Out and About: Rolling conversions never smooth

Lots of terrace, tiny kitchen in West End Avenue condo.

Lots of terrace, tiny kitchen in 829-sf West End Avenue condo.

The temptation always is great to get in, as it were, on the ground floor.

That possibility occurs when a building’s owner decides to convert from rentals to condos with only a fraction of the tenants gone.

To my mind, the situation creates the worst of several worlds — the continuing presence of resentful renters, infrastructure yet to be completely (sometimes even mostly) updated, endless buyer traffic and the mess and interference of contractors in the building for months and months as they work on one apartment after another.

It is not immaterial that buildings with majority sponsor ownership cannot qualify for mortgages backed by Fannie Mae.

In the mid 90s of West End Avenue, the first 16 of 219 apartments in a 25-story doorman building constructed in 1931 went on the market in November.  With new thermopane windows, the doorman building is said to have been renovated, but there is a single elevator.

The two lowest priced units, a 493-sf studio and a one-bedroom of undisclosed square footage went under contract that same month.

Of the remaining 14 at the time of my visit — they ranged in price from a low $630,000 for a one-bedroom on the 22nd floor to $1.426 million for one on the 21st floor — the average price per square foot was an impressive $1,120.  Combined monthly common charges and real estate taxes of those units run between $681 and $1,485.

The apartments are stylish enough, and the finishes are of reasonably high quality.  There are red-oak flooring, Bosch washer/dryers, window air conditioners and marble-tiled baths.

Floor level, size and exposures account for price differences, but a question worth asking is whether condos in a kind of dowdy building that is undergoing a rolling conversion can sustain an average price per square foot well in excess of $1,000, especially for those units with seriously obstructed views.

The answer lies in how the market responds at a time when inventory is critically short.

Below is a sample of various properties that I have visited and that other brokers have listed:

  • In the high 80s of a Riverside Park block, a 550-sf co-op in a 1900 townhouse that offers stairs and private storage but little else.  The stark apartment itself has a fair bath with black and white tile, mahogany floors, a modern kitchen, exposed brick walls, storage loft and an eight-foot-wide bedroom exposed through a bay window to neighbors across the gardens in the block’s interior.  The asking price of $525,000 with monthly maintenance of $989 is beyond irrationally high, yet the place went under contract a few weeks ago.
  • A three-bedroom, two-bath apartment that has struggled for years to find a buyer.  With newer floors, updated eat-in kitchen that is disproportionately large, deep closets, formal dining room, exposures from the public rooms and master bedroom east over West End Avenue in the low 100s, the 1,759-sf condo is offered too high for $1.8 million with common charges of $1,257 and real estate taxes of $485 per month.  In 2008, the price went as high as $2.1 million.
  • In Lincoln Square, a one-bedroom co-op with balcony overlooking a well-trafficked street to the south.  There is a partly open kitchen with ox-blood floor tiles that provide a discordant distraction.  Other features of the apartment include the option of easily turning a dining area into a second bedroom, ordinary bath, newer floors, generous closet space, standard-height ceilings, good-size rooms and an airy ambiance.  The high asking price of $899,000 with maintenance of $1,600 a month in a full-service high-rise probably reflects the location as well as its disappearance from active listings late last month.
  • A 550-sf alcove studio with open, but far from alluring, views north on Broadway in the mid 80s.  With high ceilings, a pass-through kitchen that was improved some seven years ago, original marble-tiled bath, excellent closet space and flooring said to be teak, this condo on a relatively high floor has central air conditioning.  In a 1989 full-service high-rise loaded with amenities and policy of pet friendliness, the unit is priced somewhat over others in the building but not generally others in the neighborhood.  Offered for $585,000 with combined monthly costs of $1,216, the apartment found a buyer within three weeks.

Tomorrow: Just ask

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

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