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12.03.2014
The building’s lobby, designed in leathery tones by Armani, swirled with polylingual property talk. After a few minutes, a fashionably stubbled young man swung through 20 Pine’s revolving door: Santo Rosabianca, a broker with Wire International Realty. Like several other buildings she was being shown, 20 Pine was developed at the height of the real-estate bubble. This is not exactly true—there’s plenty of risk in real estate, as the original crop of purchasers at 20 Pine discovered—but that hardly dampens the enthusiasm of foreign buyers, who have become an overpowering force in New York’s real-estate market. The influx of global wealth is most visible on the ultrahigh end, as Stern and other builders are erecting spiraling condo towers and sales records are regularly shattered by foreign billionaires, like the Russian fertilizer oligarch Dmitry Rybolovlev, purchaser of the most expensive condo in Manhattan’s history ($88 million), and Egyptian construction magnate Nassef Sawiris, who recently set the record for a co-op ($70 million). And so New Yorkers with garden-variety affluence—the kind of buyers who require mortgages—are facing disheartening price wars as they compete for scarce inventory with investors who may seldom even turn on a light switch.
To cater to the tastes of their transient residents, developers are designing their projects with features like hotel-style services. Even those with less reflexively hostile reactions to foreign buying competition might still wonder: Who are these people? Those on the New York end of the transaction often don’t know—or don’t care to find out—the exact derivation of foreign money involved in these transactions. More typically, though, foreign buyers are searching for a favorable investment climate and the identity protection provided by an LLC.
She ended up back downtown at 75 Wall Street, where she saw a unit she liked: a one-bedroom belonging to a Panamanian-owned company. Every year, the British real-estate brokerage Knight Frank publishes a document called “The Wealth Report.” The latest edition produces the curiously precise estimate that there are 167,669 individuals in the world who are “ultrahigh net worth,” with assets exceeding $30 million. This new global wealth is being lavished on the usual status items—planes, yachts, contemporary art—but Knight Frank is pleased to report that the rich favor real estate most of all.
Daniela Sassoun, a Portuguese-speaking Corcoran broker who used to work in Swiss banking, frequently travels to Sao Paulo and Geneva to sell elite buyers on New York. No American city rivals New York, however, in the diversity of its wealthy population and the buying options it offers. A luxury-skyscraper boom, fueled by international buying power, is casting a shadow over Central Park, where new and proposed towers are attempting to mimic the example of One57, which boasts of sales to every continent but Antarctica. Much of this speculation is being driven by two factors: sparse supply, due to the absorption of the inventory left over from the last boom, and fast-rising prices. 432 Park Avenue and its competitors have historical antecedents, most notably Olympic Tower, built in the 1970s with financing by Aristotle Onassis. Other investors in 15 Central Park West relied on the strict secrecy laws in offshore jurisdictions.
The first rule of selling property to the ultrarich is that you can’t try to sell them property—you offer them status, or a lifestyle, or a unique place in the sky.
Buyers for whom money is still something of an object—very wealthy people who have a few spare million to spend on a reliable investment—have slightly less lofty options.
Perepada, who lives in Sheepshead Bay, says he acts as a sort of all-purpose consultant and fixer for his moneyed clients, who hail mainly from the former Soviet Union. The further you descend in price, the more distanced the ultimate owner tends to become from the transaction. I spoke with Jajan at the cafe at the Trump Soho, the hybrid hotel-and-condominium project (his small firm has handled around 40 percent of the building’s sales).
Extreme wealth demands extremely elaborate wealth management, and anyone who has a few million in spare cash will probably already have an entree to the cloistered world of private banking. The theatrical secrecy is designed to build personal trust between such bankers and their clients, which is especially vital when the goal of the transactions is to conceal assets from the prying eyes of rivals, vengeful spouses, or tax collectors. Behind a New York City deed, there may be a Delaware LLC, which may be managed by a shell company in the British Virgin Islands, which may be owned by a trust in the Isle of Man, which may have a bank account in Liechtenstein managed by the private banker in Geneva.
Recently, scrutiny from the United States has punctured some of the traditional secrecy of Swiss banks. There is nothing illegal—at least from the destination nation’s perspective—about sending money from an anonymous offshore bank account to purchase property in America. No federal authority, not even the IRS, keeps track of the actual “beneficial” owners behind LLCs, and the more lenient states don’t even require much record-keeping by the firms that handle incorporation. Lawyers, brokers, and other service providers fall into a category that money-laundering experts refer to as “gatekeepers.” An international organization formed to combat such financial crime has called for gatekeepers to be required to report suspicious activity, and some nations, like Great Britain, have placed disclosure requirements on attorneys. One notorious international fraud case illustrates the difficulty of tracing laundered money that allegedly made its way to New York. Browder suspected the swindle was pulled off with the complicity of powerful government players and dispatched a Russian attorney named Sergei Magnitsky to investigate.
