In A Shift Away From Suburbs, Townhouses And Boutique Apartment Buildings In High Demand In Cities
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In A Shift Away From Suburbs, Townhouses And Boutique Apartment Buildings In High Demand In Cities

Sellers of city homes with good room separation, storage, and outdoor space should consider listing now

By ALANNA SCHUBACH
Wed, Jan 27, 2021Grey Clock 5 min

Among the biggest real estate stories of 2020 was the outmigration of wealthy buyers from cities to suburbs, motivated to seek out larger homes and more space as the coronavirus raged in major metropolises.

In the New York area for instance, sales boomed in the suburban counties outside the city, with 65% more homes sold in Fairfield County, Connecticut, in the summer months of 2020 than in June and July of 2019. There was a similar exodus from London, with 73,950 homes purchased outside the capital in 2020.

But with the vaccine rollout underway—and as some buyers reconsider whether they want to settle down in the suburbs permanently—there are promising signs of a reawakening of prime markets in major cities, providing an opportunity for sellers to get a better deal than just a few months ago.

And while buyers are still wary of investing in units in large apartment buildings, demand for luxury single-family homes in London has strengthened, with some record-breaking deals made after the lockdown ended in May. In New York, there was a resurgence of interest in properties in Brooklyn, with the outer-borough perceived as a safer place to live than Manhattan.

There are commonalities in the features and amenities of city homes that are still attractive to buyers, one year into the Covid-19 pandemic, real estate analysts say.“Townhouses in central areas are in demand, especially those with gardens, private space, and all those things that have become more important during the pandemic,” said Liam Bailey, Global Head of Knight Frank’s Research Department in London. “Apartments have been weaker in terms of take up.”

 

In New York, in addition to townhouses, apartments in boutique buildings are increasingly desirable to buyers who, in light of the pandemic, are less interested in larger properties with extensive shared amenities.

 

“Buyers are looking for smaller, boutique buildings, and at the high end, they want elevators that open directly into their individual units,” said Julie Gans, a broker with Compass in New York. “Renovated apartments with outdoor space are well-positioned for this market.”

Such features have become especially attractive to buyers, who are no longer deterred by the pandemic but face tight inventory and heated competition, so sellers of these types of city homes will get the best deals if they list now.

“We are seeing people who have committed to coming back to the city, and in the first month of the year inventory has lessened and more deals are happening,” said Allison Chiaramonte, an agent with Warburg Realty in New York. “Multiple offers are being made on certain properties.”

Desirable Features of City Homes in 2021

The demand for large, amenity-packed buildings significantly diminished over the course of 2020, as the pandemic made shared fitness, work, and entertainment centres in high-end buildings undesirable and inaccessible.

Now, buyers committed to staying in cities are looking for boutique buildings with larger apartments, where they can work and enjoy leisure time in their own individual spaces, or townhouses where they can have control over the entire property.

“Over the last 10 years, lots of bigger developments have focused on gyms and shared office spaces, all of which have become much less attractive during the pandemic,” Mr Bailey said. “The real focus is now around privacy and staying separate from other households—anything that offers that opportunity, as well as outdoor space, is at a premium at the moment.”

In Los Angeles, some developers are shifting gears and moving amenities to the outdoors, so that residents can still enjoy building perks in a safer way.

“Prior to the pandemic, multifamily developers were trying to provide live, work, and play spaces in the same location,” said Keith McCloskey, principal at KTGY Architecture + Planning in Los Angeles. “During the pandemic, they’re offering outdoor spaces at a variety of scales, so there are opportunities to work in a covered garden space, use rooftop lounges, and get out of small living units.”

Such features are also in demand in Sydney, even as the Australian city is deemed a Covid-19 success story for its comparatively low case numbers. Expats and foreign buyers alike have been flooding the city’s prime real estate market, with properties close to the water, particularly in demand.

“The way Australia has been able to manage the virus so far has people from all over the world looking at this market as a safe haven, and I expect that we’ll be experiencing a property boom in the next five to seven years, driven largely by that desire for safety,” said Steve Grant, Chairman of Capital Corporation, developer of BOND at Bondi Junction, boutique residences close to a number of beaches. “The waterfront will remain a major drawcard for the top end of the market in locations like Watsons Bay in Sydney’s East, where there are still great buys around.

In addition to more square footage that allows for discrete spaces to work and attend school from home, proximity to the office and school is more important than ever, in light of the pandemic.

“Walkability can’t be duplicated in the suburbs, and more and more we’re seeing people who want to move within a 30-block radius of school and the office,” Ms Chiaramonte said. “Before, they didn’t mind hopping on the subway, but now they want to be closer.”

