or know it from shopping in adjoining Beverly Hills.

The Fairmont Century Plaza Hotel and Century Residences, with units commanding more than $2,700 per square foot, demonstrates confidence in the luxury housing market and overall economy of both Century City and Greater L.A.

Renderings courtesy of DBOX. 

“Real estate was not what I wanted to do,” states Los Angeles super-agent Gary Gold who explains “I always envisioned myself as a writer and/or cast member for Saturday Night Live.” But Gold applies his penchant for creativity — he spent years as a stand-up comedian and has written seven screenplays — to the rarified L.A. luxury market. In 2016, Gold sold the Playboy Mansion for a then-record $105 million.

“It was the most iconic home in the world and the highest-priced sale in L.A. history, so closing the deal gave me a whole new level of confidence,” says Gold, who adds, “It was like getting a Super Bowl ring!” Currently, Gold is a listing agent for the 25,000-square-foot Chartwell Estate in Bel-Air, priced at a staggering $245 million. The veteran real estate professional reports the home occupies the most coveted 10 acres in Southern California, offering a unique combination of privacy, acreage and views.

Gold, who approaches life with an infectious sense of humor, reports he entered the business at age 17. “I tried painting my car — Jews should never paint cars, by the way — and ruined it,” he jokes. “My brother was a real estate agent and said, ‘Come work for me and I’ll buy you a car,’” recounts Gold, who proceeded to create a marketable persona for his new boss. “Back then everybody was so square, like buying from your elderly aunt, so we transformed Rich into a compelling brand, which now, 30 years later, is very common.

Gary Gold, Hilton & Hyland. Photo courtesy of Gary Gold. 

 For more than five years in his thirties, Gold flexed his creative muscles, a passion more powerful than real estate. Encouraged by a Hollywood agent who saw him deliver a toast at a wedding, Gold began performing at comedy clubs and writing screenplays. “I loved it, but it destroyed my real estate business because all of my mojo and passion were being invested elsewhere,” he explains. “I asked myself, ‘What can I do in real estate that’ll give me the same buzz as a stand-up routine’ and eventually found ways to channel my creativity into the business,” he recalls.

With the emergence of Internet marketing, Gold discovered he had a gift for transforming the mundane business of real estate into something creative and sexy. “Now I get as jacked up preparing real estate marketing campaigns as performing at the Comedy Store,” he says.

 

The Playboy Mansion. Photo courtesy of Jim Bartsch.

Gold is very open about his former cocaine addiction, which began in his late teens and reoccurred in his mid-twenties. “Oddly enough, the drug had the effect of making me obsessive about work and success, and when I got sober I worried if I could function without it,” says Gold. “But I discovered that energy was actually in me,” he explains, and has now been sober for 33 years. “Those painful experiences gave me humility, and sharing them makes me a more effective public speaker,” suggests Gold, who is in demand for his humor-laced keynote addresses. The agent’s candor also inspires audience members struggling with their own sobriety.

Gold currently serves as Executive Vice President at Hilton & Hyland, the prominent Beverly Hills-based luxury agency for which he has worked for 25 years. He places a priority on providing consistent value to clients in the ultra-competitive L.A. luxury market, delivering insights and intelligence beyond the reach of other agents.

Most importantly, the influential luxury agent insists on bringing creativity, a powerful asset, to his profession every day.

With prices for residential real estate hitting and then exceeding $250 million, stratosphere was the word often used in recent years to characterize the pinnacle of the market. This year, prices for the most expensive in the U.S. are holding steady, perhaps moderating slightly (Refer here for last year’s lists). With the ultimate price remaining at $500 million and the lowest of the top 10 at $135 million, down from 2018’s $138.8 million, it would seem “holding steady” would be an appropriate sobriquet this year. 

When the first edition of Ultimate Homes was published 14 years ago, the highest-priced property in the U.S., an extensive estate in the Hamptons with a huge array of amenities including a golf course, was $75 million. The prospect of a $100 million home was denitely on the horizon, but anything nearing a billion was not even on the radar. Yet, for the last two years, the reported asking price for a mega mansion touted as “the most expensive home in America,” has been $500 million; the lowest price among the top 10 exceeded $100 million for the last four years. Geographically, Ultimate stars have appeared in many of the country’s top luxury locales. Recent years have seen a move toward the West with L.A.’s million-dollar meccas dominating the top group. Timeless blue chip estates, many with extensive pedigrees including notable architects, owners and visitors, comprised most of the top 10 in the initial years.

