Out and About: Walls always speak volumes

Portion of a wall that needs help

Clean windows, polished floors, organized closets and sleek kitchen all communicate positive aspects of any home being considered by buyers.

One characteristic that is not usually noticed at once also can have a decided impact on first impressions and subsequent appreciation of properties on the market.

That is the walls, especially in pre-war apartments and townhouses. The shape they are in speaks volumes.  They thereby affect prices in ways that can elevate or depress the selling price.

Consider the photo above. Perhaps you can discern the soft peaks and valleys that layers of paint have left on the wall.

Even a new coat a paint won’t hide them.  Nor will it add much value to the property. Arguably, it somewhat lowers the value by a percentage that would be folly to suggest.

Skim coated wall

Confronted with such a wall, with which the owner undoubtedly has lived for years with barely a glance and hardly an objection, homeowners planning to sell would do well to take care of those aged ripples and wrinkles.

One relatively affordable approach is to have the walls skim coated. If you don’t know what that means, a contractor creates a lot of dust by sanding rough spots, applying a thin coat of plaster, sanding again and then painting.

Such walls merely approach perfection, but they represent a vast improvement.  Run not only your eyes over a wall but also your hands, and the smooth surface will tell you that the seller has paid attention to maintenance and cares about the property’s condition.

That means more dollars.

While you can find skim-coated walls in many homes, Venetian plastered walls are rare in properties that don’t run high into the seven figures.  But, oh, are they special.

Venetian plastered wall

As ehow.com puts it,the technique “will give your walls the appearance of natural stone or marble.”  The appearance of texture and depth is accomplished through layers of plaster that are applied to the wall with a trowel, spatula or similar tool, the site explains, adding that the more layers of plaster added to the wall, the more textured it will look when completed.

When finished, the wall feels as slick as the hood of a new Rolls-Royce.  It demands your touch.

Being special, Venetian plastering obviously takes a lot of skilled effort, a lot of time and lot of — well, you can just imagine. In my view, the task is best left to professionals.

You can count on paying the professionals two or three times what mere skim coating would run.  Maybe that’s why we don’t see it so much, but seeing it is believing in its value.

Below are some of the apartments that various brokers have listed and that I have visited, many on the market finding buyers faster than I can write about them:

  • A pleasant 750-sf co-op on West End Avenue in the 90s.  In a 1924 mid-rise with only bike and laundry rooms as amenities, the two-bedroom, one-bath apartment provides three exposures, of which the northern ones are relatively open; so-so condition of the bath; and an uncommonly narrow galley kitchen with half-size dishwasher, granite countertops and older appliances.  The unit should have a sold price at least $25,000 below its asking price of $699,000 with monthly maintenance of $960, and that does not represent highway robbery these days.  It went to contract a month after going on the market.
  • In the very high 70s between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues, a two-bedroom, one-and-a-half-bath co-op of approximately 1,100 square feet.  Southern exposures are open and sunny; most of the floors are carpeted (the hardwood in the second bedroom being scuffed); and the eat-in kitchen is dated except for a couple of high-end appliances.  In a pet-friendly doorman building with roof deck, this co-op with beamed ceilings and French doors went on the market for the appropriate sum of $1.129 million with maintenance of $1,836 a month.  Under contract in less than a month. 
  • A sprawling five-bedroom co-op in Morningside Heights west of Broadway.  In a 1920 pet-friendly building sans doorman, the five-bath apartment is a warren of rooms in questionable condition that all too clearly demonstrate their combination from two units.  There are two kitchens, one of them from times long past, two living rooms, shabby floors, northern exposures that range from mostly to partly open and the desperate need of a $1 million renovation.  At $3.75 million with monthly maintenance of $4,200, this place, however large, is listed at a price that is way too optimistic. 
  • In the mid 80s of a Riverside Park block, a floor-through on the third floor of a pet-friendly 1910 brownstone lacking elevator and anything else in the way of amenities.  There are in the 1,000-sf co-op a small terrace, two nearly as small bedrooms, a dated bath, a washer-dryer, older open kitchen that is, yes, small, and closet space that is the only component of the apartment that is above average in size.  The living/dining area boasts a wood-burning fireplace, exposed brick and good hardwood floors.  This ordinary unit has an aggressive asking price of $1.1 million with maintenance of $1,358 a month, yet somehow found a buyer in little more than four weeks.  Huh?
  • A 625-sf alcove studio on West End Avenue near Lincoln Center.  With a partial dividing wall that can be taken down between sleeping space and living room, worn parquet floors, bright western exposures that afford a slim view of the Hudson River and tired interior kitchen dressed up with granite, the co-op is listed appropriately for $525,000.  Halfway up a 1961 high-rise with numerous amenities, the unit, which has maintenance expenses per month of $1,036, will go for under $500,000.

Tomorrow: Much obliged

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Malcolm Carter
Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker
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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