An Irish Taste For Real Estate In Manhattan
By PATRICK McGEEHAN
They live an ocean away, who has specialized in selling to
but that has not stopped the Irish the Irish for about two and a half
from lining up to buy years.
condominiums in Midtown “Many of them buy off
Manhattan, often years before plan, because they are fearless,”
they are built. she added, referring to the custom
In some cases, entire of putting money down on
buildings or large blocks of apartments long before they are
apartments in unfinished high- completed.
rises are being sold to Irish Of course, people from all
investors hungry to own a piece over the world have been
of New York City. contributing to the sustained
Neil McCann, an demand for apartments in
entrepreneur in Belfast, joined Manhattan. But developers and
the rush of would-be Manhattan brokers said the Irish seem to be
landlords last year when he the voracious newcomers of the
signed a contract to buy a one- moment, though their purchases
bedroom apartment near have drawn less attention than
Gramercy Park for $600,000. previous buying sprees by the
“It’s an Irishman’s dream Japanese and the Saudis, who
to be able to go to Manhattan and made splashes by acquiring
be able to buy property there,” properties like Rockefeller Center
said Mr. McCann, 36, who added and the Plaza Hotel.
that he hoped to buy more New “Because of the weak
York apartments. dollar, we’re seeing a lot of
With a weak dollar, Mr. European buyers and it just seems
McCann said, the New York like there’s a disproportionate
apartments are relative bargains compared with amount from Ireland,” said Jonathan J. Miller,
real estate in Ireland and Britain. president of Miller Samuel, a real estate
After a long economic boom that earned consulting company.
their country the nickname the Celtic Tiger, the Jules Demchick, who has developed several
Irish are flush with cash and searching the globe buildings in Manhattan, said the Irish are
for places to invest it. following a long parade of foreign buyers. “I’ve
The westward flow of money “seems to be seen the Persians and the French and the Dutch
another example of how, in the wake of the and the Germans and the South Americans do
Celtic Tiger, the relationship between Ireland this,” said Mr. Demchick, the president of J.D.
and the United States has flipped,” said Linda Carlisle.
Dowling Almeida, who teaches Irish studies at Still, he said he was surprised when Cathal
New York University. McGinley, managing director of the Irish broker
The buyers do not even have to travel to Kean Mahoney Smith, offered to take a block of
New York, because the sellers are coming to apartments at the Centria, a high-rise near
them. Armed with glossy brochures about Rockefeller Center, and sell them in Ireland.
amenity-laden towers, New York brokers like After McGinley’s company quickly sold
Ann Marie Moriarty, of the Corcoran Group, the first 25, he came back for more. Eventually,
have been dropping into Dublin and Belfast and most of the units in the building were sold to
taking deposits. Irish investors, most of whom planned to rent
“Most of these people are buying one or them. “Bar none, the No. 1 investment strategy
two apartments at a time,” said Ms. Moriarty, for an Irish person is through property,” Mr.
McGinley said. “Your average Joe on the street would be about 2,000 euros, or $2,700 a month,
has probably got two, three, four, five residential while the place in New York would rent for
assets. It’s considered to be a safe play.” about $4,000 a month, he said.
To them, an apartment in the center of “Going to New York and looking at those
Manhattan, no matter if it measures only 800 prices in dollars, there was a time when they
square feet, is a “trophy asset,” Mr. McGinley would be a shock,” Mr. Harmon said.
said. Now, with the Irish property market
His company also sold more than 60 cooling after a long, steep run, he added, “People
apartments in the Atelier, a new building on the feel there is better opportunity for capital
west end of 42nd Street. appreciation there.”
Jay Eisenstadt, whose company, Esplanade To experienced property buyers like Mr.
Capital in Manhattan, is developing a 43-story McCann, investing in real estate almost
condominium on Eighth Avenue in the theater anywhere sounds safer then buying stocks on the
district, said he planned to sell all 122 units in exchange in Dublin or London. Mr. McCann,
the building to a company based in Dublin, the who said he never owned a share of company
Sorrento Group, which would then resell them to stock, said he largely agreed with Mr.
investors. Selling them as a block is more cost- McGinley’s view that trusting one’s retirement
effective than lining up buyers one by one, Mr. to the vagaries of the financial markets would be
Eisenstadt said. “utter madness.”
“The amount of money Many of their countrymen
floating around over here is just have shown less hesitation,
phenomenal,” said Brian Turley, sinking their self-directed
Sorrento’s chief executive. “At retirement funds into apartments
some stage it has to leave the far away from home, even in a
island. If you follow where Irish country that they have never
money is going, a good deal of it visited.
is going into property.” They have bought so much
Mr. Turley said his property in England, Spain and in
company bought a piece of land near the Empire countries in Eastern Europe that they have been
State Building, where a construction company dubbed Crispies – short for cash-rich Irish
owned by two brothers from County Kerry will seeking properties in Europe.
build a 110-unit apartment building. Sorrento Irish newspapers feed the obsession with
will then buy the finished building and sell the weekly sections filled with articles about far-
apartments, probably mostly to Irish buyers, he flung markets. A recent edition of The Irish
said. Times carried one article about buying
At the heart of this investment surge lies apartments in Sofia, Bulgaria.
some simple math, brokers said. With the dollar By comparison, Manhattan, with a well-
at historically low levels against the euro and the established set of rules for buying and selling
British pound, apartments generally cost less in apartments, appears to be an island of stability,
Manhattan than in Dublin or London. But they Mr. McCann said.
still rent for more in Manhattan. Still, not everybody in the real estate
“Even if they could afford to buy in business in Manhattan sees it as a sure thing.
Dublin,” Ms. Moriarty said, “they could not get William Fegan, a partner with a real estate
rent anywhere near what they get here.” development company, Tribeach Holdings in
Kevin Harmon, a broker with Savills New York, said he feared that many Irish buyers
Hamilton Osbourne King, a real estate company were too focused on potential rental income and
in Dublin, used the example of a luxurious one- not enough on all of the other costs of owning an
bedroom apartment in Manhattan that would sell apartment in New York.
for $900,000, equivalent to about 665,000 euros. “For the life of me I haven’t been able to
“For 665,000 euros, you’d buy a very nice figure it out,” Mr. Fegan said. “If I was to advise
two- or three-bedroom apartment in a good them, I’d probably tell them not to do it.
development” in the Dublin area, Mr. Harmon Carrying an apartment in New York City is an
said. But the rent on the apartment in Dublin expensive proposition.”