International investors are buying some of the priciest homes in America as the broader housing market slumps and a weak dollar makes U.S. property more of a bargain.

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Roustam Tariko, billionaire owner of Russian Standard Bank and Russian Standard Vodka, completed the most expensive home purchase in Miami Beach since 2006 when he bought a $25.5 million estate on Star Island in April.

The transaction made Tariko the neighbor of another wealthy Russian with a taste for Florida luxury living. Vladislav Doronin, chairman of Moscow-based real-estate developer Capital Group, paid $16 million in 2009 for the Star Island home previously owned by Shaquille O’Neal.

“In Russia, it’s a status thing now,” said Jorge Uribe, a real-estate agent with One Sotheby’s International Realty in Coral Gables, Fla. “If you’re wealthy and you say you have a place in Miami, it’s like saying back in the old days, ‘I own a place in Ibiza or Monaco.’ It’s a cocktail conversation thing.”

International investors are buying some of the priciest homes in America as the broader housing market slumps and a weak dollar makes U.S. property more of a bargain.

Sales of residences above $20 million are rising in New York, California and Florida, which are popular business and vacation destinations for foreigners.

More than two-thirds of the nation’s residences with asking prices of at least $20 million were in those three states, said Rick Goodwin, publisher of Unique Homes magazine in Princeton, N.J..

Seven homes have sold in Manhattan for more than $20 million in the first six months of this year, up from five a year earlier, data from New York-based appraiser Miller Samuel show. The median price of those transactions was $27.5 million, up 15 percent from the year-earlier period.

The deals included a $48 million sale to Russian composer Igor Krutoy that set a record for a condominium in the city.

In Los Angeles County, 42 houses were listed for more than $20 million earlier this year, Goodwin said. Six properties sold above that level through June, compared with four in the first half of 2010, according to DataQuick, a real-estate data service.

The DataQuick tally for 2011 didn’t include the priciest mansion sold in Southern California this year. In July, British heiress Petra Ecclestone paid $85 million for the late television producer Aaron Spelling’s Holmby Hills estate.

International interest

International buyers purchased an estimated $82 billion worth of U.S. homes in the 12 months ended March 31, a 24 percent increase from the year-earlier period, the National Association of Realtors reported May 18.

The precise number of foreign deals for U.S. luxury properties is difficult to calculate because many purchasers are registered as trusts or limited liability companies.

Jed Smith, managing director of quantitative research for the National Association of Realtors, said the number of overseas buyers for multimillion-dollar homes is increasing, helped by the rise of emerging markets such as Russia, Brazil, China and India.

“There’s substantial growing wealth overseas,” Smith said. “Just go to the Forbes list of billionaires and see that we’re no longer the only folks on it.”

Of the 214 newcomers to Forbes magazine’s annual global ranking of billionaires this year, 54 were from China and 31 from Russia. The Asia-Pacific region had more billionaires than Europe for the first time in more than 10 years, according to the list. Moscow displaced New York as the city with the greatest number of billionaires with 79, compared with New York’s 58.

The Forbes list was topped for a second year by Mexico’s Carlos Slim, who in July 2010 bought a Manhattan town house known as the Duke Semans mansion for $44 million.

Interest in Aspen

Foreign buyers are also turning to resort locales such as the ski area of Aspen, Colo., said Tim Estin, a broker at Mason Morse Real Estate in the town.

“It’s a pre-eminent international mountain resort brand,” Estin said of Aspen, where luxury properties are selling at discounts of as much as 30 percent from the peak.

In the last three years, Aspen had at least five deals above $10 million in which the purchaser was from Russia, according to Craig Morris, president of the town’s Morris & Fyrwald Sotheby’s International Realty.

“Four years ago we didn’t have any Russian buyers,” he said.

In Miami Beach, Tariko’s home is the city’s only sale exceeding $20 million since three lots sold on Star Island for $27 million in April 2006, said Ron Shuffield, president of Esslinger Wooten Maxwell, a brokerage based in Coral Gables, Fla.

The seller of the property, Thomas H. Morgan, declined to discuss details but said it’s no surprise that foreigners are stepping up to buy while Americans hold back.

“Americans don’t want to put down 80 percent or pay cash,” Morgan said. “A lot of Americans are tapped out.”

New York and Los Angeles were near the bottom of a list measuring luxury real-estate price appreciation in 15 cities that attract “the world’s global elite,” ahead of only Moscow, according to a June 4 report by Knight Frank, a London-based property consulting firm.

In the year through March 31, prices rose 1 percent in Manhattan and fell 2.2 percent in Los Angeles. Prices in Paris increased the most, with a 22 percent gain, followed by Hong Kong, Helsinki, Shanghai and Beijing.

“Compared to other markets around the Western world, the U.S., including New York and Los Angeles, lost significant value during the crash and are more fairly priced,” said Liam Bailey, the head of residential research at Knight Frank in London. “There is no doubt a surge in interest in New York, particularly for people looking for deals.”

