Out and About: Universal appeal is a winner

This triplex is a festival of full and partial staircases, such as the two steps into the kitchen photographed from the dining area, which is two steps above the living room.

Gorgeous properties priced well can linger on the market forever, and there’s little for a seller to do but offer a bargain instead of fair market value in order to attract offers.

Such is the issue with apartments that can tempt only a fraction of the potential market.  They have characteristics that cannot be changed or at least changed for a reasonable amount of money.

They await the buyer who has the same preferences as the seller, and they are few and far between.

Manhattan co-ops and condos that have, say, unusual flooring, nearly immutable layouts imposed by the owners or features rarely found have their appeal — but only to a very small segment of the market.

I’ve touched on this subject before, but I was reminded of the issue in the 70s between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues on Sunday when I viewed the nearly $3 million triplex pictured above that had a dizzying array of staircases .  I’ll go into details in a few weeks.

The same concern arose when I entered a lovely 1,800-sf corner apartment on West End Avenue in the low 70s a few weeks ago.  The aesthetic is described as “downtown loft.”

With three bedrooms, two baths, average closet space, skim-coated walls, open views west and north, stunning kitchen and location on a high floor in a 1925 building, this airy co-op was impeccably renovated four years ago.  As owners do, these sellers have a particular individual taste.

Unfortunately for the sellers, few are the buyers who will like the choice they made for the new flooring, which is handsome solid oak.

That the oak is wide plank in a neighborhood in which narrow-strip or parquet flooring predominates is one of two obstacles.  That decision will eliminate the majority of buyers at the unit’s price point — $2.395 million with monthly maintenance of $3,600, reduced from $2.55 million last month — and the consequence will be a lower price than such an apartment normally would command.

The second issue with the floors is the finish, which is matte.  I happen to favor matte over glossy, but I’m in the minority.

Although it is relatively easy and inexpensive as things go, refinishing the floors is an option that most buyers in that price range might undertake.  But many buyers are just unable to envision how a property on the market will look when modified, thereby providing another reason for lessened appeal and a lower price.

Another questionable part of the renovation was making the dining room into that third bedroom.  It is a reversible alteration, which turns meal service into a hike past two bedrooms and a bath.  While not fatal, the modification certainly limits the market mostly to families trying to squeeze too many children into too little space.

The lesson: Think twice when making essential changes that depart from universal appeal.  In other words, it’s not enough for the change to please you: It must tempt tomorrow’s buyers as well, unless you embrace financial irresponsibility as a pillar of your personality.

It is hard to imagine that someday you will want to sell the home that now calls your name.  But sell it, you will.  Why not plan on receiving top dollar? 

Below are some of the properties that I have recently visited and that are listed by various brokers:

  • Exquisitely renovated eight years ago, a 2,250-sf co-op on Central Park West in the low 90s.  This seven-room, three-bath apartment with only living room views of the park from a mid floor boasts a large high-end center-island kitchen, three bedrooms, washer/dryer, home office now used as a closet, two air-conditioning zones and a very long hallway lined end to end with built-in shelving.  Its price of $3.425 million, reduced in March from $3.595 million, with monthly maintenance of $3,182 suggests a trade in the vicinity of $3 million.  
  • In the very low 60s west of Broadway, a 1,000-sf corner co-op with two bedrooms (including one originally designed as dining room), a single bath, eat-in kitchen and ceilings of standard height.  The dated unit has double-glazed windows, through-wall air conditioners and parquet floors.  Crying out for a makeover in a pet-friendly 1957 doorman building with a garage, this apartment is offered at $849,000 with maintenance of $1,491 per month.  The sold price should begin with a “7.”
  • A one-bedroom apartment in the very low 90s quite close to Central Park.  This 600-sf unit in a nondescript building feels as though it was shoehorned into the 1930 building.  For example, the lilliputian kitchen is a kitchen in a box since its ceiling is the floor of an open storage loft above.  There are no open exposures in this odd and outdated co-op, which has 10.5-foot ceilings, a sunken living room and excessively shiny hardwood floors.  At its reduced price of $399,000 with monthly maintenance of $963 plus a $19 fuel surcharge, the apartment is priced correctly.
  • On West End Avenue in the high 80s, a newly gut-renovated combined apartment that has three bedrooms, two-and-half stylish baths, washer/dryer, library/den with attractive built-ins, living room that is 29 feet long and an eat-in kitchen of high quality.  All rooms face the avenue and other buildings, but the exposures don’t feel blocked and there are views of the Hudson. In a 1929 pet-friendly building with full-time doorman, this 2,010-sf condo is priced within reason at a slightly reduced $2.85 million with common charges of $2,707 and real estate tax of $984 per month.  
  • A two-bedroom co-op on a northwest corner of Broadway in the low 100s.  Gut-renovated several years ago, this is 1,124-sf apartment exemplifies a difficult layout that is a buyer turnoff.  For one thing, the only passage to the living room from the entrance is via a handsome galley kitchen that is open at its two ends.  For another, the sole bath is down a long hallway from the master bedroom, though it’s adjacent to the much smaller second bedroom.  Despite the unit’s assets such as beveled marble countertops, high-end kitchen appliances, washer/dryer, extensive wood paneling and decent eastern exposures from the living room, the asking price of $925,000 with monthly maintenance of $1,259 in a 1925 building with a garage as its best amenity is much too much.
  • On a corner of Broadway in the low 70s, a one-bedroom condo with a decidedly eccentric and not altogether unpleasant layout in a 1991 full-service building.  This apartment has had a number of added touches that probably are too personal for most buyers — for example, natural-wood crown molding and a floor-to-ceiling glass-and-wood partition between the living and dining rooms.   The galley kitchen has an added pass-through but needs modernizing, and the herringbone floors have an artificial flair.  Designed like a shotgun apartment, long and narrow, the condo has a balcony overlooking a relatively open courtyard.  The asking price of $1.069 million with monthly costs totaling $1,076 telegraphs a plan to sell the place for just under a $1 million to avoid the mansion tax.  It is not worth even that much.

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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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