A dearth of trophy buildings has investors sitting on the sidelines, seeking off-market or partial stakes. In some cases, they’re even buying residential properties.
That’s why the year is on pace to rack up more trades than 2007’s 5,200 properties. “We will do a dozen deals over $200 million this year,” said Robert Knakal, chairman of Massey Knakal.
But few are trophy office towers. At the peak of trophy trading in 2007, there were 41 office sales with $62.2 billion in all sales. This year has seen only four trophy sales: $575 million for 450 Park Ave.; the $1.5 billion sale of 5 Times Square; the $1.31 billion sale of the office portion of the Time Warner Center at 10 Columbus Circle; and the $750 million deal for Park Avenue Tower. All are marketed by Eastdil Secured.
Eastdil Secured is now out with 1095 Sixth Ave. by Bryant Park for seller Blackstone, which shares part of the building with Verizon.
At the same time, CBRE is now marketing the former Helmsley Building at 230 Park Ave. by Grand Central Terminal, which also has valuable air rights.
Foreign capital continues to pursue trophy assets while domestic funds are increasing allocations, said Andrew G. Scandalios, senior managing director at HFF. Norges Bank, for instance, has also closed on several partial stakes sold by Boston Properties, which retains the management and leasing.
“Most need a local partner, but we have recently seen several that want to buy on their own,” said Scandalios. “They are very liquid and aggressive.”
JLL stats for trades over $10 million counted 100 multi-family, 78 land/redevelopment sales, 76 office transfers, 52 retail condo sales, seven air rights or fee sales, and 15 hotel deals.
The Waldorf Astoria was put into contract this month to Chinese insurance company Anbang ; it will close within six months for $1.95 billion unless the feds stop the sale for security reasons.
Chinese and other Asian investors are also making a steady impact in both sales and development.
“They are beginning to pursue these directly and become equity sources for local players,” said Nat Rockett, executive vice president, Cushman & Wakefield.
For instance, the Chinese company South Cheer Land bought the United Charities Building at 287 Park Ave. for a condo conversion.
The chairman of Eastern Consolidated, Peter Hauspurg, said, “I’ve had a parade of Chinese developers trooping through and telling us what they like.”
The average price per foot for Manhattan land was up over 23 percent from last year, to $1,300 per foot, with a third-quarter average of $1,600 a foot.
“There is a lot of activity on the fringes of the Hudson Yards,” said Stephen Shapiro, senior vice president, JLL, as sites are trading for $300 to $400 a foot with upside on the horizon.
In the outer boroughs, prices are also escalating dramatically, said Knakal.In Brooklyn, TerraCRG reported 161 development transactions for over $546 million in the first half of 2014, up from 111 for $355 million in the first half of 2013 — a 54 percent dollar volume increase.
But pricing for development sites is heading up so fast that it’s hard to get comps, said Hauspurg. That’s because the pricing handshakes were made five to six months before the closings.
Pricing is also dictating the development, Hauspurg said, as “affordable housing” and rental buyers are losing to higher-paying luxury condo developers.
Steve Kaufman, who heads the Kaufman Organization, said they had considered selling 132 W. 36th St., a k a the Kaufman Arcade building, last year, but changed course when they realized they could target it towards tech tenants for higher rents.
Kaufman signed a 99-year net lease with Extell Development to take over four buildings that were part of the previously undermanaged Ring portfolio.
Net leasing is becoming a popular option for owners who want to get out equity, remain in place, complete a sale and leaseback, or simply ground lease to a developer and pocket rent payments.
“It’s a nice mechanism to lock equity,” said Adelaide Polsinelli of Eastern Consolidated.
After missing the 2009 market, many locals, families and charitable owners don’t want today’s record pricing to pass them by. “They just want to cash out and relocate, and it makes sense to do it now,” said Ofer Cohen, founder and president of TerraCRG.
Retail condominiums are still selling for 3 to 4 percent cap rates, said Nick Petroff of Better Brokers. “It’s very strong for sellers.”
“A lot of people think we are in a bubble but I don’t see that,” said Gerald Sanders president of Landauer, a division of Newmark Grubb Knight Frank. “New York City remains the top destination for foreign capital.”
But real estate executives are worried about the city’s future should politicians lose their stomach for defending capitalism. Since the 421a tax incentive program is ending, for instance, developers are scrambling to get a foundation in place by June.
“We see developers focusing on this because they don’t know what a new 421a program will entail,” said Rockett. “If you’re thinking of acquiring a site now you won’t [have time] to qualify under the current program.”
Knakal also warned that if the Democrats win the state Senate, several programs could change dramatically.
There’s one proposal for an annual pied-a-terre tax for non-residents, charged not only to foreign condo owners, but to parents who buy something for their kids or an entire multi-family building if the owner lives out of the city.
Democrats are also likely to re-expand rent regulations to cover more buildings, or do away with income or high-rent qualifications.
Richard Baxter, a vice chairman of JLL, believes many developers will simply not create inclusionary housing because of the so-called “poor door” issue.
The bigger unknowns are the details of the mayor’s upcoming affordable housing program that could burst both the land and condo price bubble, end up putting downward pressure on land values, yet still not create any affordable housing.