Russian Billionaires Buy U.S. Mansions
Roustam Tariko, billionaire owner of Russian Standard Bank and Russian Standard Vodka, completed the most expensive home purchase in Miami Beach since 2006 when he bought a $25.5 million estate on Star Island in April.
The transaction made Tariko the neighbor of another wealthy Russian with a taste for Florida luxury living. Vladislav Doronin, chairman of Moscow-based real estate developer Capital Group, paid $16 million in 2009 for the Star Island home previously owned by Shaquille O’Neal, the now-retired professional basketball player.
“In Russia, it’s a status thing now,” Jorge Uribe, a real estate agent with One Sotheby’s International Realty Inc. in Coral Gables, Florida, said in a telephone interview. “If you’re wealthy and you say you have a place in Miami, it’s like saying back in the old days, ‘I own a place in Ibiza or Monaco.’ It’s a cocktail conversation thing.”
International investors are buying some of the priciest homes in America as the broader housing market slumps and a weak dollar makes U.S. property more of a bargain. Sales of residences above $20 million are rising in New York, California and Florida, which are popular business and vacation destinations for foreigners, according to Miller Samuel Inc., DataQuick and real estate brokers who cater to luxury buyers.
More than two-thirds of the nation’s residences with asking prices of at least $20 million were in those three states, said Rick Goodwin, publisher of Unique Homes magazine in Princeton, New Jersey, which releases an annual list of luxury homes on the market each March.
Seven homes have sold in Manhattan for more than $20 million in the first six months of this year, up from five in the same period of 2010, data from New York-based appraiser Miller Samuel show. The median price of those transactions was $27.5 million, up 15 percent from the year-earlier period. The deals included a $48 million sale to Russian composer Igor Krutoy that set a record for a condominium in the city.
In Los Angeles County, 42 houses were listed for more than $20 million earlier this year, Goodwin said. Six properties sold above that level through June, compared with four in the first half of 2010, according to DataQuick, a real estate data service based in San Diego. Thirteen changed hands in all of last year, up from seven in 2009.
25% of Deals
The DataQuick tally for 2011 didn’t include the priciest mansion sold in Southern California this year. In July, British heiress Petra Ecclestone paid $85 million for the late television producer Aaron Spelling’s Holmby Hills estate.
Brokers with Sotheby’s International Realty Affiliates LLC sold about two dozen U.S. homes priced at more than $20 million in the first six months of this year, said Philip White, president and chief operating officer of the unit of Parsippany, New Jersey-based Realogy Corp. As many as 25 percent of those transactions were to international buyers, he said.
“We’re hopeful the second half of the year will be as good as the first in terms of the very high-end market,” he said in a telephone interview.
International buyers purchased an estimated $82 billion worth of U.S. homes in the 12 months ended March 31, a 24 percent increase from the year-earlier period, the National Association of Realtors reported May 18.
The precise number of foreign deals for U.S. luxury properties is difficult to calculate because many purchasers are registered as trusts or limited liability companies. Jed Smith, managing director of quantitative research for the National Association of Realtors, said the number of overseas buyers for multimillion-dollar homes is increasing, helped by the rise of emerging markets such as Russia, Brazil, China and India.
“There’s substantial growing wealth overseas,” Smith said in a telephone interview from Washington. “Just go to the Forbes list of billionaires and see that we’re no longer the only folks on it.”
Of the 214 newcomers to Forbes magazine’s annual global ranking of billionaires this year, 54 were from China and 31 from Russia. The Asia-Pacific region had more billionaires than Europe for the first time in more than 10 years and gained the most of any region, with 105 additions, according to the list. Moscow displaced New York as the city with the greatest number of billionaires with 79, compared with New York’s 58.
“It’s a pre-eminent international mountain resort brand,” Estin said of Aspen, where luxury properties are selling at discounts of as much as 30 percent from the peak.
In the last three years, Aspen had at least five deals above $10 million in which the purchaser was from Russia, according to Craig Morris, president of the town’s Morris & Fyrwald Sotheby’s International Realty.
