Out and About: Is the emperor wearing clothes?

The listing broker appealingly staged this UWS apartment himself.

When a property has been staged, you almost always know as soon as you walk in.

One way you can tell immediately is if the placed is overdressed–too much stylish furniture well placed and too many objéts that are exactly right for the space. There might be a gorgeous throw draped all too casually over the arm of a sofa, a dainty flower in a bud vase on the bathroom vanity, a bottle of wine flanked by crystal goblets.

I’ve more than once walked into a place, gotten the picture, asked the listing broker and received an affirmative response.  I also recently overheard a curious neighbor cross the threshold and ask the same question, receiving the same answer.  You undoubtedly have had a similar experience as well.

There’s nothing wrong with staging–in fact, there’s everything good about it–and overdressing is better than nothing to hide the emptiness of a vacant property.

But faking it is a mistake with, say, a pair of eyeglasses resting on an open book, artificial flowers that are out of season or a scene so engrossing that the staging distracts from a buyer’s ability to see a property with clarity.  (Now, virtual staging has arrived, with images of a furnished property only online and in photographs.)

Allowing the personality of a townhouse, co-op or condo to emerge without overwhelming a buyer’s vision is as important as toning down its defects.  In an apartment building, especially in a new development with numerous available units, a certain amount of individuality can enable a prospective buyer to see how his or her vision can transform a bland space into a memorable one.

It happens that an apartment I visited a couple of weeks had been staged, obviously so, but also well.  It is pictured at the top.

In the mid 70s between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenue, this co-op, which has been well-combined from two apartments, makes an impressive showing, not only because of how thoughtfully the listing broker has staged it.

Now with three bedrooms and two baths, the unit has undergone a superb renovation.  I overheard one visitor literally gasp and utter “wow” when she entered the master bath off the master bedroom on one side of the living/dining room, which features floor-to-ceiling French windows facing south in its 29-foot-long expanse.  (It was the finishes and size of the bath, not anything else, that elicited the gasp.)

In a 1927 elevator building with live-in super, this airy apartment of perhaps 1,600 square feet has quality finishes, bedroom views of brownstone gardens, recessed lights, central sound system and the possibility of installing a washer/dryer.  It is offered for $1.785 million with maintenance per month of $2,328, and represents a fair starting point for negotiations.

I’m not saying that it is harmful to clothe an emperor, only that the apparel must be such a good fit that it shows off his best features without overwhelming him with excessive bling.

Other recently visited properties that various brokers have listed:

  • On West End Avenue in the low 1 a ground-floor one-bedroom apartment that suffers from insufferably depressing exposures.  But everything else about this 750-sf co-op in a 1923 Rosario Candela building is lovely–new floors (pre-finished), nicely proportioned rooms, decent closet space and an improved eat-in kitchen.  Reduced from its original $575,000 when it was first listed back in March, the latest price of $499,000 with maintenance of $726 a month did the trick: The unit went under contract this week.  
  • With an eccentric layout on a busy corner of Columbus Avenue in the low 80s, a two-bedroom, two-bath co-op on only the third floor of an 1890 building.  The corner apartment’s defects can be fixed, but they are several: entry through a hallway facing a blank wall and then skirting an open kitchen that smacks of the ’80s, French doors leading to both bedrooms from the living room, the second bedroom on a platform, where the dining room should be, and a wall open to the ceiling and the area occupied by the master bedroom and bath.  On the market since June 1, this unit is by definition overpriced at $1.095 million with maintenance monthly of $2,100. 
  • In the high 60s between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue, an ordinary post-war corner co-op that enjoys excellent open views of the city from the 24th floor.  This otherwise ordinary apartment has well-worn floors and kitchen, some built-ins and good closet space.  With very high maintenance of $1,450 a month, the 640-sf unit is does not offer high value at $629,000 in a 1975 building that has a garage, roof deck and allows both pets and pieds-à-terre.
  • A sunny and pleasant two-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath co-op that looks south over gardens in the interior of a block in the high 90s between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues.  The apartment has a decent pass-through kitchen with newer appliances and butcher-block countertops, lots of closets, built-ins and a dining area.  In a 1924 pet-friendly building that permits washer/dryers, this unit is overpriced at $1.175 million with maintenance of $1,555 per month.  
  • Half a block from Riverside Park in the mid 90s, a duplex condo with a 300-sf terrace and a quirky charm.  This renovated two-bedroom, two-bath apartment, which connects both floors with a spiral staircase, has exposed brick, a decent open kitchen with requisite stainless and granite, built-ins, great hardwood floors and through-wall air conditioning.  The 1,153-sf unit, which is in good condition, in a 1920 building that has few amenities beyond a live-in super was listed for $995,000 with common charges and real estate taxes totaling $1,197 monthly, then had a $50,000 price cut.  It will sell down another $50,000.
  • A simple 500-sf studio that boasts gleaming floors and has an open northern exposure from the ninth floor.  Its eat-in kitchen is weary and lacks a full-size refrigerator.  The other detriment is its presence in a building so dreary that the residents must have a disproportionately high rate of suicide.  In the very low 80s a block from Central Park, this co-op has been chasing the market since it was first offered, in September, for $429,000 with maintenance per month of $693, then $419,00 in mid October and $399,000 a week later.  Even at the last price, the seller is banking on more hope than reality.

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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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