Out and About: Location explains huge price gap

(Photo by scholl10)

When I ambled into open houses just 16 blocks apart on Central Park West, the tired old saw about location struck me as graphically evident.

In a building in the low 70s, I visited four apartments, each of them with prices that I find hard to justify.  They then ranged in price between approximately $3.5 million and $10 million.

That same day, I went to an open house in a building in the low 90s, and I was blown away by its quality and its reasonable price in contrast with the others; those are just a 15-minute walk south in a similarly elegant full-service building that faces the same Central Park.

The unit farther northern is on a high floor in a 1930 Emery Roth building.  The living room and two bedrooms enjoy generally open southern exposures, but a third bedroom, the dining room, an office and the kitchen look inward.  No room, therefore, has park views without a twisted neck.

But with such an impeccably renovated seven-room, three-bath apartment in flawless condition, who cares?

Among the unit’s countless pluses are  these: excellent flow and room proportions, large customized closets, recessed lighting, ideal high-end kitchen, sound system and new windows.  The building itself offers a gym, basketball court, playroom and garage.

Price: $4.6 million with monthly maintenance of $3,761 and a special assessment of $200 monthly for the windows. 

Now compare that place with one on the same floor of the 1930 building farther south. It is listed for $4.5 million.

With only two bedrooms, a staff room, three baths featuring original tiling, a dining room truncated to create a library, somewhat dated eat-in kitchen, eccentric layout and washer/dryer, this co-op was so overdressed with ornate finishes and décor that I wanted to gag.  Chintz wall coverings, gold leaf surrounding an elaborate chandelier in the gallery — you get the picture.

As for the exposures, they are almost as good and indifferent as those in the apartment to the north.

While the apartment in the 70s needs substantial cosmetic improvement at a minimum, along with some architectural refinement, the one in the less desired 90s needs nothing more than a crew of good movers.

But the example of the $4.5 million unit is not the most egregious.

Let us briefly consider two of the other apartments in the building in the 70s.  Offered for close to $10 million with maintenance of $5,978 per month, one on a very low floor doesn’t exactly overlook the park, but four of its rooms look at that expanse, just its trees really, as well as the bus and other traffic not far below.

It, too, has three bedrooms, but three and a half baths.  Its kitchen demands to be gutted, and the rest of the elaborately decorated unit is faded and evocative of another time.  At substantial cost, the building requires the new owner to replace all the casement windows as well.

That co-op is overpriced, I think, not by hundreds of thousands of dollars, but by millions.

Finally, a ground-floor maisonette that has two doors, two bedrooms, two and a half stylish baths, an L-shaped layout and a kitchen no bigger than a Pullman, thanks to the sauna added at its expense, is better suited to be an office than an apartment anyone would want at its asking price of $3.395 million with monthly maintenance of. . . $5,690.  Which may explain the ignominy of its having slunk off the market last month after five months of seeking a buyer.  (The high maintenance, plus the floor plan, suggest that the unit was combined from two apartments.) 

Location may be everything, but I’d rather walk a few extra blocks to Zabar’s and endure the scorn of those friends who wouldn’t be worth having anyway.

Below are some of the other apartments I viewed before Labor Day and that are listed by various brokers:

  • Spruced up since it originally was offered for sale perhaps a years ago and then taken off the market, a one-bedroom co-op on a low floor with no unobstructed exposures in the mid 90s near Central Park West.  Relisted last November, the apartment was carved out of a larger space and bastardized into an unworkable layout that features a bath off the entrance, a cramped galley kitchen beyond and the bedroom far from the bath.  Reduced in March by $20,000 to $450,000 and again last month to $420,000 with maintenance of $755 and a $76 assessment a month, this white elephant in a doorman building is justifiably on its last legs. 
  • In the mid 80s west of Amsterdam Avenue, a floorthrough apartment that has been wrenched into a loft that is three flights of stairs from the street.  In a 1906 townhouse devoid of amenities, the apartment was renovated maybe three years ago, and the kitchen open to what is called a den is rather appealing.  But the dining “area” is just an extra-wide hallway between the kitchen and a living room that is only 9’4″ wide.  There are two pleasant baths some distance from the three bedrooms — none any wider than 10 feet — carved at the end of the unit facing the street.  The kitchen and “den” look into the block’s interior.  With an asking price of $1.395 million and maintenance of $1,161 monthly, this apartment somehow went under contract in July.
  • A 204-sf patio attached to a renovated duplex with two rooms used for sleeping in the basement.  Among the interior’s assets are exposed brick walls, high ceilings, top-end (albeit tight) kitchen, glowing hardwood floors and one and a half baths, the half being downstairs.  On the minus side are a spiral staircase, difficult layout for the living and dining rooms and, of course, those illegal bedrooms underground.  Including the basement, the apartment contains 950 square feet.  The co-op in a 1910 building with 20 apartments is offered for $799,000 with monthly maintenance of $1,339, and it is possible that the buyer who signed a purchase contract in July sprang for as much as $750,000. 
  • In the low 100s between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway, two co-ops totaling 1,275 square feet side by side and begging to be combined.  Except for the ordinary eat-in kitchen, which leads to the second of two bedrooms, the pleasantly renovated larger unit is nice enough.  Still, the exposures are obstructed, and closet space is barely adequate.  The second apartment is brighter, but it needs work.  In a permissive 1910 doorman building, the owner of these co-ops, who is selling them himself, is seeking backup offers.  The hopeful asking price is $1.125 million with maintenance of $1,720 a month.  
  • A studio with arresting view north from a high floor in Greenwich Village on Seventh Avenue.  Originally listed for $499,000 in January — of 2010 — this co-op in a full-service 1964 building provides an airy ambiance, lots of closet space, good proportions and an interior kitchen that has seen better days.  Having chased the market with four price cuts, the apartment found a buyer in July when it was listed appropriately for $435,000 with monthly maintenance of $669. 
  • In the high 60s on a corner of  Broadway, an attractively renovated two-bedroom, two-bath co-op in which the kitchen with diminutive appliances seems likes an afterthought jammed into a tiny space.  There are ample closet space, appealing northern exposures, Juliet balconies, a washer/dryer and rooms that feel a tad small despite the purported 1,200 square feet contained in the unit.  In a 1903 Beaux Arts doorman building that permits pets, the apartment sustained a $150,000 decrease in its asking price in July to $1.299 million with maintenance per month of $2,155 and consequently went under contract last month. 

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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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