In New York, buildings with their own parking garages or nearness to garages is also a bigger priority now, as more New Yorkers purchase cars to avoid the close quarters of public transportation.

But with the vaccine rollout underway, some real estate experts foresee a return to the expectations buyers had before the pandemic.

“Because now the vaccine is on the horizon, people see the future and they’re optimistic about it,” Ms Gans said. “In certain buildings, they’ve reopened gyms at 25% capacity, and some people are ready to go back. I think November was the bottom and now the market has exploded again.”

Why Sellers Shouldn’t Wait to List Their Homes

Sellers of city homes with these in-demand features should consider listing their properties now. In the U.K., where a stamp duty holiday is set to end by March 31, buyers may be especially motivated to act quickly.

“It’s a positive time to be a vendor,” Mr Bailey said. “Stock is eroding quickly, and if you’re in a good location with a well-presented property you could try to do a sale before the end of March.”

(One potential caveat is the new shutdown. The U.K. housing market remains open for now, but further regional and national shutdowns are possible depending on the spread of a new, particularly contagious strain of the coronavirus.) Also looming is a new foreign buyer tax, which enacts a 2% tax on non-residents purchasing a property in the U.K.

Meanwhile, in New York, the fourth quarter of 2020 saw an uptick in luxury sales in Manhattan, along with fierce competition for high-end homes in Brooklyn.

And in early January, apartments over US$4 million represented the largest number of contracts signed, Ms Gans said.

“After spending 10 months inside, people see the deficiencies in their apartments and want a change,” she said.

Many of these buyers want homes with room separation in a shift away from the open floor plan trends of previous years, along with plentiful storage, and of course, outdoor space.

“If you have a junior four, or a two-bedroom with an office or maid’s room, the value there is a little higher because it allows people to stay in separate spaces,” Ms Chiaramonte said. “Those homes are the ones attracting people the most this year, and those sellers are better positioned.”

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Private club memberships and luxury cars are some of freebies on the table.

By SHIVANI VORA
Mon, Aug 15, 2022 6 min

When Ryan Wolitzer was looking to buy an apartment in Miami Beach late last year, several beachfront properties caught his eye. All were two-bedroom homes in high-end buildings with amenities aplenty and featured glass walls, high ceilings and an abundance of natural light. But only The Continuum, in the city’s South of Fifth district, came with a gift: a membership to Residence Yacht Club, a private club that offers excursions on luxury yachts ranging from a day in south Florida to a month around the Caribbean. Residents receive heavily discounted charters on upscale boats that have premier finishes and are stocked with top shelf spirits and wine. Mr. Wolitzer, 25, who works for a sports agency, was sold.

“The access to high-end yachts swayed my decision to buy at The Continuum and is an incentive that I take full advantage of,” Mr. Wolitzer said. “It’s huge, especially in my business when I am dealing with high-profile sports players, to be able to give them access to these incredible boats where they experience great service. I know that they’ll be well taken care of.”

Freebies and perks for homeowners such as a private club membership are a mainstay in the world of luxury real estate and intended to entice prospective buyers to sign on the dotted line.

According to Jonathan Miller, the president and chief executive of the real estate appraisal and consulting firm Miller Samuel, they’re primarily a domestic phenomenon.

In the U.S. residential real estate market, gifts are offered by both developers who want to move apartments in their swanky buildings and individuals selling their homes. They range from modest to over-the-top, Mr. Miller said, and are more prevalent when the market is soft.

“When sales lag, freebies increase in a bid to incentivize buyers,” he said. “These days, sales are slowing, and inventory is rising after two years of being the opposite, which suggests that we may see more of them going forward.”

Many of these extras are especially present in South Florida, Mr. Miller said, where the market is normalizing after the unprecedented boom it saw during the pandemic. “The frenzy in South Florida was intense compared with the rest of the country because it became a place where people wanted to live full time,” he said. “Now that the numbers are inching toward pre-pandemic levels, freebies could push wavering buyers over the finish line.”

Kelly Killoren Bensimon, a real estate salesperson for Douglas Elliman in Miami and New York, said that the gifts that she has encountered in her business include everything from yacht access and use of a summer house to magnums of pricey wine. “One person I know of who was selling a US$5 million house in the Hamptons even threw in a free Mercedes 280SL,” she said. “They didn’t want to lower the price but were happy to sweeten the deal.”

A car, an Aston Martin to be exact, is also a lure at Aston Martin Residences in Miami’s Biscayne Bay. Buyers who bought  one of the building’s 01 line apartments—a collection of 47 ocean-facing residences ranging in size from 325 to 362sqm and US$8.3 million to US$9 million in price—had their choice of the DBX Miami Riverwalk Special Edition or the DB11 Miami Riverwalk Special Edition. The DBX is Aston Martin’s first SUV and retails for around US$200,000. It may have helped propel sales given that all the apartments are sold out.

