A book’s cover can be quite revealing

The lobby of 180 W. 93rd St., a six-story building constructed in 1941 on Manhattan's Upper West Side.

When you walk into the lobby of a building, there is almost no limit to what you can infer.

With respect to monthly costs, you can be sure they will be high if you encounter a doorman, concierge and an elevator operator.  And if there is more than one entrance, common charges or maintenance fees will be that much higher.

Add impressive floral displays, computerized information monitors to indicate packages and such, more than one passenger elevator and an expansive space filled with expensive furniture, then you already know that you’ll need deep pockets to live there.

With respect to the apartment you are soon to see, period details can provide a preview of what to expect.  Examples are numerous, but one concerns buildings constructed in the late 1930s and early 1940s.  Generally with relatively plain, boxy exteriors and modest in height, such dwellings represent a particular era of pre-war design.

Often the lobbies will have Art Deco or Art Nouveau flourishes.  There likely will be tan and black floor tiles in geometric patterns, dark paint colors in tints that might be maroon or green, plenty of mirrors and brushed aluminum or stainless steel in noticeable amounts.

Now visit the unrenovated apartment.

There you will almost invariably find arched doorways, sunken living rooms that have or had wrought-iron railings to prevent falls; squeaky oak floors of alternating rectangles; capacious closets stretching to the ceiling; galley kitchens; semi-separate areas that may be functional for dining or less-so as “galleries” or foyers; and “galley” baths that are finished with ponderous porcelain tubs, pedestal sinks, walls tiled with subway tiles in horrific hues and floors finished with those little octagonal tiles that are white and black.

Such predictability came to mind at the open house of a 750-sf corner apartment in the mid 60s near Central Park.  It is on the third floor of a 1938 building that allows pets, pieds-a-terre and sublets.  There is no doorman, and the only other amenities are a bicycle room, roof deck, common storage and laundry room.

In its day, the one-bedroom co-op lacked none of the features typical of the period, though renovations masked some of them.  For example, the dark kitchen was renovated some seven years ago and features honed granite countertops, a Viking stove and stainless steel appliances, including dishwasher.  However, to speak of stainless is to glorify what is not pricey.  As for the ceramic tiles on the floor, several are loose underfoot.

The bath is a dated and unwelcome robins-egg blue, and none of the three exposures is worth a look.  Most views are toward brick walls.

Thus is it hard to explain the asking price of $685,000 with monthly maintenance of $1,070, though the excellent location must have figured into the calculation along with the listed price $10,000 higher of the unseen apartment immediately above.  Do two wrongs make a right?

The quality that apartments in such buildings tend to share is, for folks who pre-date the baby boom, a sense of familiarity, comfort and coziness.  For those who are younger, the modesty of the apartments can be off-putting.

But for almost everyone, the buildings often suggest a reasonable tradeoff of grandeur and high style for value and space.

Note:  For more of my critical comments about a variety specific properties, you may want to check out the comprehensive e-newsletter that I write and publish on alternate Friday, covering a range of news about the U.S. and New York housing markets, mortgage developments, household tips, celebrity sales and purchases, research and the predictions of experts.

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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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