Out and About: Combo apartments will speak to you

View from the best of three combined apartments.

Nine times out of 10 when I walk into an apartment that used to be smaller, the unit shouts “combo.”

There are almost always too much hallway, much of it wide and wasted, wood floors that change in height, finish or both, and awkward flow.  Often, you’ll find windowless “rooms” dubbed “media,” “office,” “bonus,”  “den” or “sleeping area.”

Three of the apartments that I recently visited on the Upper West Side were a cliché in contrasts.

One had been combined from not two, but three, units with inspiration of such a high level that I didn’t figure out the situation until I noticed that there were two two-bedroom wings.

The second one had two bedrooms and a bath on one side of the living room plus a third bedroom on the other side and something called a “dining gallery” punctuated with a column in the middle of everything.  As for the third apartment, it had a narrow hallway between the bedroom and living room so long that it would serve better as bowling alley.

Saving the best for last, I’ll begin with the one headlined “1BR PLUS BONUS ROOM & 2 BATH WITH W/D.”  It is in the very low 80s between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue.

Charming in almost every respect, this second-floor walkup in a 1910 building was totally renovated and fashioned out of two apartments.  It runs from the rear of the building to the front and encompasses 950 square feet.  Rooms extend nearly 12 feet for the widest and barely over eight feet for the narrowest.

The result is a slim footprint that requires the kitchen, which is open, to be aligned along sides of the living room; a bath in the master suite (which also consists of a dressing area and that slimmest of rooms) ; and something characterized as “den/office/second bedroom” in the middle of the unit.  That multiple-purpose windowed “room” is little more than a wide hallway.

Connecting the two portions is a hall, termed “gallery,” and the view from the kitchen at the front through the extra “room” in the middle and dressing area to the skinny bedroom at the rear is what provides that impression of a bowling alley.

On the market since the end of July–for $839,000 with monthly maintenance of $860–the apartment boasts a washer/dryer, lovely wood flooring, two decorative fireplaces and exposed brick.  But there is no justification for the price beyond the cost to the seller of the renovations and the price of $749,000 paid four years ago.

In other words, no justification.

In the mid 80s between Riverside Drive and West End Avenue, the second combo is the one with three bedrooms. The amount of space given over to hallway and that dining gallery upon entering the place give away its origins.

Among the apartment’s additional oddities were the washer/dryer taking the place of the sole closet in the third bedroom and, in the master bedroom, a 70-sf walk-in closet big enough to be a bedroom itself had it a window.  Probably that closet had been the kitchen of what was a studio in a previous life.

Aside from severely obstructed views from the most important rooms (and no views at all from the interior dining room), this co-op had its appeal.  There are built-ins, washer/dryer vented outside, one nicely improved bath and a vintage one, decently matched walnut flooring, modern eat-in kitchen and well-proportioned rooms.

The asking price since going on the market in mid-September has been a defensible $1.4 million with relatively high maintenance of $1,937 million per month.

Now to the third and, in every way, best apartment.  At a reduced $3.05 million with $4,187 in maintenance a month, it ought to be.

The challenge facing this co-op in the low 70s between Riverside Drive and West End Avenue was to combine three units well during renovations six years ago.

And succeed, they did.

With three bedrooms and three baths in a pet-friendly 1924 doorman building, the apartment has a large kitchen with six-burner Viking and 48-inch Sub-Zero.  Only the kitchen and dining room have merely fair exposures, to the north, and the mostly open views to the south from all the other rooms admit plenty of sunlight.

There are a small laundry room, copious closet space and a gallery, which sensibly links all eight-and-a-half rooms while also contributing significantly to the co-op’s airiness.

If there is any issue, it is the fourth bedroom, which currently can be accessed solely via the third bedroom, now used as a den.  However, creating passage otherwise would be relatively easy.

There is no sure way of establishing a fair price for the sprawling apartment except by having the market speak, though a $100,000 price cut this month from the asking price in July sends a loud and clear message.  Such large units are in demand as the passion for townhouse living wanes for families with children, and they are infrequently renovated successfully, fairly priced and, at the same time, available. 

Other properties listed by various brokers and recently visited:

  • A superb two-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath cop on Central Park West in the mid-90s.  With everything going for it but exposures , which are nothing less than grim, in a 1929 doorman building that welcomes pets, this  beautifully renovated corner unit has a winning eat-in kitchen, much closet space and a location not far from Whole Foods and a subway entrance.  Listed back in March for $899,000 with maintenance per month of $1,243, then $829,000 in June, $845,000 in September and $799,000 a week ago, this 1,100-sf apartment finally has a chance of receiving serious offers. How do you spell c-h-a-s-i-n-g t-h-e m-a-r-k-e-t?
  • In the high 70s near the Museum of Natural History, a first-floor studio apartment wrongly characterized as a “stunner.”  The views from the co-op are so awful that the broker shows the co-op with its blinds down.  In the co-op’s favor are a wall of maple cabinetry in a 1910 building with part-time doorman, live-in super and rear terrace as its only amenities. The asking price has remained at $349,000 with monthly maintenance of of $640 since the unit went on the market in July, and there the unit understandably sits.
  • A well-worn one-bedroom co-op in the high 70s half a block from Riverside Park.  This 750-sf unit in a 1928 low-rise building lacking amenities has new windows, renovated bath that retains a vintage look, through-the-wall air conditioning and a small, old kitchen. Listed for $625,000 in May with maintenance of $926 a month, this apartment is now at $612,000, which is approximately $20,000 more than the likely sold price.
  • In the mid 80s on West End Avenue, a grossly overpriced one-bedroom apartment with a dining that has been turned in a second bedroom.  The 1,216-sf  two-bedroom condo has a tough layout, floors in poor condition, a renovated kitchen with older appliances and copious cabinets, partly obscured exposures and pre-war detail in a doorman building.  It went on the market in May for $1.6 million with common charges and real estate taxes per month totaling $1,635, had a reduction to $1.495 million in July and needs to be at $1.2 million before it will find a buyer. Why the listing broker even bothers holding open houses weekly for such an albatross is a mystery.
  • An appallingly small studio apartment in which the foyer is a Pullman kitchen that has barely more than a two-burner stovetop, under-the-counter refrigerator and only a microwave for an oven.  There are but one closet, a bath with black floor tile and vanity, a window facing a brick wall and Broadway to the south and a relatively open view to the east through the middle of the block.  In the high 60s, this pre-war unit is priced below what the seller paid in 2008 and above what anyone will pay now: $319,000 with monthly maintenance of $849, reduced in three steps from $375,000 back in February.

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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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