Out and About: Get outta there!

School at Fox Creek, Tall grass Prairie National Preserve

THAT'S what counts as outdoor space. (Flickr photo by Kansas Explorer 3128)

Who doesn’t yearn for a home with outdoor space?


Here in a Manhattan of cement sidewalks and limestone canyons, it is those folks who fit into one or more of the following categories:

1.  Pragmatists, who know they’ll be spending most of their time at home indoors and want the biggest bang for their purchase dollars;

2.  Floraphobics, who detest gardening;

3.  Realists, who abhor street noise, nosy neighbors and immoderate heat, cold, rain or wind;

4.  Anal retentives, who deplore the use of a balcony as a “bonus” storage room.

I’m sure you can think of other types as well, but the fact is that even they may tend to salivate at the possibilities offered by outdoor space, which I believe is excessively sought and insufficiently used.

Notwithstanding, appraisal executive Jonathan Miller has told me that the correct valuation of outdoor space ranges between one-third and one-half the price attributed to a property’s interior on a per-square-foot basis.  Most sellers and their listing brokers tend to price an apartment accordingly, but others think of such places as heaven on earth.

Consider two duplexes separated by six blocks just west of Columbus Avenue in the 70s.

In a converted brownstone, one of them is three and a half flights from the building’s entrance, itself half a flight from the street.  And therein lies the rub, but it’s not the only contributor to the mystery of the unit’s asking price of $2.75 million with monthly maintenance of $2,022.

This co-op had many windows placed too high from which to be able to look out, rooms that were necessarily narrow, odd twists and turns in the layout, and a generally crowded feeling despite all the attempts to create airiness.  For example, the dining room has only clerestory windows, and it is on the other side of the living room from the skinny, if attractive, open galley kitchen that is essentially in a hallway.

The unit (for which total square footage is not given) is being marketed as a triplex—apparently and unconventionally because of the 681-sf roof deck with two major protrusions that must make it unusable for anything bigger than a cocktail party for a dozen good friends.  (In any case, the long hike up a narrow flight of stairs while carrying refreshments might well discourage the owners from hosting even that many guests.)

What with the lack of a doorman, stairs, the choppy flow,and the cramped ambience–one of three bedrooms is 9.5-feet wide, a second is 8.5 feet wide, and the dining room is 8.75 feet wide–the asking price is beyond reason. 

The other duplex at least has elevator access, and its gorgeously landscaped 800-sf terrace sweeps around two sides of the upper floor, with relatively open skyline views east and south.

Among its additional pluses are central air conditioning, high ceilings and a high-end kitchen–Viking, Sub-Zero–on the lower floor, which contains two bedrooms, bath, dining room and living room.  The upper floor has two more bedrooms, a family room, bath and a well-worn but contemporary kitchen and a washer/dryer.

It is a likable 2,100-sf apartment that aspires to minimalism but seems to fall short of high-style, lapsing instead to a spareness that may leave buyers wondering why they don’t like the unit more.

This penthouse went on the market in mid September for $3.2 million with monthly maintenance of $3,800.

Let’s do the math.  In a building without a doorman, say the interior price per square foot is $1,100.  If so, the listing price without the terrace could be $2.31 million.  Add the terrace at a sensible $550 per square foot, and you add another $440,000.  Total: $2.75 million.

If you’re feeling generous, you might be forgiven for pegging the contract price at around $2.85 million, an amount that probably is within range of the owners’ expectations but not of their hopes and likely even the flexibility of buyers.  

Other recently visited properties listed by various brokers:

  • A somehow enchanting studio with a loft bed that is reached by a ladder and leaves little headroom for an athletic couple.  In a Central Park block of the low 80s, this co-op has beautifully refinished hardwood floors, exposed brick and good northern light from the fifth floor.  Except for its tired appliances, the kitchen, which acts like a foyer, is, well, cute.  The sleeping loft aside, the lilliputian apartment’s chief burden is the forbidding iron-gated entry to the 1900 made-over building, which allows cats but not dogs.  It’s hard to imagine anyone paying as much as the asking price of $359,000 with maintenance of $517 per month.  
  • In the high 80s on a corner of Broadway, a renovated corner condo that has a full bath between its two bedrooms and a second one in a corner of the awkwardly-shaped kitchen, which could use additional updating.  There also is a formal dining room.  Creaky floors demand refinishing, but they’ve been done too often for that to be an option.  Exposures from the bedrooms are unobstructed, if not remarkable, all the other rooms face brick walls.  Since the pre-war apartment was listed at the end of July for $1.249 million with common charges and real estate taxes totaling $1,532 per month, it has undergone a $50,000 reduction to $1.199 million.  And counting. 
  • A bright one-bedroom co-op in a distinguished building in the very low 90s east of Broadway.  This appealingly renovated apartment, which faces east over wide gardens, has a hookup for a washer/dryer, top-end kitchen appliances, built-ins and a bath with black fixtures unfortunately off the bedroom.  The unit went on the market for $850,000 in April with monthly maintenance of $1,091 and had its price dropped to $815,000 in September.  It should find a buyer soon.  
  • On West End Avenue in the low 90s, a superb condo and adjacent one-bedroom apartment that easily can be combined into a four- or five-bedroom unit.  With a large up-to-date kitchen that embraces a banquette, four baths in dated condition, new infrastructure, all rooms facing east from a lower floor, this sprawling pre-war property has a great layout and classically proportioned rooms of generous size. The place demands a modest amount of work, suggesting that the listing price of $3.85 million with common charges and real estate taxes totaling $3,083 monthly is considerably optimistic.  
  • In the low 70s close to Central Park, an inexpensively renovated 400-sf studio that has an okay kitchen with breakfast bar tucked into a windowed corner and small appliances, nice wood floors, good closet space and views north over unsightly rooftop air conditioning but open beyond.  Although the price was reduced $30,000 in September to $420,000 with maintenance per month of $655, this apartment needs to get below $400,000 before the right buyer will bite.

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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

Web site

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