La Follia, Palm Beach, Florida. Photo courtesy of Giles Bradford 

Billion-Dollar Building Lot?

Undeveloped land without a house does not qualify for the Ultimate list, but it’s worth noting that last summer a $1 billion listing was posted in the multiple listing service for a 157-acre mountaintop spread in Beverly Hills. Since then, the price has been reduced by 35 percent to $650 million. Also, not on the Ultimate list is a $150 million parcel, One Enchanted Hill, that was the estate of Paul Allen, also in Beverly Hills. The property has many improvements including roads and two entrances, but the main house was razed.

Many see prospects for the premier market, particularly in L.A., as positive. Three years ago, Gary Gold with Hilton & Hyland sold the Playboy Mansion for $100 million, a record at the time for Los Angeles county. “Ever since then, we’ve seen more really big sales than ever before,” he observes. “The reason I think the ultra-luxury market is going to do well this year is there happens to be product worthy of big numbers. If there is no product available, nothing is going to trade, just because there’s nothing available. And there happens to be enough really nice, expensive big houses that are going to trade.”

Over the last 10 years, wealth globally has had a remarkable surge. Stephanie Anton sees growth in the number of ultra wealthy as a driver pushing the evolution of luxury, particularly in the highest-priced echelons. As buyer profi les evolved, luxe penthouses in new super towers along with newly constructed mega mansions created new residential categories and pushed prices upward. Properties with provenance such as Chartwell and Beverly House, along with classic estates, still have a place among best of the best. The “ultimate trophy and legend cherished for generations” is the way Beverly Hills broker Jade Mills characterizes Chartwell, a Bel Air legend designed by Summer Spaulding in 1930. A French Neo Classical exterior comprised of symmetrical cut limestone imparts a timeless presence. Henri Samuel, whose work includes estates owned by the Vanderbilts, Rothschilds and Valentino, refurbished the interior in the late 1980s. Located in the heart of Bel Air, Chartwell sits on 10.3 acres and is often described as the crown jewel of
Bel Air. 

Chartwell, Bel Air, California. Photo courtesy of Jim Bartsch.

The property also includes a guesthouse designed by Wallace Neff and acres of manicured gardens. Multiple agents including Jeff Hyland and Gary Gold of Hilton & Hyland; Joyce Rey, Jade Mills and Alexandra Allen with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage; and Drew Gitlin with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services California Properties are representing the property. “Chartwell certainly ranks as one of the most prestigious and beautiful properties I have ever represented. Additionally, the acreage is most unusual with four separate parcels and the exceptional panoramic views of downtown Los Angeles and the Pacific,” comments Rey. This property would appeal to a very specific buyer, explains Jeff Hyland, “one who has class, sophistication and taste.” 

Prime Assets

Steller architecture along with extensive and amazing amenities are a prerequisite for every top property. They add value and promote an over-the-top lifestyle, but architecture and amenities alone will not merit prices at the very top. Where they are located still matters and almost every property this year has a prime address. 

“Location is still a top consideration for potential buyers,” says Rey. Also important for long-term value, according to Rey, is the land. Just five minutes from the Beverly Hills Hotel, with over seven acres, Villa Firenze is the largest single property in Beverly Park, the largest collection of single-family mansions to be built in the U.S. in the last 50 years. With its own street, the property is its own Italianate village and includes two guest houses in additional to a 20,000-square-foot mansion. 

Meadow Lane in Southampton, New York, priced at $150 million, offers 14 acres, four separate lots and a 12,000-square-foot main residence as well as a tennis court with a tennis house, two golf greens with golf houses, and a pool and spa house. Harold Grant with Sotheby’s International Realty says the views up and down the Atlantic, in addition to unobstructed views across the bay, will “take your breath away.” In Palm Beach, only a handful of homes reach from the ocean to Lake Worth. La Follia, priced at $135 million, is the only direct ocean-to-lake estate on the entire island, according to Ashley McIntosh, executive director of luxury sales at Douglas Elliman in Palm Beach. “It is one of the most signifi cant properties on the island of Palm Beach,” she says. Italian Renaissance in style, the home is entirely wrapped in cream Coquina coral stone that extends into the two-story foyer. The top fl oor was designed for the master suite, which has “staggering views” of the ocean, along with his and hers baths, each with a balcony and dressing room, overlooking the ocean. 

Villa Firenze, Beverly Hills, California. Photo courtesy of Tyler Hogan. 

