Manhattan’s surging land costs are leaving the shareholders of an East Side luxury co-operative with a tough choice: pay a hefty price to buy the land under the building, or face increasing bills to keep renting it.
The ground beneath Trump Plaza, at 167 E. 61st St., is up for sale as land prices break records. The co-op board has offered to buy the property for $185 million, a cost that would saddle residents with assessments that, for some, would top $1 million, said Adam Leitman Bailey, a New York real estate attorney who has been contacted by owners concerned about the deal before it goes into contract.
“People are calling me to stop this from happening,” said Bailey, who has reviewed board documents but hasn’t been officially retained. “People want to stop the assessment.”
The 31-year-old co-op, which makes annual rent payments to the family that owns the ground, is weighing its financial future at a time when rising prices for land make it attractive for investors to buy such property for a reliable stream of rental income. The board opted to put in a bid as it otherwise faces the prospect of a steep rent increase when the lease resets in 2024, Bailey said.
“The fact that the family put it up for sale should terrify the co-op,” said Joshua Stein, a Manhattan real estate attorney who isn’t involved in the transaction.
“Whatever opportunistic investor buys the land will probably be way more aggressive about the rent reset than either an estate or a group of heirs,” he said. “Someone who is buying it, is buying it specifically to squeeze out every last dollar of rent.”
Marc Cooper, president of the co-op board and vice chairman of investment-banking firm Peter J. Solomon Co., didn’t return a phone call left at his office seeking comment on the plan to purchase the ground.
Co-op residents buy shares in a corporation that owns the building, rather than getting a deed to the apartment itself, as they would in a condominium. Shareholders make monthly maintenance payments that collectively cover building costs such as mortgage payments, ground rent and operating expenses.
A Trump Plaza shareholder with a 1,000-square-foot one-bedroom apartment whose monthly maintenance fee is now about $2,100 would pay about $9,800 after the rent is recalculated in 10 years, Bailey said, citing a projection by the building’s co-op board. The rent increase would be about 8 percent of what the land value is in 2024, he said.
Buildable lots in Manhattan sold for an average of $657 a square foot in the third quarter, up 29 percent from a year earlier and an all-time high for the period, according to Massey Knakal Realty Services. Three purchases completed in the quarter were for more than $1,000 a square foot, the firm’s data show.
Trump Plaza’s situation is different from most other co-operatives in Manhattan, which do own the land on which the building sits and make no rent payments. Co-op units with ground leases tend to sell at a discount because they have higher maintenance costs and buyers sometimes face challenges getting mortgage financing. Other ground-lease co-ops in New York include 995 Fifth Ave., the Excelsior at 303 E. 57th St. and Carnegie House at 100 W. 57th St.
The ground beneath the 324-unit Carnegie House was purchased for $285 million by a group that includes Rubin Schron’s Cammeby’s International and real estate investor David Werner, Christa Segalini, a spokeswoman for Cammeby’s, said today. The 21-story building, with an entrance on Sixth Avenue, occupies an entire block front from 56th Street to 57th Street, according to real estate website Streeteasy.com.
For shareholders at Trump Plaza, buying the land beneath them means coming up with large sums of cash up front. Each owner was assessed a fee of about $2,329.40 a share, according to Bailey.
A resident of a two-bedroom unit who holds 440 shares in the corporation, for example, would be charged $1.02 million, Bailey said. A 1,600-square-foot three-bedroom apartment, worth 671 shares, would get a $1.56 million assessment. Residents get more shares the higher up their apartments are in the 39-story building.
The sale of the ground beneath the tower hasn’t gone into contract yet. Douglas Harmon and Adam Spies, brokers at Eastdil Secured LLC, are representing the owners, who are listed in public records as the estate of Donald S. Ruth and members of the Ruth family. Spies declined to comment on plans for the sale.
A purchase of the land by the co-op ultimately would add resale value to the building’s apartments, Stein said. Extinguishing the ground lease permanently removes the threat that rents will reset to unaffordable levels. With that uncertainty gone, future buyers would be willing to pay more for a unit in the tower, he said.
“If you’re the co-op, getting rid of that threat is a really good thing,” Stein said. “There’s a lot of value being created.”