Raze the roof!
Only in the land of $50 lobster rolls and $19 juice would an immaculately maintained multimillion-dollar mansion, tricked out with high-end hardwoods and marbles, be written off as a teardown.
But as land values continue to skyrocket in the Hamptons, the superrich are bulldozing homes — in the pursuit of even more ostentatious mega-estates — faster than ever before.
“People buying under-utilized properties and tearing them down is not a new phenomenon, but what we have seen is that, like everywhere else, trends that were happening already have been accelerated by the pandemic,” said Long Island Assemblyman Fred Thiele. “More people are coming, they are staying longer, so the houses that were being used seasonally no longer work for four to five days a week, all year.”
Believe it or not, the math on tearing down a swank spread also checks out.
Those who want to make the East End their forever home are able to more than double the value of their investment by buying a house, bulldozing it and then maxing out the square footage allowed by zoning on a new build.
In the alternative reality of the Hamptons: 1 + 1 = 3.
“When you have chronically low supply and prices rising rapidly, landowners become a lot more creative,” said real estate analyst Jonathan Miller, who is CEO of Miller Samuel Real Estate Appraisers & Consultants. “Existing properties become a target regardless of what was on the land. Whether it was renovated or looked like a teardown, it became replaceable. It’s always about the land in the Hamptons. It’s the land that appreciates.”
Currently, East End inventory is half of what it was before the pandemic hit — dropping from about 1,900 to between 700 and 800 listings — while demand is up somewhere around 90% this summer in terms of closed contracts, according to Adrianna Nava, a Compass broker and founder of Hamptons Market Data, a regional market trend tracking service.
Of course, bulldozing perfectly good country estates is an old sport for East Enders.
Back in 2003, Calvin Klein scandalized the Hamptons when he bought the historic and multi-turreted du Pont estate on Meadow Lane for around $30 million.
Many Hamptonites thought the fashion mogul would give the 1926 beauty a tasteful upgrade.
Instead, he introduced it to the wrecking ball and built a $45 million minimalist pile in its place.
His punishment: an $85 million payday when the mansion sold to hedge-fund billionaire Ken Griffin last March.
Other homes of architectural significance are also vanishing fast.
Famed contemporary architect Norman Jaffe built roughly 50 sculptural homes in the Hamptons before his death in 1993. Today, only a handful remain.
Modest homes on prime lots are especially fated.
A gambrel-style 5,000-square-foot “cottage” on 2 acres of beachfront at 15 West End Road in East Hampton is currently listed for an eye-popping $48 million. Its brokers say that it has “significant potential for expansion,” aka it’s doomed to demolition, a family member connected to the house told The Post.
These days sellers can even drum up additional cash by marketing their property as a tear down.
That’s what ballerina Sono Osato had to do to sell her 7,200-square-foot Cape Cod-style retreat in Bridgehampton in 2019 for $26 million.
“It can sometimes feel shocking what we consider a teardown,” said Bespoke Real Estate Managing Director Joseph De Sane. “But the reality is, if I can sell you a beautiful piece of land with a 10-year-old house for $6 million, you can take it down and build a contemporary home for another $6 million or $6.5 million, and that same property can come to market for $14 million.”
Adding 10 to 15% to the value of a property so fast is hard to do in other luxury markets, he explained.
“I don’t know many people who are buying from their heart, who don’t view a Hamptons home as an asset,” De Sane said. “It’s not a frivolous endeavor to tear down a home. It actually makes business sense.”
Examples of the kind of fast money East End speculators are making can be seen at 51 Sandpiper Lane and at 88 Rose Way, both in Bridgehampton.
Andrew Saunders sold a 1.3-acre property at 51 Sandpiper in November 2018 to developer Joe Farrell for $5.75 million. Farrell knocked the existing house down and built a 7,400-square-foot spec house on the spot. He off-loaded it in March for $25 million.
Saunders also sold the triangular house at 88 Rose Way to Paolino Development in April 2020 for $4.67 million. It was torn down, a new house was built on spec, and it’s currently listed for $21 million. The list goes on.
“We are in a new era here, this pandemic era, and my thesis is that it’s as significant as the Renaissance or the Industrial Revolution in the way it changes how people live,” said Saunders.
But while teardown culture reeks of excess, waste and privilege, those who do it argue that not only does it make economic sense — it’s good for the environment.
“I think a lot of opportunities are missed when you purchase a home to live in it as is, especially when the market is red-hot,” said real estate broker Jade Shenker Denham, 26, who is on the hunt for a Hamptons teardown with her 32-year-old husband, Matt Denham. “So many of the homes that we’ve seen are drastically outdated in efficiency, layout, use of space, green improvements and aesthetic. To renovate within a house’s current confines would actually be a bad investment, essentially run at a deficit and cause major construction delays. The ability to reimagine a home and build it more efficiently seems like the smarter option for our family.”
The couple, who are working with Compass agent McKenzie Ryan, is currently eyeing a 2,600-square-foot three-bedroom at 5 Harding Terrace on one-third of a waterfront acre in Sag Harbor. Its asking price is $ 4.7 million.
But not everyone is buying what real estate speculators are selling.
Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman, whose town has seen 129 whole-house demolition permits go through in the past two years, finds the trend unsettling.
“The difference I see in this era of obscene opulence is that gorgeous homes, just gorgeous estates, are being torn down, and the cost of construction is in the millions,” he said, “It’s become a new bragging point to live in a brand-new house that doesn’t host someone else’s ghosts from the past. To see some of these homes that get torn down, you’d be shocked.”
He told The Post that he is barraged with emails for “demolition sales” where everything from the shower doors to the imported marble floor slabs are sold in situ.
On the upside, Schneiderman points out that the business of building and rebuilding ad infinitum creates loads of construction and service jobs — though finding affordable housing for workers is near impossible.
Assemblyman Thiele added that the Peconic Bay Community Preservation Fund, which he helped launch in 1999 to preserve farmland, open space and historic buildings, gets its cash flow from a 2% transfer tax. For the first seven months of 2021, revenues were nearly 115% higher than last year, clocking in at $131.29 million.
“It’s a rough justice, but the tax allows conservation to keep pace to with development,” said Thiele, noting that so far, more than 10,000 of a total 52,000 acres of land on the South Fork have been preserved through the fund. “People want to be on the East End, but the amount of virgin real estate is limited.”
Kathleen Cunningham, the executive director of the Village Preservation Society of East Hampton and near-lifelong resident, also laments the rise of the mega-mansions. But she said that many Hamptonites are still committed to preserving the region’s agrarian and maritime history.
“We do the best we can to preserve homes that have made a significant impact on the village, but regulation is spotty,” she said. “I just hope that new owners recognize that it’s the historic nature and bucolic farmland that draws people to this place.”