Irreplaceable

In nearby Manalapan, a 15-acre estate dubbed Gemini offers approximately 1,200 feet of dune-lined beach on the Atlantic and 1,300 feet on Lake Worth. A series of tunnels, including one that is a 15-foot-wide gallery, connects the two. The site, perched on top of a dune, offers 360-degree views, yet it’s only minutes to Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. In addition to the main house, it offers two, four-bedroom beachside cottages, a seven-bedroom house, and an additional staff or guesthouse, making it a true family compound with more than 30 bedrooms. Like Gemini, many Ultimate properties would be diffi cult to replicate. Agents call them “once-in-a-lifetime opportunities.” Mesa Vista, a massive ranch in East Texas, is another such property. Billionaire Boone Pickens has devoted more than 50 years to transform this 100-square-mile expanse of Texas panhandle into an unmatched oasis and wildlife habitat.

Improvements include 20 lakes over the course of 20 miles. In addition to a 12,000-square-foot main lodge, there is a 33,000-square-foot lodge and several other houses, plus housing for staff. The chapel, a site for both weddings and funerals, is stunning, and a 6,000-foot runway and hangar facilitates getting there. The ranch is listed at $250 million.

“It seems impossible to comprehend all of the improvement made to this property, whether it is structural improvements, water enhancements, landscape or wildlife conservation features. To our knowledge, no other ranch can replicate Boone’s Mesa Vista Ranch,” says Monte Lyons, managing director of Hall and Hall, who is representing the property along with Chas. S. Middleton and Son.

Super-Sizing Luxury

In addition to being the most expensive, The One is also one of the largest homes in the country, with an estimated 100,000 square feet. The estate is nearing the end of a half-decade-long construction process, and agents expect completion in the next few months. It also reflects a new bent for ultra properties, particularly in Los Angeles, which takes the term “trophy property” to a completely new level. In addition to expansive views, a huge number of very premium amenities from multiple pools and elevators to garages, these estates include almost everything a newly minted billionaire might want, taking the idea of a turnkey home to a new level. 

Billionaire, once again No. 6 on the Ultimate list, is priced at $150 million after a $38.8 million price reduction. It’s completely furnished, staffed and decked out with a huge array of indulgent features and additions, including more than 100 curated art installations, two stocked wine/champagne cellars, a multi-million dollar collection of cars in a custom design gallery and a 40-seat 4K Dolby Atmos Theater. Unlike custom homes which are designed for an individual buyer, new mega spec homes are geared toward a group of buyers with a great deal of specificity.

What hasn’t changed over the years are the diverse features of every Ultimate home, although what were once perks are now considered a “must-have,” including all of the tech bells and whistles, as well as privacy and state-of-the-art security. Wellness has always been a consideration, but now expands beyond space for gyms, yoga and massage. Priced at $135 million, 2571 Wallingford Drive is located in another prime Beverly Hills location and offers a one-of-a-kind indoor sports complex with basketball, pickleball, gym, a boxing ring, sports bar and outdoor lounging, according to Ginger Glass with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage.

Meadow Lane Oceanfront, Southampton, New York. Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s International Realty.

“These are consumers who can afford anything they want, but that is nothing new. Ultra high-net-worth consumers want it all, and they can afford it all,” says Anton. “Today in the ultra premium category, we are seeing demand for a lot of square footage in a beautiful setting, and/or view lots with fabulous outdoor space for entertaining and plenty of room to entertain guests, among other things. People are looking for homes that meet the needs of their busy, over-the-top, social, connected lives, but also for their home to be a safe refuge to get away from it all.”

On three occasions Joyce Rey sold the most expensive home in the nation, establishing multiple benchmarks for price — in 1978 for $4.2 million, 1990 for $19.9 million, and 2010’s $50 million record. Last year, the highest priced sale was a $110 million oceanfront compound in Malibu, which was also the most expensive sale ever in Los Angeles. So far, 2019 could be seen as a record-setting year, with the sale of a $238 million penthouse residence at 220 Central Park South in New York, which was an Ultimate top property last year. The sale set a record for a U.S. residential property. Designed by Robert Stern and located adjacent to Central Park, the building has become one of Manhattan’s most renowned properties. The price is more than impressive and surpasses other records for the U.S., which include a $147 million estate in the Hamptons that sold in 2014 and Copper Beech in Greenwich, which sold for $120 million also in 2014. Both eclipsed previous records, including a Woodside, California, estate that sold for $117.5 million in 2012.

