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Behemoth Crypto Real Estate Deal Looms Over New York City
As cryptocurrency flushes through the United States real estate markets like volcanic lava, solidifying its growing use in enormous transactions, crypto whales now have their sights set on New York City‘s highest priced listing.
Quoting Jennifer Gould of The New York Post:
On a recent afternoon, a group of bros worth billions gathered in a Park Avenue penthouse.
Precisely, the top, 96th floor of 432 Park Ave. — a sprawling six-bedroom palace in the sky that is on the market for a staggering $169 million — 1,396 feet above street level.
It’s currently the most expensive listing in the city.
“The first thing everybody does is go straight to the windows. The views are completely insane,” said Ryan Serhant, the skypad’s listing broker and reality TV star.
The full-floor skypad stretches from a breakfast bar overlooking Central Park to great rooms and libraries looming over the downtown skyline — and the views never get old.
What was once the domain of sheiks (the owner of the apartment is Fawaz Alhokair, a Saudi retail magnate) and titans of finance, now belongs to a whole new group of ultra-rich young people, who made their fortunes in cryptocurrency.
“We offer wine and champagne for anyone who comes through,” said Serhant of 12 recent crypto showings. “[But] a lot of these crypto guys are dry. They just drink computer. It’s very intelligent, smart conversations, they are really interested in hard-asset investments and they want ‘one of one,’ like NFTs. People are spending all this money to own one of one.”
But many of them — like Sam Bankman-Fried, the world’s richest 29-year-old with a $22.5 billion crypto fortune — are remarkably cash-poor. Some don’t even own their own apartments.
“They take care of their parents first, buy their mom a house, like Drake, get themselves a car, and then they buy an apartment for themselves,” said Serhant, who has been tracking and targeting crypto titans via Twitter and Reddit. “Everyone is incredibly public. When we find them, we put properties in front of them and it works.”
These crypto whales — who went from $6 in their bank account to $600 million — have good reason to get into the Manhattan property game now.
Earlier this month, President Joe Biden announced that his administration is coming up with new anti-money-laundering requirements for the real estate industry. A big question is whether the rule will include reporting regulations for crypto currency.
“Will crypto be treated like cash so that paying with it triggers a currency transaction report? Right now, it’s unclear,” said Elise Bean, a former staff director of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. “There’s a reason it’s called crypto — it’s tied to secrecy.”
Bean argues that crypto dealers should have to identify the beneficial owners of the entities they are dealing with, just as banks do, and turn over to law enforcement the names associated with private crypto keys.
“Americans want to know who owns the ground under our feet — and to prevent it from being bought with illicit funds supplied by corrupt officials, tax cheats or criminals,” she said.
Still, local and federal governments don’t always see eye to eye. Last month Mayor-elect Eric Adams flew to Puerto Rico (an emerging crypto center) on crypto-entrepreneur Brock Pierce’s private jet. Adams said he wants the Big Apple to be a crypto hub.
Like Miami mayor Francis Suarez, Adams tweeted that he will accept his first paychecks in crypto. This was later clarified by his spokesman to mean he’d convert his first paychecks from US dollars into Bitcoin.
Crypto entrepreneur Lane Rettig and his wife, Amazon exec Lily Rettig, recently converted some of their crypto into a new $3.5 million condo on Central Park North, precisely because of the upcoming mayor’s crypto-positive outlook.
“It’s been a tech hub for some time, which was exciting and surprising,” he said. “Now, the city is very crypto-heavy.”
Experts see crypto buys as a win-win for New York, which gets an injection of tax revenue, and investors, who get a more diverse portfolio of assets.
“Exchanging part of your portfolio for a hard asset like real estate is popular,” said real estate lawyer Shaun Pappas. “It’s a good place to plant money, especially when you’ve seen a significant increase in your investments elsewhere.”
Developer Ben Shaoul’s Magnum Real Estate Group started selling condos for Bitcoin back in 2018. Since then, he has sold more than $25 million worth of commercial and residential real estate in cyber currency, he told The Post.
“There are more and more transactions and, as a result, you are opening up real estate investment to a whole new demographic of investors,” Shaoul said. “Crypto currency holders are a different type of person. They aren’t just finance people, or doctors and lawyers who own stocks. These are bus drivers, school teachers, cab drivers. They never invested before getting on the crypto currency train and now that they’ve made the money, they want to preserve their capital.”
Individual buyers and sellers are also trying their luck.
““I’ve been in crypto since 2011, and I’m looking to buy an apartment in crypto,” said entrepreneur Troy Osinoff, a New Yorker who now resides in Miami and is trying to sell his $1.7 million apartment for $2.7 million in crypto. “It’s complex. I’m trying to turn my apartment into an NFT that comes with the actual apartment. The volatility makes some people uneasy for a transaction of this scale, but it will become more normal as crypto becomes part of our everyday culture.”
But these novice investors are also at risk of making bad decisions offline, other experts say.
“The amount of crypto money in New York’s real estate market is tremendous,” said real estate lawyer/broker Ed Mermelstein, who reps a lot of foreign buyers. “It’s only been in the last couple of months that some of these major Bitcoin millionaires — many are worth hundreds of millions of dollars — are starting to consider moving their gains into cash and hard purchases.”
But he warns that, rather than cashing out their coins for fiat currency, some of these buyers are borrowing against these highly volatile cyber currencies, which is “very dangerous,” he said.
Others warn that crypto wealth has inflated niche pockets of the New York City real estate, like Greenwich Village, where people with no real estate experience are buying townhouses for the first time — and overpaying for them.
These buyers are also difficult to vet, added Dolly Lenz, of Dolly Lenz Real Estate.
“You never heard of any of them,” she said. “They made money like crazy, one person after another. They invested $1 in Ethereum and made $5,000. And they are all very smart mathematically.”
Jenny Lenz adds that they are looking for $12 to $20 million apartments — all condos and penthouses.
“They want flashy, and they want turn-key, ready to go,” she said. “They don’t want to wait around for supply chain issues, like a sofa to arrive. They want instant gratification.”
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