According to the allegations in a civil complaint filed by federal prosecutors in Manhattan, the tax money was deposited into three corporate bank accounts and then diced up into smaller amounts and bounced around several Russian banks.
Starting in late 2009, Prevezon began purchasing units in 20 Pine, acquiring five in total. In reality, the 20 Pine case shows just how hard it is to police the flow of money into real estate. The best—though still fuzzy—global estimates say as much as $1.5 trillion in criminal proceeds is laundered each year. Prevezon has been liquidating its New York holdings, though the proceeds have been frozen by the government. I recently visited Shvo—a perma-tanned Israeli with an action-figure physique—at his Fifth Avenue office, which is decorated with pieces from his art collection, including a Playboy bunny by Andy Warhol and a hanging noose by an artist whose name escaped him. This theory is driving an enormous amount of luxury development across New York, but it is based on fragile assumptions and subject to unpredictable external factors. Some brokers and lawyers who deal with foreign clients say they have seen a recent softening at the top end of the marketplace, as all these new buildings compete for a group of buyers who are canny about supply and demand. But the boom, and potential glut, at the billionaire end of the market obscures the broader trend, the one that has pushed up prices for everyone.
The Brazilian was focusing on the Upper West Side, and he wanted to spend between $3 million and $6 million. Even for the global rich, the most desirable Manhattan apartment is often the one that sits just a bit out of reach. Additional reporting by Ionut Stanescu, Paul Radu, Margot Williams, Mar Cabra, Titus Plattner and Pavla Holcova.
More information about text formatsPlain textNo HTML tags allowed.Lines and paragraphs break automatically. Switched On London, a publicly owned, democratically controlled energy company, intends to provide greener, cheaper electricity to millions of residents in the British capital, signaling a potential sea change in the way big cities produce power.
Middle-income renters across the country are bearing the brunt of rapid price increases as a result of growing gentrification. Bernie Sanders' call for political revolution has inspired grassroots groups to continue his work post-November. This week on Act Out!, Break Free from fossil fuels, rebel against the fracking infrastructure, and glean some inspiration from our European anti-corporate coup comrades. Unprecedented protests of a scope not seen since the Iraq war in Germany have pushed negotiations over the Trans-Atlantic free trade agreement to a TTIPing point – and what some call the brink of collapse. Global international actions this month aimed at halting fossil fuel extraction have ranged from North America to Nigeria to New Zealand and the message throughout is clear: we must act urgently to end humanity’s reliance on coal, oil and gas. The California Local Economies Securities Act aims to make it possible for small farms, agricultural land trusts, coops, nonprofits with business income, and renewable energy systems to raise capital without going through a costly permitting process.
Ordinary working people will pay the price for a Brexit – with the cost of energy bills likely to increase ?500 per family per year, car manufacturing and farming jobs being lost, and the hospitality and leisure industries taking a severe hit.
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Tiny Monaco, which is occupied almost entirely by Monte Carlo, is home to the most expensive residential real estate in the world. The answer is an emphatic “yes” if the product in question is real estate — and if you’re comparing it to property in other parts of the world. There are a number of global cities where prices are far higher than they are in the Big Apple.
For example, in Monaco, the most expensive market in the world, homes average $6,200 per square foot, according to the most recent Wealth Report from London-based real estate consultancy Knight Frank. By comparison, the average price in Manhattan was $2,300 a foot as of March, according to the report. Hong Kong, London and Singapore are also pricier than New York, which ranked sixth on Knight Frank’s top 10 list, two notches higher than the year before. While the ranking includes several locations in Asia and Europe, Middle Eastern and South American cities are noticeably absent: For all its vast investments in luxury development, for instance, Dubai did not crack the top 10. And faced with a softening housing market, much of it by governmental design, the four Asian cities on the list may see prices drop soon. In addition, New York is narrowing the gap with some Asian cities, where values are sliding after a massive multi-year run-up, brokers say. This month, The Real Deal looked at the priciest markets on the planet for residential real estate and at how they stack up against New York.
Residential values seem to know few bounds in this square-mile European country on the Mediterranean. For the third year in a row, Monaco, which is almost entirely occupied by the famed Monte Carlo quarter, took top honors in Knight Frank’s report.