When it comes to indications of what might occur in the future, and even the correct context within which to understand the present market, a look back doesn’t always provide the best insights. Regarding this year’s recent record sale price, appraiser Jonathan Miller cautions in his blog that the price may not be an indication of future trends because the contract was finalized in 2015, at the height of Manhattan’s supertall and super-luxurious building craze. However, Jeffrey Hyland believes there are several good indicators that bode well for future ultra-luxury sales in California. He estimates a large number of IPOs this year. “All these people are going to have so much money they will be looking to dispose of.”

This editorial appeared in the Unique Homes Ultimate ’19 Issue. 

See the Top 12 list here.

OUR EXCLUSIVE GUIDE TO THE MOST EXPENSIVE HOMES FOR SALE IN AMERICA

This is the 15th year the editors of Unique Homes have published Ultimate Homes. Our comprehensive list of every property for sale in the U.S. for at least $25 million starts on page 52 of our recent Ultimate edition, and remains the only of its kind. Below, you will find a list of the top 10 most expensive properties featured on this year’s list — starting with a $500 million estate in Bel Air, California and ending with a $135 million property in Manalapan, Florida.

$500 million
The One
Bel Air, California

 

$250 million
Mesa Vista Ranch
Pampa, Texas

$245 million
Chartwell
Bel Air, California

$180 million
908 Bel Air Road
Bel Air, California

$165 million
Villa Firenze
Beverly Hills, California

$150 million
Billionaire
Bel Air, California

$150 million 
Meadow Lane Oceanfront
Southampton,
New York 

$145 million
90 Jule Pond Drive
Southampton,
New York

$137.5 million
Gemini
Manalapan, Florida

$135 million
Wallingsford Estate
Beverly Hills, California

$135 million
The Beverly House
Beverly Hills, California

$135 million
La Follia
Palm Beach, Florida

The list originally appeared in Unique Homes
Ultimate ’19. 

Click here to see the digital copy. 

To see the full list, click here and continue to pages 58, 64, 68 and 72

Featured photo courtesy of Tyler Hogan

The Ultra High End’s new story: No longer is ultra high-end real estate in the U.S. just about NYC and LA.

Beverly Hills, Manhattan and Miami, along with one or two other cities, have traditionally been the locus of the most expensive and most exclusive real estate in the U.S. Now, in an increasingly diverse geographic mix from Boston to Boulder, more properties align with what the industry calls the ultra or premier market. Uber prices in these locations might not number in the hundreds of millions of dollars, but they are the highest of that market. And, no matter the ZIP code, it’s likely that properties at the very top share similar attributes. 

Worldwide, the number of millionaires and billionaires continues to grow, with the U.S. still accounting for the largest share of mega wealthy. “I think the change we are seeing in the growth in the ultra high-end is directly correlated to the growth of significant wealth in the world. More people have more significant money,” says Stephanie Anton, president of Luxury Portfolio International.

“Interestingly,” she says, “it’s diversifying too. In the U.S., no longer is the story just about NYC and LA. Bottom line, the shift in location is a change that influences the high end of the housing market and the demand for significant properties in a way we have never seen before.”

Photo courtesy iStockPhoto.com / Sean Pavone

 

Traditionally, the very top of the market in Boston was the purview of the city’s legendary Brahmins. But the revitalization of downtown neighborhoods and growth of tech and finance, along with globally recognized educational institutions, are revamping the high end in both the city and suburbs. In 2018, there were 82-percent more luxury property sales than in 2014. Not only are more properties considered high end, but new luxury towers mix with traditional blue-chip estates.

 

Photo courtesy of iStockPhoto / MattGush

Jonathan Radford with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in New England is representing the highest priced estate outside Central Boston. Woodland Manor is a $38 million property on more than 7 acres, five miles from the city centerline in Brookline. Photo courtesy of Boston Virtual Imaging.

The highest listing in the city is a $45 million penthouse occupying the entire 60th floor of the new Millennium Tower. Jonathan Radford with Coldwell Banker Residential Brokerage in New England is representing the highest priced estate outside Central Boston. Woodland Manor is a $38 million property on more than 7 acres, five miles from city center in Brookline. “Over the ast 5 years, we have seen consistent growth in the number of luxury property transactions outside of the city of Boston, in the range of 10 percent to 30 percent per year, with the exception of 2016, when a shortage of inventory resulted in a 2.7-percent decline in the number of luxury sales. In 2018, there were 58-percent more luxury property sales than in 2014,” explains Radford. “In the city, growth in the number of luxury transactions has exceeded 25 percent a year.”

