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New School vs Old School. July New Development Eye Candy

Real Estate has rarely been at the cutting edge of technology.  Many startups have crashed on the rocks, approaching the shores of Real Estate Land, whether trying to disrupt the rental market (see the fun going on right now with Streeteasy), rental insurance, property and casualty insurance, information about commercial real estate, what have you.  But many applications have made progress.

While I still have yet to see 3D floorplans or property videos do a terrific job of helping to sell apartments, I just experienced a New Development sales office that delivered on what I think could be the future of sales office marketing.  The Vitre, a new construction just off the corner of East 96th street and 2nd Avenue, has developed an immersive virtual reality tour of its building that is stunning.  I’ll write about it below.

Vitre Condo at 302 east 96th Street

On the other hand, 49 Chambers is the redevelopment of the century-old Emigrant Savings Bank building in Tribeca, built in 1912, across the street from City Hall Park.  Something completely old-school, with 99-units and a full-range of amenities.  Developments could hardly be further from each other, geographically and otherwise.

Let’s talk about each of them!

The Vitre Condominiums

Taking a very different approach to its project, Vitre decided to strip down its offering to maximize space in the apartments and offer what they felt was most interesting to residents.  So: No gym, no doggy daycare.  Instead: On-Site Parking for sale, a concierge app called Alfred (I hope you get the Batman reference), bike storage, roofdeck.

Given its location, the developer, who has done some larger projects recently, including 540 west 49th in Clinton, is bringing that expertise to a much smaller project, with only 48 units in this building.  Above the 9th floor, this building gets very nice city views and views of the East River (to the East) and city views to the south.

To the North, the views are slightly more complicated, given that there is going to be a block-wide rental project going up in the next few years.

The question for me is: Is that a bad thing?  Putting up 2 new schools with retail, with 1100 apartments above it would make it one of the very largest apartment buildings in the city, and done by a very well-regarded building, AvalonBay.  Just to put this in perspective, 606 west 57th street, which is in the process of being completed with 1000 units, is the 2nd largest rental building in the city.  So this is big news.  Further, with the 2nd avenue subway at the corner, likely to be the last stage of the construction of that subway for quite some time, this nearly creates a new neighborhood.  Add to that the eventual completion of the running path along the entire East River, easy access to the FDR, access to Upper East Side private schools- all of this bodes very well for this location.

Vitre kitchen

But let’s discuss the virtual reality.  Since they are selling the project from a sales gallery around the corner, and the project is not yet completed, being able to show the finishes in the office, along with what feels like actually being in the space itself.  Virtual Reality feels like it has matured to the point where ideas about it are finally coming to fruition.  My experience in the office was no different than being in the apartment itself. I could look in every direction, open every door, look from the balconies out onto the views, and actually stand on 96th street in the middle of the road without being run over.

The sales staff was able to ably guide me and my customer through the project.  Once we were done, we then looked at finishes themselves, which were attractive and well-thought out.  What stood out for me was that they were catering to a buyer who wants an efficient layout.  1000 square foot two-bedroom units, 522 square foot one bedrooms.  Full floor units of 2200+ square feet with double terraces at the top of the building definitely are catering to the Upper East Side resident who wants a bit more space and light than what they are seeing even one avenue over.

But I think the project has nailed its audience.  With new condos on the horizon at 99th and 3rd, and other things percolating, I suspect that a “new school” project like this, armed with lots of data points from its sales team, gets it right.  Attractive, not over-the-top, with nice ceiling height and light.  I was very impressed.  With a commute to midtown that may only be 15 minutes, 96th and 2nd has never felt closer.

49 Chambers

This Beaux-Arts building was a bank for the first 50 years of its life, and a sad city administration building for the last 50.  Let’s thank the Chetrit Group for bringing this back to life!

I often marvel at the level of detail that went into these designs.  Raymond Almirall, who studied in Paris, brought to Lower Manhattan this special building.  With nearly 50-foot ceilings in the original bank lobby, I certainly prepared myself for something special.  I should note that downtown will get another event space in this lobby; the actual condominium lobby will be the Easternmost entrance to the building, while the bank’s lobby will instead be used similarly to what’s happening at Cipriani on 42nd Street or Capitale on Bowery.

So, you won’t get to enjoy the grand bank lobby every day, but the details of the building will permeate the condominiums.   In truth, given that the lobby is landmarked, it hardly makes sense to have a massive lobby that can’t be touched!

Let’s cover the amenities: Rooftop “Park” that has really special views of City Hall Park; a pool in the subcellar, which they’re calling the “Concourse Level”; large gym; residents’ lounge with catering kitchen; children’s playroom; teenagers’ room; spa with hammam, steam room, sauna.

Onto the finishes.  Gabellini Sheppard has done a terrific job of taking this “H” shaped, layout and creating some lovely apartments from them with their interior design.

49 Chambers’ Impressive Bank Lobby

Each floor (aka “Floorplate”) has four quadrants, and with 99 units, you get anywhere from 4-8 units per floor.  Very few structural columns, terrific ceiling height (A minimum of 9’5″), and open North and South views; since you have the 50′ ceilings in the lobby, even the 3rd floor is effectively where the 5th floor would be in a typical building. The views from the side windows are slightly compromised, which reminds me a lot of the Astor, on 75th and Broadway.  Ultimately, the level of finishes, with chevron-patterned, hickory hardwood floors, large windows, open kitchens with striking marble counters, and proper central HVAC, should help buyers see past these less-than-ideal side views.

The kitchen and baths are impressive with little interesting details; corian sinks that one doesn’t see usually, a lovely appliance package.  Dropped ceilings with in-set LED lights, with hidden a/c vents and electrified locations for window treatments.  As expected, a very high end look.

The units range from just-under-1000-square-foot one bedrooms, to the largest unit, PHB, which is just under 4000 square feet.  With many units asking in the range of $1850-1900 / square feet, I believe many buyers (they are 10% sold) can also look past the $2.75/square foot carrying charges, which are actually not even close the highest that I’ve seen in recent condominiums.  Perhaps my one complaint/concern is that some of the larger units, with open kitchen, have layouts (like this for example) that require an owner  to walk past the kitchen to the living room.

It’s a nitpicky comment, and I’m just thinking about it as compared to the rest of the “vibe,” which is quite “old-world.”

There are some marvelous options for buyers right now;  49 Chambers and Vitre being just two of these interesting choices.

More next month! -Scott

a 3-bedroom unit in 49 Chambers

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