Measured another way, $1 million in Monaco will buy about 162 square feet, or less than half a Manhattan “micro” apartment. Experts say that Monaco’s extreme lack of supply propels prices: Not only is the principality tiny, but high-rise construction was mostly banned for three decades starting in the 1980s, until recently. In addition, residents, who reportedly include Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev, Beatles’ drummer Ringo Starr and actor Roger Moore, who portrayed James Bond in seven films, pay no income tax. This waterfront Chinese city — where $1 million buys 222 square feet — saw an average sales price of $4,550 a foot this year, down from $4,810 a foot last year, according to Knight Frank. The greater Hong Kong region, which has 7 million people living in roughly 400 square miles, is similar in size to the New York area.
The government also owns most of the land and can impose strict rules about what goes up on it. Subsequently, 2013 saw the lowest number of transactions in the city since the 1990s, according news reports. Plus, in the 12-month period ending in July, overall housing prices dipped, though by less than a percent.
In response, major developers like Sun Hung Kai Properties slashed prices at mega-projects like the Cullinan, a glassy two-tower condo on Victoria Harbor that’s the city’s tallest residential building. If there’s a global city that New York gets pitted against more than any other, it’s London.
At an average of $3,700 a square foot, residential sales price “across the pond” in England’s capital city are higher than they are in New York, data show.
Though land is not as limited as it is in Manhattan and other island metropolises, strict zoning regulations keep prices high: The city ranks a lowly 45th globally in terms of skyscrapers, Knight Frank reports. In terms of major sales, the blockbuster project continues to be One Hyde Park, a modernistic complex of four linked mid-rise towers completed in 2009 in the Knightsbridge area.
And it’s not the first record at the condo, an 80-unit project developed by the Candy Brothers’ CPC Group and the Qatari firm Waterknight. Critics say that these ultra-big-ticket purchases obscure what’s really happening in the market, by artificially inflating average prices.
Overall home prices were down 3.7 percent in July from last summer, and prices are expected to tumble by as much as 20 percent by 2015, analysts say. Analysts say the market will soon reveal whether those curbs have gone too far, as about 80,000 new apartments are reportedly coming online by 2018.
Geneva, the six-square-mile, high-altitude European financial hub in Switzerland, edged out New York by just a hair. Prices rose through the recession there and may climb higher, according to several brokers who’ve been publicly quoted on the topic. But a series of controversial recent rules designed to stem overdevelopment have taken aim at this second-home market — which may limit the stock of those dwellings, particularly for foreigners.
As a result, Geneva, and Switzerland in general, which have long been trendy with British, German and Italian buyers, may be losing some of its appeal, brokers say. However, even if sellers are now required to pay capital gains taxes locally when they sell Geneva homes, those sales can be tax-free on a national level, so investors might not packs their bags for good. Homes in the top 5 percent of this Australian city average $2,250 a square foot, just a bit less than New York’s figure when Knight Frank collected its data.
And unlike some other cities on the list, Sydney continues to show strong growth; its sales price per square foot average was up from $2,125 in 2013, the data show. A single demographic may explain the booming home market: Chinese buyers spent a staggering $23 billion on real estate in the country from 2007 to 2014, according to a Credit Suisse report. Sotheby’s Brown estimates that a quarter of all buyers of new condos in the city this year have been Asian.
Brokers say Chinese buyers prefer homes with views of Sydney icons like the Harbour Bridge and Opera House.
In May, a Mediterranean-style waterside mansion called Altona sold to a Chinese buyer for $53 million, setting a record for the priciest home ever sold in the country. In France’s capital, where Knight Frank said prices average $2,200 a foot, demand has seemed unstoppable.


Property values have jumped by double digits in the last five years alone, according to news reports. For many, the most coveted homes in a city with little major residential construction are found behind 300-year-old limestone walls in the center of Paris, on Ile Saint-Louis, said Sofia Falleroni, a broker with Town Residential, who works with buyers from France. Other popular destinations for foreign buyers include the Golden Triangle area by the Champs-Elysees and Avenue George V, a major retail area, sources say. Russian oligarchs, many rich from oil, are driving the record-setting purchases outside their country. That explains average prices of $2,150 a square foot in Moscow, where $1 million purchases 463 square feet. Investment targets include the “Golden Mile,” or Ostozhenka Street, by the Moscow River, which is lined with landmarked Art Nouveau mansions from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Gleaming towers are “a relatively new model for Moscow, which is an older city,” said Angela Rapoport, a Corcoran Group broker who was educated in Moscow and is from the former Soviet republic of Estonia.
But the recent turmoil in Ukraine, where separatists that appear to be backed by Russia are battling pro-government forces, has led to tough sanctions by Western countries.
Some of the residential activity is being driven by investors, who are buying up newly constructed units, sometimes sight unseen, and then renting them out, said Brown, who compared the situation to Miami during the last boom.
