Happy Almost Spring!
This month I’m thinking about the artisanal.
not working with buyers and sellers, I’ve had some fun making pickled things.
Like these beans, for instance.
On the Upper West Side, restaurants like Jacob’s Pickles have popped up to celebrate the artisanal as well.
No question – there is something fun about making these pickled things yourself, and I’ve developed a fanbase who can’t wait for the next mason jar full of whatever.
Zooming out to real estate, the importance of provenance and curating
is nothing new, nor is using provenance to increase value.
Heck, the “story,” in the guilty TV pleasures such as American Pickers or Pawn Stars, ends up making the item go from trash to treasure (though I still suggest these shows make for better TV than
the reality offering you may watch featuring a variety of real estate).
You can look at any numbers of townhouse listings on my firm’s website, most of which will tout their provenance whenever available.
This listing, for instance, spends as much time discussing
its history, its architect, as it does discussing the space.
Ultimately, the space inside will be gutted, revisited, transformed.
The history of the space and the importance of the architect weigh more than everything but the width and square footage.
You do not have to be a history major to love stories, though, or appreciate why any number of developers would try to use provenance and artisan-quality to help sell apartments.
This past month I was able to visit three properties, one of which is rooted in the past, one of which is trying to tie its roots to the past, and the third of which is
tied strongly to the future of Manhattan.
Specifically, I saw (1) 235 West 75th Street, one of HFZ’s many projects (Known as The Astor), (2) The Sutton, Toll Brothers’ newest project at 959 First Avenue, and lastly (3) One West End Avenue, Silverstein & Elad’s addition to the Riverside Plaza tract, the last undeveloped area on the West Side.
One interesting and highly polarizing writer, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, posited that the established neighborhoods of Paris or London,
from the 19th century, hold their value or appreciate faster than other, newer neighborhoods.
Is that the case?
He believes it is, but I’ll leave it to my Christie’s colleagues to respond to that.
I wondered whether that argument holds up here.
Do the earliest established buildings in the most established neighborhoods appreciate faster than newer neighborhoods or newer buildings?
I can hear the Brits I know laughing at me, where 400 year-old houses are old, and 90-year old buildings are not.
But what is old, what is rooted, many buyers really do long for.
The argument starts to fall apart once we begin looking Downtown, because there was almost no residential development there – with only converted lofts, it becomes about the history of the streets, the scale of the neighborhood.
Jane Jacobs had it mostly right.
Certainly frozen neighborhoods and halted development
are not the answer.
But it’s clear by valuation alone in New York City that the oldest established areas – the Upper West Side, the West Village, Tribeca, and the near-park East Side are garnering the highest prices, while newer construction is trying to make up for lost time.
Let’s see how this plays out with our three “new” developments.
Here are my thoughts on each.
The Astor, 235 West 75th Street
This is not a new building, but actually among the oldest on the Upper West Side, in an area that would be considered to be really the heart of the neighborhood, at 75th and Broadway.
The developer writes this about the Astor:
“(The Astor was built) on a full city block built by William Waldorf Astor in 1901 that were among the finest apartment houses in New York’s gilded age…(they) will now get a modern makeover by the largest developer/restorer of luxury pre-war buildings. This is heritage pedigree architecture that cannot be replicated in the most coveted Upper West Side family neighborhood.
The property was a flagship in an Astor portfolio that included The Waldorf-Astoria, The Apthorp and The Ansonia.
The distinguished façade designed by Clinton & Russell features unique grey brick, a rusticated limestone base, hand-carved Juliet balconies, and an imposing copper cornice.”
This development is rescuing the building from a very recent life as a 212-unit rental, during which time they cut the apartments into tiny, efficient spaces.
Now, reborn at 60-70 units in total, the developer is betting on the large apartments to maximize appeal.
Their belief, which is playing out more broadly, is that primary home buyers of large apartments are active, inventory is in low supply, and prices per square foot can be maximized.
These are apartments for domestic primary home buyers, not foreign investors.
The finishes are lovely, with HFZ creating large living spaces, hiring high end
Pembroke & Ives to do a gut renovation, installing central air conditioning, restoring the common
spaces to their prior grandeur, and taking advantage of the apartments’ soaring ceiling heights, large areas for closets, amazing windowed baths, luxurious hardwood floors.
Unfortunately, the marketing hasn’t officially begun, so I don’t have any photos to share.
I can tell you that they are delivering a full array of amenities – fitness center, children’s playroom and a “private viewing park overlooking Broadway.”
As a building of this age (1901), which predates the real glory days of Candela, Roth, Carpenter in the late 1920’s – I have some concern about these layouts, as varied as they are throughout the three buildings that comprise
Often, there are longer hallways, where one reaches bedrooms before reaching the great room, common of the first apartment buildings.