Beverly Hills agent Joyce Rey, head of the Estates Division of Coldwell Banker Global Luxury, has brokered a number of record-setting transactions both regionally and nationally. “I never cease to be amazed at the constant ascension of real estate values. Any look in the rearview mirror at real estate values is always surprising because people realize and regret not buying more real estate. And it seems shocking today because when I founded Rodeo Realty in 1979, $1 million was a pretty major property.” The customary benchmark for luxury in many places has been $1 million. Now, in many locales, including Boulder, Colorado, the $1 million home is basically a redo. Boulder agents say luxury doesn’t begin until $2.5 million,
but even then, as Megan Bach with Colorado Landmark Realtors points out, “some homes are not necessarily luxury.” A more reliable gauge in Boulder, she says, is price per square foot, a measure often applied to premier markets in New York and California. She estimates luxury in Boulder begins at approximately $1,000 per square foot. The highest priced home currently on the market is a $9 million property on 15.42 acres outside of town with extensive views and strong indoor/outdoor connections. Having “great indoor views typically price bumps any home in any neighborhood here, as is the case in any view locale,” says Bach, emphasizing what might be a universal truth for uber luxury: No matter the location, the better the views and outdoor connections, the higher the price. 

Utah ay seem an unlikely spot for the ultra high-end, but prices now approach $10 million with the highest residential listing $26 million. Photo courtesy of Summit Sotheby’s International Realty.

“Sales over $10 million are very rare, but I think they are coming,” observes Debra Johnston, with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Georgia Properties. Photo courtesy of Debra Johnston.

Along Florida’s west coast, values in upscale resort locales traditionally trailed Miami or Palm Beach. Now, “prices for beachfront in Naples begin at $20 million,” says Tade Bua Bell of John R. Wood Properties. The recent sale of a gulf-front property in the exclusive Port Royal for $48 million illustrates how much demand has changed. The home was eventually torn down and replaced with new construction. Another property also in Port Royal and destined for a tear down sold for $28 million. In the ultra-sphere, a $10 million or $20 million tear down is not an anomaly.

The uber market in Atlanta starts around $5 million to $7 million for new construction. “Sales over $10 million are very rare, but I think they are coming,” observes Debra Johnson, with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Georgia Properties. “Buckhead is running out of large land lots, which is driving up the cost to build a dream house. The time it takes to build a new luxury home in the $5 million range could take up to 2 years. Many prospective buyers are instead buying the best flat lot they can find in a resale, and renovating the house to their taste level,” observes Johnson. In Atlanta, Los Angeles and other cities, lots suitable for prestige properties are at a premium.

In New York City, ultra luxury starts at $10 million, but Martin Eiden of Compass Real Estate says if you are looking for the “Wow factor” you have to be in the $18 to $40 million range. And anyone considering a trophy — what Eiden calls “I made it big” — property, generally has to look at $60 million and up. In the ultra-sphere, trophy properties often have over-the-top list prices. Greenwich, Connecticut, is a blue-chip bastion for prestige properties. Topping price points is a mid-country European style estate offered at $29.5 million, followed by a $22.5 million property, also in a premier estate setting. Old money locales tend to be timeless. In the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, uber prices currently do not exceed
the $20 million mark. The exception is a $62 million estate in McLean, Virginia, on 3.2 acres overlooking the Potomac and comprised of a main residence and The Marden House, which was designed and constructed by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1959. Also extraordinary is underground parking for 30 cars, bespoke interiors by Thomas Pheasant and some of the finest views of the river in the region. In the ultra realm, truly singular properties, particularly those with provenance, often merit singular list prices. Parking for dozens of cars might seem over the top, but garage space and parking are both important to high net worth buyers, according to Rey. What else is considered a must-have? Smart home tech, larger closets, a gym, kitchens and great rooms that flow, screening and media rooms. But, Rey emphasizes, “Location is still the number one consideration for buyers.”

The increasing diversity of locations in properties at the highest price points is basically a numbers game: more buyers, greater degrees of wealth, and price appreciation in the overall market. Simply, there are more people in more locations with greater net worth. Utah is an unlikely spot for the ultra high-end, but prices now approach $10 million with the highest residential listing at $26 million. The market changed in 2016, according to Kerry Oman, with Summit Sotheby’s International Realty in Park City, who brokered the sale of a $13.5 million property in Provo Canyon, the highest-priced transaction in recent years. For the ultra market, the $5 million to $7 million range is typical, and $7 million to $10 million is no longer the exception, says Oman. In spite of growing national interest in Park City, demand for uber properties is most likely to come from home-grown wealth. In the ultra-realm, U.S. buyers dominate a majority of locations today. 