On the other hand, ultra-wealthy residents who maintain their primary residences in Shanghai usually gravitate toward standalone villas, according to Daniel Chang, another Sotheby’s agent who is originally from Taiwan, but is now based in New York. While the Chinese home market has significantly cooled in recent months, analysts say established cities with mixed, global economies like Shanghai are better prepared to stave off a downturn. In addition, the Park Hyatt Beijing, a 66-story building with 21 penthouses on the top nine floors, is also under construction nearby. Aware that buyers are on the hunt, Sotheby’s recently opened an office in the city; Century 21 has a beachhead, too. For the high net-worth individual, no other information source in the country brings you the detail and in-depth value on the topics you’re interested in.
Get the world news stories happening now and read about the latest in numismatics, auctions, collections, art, jewelry, real estate, and more! New York City is one of the most stable real estate markets in the world because it is both highly transparent and under-leveraged. As a result, it's a hot location for people looking to invest in property who don't necessarily plan to live there.
Both Wei Min Tan and Jarrod Randolph specialize in crunching the numbers for their high net-worth clientele to help them make the most informed investments in Manhattan real estate. And while they both represent some very wealthy foreign buyers, their advice holds true for everyone investing in New York City residential properties. Because there are more co-ops, they are usually significantly cheaper (by as much as 30% to 40%).
Location is important, but dona€™t worry too much about neighborhoods, especially if youa€™re investing in Manhattan properties where many zip codes are considered prestigious. So instead of focusing solely on a a€?hipa€? neighborhood, know whata€™s in walking distance. If youa€™re buying a condo, ita€™s important to research the buildinga€™s developer and have a good understanding of their past.
If youa€™re buying a co-op, find out everything you can about the cooperative board and have a good understanding of what future changes could be made to the building.
Your a€?best pricea€? doesna€™t mean the best deal, because therea€™s really no such thing as a a€?good deala€? in New York City real estate. If you can, get a feel for the neighborhood, make sure there are no hidden downsides to the apartment, and check out the building. But if coming to see the apartment is not a possibility, get a trusted broker to tour the place for you. Tan also stresses seeing the apartment, but notes that technology has rendered it almost unnecessary for foreign buyers. The luxury market continues to surge as average sales prices jump 46 percent in the first quarter of 2014 compared to last year. New York mayor Bill de Blasio rode to victory with a pledge to make the city tenable for middle-class residents. An 18-acre East Hampton estate, sold in May to hedge-funder Barry Rosenstein, became the most expensive property sold not just in the Hamptons, but in the U.S. The idea of spending summer in the Hamptons in a condo -- with a communal pool -- is ludicrous to some.
The Greenwich Lane, a five-building West Village condo complex, drew protests when it replaced the old St. Bocce courts are the newest feature developers are putting into buildings such as Manhattan's Mercedes House and 50 North 5th in Williamsburg.
The under-construction 1,379-foot 432 Park Avenue, which just hit the 1,000-foot mark, is on track to be the western hemisphere's tallest residential building. As the Italian and I waited for her broker, an Asian man sitting on a couch next to us asked, “You see the apartment?” But he didn’t wait for an answer, leaping up to join a handful of women speaking a foreign language heading toward the elevators.
The firm, run by Rosabianca’s brother Luigi, an attorney, specializes in catering to overseas investors. After the crash of 2008, it became an emblematic disaster, with the developers selling units in bulk at desperation prices, until opportunistic foreigners swooped in with cash offers.
According to data compiled by the firm PropertyShark, since 2008, roughly 30 percent of condo sales in large-scale Manhattan developments have been to purchasers who either listed an overseas address or bought through an entity like a limited-liability corporation, a tactic rarely employed by local homebuyers but favored by foreign investors.
But much of the foreign money is coming in at lower price points, closer to the median for a Manhattan condo ($1.3 million and rising). But now the market is broad and diversified: Fiocchi’s firm handled not only two of the ten most expensive residential sales in the city last year, but also a large volume of transactions at more mainstream prices. The Census Bureau estimates that 30 percent of all apartments in the quadrant from 49th to 70th Streets between Fifth and Park are vacant at least ten months a year. And the new economy has spawned new service businesses, like XL Real Property Management, which takes care of all the niggling details—repairs, insurance, condo fees—for absentee buyers. An entire industry of brokers, lawyers, and tight-lipped advisers exists largely to keep anyone from discovering the answer. Rosabianca’s client, the Italian, lives in Nigeria, where her husband is in the oil business.
