Friday 20 September 2019

Investors turn to property amid world market turmoil

The planned development at 59th Street will be the latest in a string of blocks in mid-town Manhattan.
The planned development at 59th Street will be the latest in a string of blocks in mid-town Manhattan.

Oshrat Carmiel

Tumultuous stock and commodity markets are roiling investors around the globe. For Hong Kong developer Neo Que Yau, that presents an opportunity on Manhattan's 59th Street.

"The world economy is fairly weak in general, and I think there's a lot of room for the New York market to grow," said Neo, who's building his company's first tower in the city, and the tallest it's ever developed. "We think there are still in-flows to the US, and we think it might even accentuate because of the flight to safety."

Neo is chief executive officer of Euro Properties, which is wagering that well-heeled overseas buyers will continue to see Manhattan condo ownership as a safe investment. His $160 million project at 118 East 59th St., where all 29 units are at least a full floor, began sales this month, with prices starting at $5 million for the lowest apartment.

The third quarter was a dour one for most financial benchmarks, with global stocks, commodities and major currencies all tumbling, sending investors scurrying for alternatives. China devalued its currency in August, weeks after banning major shareholders from selling stakes in listed companies for six months.

The Standard & Poor's 500 Index fell 6.9pc in the three months through September, the worst decline in four years. Equities in China fared no better, with the Hang Seng China Enterprises Index dropping 28pc in the quarter.

Manhattan real estate stood as a contrast to the global gloom, with apartment prices climbing to a record $1,497 a square foot in the face of unrelenting demand, according to appraiser Miller Samuel Inc. and brokerage Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

"There is a renewed vigour in overseas investment in US real estate," said Jonathan Miller, president of Miller Samuel.

In New York, where ultra-rich buyers have committed tens of millions of dollars to acquire high-end properties as a haven for their cash, a new wave of development is under way to attract less-wealthy investors also seeking access to the real estate market, Miller said. Homes priced at $3 million to $7 million are "kind of the sweet spot that's missing from the market," Miller said.

In cities such as New York, Chinese developers are betting on increasing demand from the rising number of fellow countrymen seeking property overseas, including homes for children studying abroad, said Omer Ozden, who helps Chinese institutional clients find development opportunities as president of RockTree Capital. Properties priced at $1,800 to $2,500 a square foot are in greatest demand by Chinese buyers, with few such developments built in recent years, he said.

"Absorption for the five, 10, 20 million-dollar condos has slowed," Ozden said. "There's a limited number of purchasers who can buy at that price point. If you can hit a price point that even the middle class can afford, that's a very large market."

Ozden's developer clients rely on Chinese buyers to make up a portion of sales in their New York City projects. Those buyers are now focusing on condos that are priced at less than $3 million, he said. Ozden isn't involved with the Euro Properties project.

Euro Properties' 500-foot (150-metre) tower on East 59th Street, between Park and Lexington avenues, aims a bit higher. Single-floor condos will have about 1,800 square feet (170 square metres) each ¬¬- large enough for a private and luxurious living experience, yet small enough to keep prices within reach of a broader audience, Neo said.

"We have deliberately created a product that is sized, priced and located very well for international buyers," he said.

The glass tower, designed by Singapore-based architect Soo K. Chan, resembles a series of stacking blocks, each slightly pivoted from the centre.

Glass of different textures and reflectivity will cover each alternating block to break up the potential monotony of a single curtain wall, Chan said in an interview.

The visual effect is one of a ribbon laced between each of the tower's sections, he said.

It's "a very geometric idea," said Chan, principal of SCDA Architects, who also designed two condo projects near the High Line. "You get a sense of how the tower steps up."

The top of the tower will be capped by two duplex apartments, expected to sell for $18 million and $20 million, and a penthouse that's asking $40 million, Neo said.

Euro Properties is building its tower with a $30 million mortgage, and self-financing the balance. It's one of several Chinese developers betting on the continued global appeal of the New York property market. China Vanke, China's largest residential developer, has teamed with New York real estate investor Aby Rosen to build a luxury condo tower at 53rd and Lexington Avenue, with sales likely to begin by early next year.

Kuafu Properties, a New York-based Chinese investment firm formed about two years ago, is already on its fourth deal in Manhattan, with plans that include condos across from the Javits Centre and near Times Square and, most recently, at the East 60th Street site that once housed the Subway Inn bar - just a couple blocks from the Euro Properties tower.

"The New York property market has always been a pretty stable environment for investment," Neo said in an interview at the recently opened showroom for the project. "I think that reaction to turmoil in the Chinese economy will result in more flight to safety, that when people look for opportunities to invest in more solid, tangible, enduring assets, real estate - especially New York real estate - is at the top of the list." (Bloomberg)

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