Star Broker Turns to New Zealand as New York Luxury Market Wilts

Star Broker Turns to New Zealand as New York Luxury Market Wilts

Infinity pools, massage rooms, staff quarters.

Now there’s a new item to add to the endless list of amenities touted in luxury real estate listings: a coronavirus-free existence.

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

The 13,175-square-foot (1,224-square-meter) mountainside abode in Queenstown on the South Island with dazzling views of a lake and snow-capped peaks, a six-car garage and home theater. But it’s the location, in a “Covid-free haven,” that’s the real draw for the $16 million asking price.

A secluded estate is pretty much 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 wasn’t a single sale over $20 million in Manhattan, compared with four a year earlier, according to the Elliman Report.

NYC Market

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 series “Million Dollar Listing New York.” But with Manhattan’s luxury market in free-fall and rich buyers prioritizing 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 hit, my wife and I looked at each other and said, ‘They’re not going to have it.’ They know what they’re 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 neighbor Australia’s case count spiking, don’t expect that to change anytime soon. It’s also worth noting that the country isn’t actually Covid-free, though its case count of 23 is admittedly tiny.

Wealthy Americans

Secondly, non-New Zealanders are barred from buying Kiwi homes. That’s 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 Holdings Inc. 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, according to Serhant’s co-listing agent, Nathan Frank. And about those closed borders -- there’s a workaround for that, too. The seller, who 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 ($56,525) a month.

Star Broker Turns to New Zealand as New York Luxury Market Wilts

Serhant said the listing has sparked interest among clients in something increasingly top of mind in the age of Covid: 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.”

Serhant said he’s not actively seeking listings in those states and believes New York’s luxury market will rebound once people have more certainty about schools and offices reopening and the impact of the election. For now, a lot of his clients have decamped to Greenwich, the Hamptons and New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, business in the city is as busy as ever. “I have a lot of people calling me for a good deal,” he said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.