The Spelling home in Los Angeles was on the market for two years at $150 million before selling at a 43 percent discount. The Miami Beach estate bought by Tariko fetched 20 percent less than its $32 million list price.

A weakening U.S. currency helps. The dollar has fallen against each of the 16 most-traded currencies in the past year.

Making a splash

For Russians, interest in luxury properties is as much evidence of conspicuous consumption as it is efforts to capture bargains, said Edward Mermelstein, a real-estate attorney with offices in New York and Moscow.

“Those trophies, they’re buying them to make a splash,” Mermelstein said. “They’ll definitely gravitate to a property that’s higher profile as much as to a property with a long-term investment potential.”

Yuri Milner, founder of Moscow-based Digital Sky Technologies and an investor in Internet companies Facebook and Groupon, paid $100 million for a 25,500-square-foot mansion in Los Altos Hills, Calif., according to property records. The transaction is the biggest for a U.S. single-family home sale this year.

In Manhattan, Krutoy and his wife, Olga, bought their 6,000-square-foot condo at the Plaza hotel in March. The deal came six months after the couple completed the purchase of a $12.85 million home in the Hamptons on Long Island.

Famous neighbors

The Krutoys razed that mansion and are building a new house at the site on Gin Lane, where neighbors have included designer Vera Wang, shopping-mall magnate Alfred Taubman and New York Times Publisher Arthur Sulzberger.

“He was looking at Gin Lane because that’s what he knows — it’s the Fifth Avenue of the Hamptons,” said Susan Breitenbach, a senior vice president at Corcoran Group, the Krutoys’ broker for the sale, one of five deals she handled this year involving Russian buyers. “

That’s what they really wanted and that’s what they stuck with.”

Russian buyers “have the money and they always want the best in everything,” Ilya Bykov, principal at Protax Services, said of the international clients he represents.

“Most of these people are buying pied-a-terres and it’s quite common that the person would buy a luxury apartment in New York and a condo or penthouse in Miami.”

Kirk Henckels, director of the private brokerage at New York’s Stribling & Associates, said he was approached by a would-be buyer from Russia seeking to spend $100 million on a Manhattan home.

“I said, ‘We don’t have properties that high,’ ” Henckels recalled.

The most expensive single residential property currently for sale in Manhattan is the Woolworth Mansion, a 1916 “neo- French Renaissance” edifice on East 80th Street.

The sellers are asking $90 million, according to, a real-estate listings website.

Buyers from Russia and China have expressed interest in the seven-floor mansion, said Paula Del Nunzio, the broker with Brown Harris Stevens who is listing the property.

The newest Manhattan condo building to catch the attention of foreign buyers is a 90-story tower under construction on West 57th Street by Extell Development, according to Mermelstein and Bykov.

The property, known as One57, will be the tallest residential tower in New York when completed in 2013.

The 95-unit building will record “a number of signed contracts” in the next 30 days for units ranging from $7 million to “north of” $40 million, Gary Barnett, Extell’s president, said.

He declined to say where the buyers are from, but said inquiries have come in from overseas, including Russia.

Among the contracts to be signed in the next month is one for a full-floor, 6,200-square-foot unit that offers panoramic views of Manhattan, including Central Park, Barnett said.

“Three-hundred-sixty-degree views, unobstructed. That’s something special,” Barnett said. “If you were worth $100 million or you were a billionaire, this is something unusual. If you can afford the best of the best, why shouldn’t you do that?”

In the Los Angeles area, about 75 percent of the people looking at “super luxury homes” for $20 million or more are from countries such as China, Indonesia, South Korea and Russia, said Sally Forster Jones, a Beverly Hills, broker.

Forster Jones plans an October trip to China to seek potential customers, she said.

Asian clients prefer Bel Air, Beverly Hills and Holmby Hills, known as the Platinum Triangle of Los Angeles, with their palm-tree shaded boulevards and history as home to Hollywood celebrities, Forster Jones said.

“They prefer the West Coast, because it’s much easier for the Asian buyers to get to,” she said. “There’s a lot of glitz, a lot of glamour, a lot to do.”

The Spelling estate

Europeans also like Los Angeles mansions, said Forster Jones, who shared the listing of Spelling’s 56,000-square-foot estate.

The buyer is the daughter of British billionaire Bernie Ecclestone, the president and chief executive of London- based Formula One Management.

Russians are among the best customers for luxury homes in the Los Angeles area, said Jeff Hyland, president Hilton & Hyland Real Estate in Beverly Hills, who shared the Spelling mansion listing with his partner, Rick Hilton, and Forster Jones.

One example is the 2010 purchase and resale this year of a $19.5 million mansion by Dasha Zhukova, art collector and partner of Chelsea soccer club owner Roman Abramovich, said Hyland, who wasn’t involved in those transactions.

“You have the new wave of the oligarchs with their big yachts they dock off the beach at Malibu when they’re here,” he said.

“It’s all about the weather here. It’s about the ease with which people can move back and forth in Los Angeles. They can get in their Ferrari or their Rolls-Royce Ghost and drive where they want without need of security.”