“A lot of money is coming out of Silicon Valley, and Seattle now. And we’re seeing a great migration of significant wealth to more resort markets like Hawaii, Florida and Texas, due to an aging affluent population and also attractive tax laws,” shares Anton. Taxes are only one driver for a new geographic mix of buyers in Florida and Georgia. Even before the tax law was passed, brokers like Bua Bell were reporting more interest from Colorado and California. Brokers in Naples and other cities are also seeing buyers from New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Johnson says there has been a big increase in out-of-state buyers in Georgia in the last year. Ultra-luxury buyers in Greenwich have broadened in terms of their use of these properties and what they are looking for, observes Robin Kencel with Compass Real Estate. Some plan to make Greenwich their fulltime residence. Others are looking for a weekend or a summer retreat. “As people discover Greenwich’s natural beauty, from having four beaches to 600-plus nature trails to a breadth of year-round activities and its sophisticated, diverse and wholesome vibe, it is becoming an attractive alternative to the Hamptons,” she says. 

In the Washington D.C., metropolitan area, uber prices currently do not exceed the $20 million mark. The exception is a $62 million estate in McLean, Virginia. Photo courtesy of Gordon Beal. 

Sui generis is how some characterize the ultra market, but as distant and disconnected as it may seem, the ultra sector does not exist in a separate vacuum. “Everything’s fluid in luxury real estate,” says Gary Gold with Hilton & Hyland in Beverly Hills, noting it’s not like the stock market where there is a definite price at the closing bell. “It doesn’t work that way. There are so many nuances. In general, when you have record sales, when you have record numbers of sales, when you have lots of positive activity, it has an overall significant effect on everything,” he explains.

“The rise in significant prices is a reflection of demand but also is consistent with the rise we’re seeing in luxury prices across the board,” says Anton. “According to Realtor.com, in Q4 of 2018, prices in the top 5 percent of markets in 1,000 U.S. cities closed at an increase of 4.7 percent year over year. It’s a bit of that old saying, ‘a rising tide lifts all boats.’” With pricing heading into the stratosphere, an ultra purchase might seem capricious — a product of desire rather than a well thought
out choice. Instead, no matter the price, it’s still a question of value. Every once in a while a buyer might make a crazy purchase, but agents say that’s a very rare occurrence. Even though prices might be well into the tens of millions, Gold says, “It’s not about the money. It’s about how everyone wants to make a smart purchase, and no one wants to be a chump. For the most part, when they make that purchase, people want to feel they have made a prudent, valuable purchase. People who are worth a lot of money are very used to making very very expensive acquisitions, whether it’s in business or personal.

They know how to wrap their head around these very large purchases.” “These buyers are highly sophisticated consumers and active in multiple luxury asset classes, from cars to art to jewelry. They want to know that beyond enjoying their property, they have made a sound business decision,” says Kencel. Ultra properties might be extravgent and indulgent, but the ultra buyer’s focus is still value and investment. When there are several properties on the market at the highest prices, agents often say, “When one sells, the others will to.” Surprisingly, experience does validate this claim. “If you see homes that are setting new precedent, I think it definitely is an endorsement in an area and a price range,” says Gold. Several years ago, Gold broke the $100 million price point in Los Angeles with the sale of the Playboy Mansion. “No one ever sold something well over a $100 million. Since then, we’ve seen more really big sales than ever before. It’s definitely a validation of an area, and people get more comfortable spending more money, so it’s a good sign.” And the impact trickles down. “The second I sold something for $100 million, all of a sudden the $5 million listings are now worth more.”

This editorial originally appeared in Unique Homes Ultimate ’19 Issue.   

Photo courtesy Maxwell Mackenzie.

In 2017, Unique Homes is traveling the U.S. to find the dominant stories in each region of the country — This issue covers the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic.

By Camilla McLaughlin

To say 2017 is a year of change is an understatement, and real estate is no exception. Prices are up … and down. Condition matters, and design and architecture have almost become a national obsession. In our yearlong series, we are taking a look at all the regions of the country in an attempt to answer the question of the year,

WHAT NOW?

For real estate in major East Coast cities, 2017 culminates a decade of change. In many locations, it is a turning point of sorts with new value equations being forged and entirely new standards for luxury properties emerging. Lifestyle matters more than ever. Whether it’s a desire for arts and culture or an escape from ever-increasing gridlock, a penchant for urban living has become a prime driver for real estate in many markets. What changes also stays the same, as neighborhoods that were hot hundreds of years ago are back in vogue.

