Out and About: Tip top an East Side condo is not

The little garden is lovely, the apartment at the top of fire escape not so.

Getting to the one-bedroom co-op on the Upper East Side means negotiating a passageway in an early 20th century building facing the street and entering a sweet little garden.  At the far side stands a three-story white clapboard house dating to the mid-19th Century.

There the charm ends.

The apartment is a one-bedroom unit up two flights of stairs with ceilings so low that I had to fight the urge to hunch over — and no one would mistake me for tall.

To many consumers, ceiling height is everything.  Many prospective buyers won’t even look at apartments that don’t exceed the legal minimum.  To quote the New York City Administrative Code, all multiple dwellings erected after April 18, 1929 must have ceilings no lower than eight feet.

I haven’t been able to determine easily what the requirements are for the unit in question, which is in the low 80s between Second and Third avenues and certainly was renovated, if not converted into a separate residence, after 1929.

Were the standards lower before 1929?  Were they even specified?  Just when was the place converted?  And does it even matter?

When I asked the listing broker the height of the sloping ceilings, she claimed not to know.  Nor did she profess to have any idea about their legality.

What it is indisputable, however, is that the ceiling’s clearance over the standard-height refrigerator amounts to mere inches. Elsewhere in the unit, the ceilings rise gradually, but I doubt they exceed even seven feet.

Ceilings that don’t meet Code standards have been long-standing pet-peeve of mine, though usually I object to lofts in apartments being characterized as rooms when their height falls below eight feet.

In any case, the charm of the co-op stops at the garden.  The purported kitchen is small with a dishwasher that has a door of dented stainless steel and an undersize old stove, the forgettable bath is interior, and the hardwood floors are uneven.

But, hey, stand at the south-facing bedroom and living room windows and you can look down into the garden — longingly, I suspect.

The apartment was listed originally for $399,000 with maintenance of $1,130 a month just a year ago.  The price was reduced three times, ultimately to $299,000 before the unit went off the market in December.

Taking everything into account, including location, the asking price in the dog-averse building did not seem irrational to me.  But sometimes an apartment’s defects are so intimidating that no buyer will bite until the seller practically gives the property away.

Having to attend an event on the Upper East Side one Sunday, I decided to take advantage of the day by checking out several other open houses between the high 60s and low 90s east of York Avenue and as far west as Fifth.

Below are some of those properties, which are listed by various other brokers:

  • In the very low 90s between Lexington and Third avenues, a handsome 1,105-sf condo with one bedroom and one and a half baths originally priced to sell below the mansion tax threshold.  There are an interior kitchen with cherry cabinets, full-size Viking appliances, marble countertops and limestone flooring; a stylish master bath with two sinks, a tub and a separate shower; 10-foot-high ceilings, spacious living/dining room big enough to lose a baby-grand piano; unusually ample closet space; beautiful wood floors; and a storage bin that can be sold separately in the full-service 2004 high-rise.  Latest asking price: $975,000 (reduced from $1.05 million) with common charges of $863 and taxes of $505 monthly. 
  • A rambling three-bedroom, three-bath co-op in the very low 70s between First and Second avenues.  By having a door punched through one unit’s dining alcove into the adjoining studio, the resulting apartment is an ungainly combination that could stand a major makeover to smooth flow, upgrade one of the baths and the 80s kitchen, remove popcorn from the low ceilings and dispense with the mirrored wall in one of the bedrooms, among other essential improvements.  In a 1959 pet-friendly mid-rise that has a doorman, garage and willingness to accept pieds-à-terre, the unit is listed aggressively at $1.425 million with maintenance of $2,510 a month.

At the far end of this hallway,  the 1BR co-op below will suffer little buying interest until cosmetic improvements are completed in the spring.

  • In the high 80s off Fifth Avenue, a stunningly renovated 2,150-sf co-op.  With three bedrooms and baths, gorgeous high-end kitchen, inlaid flooring, den, dining room, crown molding, merely decent exposures from just two rooms, central air conditioning and odd features such as purple-hued hall bath, inordinately small master bath and washer/dryer open to a hallway, this apartment was obviously carved from another that had occupied the entire floor in its 1910 pet-friendly doorman building.  The unit is listed for $3.75 million with monthly maintenance of $4,024, and perhaps a buyer with particular space requirements will go for it.  Given that the place also is for rent at $18,500 a month, the seller doesn’t seem too optimistic.
  • A dreary one-bedroom co-op in the high 60s between First and Second avenues.  Described revealingly as “quiet,” the apartment in a pet-friendly 1930 doorman building with fitness room and other amenities has a wood-burning fireplace, original built-in cabinetry and merely a kitchenette (desperately in need of attention).  Aside from the unrealistic price of $550,000 with maintenance per month of $1,063 (including electricity), the chief obstacle to a sale are public hallways beyond depressing until their remodeling is completed in the spring.
  • In the high 80s between Second and Third avenues, a renovated 950-sf apartment with its dining alcove sensitively turned into a second bedroom.  There are a modern interior kitchen, one decent interior bath, exceptional closet space, parquet floors, standard-height ceilings and rooms of good proportions.  In a 1963 doorman building that has a garage and roof deck and prohibits washer/dryers, large animals and pieds-à-terre, this co-op has an appropriate asking price of $645,000 with high monthly maintenance of $1,761 that includes electricity.  It went under contract just last week.

Tomorrow: One case for cans

To take your own bite out of the Big Apple, you have the option here to search all available properties privately.

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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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