“Four years ago we didn’t have any Russian buyers,” he said.
In Miami Beach, Tariko’s home is the city’s only sale exceeding $20 million since three lots sold on Star Island for $27 million in April 2006, said Ron Shuffield, president of Esslinger Wooten Maxwell Inc., a real estate brokerage based in Coral Gables, Florida.
The 15,000-square-foot (1,400-square-meter) mansion at 13 Star Island has nine bedrooms, nine full bathrooms and three half-baths, said Shuffield, citing tax records. The driveway is lined with palm trees and the home has views of downtown Miami across Biscayne Bay.
Tariko declined to comment on his purchase, his assistant, Tatiana Kapusta, said in an e-mail.
The seller of the property, Thomas H. Morgan, declined to discuss details of the transaction. Morgan, the founder of Morgan Energy Corp., a closely held oil and gas exploration company based in Englewood, Colorado, said it’s no surprise that foreigners are stepping up to buy while Americans hold back.
“Americans don’t want to put down 80 percent or pay cash,” Morgan said in a telephone interview. “A lot of Americans are tapped out.”
Morgan, who said his “hobby” is building trophy homes, constructed the Star Island mansion in 2003.
Slower Price Gains
New York and Los Angeles were near the bottom of a list measuring luxury real estate price appreciation in 15 cities that attract “the world’s global elite,” ahead of only Moscow, according to a June 4 report by Knight Frank LLP, a London-based property consulting firm. In the year through March 31, prices rose 1 percent in Manhattan and fell 2.2 percent in Los Angeles. Prices in Paris increased the most, with a 22 percent gain, followed by Hong Kong, Helsinki, Shanghai and Beijing.
The firm defines luxury as the top 5 percent to 10 percent of the market in each city.
“Compared to other markets around the western world, the U.S., including New York and Los Angeles, lost significant value during the crash and are more fairly priced,” Liam Bailey, the head of residential research at Knight Frank in London, said in an e-mail. “There is no doubt a surge in interest in New York, particularly for people looking for deals.”
Selling at Discounts
U.S. home prices in 20 cities are 32 percent below their peak in July 2006, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller index. While luxury values haven’t been hit as hard, the sellers don’t always get what they want. The Spelling home in Los Angeles was on the market for two years at $150 million before selling at a 43 percent discount. The Miami Beach estate bought by Tariko fetched 20 percent less than its $32 million list price.
A weakening U.S. currency helps make the nation’s homes seem like a good deal, said White, the Sotheby’s president. The dollar has fallen against each of the 16 most-traded currencies in the past year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Among emerging-market currencies, the Russian ruble increased 7.7 percent against the dollar in the 12 months through yesterday. The Brazilian real advanced 12 percent, while the Chinese yuan gained 5.2 percent.
For Russians, interest in luxury properties is as much evidence of conspicuous consumption as it is efforts to capture bargains, said Edward Mermelstein, a real estate attorney Rheem Bell & Mermelstein LLP with offices in New York and Moscow.
Making a Splash
“Those trophies, they’re buying them to make a splash,” Mermelstein said in a telephone interview from New York. “They’ll definitely gravitate to a property that’s higher profile as much as to a property with a long-term investment potential.”
Yuri Milner, founder of Moscow-based DST, which invests in Internet companies including Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and Groupon Inc., paid $100 million for a 25,500-square-foot mansion in Los Altos Hills, California, according to property records. The transaction is the biggest for a U.S. single-family home sale this year.
Milner’s spokesman, Leonid Solovyov, declined to comment on the purchase because it is private.
In Manhattan, Krutoy and his wife, Olga, bought their 6,000-square-foot condo at the Plaza hotel in March. The deal came six months after the couple completed the purchase of a $12.85 million home in Long Island’s beach area of the Hamptons.
The Krutoys razed the Southampton mansion and are building a new house at the site on Gin Lane, where neighbors have included designer Vera Wang, shopping-mall magnate Alfred Taubman and New York Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger.