She ended up making an offer on both that one and the condo at 20 Pine, but ultimately settled on yet another unit at 75 Wall for $1.3 million. Real estate can serve as a convenient pied-a-terre, an investment hedge against a wobbly home currency, or an insurance policy—a literal refuge if things go bad. As expensive as New York’s luxury real estate might seem, it’s a bargain compared to other global capitals; a million dollars will buy twice as much space here as it does in Monaco or Hong Kong. At 432 Park Avenue, construction on a Rafael Vinoly–designed tower has ticked past 1,000 feet, and three more similarly scaled developments are on the way. Manhattan saw a 30 percent price increase over the past year, on average, which market analyst Jonathan Miller attributes primarily to sales closing in ultraluxury buildings. But the market really began to emerge a decade ago with 15 Central Park West, where Wallgren also handled sales. Two units, for instance, were sold to Jolly Star Holding Limited, an entity registered in the British Virgin Islands, which guards the identity of shareholders. A marketing video for 432 Park Avenue, scored to “Dream a Little Dream,” features a private jet, Modigliani statuary, and Harry Macklowe himself costumed as King Kong. Million-dollar apartments are often traded sight unseen, based on a floor plan or a YouTube clip. Jajan’s family is from Argentina, and his clientele primarily speaks Spanish and Portuguese. Moving the money itself is a relatively simple matter: A wire or a suitcase can convey cash from China to Singapore, or from Russia to an EU member state like Latvia, and once the funds have made it to a “white list” country, they can usually move onward without triggering alarms.
But that has just pushed clients to boutique advisory firms, often run by the same personnel. Earlier this year, an international team led by Shima Baradaran, a law professor at the University of Utah, published an ingenious study of its mechanics.
It turned out that offshore locales like the Caymans were the most stringent about complying with international anti-money-laundering standards. Many of the service providers Baradaran’s team approached asked for no identity documentation and were willing to set up LLCs in even the most suspicious scenarios. But no such regulation exists in the United States, and while financial institutions are tightly monitored under the 2001 USA Patriot Act, parties to property transactions have been given a specific exemption. In June 2007, Russian police invaded the Moscow offices of William Browder, an American investor who had fallen out with the Kremlin.
Magnitsky was arrested and died in prison under mysterious circumstances, prompting international outrage.
Ultimately, about $50 million was sent to a pair of companies headquartered in the capital of Moldova. The company later added three Manhattan commercial spaces to create a $24 million portfolio, which prosecutors sued to seize last year. It took a vocal American victim, a diplomatic furor, and an act of Congress to get the authorities’ attention. The United Nations figures that as little as one-fifth of one percent of that is ever recovered. Leviev and his local partner originally bought the property, an old office building, during a speculative fever in the Financial District. He handed me the glossy “concept book” for one of his slated projects, a condo tower in Soho. New development in New York has only slowly regained its momentum since 2008, and sales inventory remains mired near a decade-low point.
He deals primarily with Brazilian clients, and he invited me to tag along while he showed the available options to a banker from Rio. Within his price range, there was an odd duplex apartment decorated entirely in silver and a three-bedroom above Lincoln Center with a stunning view in need of major renovation.
Once we receive your inquiry we will send you a customized report of all listings that best meet your preferences within 24 hours. Once we receive your inquiry we will send you a customized apartment rental report of all listings that best meet your criteria within 24 hours. That’s 60 percent less, though appraisal guru Jonathan Miller pegged the Manhattan average at $2,735 in the second quarter (see related story).
The cities were ranked based on the top 5 percent of their sales during all, or part, of 2013. Neither did Sao Paolo, Brazil, though both were price leaders in their regions, the data show.
And as of March, the average luxury home price of $6,200 a foot was up 10 percent, from $5,635 in 2013, according to the report.
That’s giving Monaco, which has a full-time population of 38,000, an edge over another tax haven, Switzerland, where laws are tightening (see Geneva, below).
A rare condo tower, the 49-story Tour Odeon from developer Groupe Marzocco, is now being marketed, with 26 of its 70 units sold as of August, according to Bloomberg News. But much of the city is made up of small, scattered islands and a good portion is covered with steep hills that are difficult to develop.
And though the city’s leaders have, in recent years, suggested taking millions of square feet of unused warehouse space left over from the Hong Kong’s manufacturing heyday and converting it to housing, plans have not gotten far. Worried about a housing bubble, the Chinese government has for the last few years tried to rein in the market by requiring larger down payments, capping how much buyers can borrow to buy homes and slapping taxes on property flippers.
Last fall, the company offered a 70 percent discount on “stamp duty,” a type of real estate fee. In 2011, Rinat Akhmetov, a Ukrainian oligarch, paid a combined $248 million for a penthouse and adjacent apartment, according to published reports.
