Selling an apartment is hard enough these days. Selling one in a building without elevators is a challenge that can be overwhelming.
The photo above (looking up from the bottom of the stairwell) nicely illustrates the problem facing the broker (and, of course, the owner) of an apartment four full flights from the building’s vestibule, itself several steps up from the street in the low 100s between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues.
The broker tried to put the best face on her challenge.
She really likes the fact that there’s a little landing on which she can pause midway to make a U-turn in each flight, said she. And, flirting with a violation of the Fair Housing Act, she added that residents of all ages seemed especially fit, healthy and happy to tread the steps to their apartments.
For my part, I try to imagine how thrilling it would be for folks carrying babies, groceries, strollers or even new kitchen electronics to take a hike. As for visits by aging forebears, forget it.
We take it as gospel that any real estate property priced right will sell, and that’s true of walk-up apartments. But how do you figure out the right price since recent comparable sales can be few, far between and not all that comparable?
The best comps occur within the same building, but most walk-ups are in townhouses with few units and thus sales.
Matching similar apartments — if that can be determined with any validity — is difficult enough. Making correct assumptions about their quality, location, building’s characteristics and so on when they are blocks apart and replete with differences can prove to be a Sysiphean undertaking.
I suspect that the best most brokers can manage is an educated guess, then wait to see how the market responds and try to persuade the owners of the need for a price adjustment, usually down.
In the case of the apartment at the top of the stairs that you see in the photo, I see no justification for the asking price of $430,000 with low monthly maintenance of $522 — and not only because of the long climb.
For one thing, many of the co-op’s 850-square feet are wasted by the spine of a central hallway off of which are two painfully small bedrooms lacking closets, a dated bath, a shabby kitchen and a living/dining room of merely adequate size.
Worse, I question whether the two gloomy bedrooms meet the legal definition of such rooms in that the brick wall of the building next door is barely more than an arm’s length away. I’m not sure whether they are consistent with the criterion of opening to at least a courtyard given the narrowness of the space. (The window requirement has to do with an escape route should there be a fire.)
Legal or not, the bedrooms — more like bedcaves — are seriously deficient.
The most charitable points I can make about the unit are that it has a washer/dryer, a somewhat improved kitchen with a dishwasher and exposed brick lining that hallway.
Purchasers may not have annual income of $81,000 if a single occupant, $93,000 if two occupants and $105,000 if three.
Below are some of the other properties that I have visited and that are listed by various brokers (prices and other details may have changed since I originally saw them):
- In a Central Park block of the high 60s, an appealing one-bedroom apartment up three flights of stairs in a 1910 townhouse sans amenities. There are a sleep loft for guests (or storage), fireplace, combo washer/dryer, Juliet balcony, and good-size modern kitchen with its refrigerator opposite the sink and a decent bath off the wall between them. Listed in September for $649,000 with monthly maintenance of $911, this co-op had a trim in December to $549,000 and consequently went under contract two weeks ago.
- An 1,800-sf condo in a high-rise on Broadway in the high 90s. This corner apartment has slim views to the north and south, but mostly open exposures east. With a high-end eat-in kitchen featuring Viking appliances, Waterworks fixtures in the two commodious baths, two smallish bedrooms and an expansive master suite that has a too much space devoted to a dressing “room,” excellent closet space, mahogany floors throughout and three zones of central air conditioning, this inviting unit is in a 2006 pet-friendly building laden with amenities including pool access and a basketball court. Reduced from $2.2 million in September, it has had since last week an appropriate asking price of $1.945 million with common charges of $1,931 and abated real estate taxes of $428 a month.
- Between Amsterdam and Columbus Avenues in the high 70s, a lovely two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath co-op that is burdened by open northern exposures (plus two other less important ones) that are not especially pleasing. But. . . the classic-six-room apartment is in great condition, a large closet has been cleverly transformed into an office, room proportions are excellent, air conditioners are through the wall, the electrical and plumbing systems are new as are the hardwood floors, the layout is agreeable, the amount of closet space is exceptional, the galley kitchen is handsome, including a breakfast counter and top-of-the-line appliances, and the asking price of $1.75 million with maintenance of $2,337 monthly in a 1925 pet-friendly building with live-in super suggests an appropriate sold sum of $1.65 million. It is now in contract.
- A two-bedroom, one-bath co-op in a Riverside Park block of the high 80s. This apartment on a low floor lacking amenities such as doorman or live-in super has glossy floors that cannot be refinished again and generally obstructed exposures. But the space itself is nice, including the expensively renovated galley kitchen (complete with five-burner stove, Bosch washer/dryer, dishwasher and garbage disposer) and bath. There is plenty of room to add a second bath to the master bedroom. In a 1921 pet-friendly low-rise, the unit has a nearly reasonable asking price of $859,00 with maintenance of $1,363 a month, barely reduced from its original $875,000 in October.
Malcolm Carter is a real estate broker and columnist for the West Side Rag. A version of this post was first published at Service You Can Trust, Malcolm’s blog.
My God! A rarity…a real estate broker with God (more or less) on his side.
Upper West Side rental walk-ups certainly are a challenge. We would definitely agree that when it comes to a challenge like a walk-up apartment, the price still reigns. It’s all about weighing the pros and the cons, then of course weighing the amount of stuff you’ll be hauling up flights of stairs. If the rental is everything you’re looking for and in need of, the flights of stairs won’t matter.