|The Most Expensive Condos In America
Diego to Washington, D.C., condominiums are hot property.
Demographic and economic trends have driven
up demand for the once-unpopular real estate--even more so than for
more traditional homes.
"It's a perfect combination of events to
lead to a strong condo market today in the U.S.," says Susan Wachter,
professor of real estate at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton
Wealthy baby boomers looking to downsize,
relocate to cultural centers, or acquire low-maintenance second
homes are snapping up high-priced condos in cities and resorts. Many
young couples are making condos, rather than single-family homes,
their first real estate purchases. And low interest rates have
pushed young singles to buy apartments instead of rent them.
Condominiums are not worry-free, though
some marketers will argue otherwise. Historically, condos were often
entry-level homes, so their prices declined faster than regular
homes in a down market, and increased more slowly in the upturns.
And owners need to make sure the buildings are well managed.
However, there are plenty of advantages to
condo ownership. The shared costs of maintenance are less than they
would be for a single owner. In many cities, they can be affordably
close to museums, public transportation and workplaces. Unlike in
rental apartments, owners can paint and remodel as they please. And
many condos come with amenities, such as tennis courts and swimming
pools, which would otherwise require much fuss and expense. Plus,
doorman and secure entrances mean owners can shut the doors to their
units and depart for months on end.
It all adds up to more units being built
and, for the time being, higher prices. The National Association of
Realtors estimates that 970,000 existing condos and co-ops were sold
in the U.S. last year. That's up 8% from 2003.
Even more dramatic, the median price for an
existing condo in 2004 was projected to be $193,600, up 17% from
2003. By comparison, the median price for a single-family home was
pegged slightly lower--at $184,100 for 2004, up just 8% from the
year before, according to the NAR.
While many people use the term condominium
to refer to non-rental apartments, the term describes a type of
ownership, not architecture. In a condo project, each owner has
title to a unit and common areas are owned collectively. But the
units can be apartments, townhouses, and even commercial spaces.
Builders and developers have responded to
demand by building even more condos, says Gopal Ahluwalia,
vice president for research for the National Association of Home
Builders. In 1993, a total of 32,000 condo and co-operative units
were completed. By 2003, that number had risen nearly 30%, to
41,300. The vast majority of new units are in the South and the
West, he says.
Those aren't the only regional differences.
In Manhattan, 80% of the apartment market consists of co-operative
apartments, which differ from condominiums in that buyers acquire an
ownership share that gives them the right to live in a unit--and
those owners often have to be approved for membership by a board.
"The need for condos is so great," says
Larry Schier, a broker with The Corcoran Group in New
York. "A lot of people are sick and tired of the co-op board
approval process and they don't want to deal with that insanity."
Then again, co-ops can be more expensive
because they are exclusive. The top-priced apartment in New York
isn't a condo but a co-op, the historic $70 million triplex
penthouse owned by financier Martin Zweig.
New York has seen several new, uber-luxury
buildings rise in recent years. That includes the new Time Warner
Center, where in 2003 financier David Martinez paid a
record-setting $42.25 million for a full-floor condo. New York has
also been the site of numerous conversions (the famed Plaza hotel
will close this spring, and reopen in 2006 with more condos than
hotel rooms), as have cities such as Philadelphia and Washington,
D.C., where the old Columbia Women's Hospital is being turned into
the Columbia, a high-priced condo development.
"When I started, people really didn't think
of condos and co-ops," says Gigi Winston of Winston &
Winston Real Estate in Washington, D.C., who has been a broker
for nearly 20 years. "Now that market has become the market."
In Miami, high-end luxury condos have
bloomed in South Beach. In Las Vegas, where entertainer Paul Anka
reportedly paid $1 million for a condo at the Park Towers, upcoming
projects include MGM's Mirage Project City Center, which will have
1,650 condo units.
"With the exception of Las Vegas, I think
San Diego is seeing more activity than any city in the country,"
says Jim Shultz, a broker with Coldwell Banker in La
Jolla, Calif. "Downtown San Diego is booming like crazy."
In a city of just 1.2 million (and where
John Moores, owner of the San Diego Padres baseball team, lives
at the top of the Omni San Diego Hotel), there are 17 high-rises
under construction, Shultz says. "And it's accelerating -- 4,000
units are coming online in the next six months. People are coming in
In San Diego, 67 condos are currently
priced at over $1 million, he says. It's just another sign of the
burgeoning super-luxury condo market, where owners can have high-end
services and an amount of space that is comparable to a
"We're getting a lot of insurgents from the
suburbs, the Main Line area," says Diane Bryant, a luxury
broker with Rittenhouse Realty in Philadelphia. "When you get
a person who was living in a 10,000- or 15,000-square-foot center
Colonial, it's hard to do a 2,000-square-foot condo. You need
So what are buyers getting for top dollars?
Often, the top apartment--or at least something that bills itself as
a penthouse. Then there are doormen, swimming pools (sometimes
private to the unit), spas, terraces and balconies, wine cellars,
access to transportation, views and perhaps valet parking. In hotel
condominiums, owners may have access to room service, maid service
and concierge service. There are no lawns to care for or roofs to
In tallying the most
expensive condos in the U.S., it became clear that New York City
would have dominated the list, with many priced at well over $20
million. In order to give the list a more national scope, the
results were determined on a regional level.