High in the sky, a five-star life beckons

The latest trend at the top of the market is serviced living, says Cheryl Markosky. And as ever, New York is leading the way
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The Independent Online

The historic figure of $45m has recently changed hands for a luxury "unfinished" penthouse on the 76th and half of the 77th floor of the new development One Central Park at Columbus Circle in New York. Astonishingly, the buyer is not some well-heeled Manhattanite or Californian dot-com millionaire, but a Brit.

The historic figure of $45m has recently changed hands for a luxury "unfinished" penthouse on the 76th and half of the 77th floor of the new development One Central Park at Columbus Circle in New York. Astonishingly, the buyer is not some well-heeled Manhattanite or Californian dot-com millionaire, but a Brit.

The unknown UK financier, who remarkably bought off-plan, is expected to fork out another $15m to kit out his new purchase. As a group of illustrious designers - including Nina Campbell, Lady Henrietta Spencer Churchill, Candy & Candy and Kelly Hoppen - are on hand to add the finishing touches, the result should be a pretty pukka property.

Those who are buying into the concept of Five Star Living (the name has even been trademarked) tend to be at the top of the food chain; mainly global businessmen who, ironically, will only spend a few weeks every year in their pricey Big Apple pads. But while they're in the AOL Time Warner Center (located at the entrance to Central Park, next door to Trump Towers), they will be able to embrace the idea of serviced living to the nth degree, by arrangement with the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, which is also on the 2.8 million sq ft site. As well as the expected gym, pool and other leisure facilities, there are upmarket shops and restaurants by five signature chefs. "When you arrive, there will be people who can monogram your linen, get your favourite chocolates and flowers and make dinner arrangements for you," says Susan Franca, of The Related Companies.

Knight Frank, the agent selling these swish New York abodes, which start on the 64th floor and rise to the 80th, says such attention to detail is just the next step in providing "extras" to residents in their homes. Gill Lamprell, of Knight Frank's new homes department, says One Central Park will be "of enormous benefit to high network people with homes all round the world and the joy is you literally pay for what you use". With some rivals levying hefty annual service charges, owners of the 66 One Central Park apartments, starting at $2.5m for a two-bed, two-and-a-half bathroom unit, will pay only monthly charges - a boon to those who jet in for short periods.

Richard Donnell from FPDSavills' research department believes the "extras" theory is logical. "If you are asking purchasers to pay a lot of money for property, why not ask extra for services? If they are wealthy enough, they want to phone ahead and be picked up by a car, and have food in the fridge. They are happy to pay for this."

Gill Lamprell is convinced that the notion of having One Central Park-type "precision-trained" teams of doormen and maintenance staff is already catching on in the UK - "not at your average development, but at exclusive addresses". The Savoy Hotel is one of the pioneers in hotel-catered residential living with its 13 apartments next to the hotel in the Strand, but it is hard to find many who are gung-ho about its success. Service charges appear to be on the high side, costing around £30,000 per annum, for instance, for a third-floor, three-bed flat currently on the market with Aylesford at £825,000 for a 103-year lease.

Paul Tayler from Sotheby's International Realty says we have tried the distinguished service idea in the UK, but it has not worked well. "The Savoy has not achieved the premiums expected. People are looking for higher levels of service here, but when push comes to shove they won't pay the charges." Tayler adds that those used to really good service, like New Yorkers, are reluctant to pay eye-watering sums in London for not much more than "a porter slumped over a reception desk".

FPDSavills' James Freear, currently trying to shift 198 apartments in The Knightsbridge across from the Barracks in Hyde Park, agrees. He believes that since the public hasn't had fantastic service over here to date, it makes his job even easier. "This is one of the few developments offering US-style service." Purchasers are first attracted by the location near Harrods and Harvey Nicks, but equally, by the services available from the Hyatt Group.

His colleague Matthew Wilkins from FPDSavills in Canary Wharf is selling the remaining 55 flats out of 158, starting at £550,000 for a two-bed flat, at 1 West India Quay, a joint development from the Manhattan Loft Corporation and MWB. The Marriott International, occupying the first 12 storeys of the 31-storey block, has private apartments above it and residents can take advantage of all that the Marriott has to supply. (See So You Want To ..., page 15)

The Marriott is also behind an intriguing and somewhat less pricey endeavour at 47 Park Street, off Park Lane. Next door to La Gavroche, 49 suites are available in a fractional-ownership scheme. From £110,000 for a deluxe one-bed suite (with a second bathroom), you get to stay for 21 days of the year. Several enterprising purchasers are snapping up two of these memberships, allowing them residencies of 42 days. Service charges are about the same as the average London apartment block - around £3,000 to £4,000 per annum. The building does not claim to have the same hotel facilities, but there is a 24-hour concierge, daily maid service and kitchens for those fed up with restaurants.

"London is more villagey than New York," says Paul Tayler. "You can acquire things easily round the corner. Security is important for high-end buyers, but if you are offering top services, then you must make sure they are available."

For further information on One Central Park in New York, call the UK selling agent Knight Frank on 020-7823 5906

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