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Will a fancy mall help sell Hudson Yards' pricey apartments?

New York

TWO years ago, Ann Cutbill Lenane visited the salesroom for 15 Hudson Yards, a then-unbuilt condominium in the heart of Related Cos and Oxford Properties Group's massive, US$25 billion redevelopment on the far west side of Manhattan.

"I had heard about Hudson Yards," says Ms Lenane, a broker with Douglas Elliman. "I envisioned this wasteland where trains used to be."

But one of her clients wanted to visit, so Ms Lenane dutifully accompanied him. When she walked in, "I was blown away," she says. There was the glassy, 88-storey tower designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, but even more than that, she was impressed with Hudson Yards itself.

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"There was going to be art and retail and incredible amounts of food," she says. Ms Lenane's client ended up buying an apartment in the building, and soon after, so did Ms Lenane, who'll move into her two-bedroom apartment sometime in June.

As the development's retail hub prepares for its grand opening next week, Related is hoping Ms Lenane's experience will be replicated many times over, not just for 15 Hudson Yards, whose available apartments start at about US$4.3 million for a two-bedroom and go up to US$32 million for a duplex penthouse, but also for 35 Hudson Yards, an even higher-end, 92-storey condominium whose homes start at about US$5 million and go to US$28.5 million, not including the penthouses.

The average 2018 sales price for a luxury co-op or condo in Manhattan was about US$8.5 million, according to a Douglas Elliman Miller Samuel report. These are pricey properties.

"People are really really excited to be here," says Sherry Tobak, a senior vice president at Related, who's in charge of sales for both 15 and 35 Hudson Yards. "When the shops open and restaurants open and all the opportunities that exist here - that whole lifestyle is really drawing buyers in."

Not everyone is sold. "This is not what we call prime," says Donna Olshan, president of the luxury brokerage Olshan Realty Inc. "They may consider it prime because they're building it, but it's what I would consider an emerging location, which means it's basically untested."

A gamble

The absence of an existing market for Hudson Yards' housing stock makes the development what Ms Olshan calls "a gamble", particularly within New Yor's slumping housing market. The end of 2018 was the fifth consecutive quarter in which co-op and condo sales declined year over year in the city, according to a report by Douglas Elliman and Miller Samuel.

With New York sales struggling, the billion-dollar question is whether Hudson Yards' city-within-a-city will prove enough of a draw to beat the rest of the market. "It's a very challenging market for anybody, and it's a very price-sensitive market, and it's a competitive market," Ms Olshan says.

The bright side, she says, is that Hudson Yards' combination of millions of square feet of office space and department stores, as well as the cultural and residential amenities Related is promoting, amount to a genuine first for New York.

"I don't think we've ever seen something like this," she says. "I don't remember New York ever having a dramatic transformation of an area like this, other than maybe Battery Park, years ago."

As a result, it's hard to gauge the "value" of the new apartment towers, let alone judge their potential success. "We'll see how it pencils out for the developer and the people who buy," Ms Olshan says.

For MsTobak, the development's totality is obviously a benefit - Related can argue that, as an anomaly, the price structure for 15 Hudson Yards should be independent from other circumstances.

"Look, it's not as though we're blind as to the way the market is right now," she says. "But we haven't touched pricing." Related's strategy, she says, "is to stick to our guns. People want to be here, and they want to put their money where their mouths are."

Ultimately, an apartment building is an apartment building. "What people are responding to is the quality of the construction and the dream of what the lifestyle is going to be like when it's complete," says Vickey Barron, a broker at Compass. The promise of that lifestyle, she says, is "the only thing that would make sense for this pricing".

Into the stratosphere

The pricing Ms Barron is referring to at 15 Hudson Yards starts at roughly US$3,000 per square foot and extends to about US$6,000 a square foot, well above 2018's fourth-quarter new luxury condo average for Manhattan of about US$3,100.

For her part, Ms Barron says she's a fan of the project, though it took her a little while. "Five years ago, I thought they'd lost their minds," she says. "I couldn't wrap my head around the whole vision, but I took a client there Saturday and she was blown away and very inspired. They should get some recognition for what they've created there." BLOOMBERG