While the living room spaces should have good light, the windows of the building are not large, and many of the units will have compromised views from the bedrooms.
Buyers looking for location first, and light/views second,
will not mind, one hopes.
As a boutique project, the amenity and service level is where it should be.
I also will note that the common charges and taxes are north of $2.50 per square foot put together.
I wonder why more buyers aren’t showing concern about this.
In the past, this raised far more red flags.
Perhaps buyers simply have
realized that this is not far from the norm across the city.
Though on the West Side, this would be considered relatively expensive for even many Central Park West buildings, where these charges may still be 20% lower.
As my dentist usually says, “We’ll keep an eye on that.”
I find it pretty interesting that this building went directly from an owner who cut the apartments into much smaller units for rent (212) to a developer who reversed things completely.
It would seem that the economics of condo and rental ownership have diverged significantly.
Renters seem willing to accept a much smaller scale for rental apartments.
Even three blocks from this property, at The Corner, a new construction, or The Larstrand, two blocks North, renters are willing to accept far less square footage in their units to live in the location.
That said, I find that the bar continues to be raised by renters, as I hear more and more complaints about missing closet space.
Which leads me to the second new development, a completely new construction
attempting to look like it’s been there for years.
The Sutton, 959 First Avenue
The Sutton, for which the link is here, will go live with its marketing in the next few days.
Toll Brothers saw such success partnering with Barry Sternlicht on Pier House, with prices in Brooklyn Heights almost three times what the company has expected.
Barry is here showing a lot of optimism about the market, but I’ve also heard that he is happy to be a seller right now rather than a buyer.
1110 Park Avenue has sold 2 of its 9 units – a much slower pace than the others.
In any case, Toll Brothers is pushing the “New Classic” angle, just as
535 West End Avenue did in 2007-2008.
In that building, which Extell developed, they called it the “New Prewar,” which seems to ruffle feathers.
In the Sutton, they tout the “handcrafted aesthetic” and brand it at “Modern Vintage.”
None of this is earth shattering, or all that new, but it’s interesting to see them push away from the glassier things being built in Midtown.
A building like this seems more at home Downtown.
This building seems to want to build on the success of Pier House, or buildings like the Seymour
or Cary Tamarkin’s signature look in his buildings like 508 West 24th.
Where do I come out on this one?
The building from the outside looks terrific.
Ceiling heights appear to be over ten feet, and large, sturdy casement windows will bring a classic feeling to the spaces.
It’s sometimes difficult to judge the finishes by the sales office, and often if they get enough negative feedback, some of the choices will change.
That said, the apartment layouts and the views that the apartments will get from the high floors will be terrific.
The first 8-10 floors will be an affordable housing component, which allow Toll Brothers to get a 421-A tax abatement and to make the monthly taxes very low for at least a decade.
The all-Gaggenau kitchen appliances are pretty, the interior design choices for flooring – engineered white oak- are interesting.
Incorporated, who did the interiors, chose a lot of competing textures in the kitchens and baths, meant to bring elements on the neighborhood such as Guastavino tiles, wrought iron, inspirations from One Sutton Place, etc.
I can’t decide if it’s the execution of the vision, or the finishes themselves, but something is missing for me.
I think that the spaces are ultimately a little bit busy.
The materials are interesting – a variety of stone and ceramic tiles, metals, and glass, but I’ll be curious to see if they end up changing anything before they reach the finish line.
What I can say is that Sutton Place as a neighborhood is incredibly established, and the flurry of construction in the mid-50’s ultimately will drive values upward.
I don’t know where the marketing ends and the truth begins with this development.
One West End Avenue
We end with One West End Avenue.
I am quite bullish on this location, as it is among the final pieces of this West Side puzzle.
Riverside Plaza will be an incredible destination, and designs like this are welcome in a sea of drab all-glass structures.
It is a
rental/condo combination, in which the lower floors are separate and also part of an affordable housing component.
As it is, this works well with primary users on the higher floors, allowing the developers to achieve the highest pricing for the condo.
Also, as it’s affordable with the rentals, and not market-rate, the developer is not competing with investors who are buying the condos as investment properties.
I can’t decide whether I’m more taken with the location and that it represents
the neighborhood’s completion, but the level of finishes were
They are in previews at the moment, without the ability to send contracts.
I’ll have to send a follow up with photos and pricing.
This has both feet planted in the future of the West Side, not trying to be anything but contemporary, glassy, bright, and now.
Ultimately, this will
appeal to the rest of the world of buyers, for whom the new, in all senses of the word, is paramount.
This part of the West Side will feel new and alive, and, I hope, will
be able to incorporate enough city planning to make Jane Jacobs happy, or happy enough.