Who Lives In All Those Fancy Condos? Human Props & Nobody
One of the fun things about living in New York City is peering into the faces of the people you pass and asking yourself, “Are you a millionaire? Are you, sir, with the mustache and tattoos and mustache tattoos? Are you, angry biking lady?” It’s sort of like the grown-up version of Are You My Mother? but whereas the little bird in that famous children’s book has only one mother, NYC overflows with rich people. They’re everywhere, hiding among us. They have to be. After all, who else could afford to buy those massive luxury condos growing up everywhere like weeds?
Well, turns out that the secret ingredient is salt foreign capital.
According to data compiled by the firm PropertyShark, since 2008, roughly 30 percent of condo sales in large-scale Manhattan developments have been to purchasers who either listed an overseas address or bought through an entity like a limited-liability corporation, a tactic rarely employed by local homebuyers but favored by foreign investors. Similarly, the firm Corcoran Sunshine, which markets luxury buildings, estimates that 35 percent of its sales since 2013 have been to international buyers, half from Asia, with the remainder roughly evenly split among Latin America, Europe, and the rest of the world. “The global elite,” says developer Michael Stern, “is basically looking for a safe-deposit box.” … But much of the foreign money is coming in at lower price points, closer to the median for a Manhattan condo ($1.3 million and rising). In fact, if you’ve recently been outdone by an outrageous all-cash bid for an apartment, there’s a decent chance that, behind a generic corporate name, there’s a foreign buyer and an offshore bank account.
Don’t sweat it, normal Americans! We still have options. We can be HUMAN PROPS. This is a real thing in Tampa, Florida, where down-on-their-luck types can live in deluxe accommodations — as long as they abide by strict rules and are ready to scram at a moment’s notice. In other words, they can have a house, just not a home.
The Muellers once lived in an opulent lake house bigger even than this $750,000 estate, which graces the 10th hole of an exclusive golf course in one of Tampa’s wealthiest suburbs. But after a financially shattering fall from grace, this home, their fifth in two years, has become a surprising lifeline: Bob, 60, and Dareda, 56, now both work at McDonald’s and scrape to pay the bills. It has allowed them to start over with the painstaking gloss of perfection, but it has also brought up tough questions about what it means to have a home. Is it worth sleeping in a mansion if it means living as a ghost?
And being a ghost is hard work.
Showhomes managers live in about 15 Tampa Bay homes, most of them valued at more than $500,000. Some have lived in the homes for 18 months, others, less than a week. Few qualify, because managers are expected to bring their own upscale furnishings and compulsion for hyper-cleanliness. Most, Saavedra said, are “people in transition.” Showhomes pays moving costs but the Muellers pay the firm about $1,200 in rent, plus all household bills. Showhomes decorators decide where things should go, and managers are responsible for faultless precision, enforced by rigorous, random inspections.
All surfaces must be regularly cleaned; weeds eradicated, car oil spots removed. Clothes in closets are to be organized by color, and contestable items — heavily religious books, personal photos — must be removed or neutralized. Every item has a rule, and everything must be exact: the rotation of pillows, the fold of towels, the positioning of toothbrushes. Even the stacks of novels casually left on the bookshelf are placed and angled with pinpoint detail.
Oh God, it sounds exhausting. I’d almost rather be an actual ghost, Beetlejuice-style. At least they never had to clean up after themselves.