Like with Hong Kong, fears of over-speculation by investors have prompted Singapore’s government to put in place rules to avoid a collapse. Second homes can now only be built in certain areas, and for the most part, not be super-large. Other analysts add that a two-year-old program that offers Australian visas in exchange for $5 million in real estate investment is also playing a part in fueling the residential market. In other words, the city made serious gains through the recession and Europe’s sovereign debt crisis.
But some critics say that new tax laws passed in 2013, which increased the rate residents pay on incomes above $1 million to 75 percent, from 48 percent, may discourage new, wealthy arrivals from overseas. But wealthy buyers also like mixed-use high-rises — which usually have offices on lower floors and full-service condos above. Brown, whose client list is 40 percent Asian, and other sources said these speculative investments are helping to create a housing bubble.
Chang said these homes are almost suburban by Western standards, situated in massive developments like Pudong, on the eastern side of the Huangpu River, a burgeoning area away from the city center.
But with the Chinese home market’s softening, Knight Frank’s data, which was collected last year, may be a bit outdated. From the future of gold, silver and other precious metals to all of the different diversification avenues for the hard assets investor, American Hard Assets is the premier source for hot industry topics, as well as the latest in gold and silver news. Of the 64,000 condos in Manhattan, Randolph told us only about 10% of that marketplace is considered a€?new developmenta€? (property built in the last 5 years).


Knowing whether the co-op rules might change to no longer allow pets or if there are plans to completely redo the lobby (requiring you to pay a large monthly assessment) could sway your desire to live in the building. Ultra-net worth individuals may be buying $20 million+ condos as pied-A -terres that they can use whenever theya€™re in the city. The vast majority of investors, however, are buying condos and apartments to rent out and turn a profit, which has a vastly different price point. But while his affordable housing plan dominates the political conversation, the hyper-luxury apartment market continues to surge, with the luxury market seeing average sales prices jump 46 percent in the first quarter of 2014 compared to last year. Now comes news that the planned One Vanderbilt project near Grand Central will reach 1,450 feet at its peak, still shy of One World Trade Center's 1,776 feet. She wore a red scarf, jangly jewelry, and a pair of lime-green sunglasses perched atop her curly hair, and she told me she would prefer to remain anonymous. A first-generation American, Santo greeted the buyer with kisses and briefed her in Italian. Similarly, the firm Corcoran Sunshine, which markets luxury buildings, estimates that 35 percent of its sales since 2013 have been to international buyers, half from Asia, with the remainder roughly evenly split among Latin America, Europe, and the rest of the world.
In fact, if you’ve recently been outdone by an outrageous all-cash bid for an apartment, there’s a decent chance that, behind a generic corporate name, there’s a foreign buyer and an offshore bank account. Buildings around Times Square and the Financial District are being marketed heavily overseas.
This is because, while New York real estate has significant drawbacks as an asset—it’s illiquid and costly to manage—it has a major selling point in its relative opacity.
It answers gleefully in the affirmative, forecasting that over the next decade, the ranks of the ultrarich will increase by 30 percent, with much of the growth coming in Asia and Africa. Other financial centers boast a similar mix of glamour and apparent security—Knight Frank’s list of the top-ten “global cities” includes London, Paris, Geneva, and Dubai—but New York is forecast to add more ultrahigh-net-worth individuals than any city outside Asia over the next decade.
The national firm RealtyTrac reports a recent rise in all-cash sales (a rough indicator of such investor activity) in the metropolitan areas of Florida and New York City, where well over half of all transactions in the first quarter were handled without financing. The development was initially marketed to local finance types, like Daniel Loeb and Sandy Weill, but it quickly attracted buyers from Israel, China, India, and elsewhere.
The owner of a $37 million unit, Novgorod LLC, was widely believed to be a Russian oligarch until it was revealed to represent the chief executive of the British bank Barclays. But confidential records obtained by the ICIJ as a part of a massive leak identify Jolly Star’s owners as Sun Min and Peter Mok Fung, a Chinese couple in the shipping business. Recently, his firm closed on two units at One57, one to a company called Metty Properties LLC and the other to an entity called Escape From New York LLC. One recent morning, at the development’s sales office in the GM Building, Wallgren led me down a hallway lined with vintage New York photographs, through a ten-by-ten-foot frame meant to illustrate the building’s enormous window size, to a scale model of Manhattan. Martin Jajan, a lawyer who is one of New York’s most prolific closers in new condo buildings, told me it is not uncommon for him to buy for clients he’s never met.
