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Manhattan's global appeal

NEW YORK: Kenny Timmons has spent three long weekends in New York City since 2003, catching up with friends he knew in Ireland, visiting ground zero, restocking his wardrobe at Armani and Niketown and chatting about real estate with a bartender in an Irish pub in midtown Manhattan.

That was enough of a glimpse of New York for Timmons, a 32-year-old carpenter from County Meath, Ireland. Last summer, he put down 10 percent on a $760,000 studio under construction at 75 Wall St.

Timmons has never seen the apartment and does not plan to live there. Instead, he hopes to rent it out for $3,000 a month when it is finished next year and eventually to sell it at a profit. He predicts that a Wall Street address will always be in demand. "If you can't rent on Wall Street, then where can you rent?" Timmons said. "It's one of the biggest business areas in the world."

This enthusiasm for Manhattan real estate is not felt by just a few enterprising foreign buyers. Real estate brokers say that they are seeing more sales to foreign buyers than ever before - many of whom find that buying in Manhattan is less expensive than purchasing a comparable house or apartment in many of the world's major cities.

Jonathan Miller, an executive vice president and research director at the data analysis business Radar Logic, estimates that foreign buyers have bought about 1,000 newly constructed or converted condos in Manhattan in the last 18 months, about a third of the borough's condo sales in that period.

And while in the past an influx of foreign buyers could often be traced to boom times in a particular country, brokers say that the interest in Manhattan real estate is now worldwide, with buyers from Australia, Korea, Russia, Israel, Italy and Colombia.

"In the late '80s, we totally depended on the Japanese market," said Louise Sunshine, development director for the Alexico Group, who has sold apartments to foreign investors for more than two decades. "It's a diversity of a different kind. There's a huge amount of new wealth everywhere."

In her work on several Manhattan condo projects, Sunshine sees this changing market up close. Buyers from five continents inquired about condo suites at the Mark Hotel at 25 East 77th St., she said, and people from Dubai, Indonesia and Portugal bought apartments at the Laurel at 400 East 67th St.

Manhattan real estate is also benefiting because buyers have lost confidence in other United States markets, especially Florida. "There is the fear factor that prices are going to go down even further," especially in Miami, said Jacky Teplitzky, an executive vice president at the real estate company Prudential Douglas Elliman. She said she had seen a 20 percent jump this year in inquiries from Latin Americans about the Manhattan market and recently, more inquiries from East Europeans, specifically Russians.

Some buyers learned about boom markets in their own countries. Timmons rose through the ranks, handling the carpentry for 1,000 houses built by Hollioake Homes in Ireland. He built another 11 homes on his own to resell.

Now that the Irish housing market is slowing, he has been buying condos under construction in Dubai, London and Warsaw. He read about the Manhattan market in an Irish newspaper and to find his apartment here, he worked with a Dublin broker, Kyle Thomason, who is also licensed to sell real estate in New York. Timmons said he plans to work for another 10 years, pay off his mortgages and then live off the income from his rental properties.

Thomason said that Timmons is like many of her clients in Ireland who view these properties purely as investments. They typically do not ask quality-of-life questions - about schools, for instance. "It's all based on what their rental yield is going to be," she said.

Not all buyers are investors, of course.

Youngchul Kim and his wife, Namjoo, first began looking for a Manhattan apartment in 2003 when their middle daughter, Yoojung, 31, began working as an architect here. Kim invests in Korean real estate, and his wife has a practice treating patients with acupuncture and herbal remedies.

They suspended their apartment search when their daughter moved to Hong Kong, but resumed it last year when their youngest daughter, Heekyung, moved to Manhattan to work for a venture-capital firm.

The Kims first gathered information about condos at a presentation held in Seoul by Neal Sroka, a broker with the New York-based Corcoran Group, and he mentioned the Avery at 100 Riverside Blvd. They studied the project's Web site and liked the fact that it showed the views from the apartments. The Kims were also able to talk to friends who had bought real estate in Manhattan, and they were able to take advantage of new South Korean government rules tripling, to $3 million, the amount citizens are allowed to invest abroad.

This summer, the Kims helped Heekyung buy a $1.5 million two-bedroom at the Avery.

For some buyers, New York itself is the main attraction, and they like the fact that they can buy apartments in buildings that movies and books have made recognizable around the world.

Nick Kotsomitis, a 39-year-old orthodontist from Brisbane, Australia, owns 16 investment properties in Australia and in Greece. After he was invited to work in Manhattan for part of the year, he decided to buy. With help from a family friend, Jimena Yudi, a broker at Citi Habitats New York, he chose a studio at the Plaza Hotel for almost $1.9 million.

He felt an apartment at the Plaza would hold its value better than places in lesser-known buildings. "I have a lot of investment properties, and none of them have books about them," he said. "They filmed 'Crocodile Dundee' here."

In his case, the currency markets set him back. He ended up paying more when he signed the contract in August than he would have paid today because the Australian dollar has strengthened in the interim, but he says he is still happy with the purchase.

But foreign buyers quickly learn that there are limits to what they can buy in Manhattan, because it is difficult for them to get into co-ops, the local term for cooperatively owned buildings, which make up about 70 percent of the Manhattan housing held by individual owners.

When Nick Ayer moved to Manhattan from London, he was looking for a writing job and a way to invest a ?500,000, or $1 million, inheritance. He made a cash offer of $700,000 for a one-bedroom co-op in Chelsea. The sellers accepted, but the co-op board refused to meet with him.

He said he believed that happened because, although he had U.S. citizenship, he had no credit history in the United States or steady income beyond his inheritance.

His agent, Andrusha Bohackova of Bellmarc, helped him find a $668,000 one-bedroom condo at 230 Riverside Dr. He moved in April and says he is happy with his investment - for now. He hopes to sell the apartment eventually, move to France or the Amazon and live off the profits. "My money increased 100 percent by just coming over here," he said.



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