For renovations, sellers likely pay a heavy price

West End Avenue (Flickr photo by claudiadaggett)

There is one axiom in real estate that sellers rarely get: In a slow market, it normally is all but impossible to recoup the cost of a major renovation.

A one-bedroom apartment that is handsome, stylish and uncommonly appealing  exemplifies that truth.

At the height of the housing market, the current owners purchased the 850-sf co-op in a distinguished pre-war doorman building for $575,000 in 2007 and then undertook a year-long renovation that set them back significantly in excess of $200,000.  They made not a single discernible mistake in doing so – except by investing so much money in an apartment that they would end up leaving sooner than they had anticipated.

The one-bedroom unit in the high 80s at West End Avenue on the Upper West Side possesses no open views, but the northern exposures into an extremely wide courtyard with a lush garden are better than acceptable.  If buyers are to find fault with the place, which went on the market Feb. 5, that would be the only one.

With 10-foot-high ceilings, the co-op features well-proportioned rooms, a large entry foyer, two enormous walk-in closets, oversize windows, period details and a mostly high-end kitchen that has a dishwasher, apartment-size Viking gas stove with exterior ventilation, filtration system and Shiva Gold granite countertops on a breakfast bar that separates the space from the living room.

Other assets of the apartment include new hardwood floors; Miele washer/dryer; and a glamorous bath with frameless glass shower enclosure, onyx accents in the marble-tiled walls and floor and custom vanity with under-mounted sink.

The amount of money that the sellers spent, the energy that they poured into the renovation, the emotional investment they made in their design decisions and the quality of their taste are notably evident.  But, unfortunately, they are going to lose in a big way:

The last one-bedroom unit that sold in the building went for approximately $750,000 – before Lehman Brothers imploded and prices tumbled.

The apartment under consideration here is listed for $849,000 with monthly maintenance of $1,015.  Do the math: $575,000 plus $215,000 plus closing costs of an estimated $15,000 equals a break-even number of $800,000.  Not gonna happen in a market that may be out of the woods but is far from fully recovered.

“Make an offer,” the listing broker pleads hopefully during an open house, conceding that the price was an amount on which the sellers had insisted.

It happens that the place went under contract just a week ago for an undisclosed amount.  Whatever sum, there is no doubt that the sellers had to agree reluctantly to a number that will leave them poorer than they wish.  It is a pity.

The sellers’ situation regarding this apartment is far from unique.  It explains why the asking price of so many renovated co-ops, condos and townhouses remain stubbornly sticky.

And with perceptions that the housing market in Manhattan and elsewhere in the Big Apple is improving, you can’t count on sellers being bonded to those prices with Krazy Glue.

To see more of my candid assessments of properties I see every week, please check out the newsletter that I write and publish on alternate Fridays.  You’ll find all kinds of news and information about the real estate market, the mortgage biz and celebrity transactions, among other useful tidbits.

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Malcolm Carter
Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker
Senior Vice President
Charles Rutenberg Realty
127 E. 56th Street
New York, NY 10022

M: 347-886-0248
F: 347-438-3201
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