While putting the deed in the name of a corporate entity has practical advantages—it can be part of a strategy to avoid estate taxes or potential lawsuits, a consideration for rental properties—the tactic is also designed to ensure secrecy. Senate investigators after taking advantage of an amnesty for tax cheats, described the process by which he would manage his funds when visiting Zurich. That is precisely why experts say that property investment is a favored route for money laundering, a crime that depends on the outward appearance of legitimacy.
The academics sent emails to more than 7,000 firms around the world that offer incorporation services, posing as a variety of characters, like a politically connected Uzbek or a Lebanese representative of an Islamic charity.
Most surprisingly, Baradaran found that the suggestion of foreign corruption actually increased the likelihood that a provider would agree to do business.
Documents hauled away during the raid were allegedly later used to transfer ownership of three subsidiaries to a shadow company, controlled by a criminal ring with government ties, which then used sham lawsuits to run up enormous liabilities.
In 2012, President Obama signed the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act, imposing sanctions on a list of Russian officials and other alleged accomplices in the fraud.
From there, a small portion, $857,000, was transferred into a Swiss bank account belonging to a company called Prevezon Holdings Limited, now controlled by the son of a Russian political figure.
Levin has proposed legislation to extend the Patriot Act’s regulations to real-estate closings and to require disclosure from LLCs, but the bill has gone nowhere.
Betting that its proximity would appeal to young bankers, they converted the building and mounted a nightclubby marketing campaign, complete with a 24-hour sales office that featured a fashion-style catwalk.
Stern says that once land and construction costs are figured in, the break-even point for ultraluxury towers such as his is around $5,000 a square foot. The relatively rare new developments that offer apartments in Manhattan’s “affordable” price range, like 400 Fifth Avenue near the Empire State Building, are the ones that have proved particularly popular with foreign investors (400 Fifth Avenue has a large population of Chinese buyers). The Brazilian—a laid-back fellow who nonetheless asked for anonymity—said he was looking for protection against market instability at home. One-bedrooms start at $7 million, and the five-level 35,000-square-foot penthouse is listed at a stunning $390 million, which would be the most expensive apartment ever sold in the world if it trades at that price. But even with the price cut, some apartments there still traded at close to $4,000 a square foot.
This summer, home prices finally recovered all the value they had lost during the recession and actually surpassed their peaks from the last boom, according to several market reports. With a population of about 5 million across 277 square miles, the city has an average sale price of $2,850 a square foot for its super-luxury properties.
Developed by Tuan Sing Holdings, the property, which in addition to other amenities will have a rooftop pool, is supposed to open in 2016. Those towers are sprouting in the Moscow City Development, a former factory district that’s being converted into a high-density city-from-scratch. The affluent Jing’an district offers several flashy examples of apartment towers that are popular with investors. The approval process and rules for a co-op are much more strict than for a condo, requiring proof of net worth, liquid assets, tax returns, and brokerage statements, not to mention a down payment of at least 20% of the purchase price. Working through a shell company, she was looking to anchor some of her wealth in an advantageous port: New York City.
The one-bedroom the Italian was looking at, on the 27th floor, had a view of the Woolworth Building, sleek finishes, a bachelor-size kitchen, and access to an exclusive terrace reserved for upper-floor residents. One development project on John Street is “crowdfunding” $50,000 financing shares via the Prodigy Network, a marketing firm with offices in New York and Bogota. With a little creative corporate structuring, the ownership of a New York property can be made as untraceable as a numbered bank account.
An inquiry by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, a Washington-based nonprofit, has uncovered numerous cases in which New York real estate figured in foreign financial- and political-corruption scandals. It is much cheaper than London, where tabloid-fanned outrage over property prices has created an uncomfortable political climate and various new or proposed taxes are aimed at foreign investors and offshore entities. Across the street is the Baccarat, affiliated with the crystal brand, which has been heavily marketed to foreign buyers.
A decade ago, the Mexican financier David Martinez shattered a record when he bought a penthouse at the Time Warner Center for $42.5 million, or around $3,500 a square foot. A Hong Kong tribunal recently convicted Sun Min of trading on inside information related to Coca-Cola’s failed acquisition of a Chinese juice company in 2008, the same year she and her husband made their $15 million purchase. A stocky Ukrainian with thin, slicked-back hair, Perepada had found the apartment on behalf of an investor, whom he would only describe as “Russian-speaking,” who purchased it for $3 million. All he needs to do a deal is a simple corporate structure and a wire transfer to his escrow account. A remote-controlled elevator would take him to a bare meeting room where he and his private banker would discuss his money; all printed account statements would be destroyed after the visit.