“He was looking at Gin Lane because that’s what he knows - - it’s the Fifth Avenue of the Hamptons,” said Susan Breitenbach, a senior vice president at Corcoran Group, the Krutoys’ broker for the sale, one of five deals she handled this year involving Russian buyers. “That’s what they really wanted and that’s what they stuck with.”
Krutoy bought the Manhattan property because he was seeking a home in the city, rather than looking to take advantage of a bargain, said Ilya Bykov, principal at Protax Services Inc., a New York-based firm that provides legal, tax and property- management services for international clients. Bykov represented Krutoy in his search, negotiation and closing for the Plaza apartment, and helped provide legal representation for the Hamptons home.
Russian buyers “have the money and they always want the best in everything,” Bykov said of the people he represents. “Most of these people are buying pied-a-terres and it’s quite common that the person would buy a luxury apartment in New York and a condo or penthouse in Miami.”
Kirk Henckels, director of the private brokerage at New York’s Stribling & Associates, said he was approached by a would-be buyer from Russia seeking to spend $100 million on a Manhattan home.
“I said, ‘We don’t have properties that high,’” Henckels said in an interview.
The most expensive single residential property currently for sale in Manhattan is the Woolworth Mansion, a 1916 “neo- French Renaissance” edifice on East 80th Street. The sellers are asking $90 million, according to StreetEasy.com, a real estate listings website.
Buyers from Russia and China have expressed interest in the seven-floor mansion, said Paula Del Nunzio, the broker with Brown Harris Stevens who is listing the property.
The newest Manhattan condo building to catch the attention of foreign buyers is a 90-story tower under construction on West 57th Street by Extell Development Co., according to Mermelstein and Bykov. The property, known as One57, will be the tallest residential tower in New York when completed in 2013.
The 95-unit building will record “a number of signed contracts” in the next 30 days for units ranging from $7 million to “north of” $40 million, Gary Barnett, Extell’s president, said in a telephone interview. He declined to say where the buyers are from, but said inquiries have come in from overseas, including Russia.
Among the contracts to be signed in the next month is one for a full-floor, 6,200-square-foot unit that offers panoramic views of Manhattan, including Central Park, Barnett said.
“Three-hundred-sixty-degree views, unobstructed. That’s something special,” Barnett said. “If you were worth $100 million dollars or you were a billionaire, this is something unusual. If you can afford the best of the best, why shouldn’t you do that?”
In the Los Angeles area, about 75 percent of the people looking at “super luxury homes” for $20 million or more are from countries such as China, Indonesia, Korea and Russia, said Sally Forster Jones, a Beverly Hills broker. Forster Jones plans an October trip to China to seek potential customers, she said.
Asian clients prefer Bel Air, Beverly Hills and Holmby Hills, known as the Platinum Triangle of Los Angeles, with their palm-tree shaded boulevards and history as home to Hollywood celebrities, Forster Jones said.
“They prefer the West Coast, because it’s much easier for the Asian buyers to get to,” she said. “There’s a lot of glitz, a lot of glamour, a lot to do.”
Europeans also like Los Angeles mansions, said Forster Jones, who shared the listing of Spelling’s 56,000-square-foot estate. The buyer is the daughter of British billionaire Bernie Ecclestone, the president and chief executive officer of London- based Formula One Management Ltd.
Russians are among the best customers for luxury homes in the Los Angeles area, said Jeff Hyland, president Hilton & Hyland Real Estate Inc. in Beverly Hills, who shared the Spelling mansion listing with his partner, Rick Hilton, and Forster Jones.
One example is the 2010 purchase and resale this year of a $19.5 million mansion by Dasha Zhukova, art collector and partner of Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich, said Hyland, who wasn’t involved in those transactions.
“You have the new wave of the oligarchs with their big yachts they dock off the beach at Malibu when they’re here,” he said in a telephone interview. “It’s all about the weather here. It’s about the ease with which people can move back and forth in Los Angeles. They can get in their Ferrari or their Rolls Royce Ghost and drive where they want without need of security.”
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