courage is rewarded / 161 West 15 Street sells in the sweet spot of a cold market


easy on, easy off (sometimes), through tough comps
How’s this for getting it right? The Manhattan loft #2A at 161 West 15 Street came to market on January 16 and found a contract in 32 days (it closed May 12 but took a long time to be public; the price is still missing on StreetEasy and can be found on Property Shark only by scrolling and clicking a bit). The 13 foot ceilings add a lot of volume to this "1,410 sq ft" space, but with that trajectory you would have to think that the main market attraction here is the price. I certainly assumed that while I was waiting to see the May clearing price for #2A, having seen the 3 sales in the building in March 2009, December 2008 and October, 2008.

Being negotiable helped (they cleared at $1.285mm off an ask of $1.395mm, a modest 8% "discount"), as was having an efficient layout with those high ceilings. What is interesting is that they were not timid about the price, yet they got in and out of the January Market quickly. Bear with me for the bumpy ride through the building’s recent sales history.

When #2A came to market in January,  #6E, essentially a very large ("1,250 sq ft") open plan studio, was still on the market. That came to market at $1,000/ft ($1.25mm, for those not paying attention) in August 2008, dropped to $1.075mm in October, and found the contract at $920k in February that closed (quickly!) in March. That cleared at $736/ft, or 26% off the first ask. (Despite going to contract 9 days after #2A, #6E closed two months earlier; weird ….) The neighbor who sold most recently before that took 4 months to get to contract 14% off the ask, clearing in December, but that second-to-last neighbor to sell had a huge premium: a private roof deck of about 800 sq ft. The footprint of #7A matches that of #2A, except that it has a roof-level additional bedroom that leads to the private roof deck. Said to be "1,620 sq ft" of interior space, #7A came to market in June 2008 at $2.3mm and was attractive enough to reach a contract in October (post-Lehman) and close in December at $1.975mm, a 14% discount to list price, and nearly $700k above what #2A got 5 months later for smaller space without a roof deck.

#2A cleared in May at $911/ft off an ask that was $989/ft, compared to the $860/ft that was then being asked for 1 bathroom open-plan studio #6E. Of course, direct comparison with #7A and the large roof deck fails, but it is interesting that #2A got to contract much quicker even than #7A, in a market that was very, very, very slow. It had to be the value, not only the price.

alphabet challenged
Billed as having a "unique T-shaped layout", the #2A footprint is instead almost square (it is more a clunky reversed "L" than a "T" in my alphabet picture book), with very good (large, broad) windows in the living room and dining area but no other windows. Hence the use of glass panel doors in the 2 (interior) bedrooms and (interior) office. This "1,410 sq ft" layout is far more efficient (including two bedrooms and an office) than the "1,250 sq ft" in #6E, which has windows on only one narrow wall and an 11×11 foot sleeping alcove at the opposite narrow end from the windows. Hence, the price-per-foot premium of #2A over #6E.

the real comp, adjusting for time very little
Still, the fact that #2A found a contract in 32 days in the dead of winter (speaking literally and metaphorically) is quite an achievement. Serious props to the sellers and to PruDE’s Tony Sargent. Especially because they ran a risk by coming to market in January at the same price as the last 2nd floor unit to sell, #2F. #2F is essentially the same size as #2A (at "1,408 sq ft") and breezed through the pre-Lehman market in 18 days when its contract was signed on August 18, 2008 for $1.375mm (a mere $20,000 discount off the $1.395mm ask). #2A started at the same place and took more of a haircut than #2F, but most people would say that The Market was very different in July 2008 than January 2009. Nonetheless, #2A did nearly as well as #2F.

I suspect that I would have been more influenced (intimidated?) by the time lag between the #2F closing and bringing #2A to market than the #2A sellers and PruDE’s Tony Sargent were. Props indeed.

© Sandy Mattingly 2009
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