Shelley, director of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at George Mason University. Ukrainian politician Yulia Tymoshenko has filed a civil lawsuit claiming a crony of the country’s ousted president moved tainted money into New York development projects, while her opponents claim, in turn, that she laundered money through the city’s real estate. Based on the fake losses, the ring purportedly applied for a $230 million tax refund, which was immediately approved by Russian officials.
Meanwhile, investigative reporters at the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, an Eastern European nonprofit, obtained leaked bank records that appeared to reveal the destination of some of the missing funds: 20 Pine Street. The company had many interests in real estate, including an investment in a venture with a Soviet-born diamond and property magnate named Lev Leviev—who also happened to be one of the developers of 20 Pine. Prevezon’s attorneys contend that, despite the elaborate chain of events alleged in the government’s civil complaint, prosecutors have offered little explanation for the company’s supposed connection to the Russian tax fraud.
Real-estate attorneys say such rules would violate their legal privilege, and brokers insist the marketplace already provides an incentive to keep transactions clean. The branding was the work of Michael Shvo, a marketer and pneumatic figure of the bubble era.
In other words: On average, every inch of these buildings must sell for 30 percent more than Manhattan’s most expensive penthouse did a decade ago.
Though 432 Park’s development team claims it has moved more than half the building’s units, there are persistent whispers about overly ambitious pricing and underwhelming sales. As of January, there were around 12,000 apartments in Manhattan’s development pipeline, but they will probably not come rapidly enough to change the equation for the foreseeable future.
He loved a place at the Aldyn, a new building on the Hudson that has drawn many foreign buyers, which was priced at $5.8 million.
The $15 billon project, which has been likened to the high-density Canary Wharf financial district in London, has been underway for 20 years and contains some of Europe’s tallest buildings, which are more geared for investment than for primary residences. It was first purchased by an investment banker in early 2008 for $1.3 million, was resold in 2011 for $850,000, and was now back on the market for close to its prerecession price. The Related Companies is using a federal program that promises green cards to foreign investors to raise cheap capital for its Hudson Yards project.
And that makes the city an island haven for those who want to stash cash in an increasingly monitored global financial system. South American buyers are a particular force in Miami, where they are credited with reviving the city’s condo market after the ruinous real-estate crash. During divorce proceedings, his wife filed a lawsuit claiming that the trust was a “sham entity” created to conceal the oligarch’s wealth. Escape From New York LLC’s three-bedroom condo, purchased for $32 million, was immediately placed on the resale market. Perepada said his clients insist on confidentiality and instructed me not to identify our location, a popular one with foreign buyers. In 2012, federal prosecutors seized a Trump Park Avenue apartment from the son of a Philippine general who had been convicted of taking bribes.
The only link the complaint alleges is a pair of wire transfers amounting to less than $1 million, which Prevezon claims were made in the course of normal business dealings. While Leviev’s involvement in New York real estate ended unhappily, with price cuts, lawsuits, and an ongoing investigation by the state attorney general, Shvo has made a comeback as a developer.
The developer recently brought in an outside firm, Douglas Elliman, to assist with marketing.
Competition will continue to drive the wealthy—foreign and domestic—to Brooklyn and middle-class buyers to despair.
By the time he visited the sales office of the building in construction next door, One Riverside, he was saying his budget started at $4 million. Rosabianca told the Italian it would rent for more than $4,000 a month, enough to assure a healthy cash flow while its value appreciated. So the Italian spent most of her Sunday in taxis, bouncing from Gramercy to Tribeca to the High Line in search of the right place to store her wealth. At One57, currently the city’s most expensive new address, the tax break amounts to around 94 percent. Stern is designing a building where prices will start at $27 million and run up to well over $100 million. Wallgren is currently leading sales at 432 Park Avenue, which is being developed by Harry Macklowe and the CIM Group. He takes them to Jean Georges, gets them hockey or Broadway tickets, rents helicopters or horse carriages, sets them up with plastic surgeons. A $1.6 million condo in the Onyx Chelsea, belonging to a former Taiwanese prime minister, was seized after it was tied to a corruption scandal. He’s now involved in several high-profile projects, including a high-rise development on Thames Street near the World Trade Center, and he says he is targeting the foreign market.
And by the time 432 Park is completed next year, Stern’s building and others should be coming in right behind to compete for the same fickle pool of buyers. Under the persistent charm of a saleswoman, he ended up perusing the impressive floor plan for an $8 million unit.
A Times analysis estimated that its priciest penthouse, which is reportedly in contract for more than $90 million, would initially be billed less than $1,500 a month. Its most expensive penthouse has an asking price of $95 million—which works out to $11,000 a square foot. He says that by building a rapport, he is able to sell 80 percent of his properties with a simple phone call.



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