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An Aston Martin came with the sale for some buyers at Aston Martin Residences in Miami’s Biscayne Bay. Aston Martin Residences

The US$59 million triplex penthouse, meanwhile, is still up for grabs, and the buyer will receive a US$3.2 million Aston Martin Vulcan track-only sports car, one of only 24 ever made.

“We want to give homeowners the chance to live the full Aston Martin lifestyle, and owning a beautiful Aston Martin is definitely a highlight of that,” said Alejandro Aljanti, the chief marketing officer for G&G Business Developments, the building’s developer.  “We wanted to include the cars as part of the package for our more exclusive units.”

The US$800,000 furniture budget for buyers of the North Tower condominiums at The Estates at Acqualina in Sunny Isles, Florida, is another recent head-turning perk. The 94 residences sold out last year, according to president of sales Michael Goldstein, and had a starting price of US$6.3 million. “You can pick the furniture ahead of time, and when buyers move in later this year, all they’ll need is a toothbrush,” he said.

Then there’s the US$2 million art collection that was included in the sale of the penthouse residence at the Four Seasons Residences in Miami’s Brickell neighbourhood. The property recently sold for $15.9 million and spans 817sqm feet. Designed by the renowned firm ODP Architects, it features contemporary paintings and sculpture pieces from notable names such as the American conceptual artist Bill Beckley and the sculptor Tom Brewitz.

But it’s hard to top the millions of dollars of extras that were attached to the asking price in 2019 of the US$85 million 1393sqm  duplex at the Atelier, in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen neighbourhood. The list included two Rolls-Royce Phantoms, a Lamborghini Aventador, a US$1 million yacht with five years of docking fees, a summer stay at a Hamptons mansion, weekly dinners for two at lavish French restaurant Daniel and a live-in butler and private chef for a year. And the most outrageous of all: a flight for two to space.

It turned out that the so-called duplex was actually a collection of several apartments and a listing that went unsold. It did, however, generate plenty of buzz among the press and in real estate circles and was a marketing success, according to Mr. Miller.

“A listing like this that almost seems unbelievable with all the gifts will get plenty of eyeballs but is unlikely to push sales,” he said. “Empirically, it’s not an effective tactic.”

On the other hand, Mr. Miller said that more reasonable but still generous freebies, such as the membership to a yacht club, have the potential to push undecided buyers to go for the sale. “A nice but not too lavish gift won’t be the singular thing toward their decision but can be a big factor,” he said. “It’s a feel-good incentive that buyers think they’re getting without an extra cost.”

Examples of these bonuses include a membership to the 1 Hotel South Beach private beach club that buyers receive with the purchase of a residence at Baccarat Residences Brickell, or the one-year membership to the Grand Bay Beach Club in Key Biscayne for those who spring for a home at Casa Bella Residences by B&B Italia, located in downtown Miami and a residential project from the namesake renowned Italian furniture brand. The price of a membership at the Grand Bay Beach Club is usually a US$19,500 initiation fee and US$415 in monthly dues.


The Grand Salon at at Baccarat Residences Brickell in Miami.
Baccarat Residences

Still enticing but less expensive perks include the two-hour cruise around New York on a wooden Hemmingway boat, valued at US$1,900, for buyers at Quay Tower, at Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York City. The building’s developer, Robert Levine, said that he started offering the boat trip in July to help sell the remaining units. “We’re close to 70% sold, but, of course, I want everything to go,” he said.

There’s also the US$1,635 Avalon throw blanket from Hermes for those who close on a unit at Ten30 South Beach, a 33-unit boutique condominium; in Manhattan’s Financial District, a custom piece of art from the acclaimed artist James Perkins is gifted to buyers at Jolie, a 42-story building on Greenwich Street. Perkins said the value of the piece depends on the home purchase price, but the minimum is US$4,000. “The higher end homes get a more sizable work,” he said.

When gifts are part of a total real estate package, the sale can become emotional and personal, according to Chad Carroll, a real estate agent with Compass in South Florida and the founder of The Carroll Group. “If the freebie appeals to the buyer, the transaction takes on a different dynamic,” he said. “A gift becomes the kicker that they love the idea of having.”

Speaking from his own experience, Mr. Carroll said that sellers can also have an emotional connection to the exchange. “I was selling my house in Golden Isles last year for US$5.4 million and included my jet ski and paddle boards,” he said. “The buyers were a family with young kids and absolutely loved the water toys.” Mr. Carroll could have held out for a higher bidder, he said, but decided to accept their offer. “I liked them and wanted them to create the same happy memories in the home that I did,” he said.

The family moved in a few months later.