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What price luxury

Penthouse sells for record $13.2m as Hub’s high-end condo market picks up

The penthouse condominium at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel encompasses 6,829 square feet and has commanding views and balcony and deck space larger than many homes. The penthouse condominium at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel encompasses 6,829 square feet and has commanding views and balcony and deck space larger than many homes. (Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff)
By Kaivan Mangouri
Globe Correspondent / July 8, 2011

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The prime penthouse at the Mandarin Oriental has again set a record for the most expensive condo sold in Boston, though the $13.2 million price was little more than what the sellers paid for it three years ago. And still it’s never been lived in.

The 6,829-square-foot unit, which has sweeping views of the city and more balcony and deck areas than most homes have living space, sold last month for only $100,000 more than what the seller bought it for in 2008 when the Mandarin had just opened.

“It’s the ultimate penthouse in the city of Boston,’’ said Tracy Campion, the downtown real estate agent who brokered the sale.

Wilbur Development LLC bought the penthouse three years ago for about $13.1 million as an investment, after a previous buyer, a Florida real estate developer, backed out of buying it for $14 million. That buyer said the unit had too little sunlight. Wilbur first listed the property for $16.9 million in October 2008.

It is possible Wilbur might have even lost money on the deal, although there is little information in public records about how the company financed the transaction and company officials did not return calls seeking comment. For example, condo fees for the penthouse run more than $10,000 a month, and Wilbur owned the unit for 33 months.

Right now it doesn’t have a stick of furniture in it. In real estate parlance, it is “raw’’ space, empty and unfinished, as Wilbur Development bought it as an investment and never moved in.

The new owner intends to be one of the first to live there, according to Campion. He is Henry Rosen, a real estate lawyer at the Boston firm of Choate, Hall & Stewart LLP. Rosen declined to comment. [Correction: Rosen is the attorney for the buyer, whose identity has not been disclosed.]

The penthouse deal is helping to make 2011 a good year for sales of luxury condos, especially those of $10 million or more, real estate brokers said, while the rest of the market remains in the doldrums.

Debra Taylor Blair, president of the Listing Information Network, which tracks sales of Boston properties, said the luxury market has picked up. Citywide, the sale of luxury units increased 14 percent, with median selling prices up nearly 10 percent in the second quarter of this year, according to preliminary results analyzed by Taylor’s company.

“We had so many people on the sidelines for close to three years, and those people who have been on the sidelines I think are feeling a renewed confidence in the real estate market and there isn’t any benefit to waiting any longer as prices go up,’’ Taylor Blair said.

So far this year, Campion said, she has sold four other units at the at the Mandarin, at prices ranging from $3.5 million to $12.2 million.

Other notable deals include the pending sale of a $12.5 million, six-story federal period townhouse on Louisburg Square, among the most exclusive addresses on Beacon Hill, near the home of Senator John Kerry and his wife, Teresa Heinz Kerry. The building has an elevator and views of Beacon Hill from the roof deck. Another property around the corner from Louisburg Square that features murals inside and was also listed for more than $12 million went under agreement recently.

And the market for properties for the rich, it turns out, is different than for others: “Non-luxury has definitely moderated - we’ve definitely seen fewer sales there,’’ Taylor Blair said. “Luxury is really the driving force of the condo market.’’

But Beth Dickerson, vice president of sales at Gibson Sotheby’s International Realty, said the buyers of high-end properties did share one trait with those in the mainstream residential market: They took advantage of the real estate slump to wait out sellers. In 2009 for example, prices for luxury properties dropped significantly before picking up again last year.

“These buyers were here two years ago, but they waited and watched,’’ Dickerson said. “They can now come in and buy the properties that they wanted at a price they are more comfortable with.’’

Perched on the 14th floor, the $13.2 million Mandarin penthouse offers views in all four directions through floor to ceiling windows, sweeping open spaces inside and multiple terraces and decks accessed by private elevators. The unit comes with four parking spaces.

And living at the Mandarin brings resort-level amenities, including a chef and a spa, and concierge and housekeeping services. Mandarin Oriental, which owns and operates luxury hotels around the world, also provides upkeep and maintenance of common areas.

The Mandarin Oriental opened in 2008 with 50 condos on its upper floors - all of which were sold or under agreement before construction was complete. It is home to many of Boston’s boldface names, including car-dealer Herb Chambers and Celtics part-owner Robert Epstein.

The condos share the building with 148 swanky hotel rooms and 35 apartments.

Kaivan Mangouri can be reached at kmangouri@globe.com.