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A Duplex Penthouse Listing at Aqua Has an Almost Unprecedented Asking Price

If sold at $6 million, the 3,500-square-foot condo would earn the second-highest price per square foot of any known Chicago sale.

Jeanne Gang’s Aqua Tower, 225 N. Columbus Drive.   Photo: Ian Spula

The residence with one of the highest balconies in Chicago—and highest available—is new to market. The duplex penthouse at Aqua, straddling floors 80 and 81, started as a pocket listing, according to Crain’s, and moved to public listing this week with a $6 million asking price. Its near-record vertical is matched by the near-record asking price per square foot: $1,714. Only one property in Chicago has garnered more by square foot, per available information: Ken Griffin’s 2012 Park Tower penthouse purchase, $15 million at $1,899 a square foot.

A market analysis of Near North condos sold in the last year with at least three beds and three-and-a-half baths (16 properties) shows a $5.1 million average closing price. If you set aside the $17 million Trump Tower penthouse sale, the average is about $4.3 million. We learn the most about the appetite for multimillion-dollar homes and depth of the buyer pool by measuring the distance between listing and sales price and noting time on the market. The average condo sold 20 percent below its $6.4 million list price, and took 146 days to reach contract. Citywide, across all properties, homes sold for 96.6 percent of asking price in April and spent 22 days on the market according to Redfin. “As you know, the Trump penthouse sold for about 50 percent of what it listed for,” says Sheetal Balani of @properties. “I’m expecting to do much better than that.”

Twice as many comparable condos are on the market in Near North, for an average of 222 days and with a $6.2 million ask. The average price per square foot for the groups of active and sold condos was just $1,080 and $979, respectively. Things are just getting started with the Aqua property, and Balani isn’t naïve about the ambitious pricing or the narrow window to get a satisfactory deal done.

“Pricing is not a science,” says Balani. “I wish it was. You kind of have to chip away at it and come to a number you think accounts for various unique factors.” Those unique factors are the duplexing (rare within the building), the height, views, outdoor space (two 25-foot-long balconies), and world-renowned architecture. Buildings with hotel amenities are also proven to command higher prices (these charts show the top sales by price per square foot for buildings with and without hotel amenities). “We are asking higher than the averages,” she adds, “but it’s a good time to try…. We weren’t doing [the home] any favors being a pocket sale in the heart of the spring market. If we didn’t list, this market would pass us by.”

Another situational concern is that the about-to-break-ground luxury building at 9 West Walton and, to a lesser extent, under-construction 4 East Elm have penthouses to rival Aqua’s in price and features. On the one hand, the just-listed $12.5 million penthouse at 9 Walton helps justify Balani’s gutsy price per square foot by actually topping it ($1,764!), but on the other hand, if the Aqua space isn’t sold before this and a couple other rivals come into physical existence it will be a crowded market for swanky new penthouses.

Satish and Kinnah Shah treat the unit as in-town (their main home is in South Barrington), summoning the extended family for regular rendezvous. “Believe it or not they’re running out of space,” says Balani. The family keeps growing so every get-together is like a party. The common spaces and balconies can accommodate 100 people or more, and have on occasion, but the bedrooms are more easily taxed.

When the Shahs snatched up two condos from the developer pre-construction for a combined $2.8 million, they let it be known they’d be duplexing and customizing. To this 3,500-square-foot vanilla box they added a ton of walnut finishes, stainless steel and marble fireplaces, full home automation, handmade wallpaper, and a bar, courtesy of Contrast Design Group

Balani has reached out to New York brokers and thinks the listing will bring overseas visibility. Her next move will be to host a cocktail party in June for brokers and any high net worth folks already living in the area. “I want to get people in here at dusk to see the view,” she says.

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