Photo courtesy ©getty images. 

New York

“We used to say cash is king. I think right now value is king. Everyone from luxury down to the $1 million range wants to feel some value,” says Diane Ramirez, chairman and CEO of Halstead Property, about real estate in the Big Apple. 

Few real estate markets received as much scrutiny in 2016 as New York. Reports from the first quarter of 2017 point toward a revival, with prices and transactions for resale apartments increasing by 5 percent year-over-year. Closing prices for new development averaged $4.3 million, 15-percent higher than the first quarter 2016. “Post election, we’re seeing a great deal of interest. In Manhattan, the luxury market is bubbling, very interesting and active. We’re seeing activity, but the higher you go up the more challenging it is. Yet, we recently closed on a $41-million-plus sale,” says Ramirez.

Years of white-hot demand tempered in 2016, and sellers have had to fine tune expectations and adjust to the new market reality. Ramirez explains: “Buyers, whether it’s $30 million or $16 million or $1.5 million, want to see or feel they got some value.” It doesn’t necessarily have to be price. It could be some type of a concession or initiative.

What’s hot here continues to be new. “People love new construction. They just love the newness. It’s no longer just about space,” Ramirez says, listing the benefits new construction delivers — views even from the kitchen, open plans with excellent flow, collaborative spaces and technology. And big windows that make these urban dwellings almost seem like a suburban home.

Fewer permit applications suggest development is slowing. New buildings currently in the pipeline are not on ultra prime streets. While still very upscale, they will come to market at lower price points. “I am happy to see some of the newest development coming in prices that are still in the $6 million range or higher but not starting at $8 million,” says Ramirez.

Highest-priced listing: $110 million penthouse in the Woolworth Tower Residences

On the Radar: 121 East 22nd Street

New upscale buildings with lower price tags such as 121 East 22nd Street, which straddles Gramercy Park and Madison Square. Prices range from $1.3 million to $10.5 million. The first residential building in Manhattan designed by Rem Koolhaas’ firm, Office of Metropolitan Architecture (OMA), this building offers 67 unique floor plans and was developed in conjunction with Tolls Brothers. Also on the books is 75 Kenmare, perched on the site of a former parking garage at the intersection of SoHo, NoHo, the Lower East and Little Italy.

Rendering courtesy Toll Brothers City Living.

Motoring Toward a Car-Fewer Future

Last year, planners at the Urban Land Institute speculated how ridesharing and self-driving cars will change cities. This year, the vision of cities with fewer cars is beginning to look like a real possibility. Our focus cities rank high for living without a car, according to a recent report compiled by Redfin. “Transportation is a big deal these days,” observes Paul Grover. Access to transportation and walkability often determine target locations for buyers. Grover says it’s not uncommon for clients to say they are planning to not have a car or to reduce the number of cars they own. San Francisco ranked highest on Redfin’s list of best cities to live in without a car, followed by New York, Boston, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia. Walkability is only part of the equation, which includes bike sharing, bike lanes and transit.

Photo courtesy ©istockphoto.com / csfotoimages.

Boston

“Boston is becoming a little shinier. The public gardens and esplanade, all the things we love about it, are still here, but you can definitely see change,” says Paul Grover, a partner at Robert Paul Properties. More than the skyline is being altered as recent construction, such as the 60-story Millennium Towers, introduces a new paradigm for premium properties.  Unlike the townhouses prized by Boston’s legendary Brahmin, the lifestyle is ultra luxurious with services, architecture and amenities comparable to prime buildings in New York and San Francisco. For example, the Millennium has a private restaurant and bar, under the helm of Michael Mina, solely for residents.

Change is not new to Boston. For almost two decades, the city has been in a constant state of flux as one neighborhood after another is rediscovered. Some of the most compelling real estate stories today are coming out of old towns that ring city center. Newton, Brookline, Chestnut Hill and Weston remain luxury stalwarts, but close-in communities like Watertown, Chelsea and Everett are seeing record prices. Cambridge is white hot. In Somerville, once a haven for first-time buyers, million-dollar prices are not uncommon.

Right now, Boston has one of the hottest real estate markets in the country with the number of single-family homes for sale down 35.2 percent year-over-year in February; condos were down 27.6 percent. Statewide, February marked the 60th time in the last 61 months with a year-over-year inventory decrease.

What’s hot: Close-in locations with access to transportation. 

Highest-priced listing: Woodland Manor, a $90 million estate on 14 acres, less than 6 miles from the center of the city in Chestnut Hill.

