Out and About: It’s hard to fill in the blanks

Views through floor-to-ceiling windows are winning, but a vacant apartment like this one near Lincoln Center can have a chilling effect on buyers.

Views through floor-to-ceiling windows are winning, but even well staged vacant apartments like this one can have a chilling effect on buyers.

There’s always something a little mournful about unoccupied apartments, except those in new developments.

Empty but, occasionally, with sparse staging, they seem to me to cry out for attention.  They remind me of cats and dogs in cages eager for the release that comes with adoption.

“Take me, I’m yours,” both the creatures and the condos or co-ops plead.

Their challenge — the apartments, not the dogs or cats — is that bare, they don’t evoke “home” to potential buyers.  In addition, rooms don’t feel big enough, the ambiance is cold rather than warm, and defects stand out like pimples on a face.

Then there is the question of why they are vacant.  Have the owners been shuffled into a nursing home?  Or worse.  Was there a bitter divorce?  Is the place so overpriced that the sellers had to move before it could find a buyer willing to offer more than the apartment is worth?

These are questions that don’t always rise to a conscious level, but the aspect of an empty apartment is a turn-off.

One might imagine that a vacant apartment is similar to a blank canvas, giving the purchaser the opportunity to envision a completed work of art that will dazzle and bewitch visitors.

But not so many buyers have the imagination to fill in the blank spaces, and fewer still are those with the creativity of a DaVinci or a Picasso.  The vision thing is a challenge.

At least in an apartment that remains someone’s home, even buyers whose vision is challenged can decide that they don’t like that sofa placement or that paint color and come up with a different décor and design.

However, the challenge of filling in an entire apartment without a clue to guide them may feel like more of an undertaking than they are willing to assume.

So, even units with seemingly infinite potential seem sad and needy.  They don’t tend to sell quickly or for as much money as they really are worth.

One such condo was listed in December for $1.995 million with common charges of $1,764 and real estate taxes of $1,473 a month.

In the low 60s west of Lincoln Center, the renovated 1,387-sf corner apartment pictured above has much going for it — well-proportioned rooms and eye-catching skyline and river views through floor-to-ceiling windows.

Among many other attributes are its washer/dryer, recessed lighting, modern open kitchen, central air conditioning, three bedrooms, three baths and a 150-sf terrace.  On a lofty floor, it is in a 1987 building filled with numerous amenities such as garage, basketball court and swimming pool.

Whether the apartment is worth $1,438 a square foot in contrast to the average of eight closed sales in the previous 12 months of $1,185 is a question only that buyer can answer who finds irresistible the look of the unit.

Below are some of the apartments that I have visited and that are listed by various other brokers:

  • A handsomely renovated three-bedroom, three-bath duplex on the garden and basement floors of a 1930 townhouse in the very low 90s of a Central Park block.  With an open high-end kitchen, true staircases, nearly private laundry, wide-plank oak flooring, through-wall air conditioning, generous closet space, extra storage and patio, this 1,500-sf co-op has enormous appeal.  The owners, who have listed the apartment at $1.995 million with monthly maintenance of $1,976, say they spent some $300,000 on the renovations after buying the place at nearly the peak of the market, in 2007.  It is unlikely they’ll get anything like all of it back. 
  • In the high 70s between Amsterdam Avenue and Broadway, a pleasant 850-sf co-op that has unusually high maintenance of $1,878 plus a special assessment of $187 per month.  The one-bedroom unit in excellent condition has a large kitchen, good closet space, through-wall air conditioning, built-ins, a dining area and plenty of light.  In a 1926 mid-rise with part-time doorman and little else, the apartment originally went on the market with another broker in November of 2011 for $700,000.  It went down to $680,000, and the marketing materials proclaim that it, uh, “will not last!”  Turns out it didn’t: Contract signed in mid-December.
  • A nicely improved one-bedroom apartment in a decidedly modest 1938 building lacking most amenities in the low 100s between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue.  The architect owners added laminate cabinets up to the galley kitchen’s ceiling, extra closets and a wall of bookshelves.  The floors could use attention, but there is ample sunlight from the south and the layout distributes the co-op’s 700 square feet very well.  Listed at $599,000 in November with monthly maintenance of $1,106, it ought to sell for approximately $550,000. 
  • On Broadway in the low 80s, a bright two-bedroom corner condo with wonderful views east to Central Park and beyond.  The renovated kitchen is high end but somehow feels confining, doors have spiffy center panels of etched glass, the many closets have been customized and there is a washer/dryer.  In a pet-friendly 1987 high-rise that has a full-time doorman, gym, playroom and garden, the apartment is aggressively priced at $1.575 million with common charges of $1,072 and taxes of $916 a month.  It found a buyer anyway in less than a month.

Tomorrow: Lackluster locks

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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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