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Star broker turns to New Zealand as New York luxury market wilts

The country's low Covid-19 numbers makes it more attractive to rich buyers

Should there be another quarantine, one would seek land, air, safety and security, said Serhant, naming New Zealand as one of the best places to find all of the above.

New York

INFINITY pools, massage rooms, staff quarters. Now there is a new item to add to the endless list of amenities touted in luxury real estate listings: a novel coronavirus-free existence.

That is the main pitch for the modernist mansion described as a "billionaire's retreat in Covid-19-free New Zealand" in the listing with reality-television star Ryan Serhant at Nest Seekers International.

The 13,175 sq ft mountainside abode in Queenstown on the South Island comes with dazzling views of a lake and snow-capped peaks, a six-car garage and home theatre.

But it is the location, in a "Covid-19 free haven", that is the real draw for the US$16 million asking price.

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A secluded estate is the opposite of the glass-walled penthouses of New York's Billionaires' Row, and rich buyers' current preferences are evident in the dismal state of the city's high-end property market.

Last month, there was not a single sale over US$20 million in Manhattan, compared with four a year earlier, said the Elliman Report.

The New Zealand home is an unusual listing for Serhant, who became famous as the hustling, steely-eyed broker to the ultra-wealthy in Bravo TV's seriesMillion Dollar Listing New York.

But with Manhattan's luxury market in free-fall and rich buyers prioritising space and privacy, even New York's celebrity brokers have to branch out.

"Personally, I love New Zealand," said Serhant, who honeymooned there in 2016. "When Covid-19 hit, my wife and I looked at each other and said, 'They are not going to have it.' They know what they are doing. It's one of the healthiest, safest countries in the world."

Purchasing in such an Eden, however, comes with hurdles. For starters, New Zealand's borders have been closed since March. And with Australia's case count spiking, do not expect that to change anytime soon.

It is also worth noting that the country is not actually free of Covid-19, although its case count of 23 is admittedly tiny.

Secondly, non-New Zealanders are barred from buying Kiwi homes. That is thanks to a 2018 law enacted partly in response to an influx of wealthy American buyers, including hedge fund billionaire Julian Robertson, who owns thousands of acres and several resorts there.

Hollywood film director James Cameron owns a house, while PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel owns two.

The house for sale is exempt from typical buyer restrictions because it has been rezoned as a commercial property, said Serhant's co-listing agent, Nathan Frank. And about those closed borders - there is a workaround for that, too.

The seller, whom Serhant got to know as a client in New York, is willing to lease the property back for as long as a year after the closing for NZ$85,000 (S$77,061) a month.

Serhant said the listing has sparked interest among clients in something increasingly top of mind in the age of Covid-19: obtaining a so-called billionaire bunker, a secure hideaway to escape to should global events spin further out of control (and should New Zealand ever open its borders).

The property is emblematic of what the highest of high-end buyers are seeking right now, Serhant said.

"Should there be another quarantine, you want land, you want air, you want safety and security," he said. "Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and New Zealand are some of the best places to find that." He added that he is not actively seeking listings in those states.

He also believes New York's luxury market will rebound once people have more certainty about schools and offices reopening and the impact of the upcoming election. BLOOMBERG

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