Top: ©getty images; Bottom: 2 Avery Street, courtesy Robert Paul Properties.

Photo courtesy ©getty images. 

Washington, D.C.

“The thing with D.C., it’s always been a solid market with so many people moving in and out,” says Katherine Herndon Martin with McEnearney Associates. Long before the recession, Washington’s real estate star was on the rise, and in recent years it has charted among top markets nationally. In March, homes were selling within two weeks, with the number of units sold up 15 percent vs. a year ago.

The recent focus on ultra properties on Kalorama Road has pushed upscale Washington into the limelight. Until recently, prices above $12 million were rare, but billionaire interest, beginning with Jeff Bezos’ purchase of a $23 million property on S Street, puts new upscale dynamics in play. Similar to Beverly Hills, new estates, rather than new towers, create rising benchmarks for luxury here.

The most expensive property on the market in the District of Columbia is a $22 million estate on Chain Bridge Road on the second-highest point in the

city. (The National Cathedral is the highest.) At first glance, the regency-styled home seems to be one of the city’s historic estates, but it is newly built and constructed with a level of materials and attention to detail comparable to that found in the most expensive areas of the country. 

The other facet of the D.C. real estate story is continued redevelopment and gentrification of neighborhoods and parts of the city, a process that began decades ago. Some of the newest hot areas include Brookland near Catholic University as well as neighborhoods around Logan Circle. In many of the suburbs, bigger continues to have great appeal with buyers often adding on to what is already substantial square footage in properties in Potomac, Maryland and McLean, Virginia.

Highest Price in the Region: $24 million for new construction in McLean, Virginia.

Highest Price in the District: $22 million for a newly constructed estate in the Foxhall Neighborhood.

Philadelphia

Eds and meds is how Mark Wade with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox and Roach Realtors sums up part of the draw to Center City Philadelphia. But, based on the large number of downsizers exchanging suburb for city, arts and culture are easily in the mix. The big news here is new super premium buildings that fetch unheard of prices, especially for condominium residences. “Basically, what we have is that Philadelphia is a town of Toyotas and Mercedes. That’s our high-rise market. What’s coming down the pike are Bentleys. There is a huge disparity between the two. The gap is unbelievable,” Wade says referring to the recent sale of an 8,900-square-foot, two-story penthouse at 500 Walnut for $17.85 million, a record in a city where the previous high priced sale was a $12.5 million penthouse, set in 2010.   

Newcomers, particularly those drawn by the universities and medical systems, also opt for a home in the city. “Twenty-five years ago, the trend was the exact opposite. Somebody would move here, say from Atlanta, and they would bypass the city and magically end up in the suburbs. Today, when we get a transferee like that, it’s the exact opposite,” observes Wade. Additionally, the city attracts a large contingent of commuters to Manhattan, who happily trade an hour in the car for a productive hour on the train.

Highest-priced listing: $16.795 million for a
Society Hill condo.

On the radar: New ultra-luxury buildings, such as the Residences at the Ritz Carlton, are setting records over $10 million.

Market Insight: “When our market rises, it does so at a sustainable pace,” says Wade. “When our market falls, it does so gradually — we don’t have the crazy ups and downs of say a Miami, or New York, or D.C. We seem to chug along either up or down. Nothing wrong with that!”

Photo courtesy ©Mefmanoo/Wikimedia Commons.

The Residences at The Ritz-Carlton, Philadelphia. Photo courtesy Ritz-Carlton.

Baltimore

Photo courtesy ©getty images.

Charm City is more than just a catchy moniker. “Baltimore is a hotbed,” and when you are here you discover that it literally is Charm City, observes Charlie Hatter, owner of Prime Building Advantage and Monument Sotheby’s International Realty in Baltimore. “Luxury real estate is doing very, very well,” he says, citing a recent $6 million sale. “Anything above $2 million is considered ultra luxury for this market.” High-end suburbs including Roland Park and Towson and properties in the horse country see strong demand.   

The ambiance of the city and prices bring a number of new residents who have children in New York or Washington, D.C., which are both an easy train ride away. Revitalized areas in the city and inner harbor area are in demand. Like many places, sales were slow or even stagnant in summer and fall. On the other hand, Charlie Hatter describes the spring market as “huge” with lots of activity around the inner harbor, as well as areas that have been revitalized. “People love the charm and the uniqueness of the older properties,” he says.

Highest-priced listing: $12.5 million for a Four Seasons penthouse with skyline and water views.

This story originally appeared in Unique Homes Ultimate ’17. Click here to see the digital version.

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