giant 43% gain since 2004 for giant Jensen Lewis loft marketed aggressively at 161 West 15 Street

celebrity buyer alert! but there’s all sorts of other stuff going on…
When the Manhattan loft #6FG at 161 West 15 Street (the Jensen Lewis building) closed at $3.15mm on January 31 it made the papers because of the identity of the buyers (5th item), but that is nowhere near as interesting to Manhattan Loft Guy as other things. One, with “3,443 sq ft”, that clearing price comes to $914/ft, well below the $1,070/ft garnered by the modest loft downstairs that I hit yesterday (modest 7.6% gain since 2006 for modest Jensen Lewis loft marketed modestly at 161 West 15 Street). Two, while that loft earned a modest 7.6% premium over its last sale in 2006, this big baby traded last at $2.199mm in August 2004, so it appreciated by 43% in a longer period. Three, I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that this place, with its primitive 5-bedroom combo layout has not been updated in quite a while (uncredited Garland stove, notwithstanding). Four, while it is something of a put-up job sequencing yesterday’s loft in the same building with this one, I actually forgot when doing yesterday’s loft that this one has the answer to something I wondered about this building yesterday.

And … well, let’s just say that you should take this opportunity to freshen up your coffee if you are to continue reading, as I kept finding ‘interesting’ things to say in connection with this sale. I fear I have gone over the top with the twists and turns that follow (even for Manhattan Loft Guy), if not around the bend. Thanks for playing!

was it the stove, Mars?
The only way to tell if these #6FG buyers really overpaid for their Jensen Lewis loft is to look at what else was available to them at the same time that matched their preferred criteria including size, location, and price range. Maybe there wasn’t much available in the 3,000+ sq ft market, but that 2004 trade highly suggests that they overpaid. But the more interesting thing to me is the relationship between my opening “One” and my opening “Three”.

That modest loft yesterday was not marketed as a deluxe loft, yet it sold at a 17% premium to #6FG (on a $/ft basis, of course, as there is really no comparison between a 2-window 1 [interior] bedroom layout and #6FG’s 22-window corner 5 bedroom layout). Look at that 22-window corner 5 bedroom layout … there are an awful lot of walls, aren’t there? Even allowing for “3,443 sq ft”.

I am sorry, but this floor plan does not do justice to the volume of this very large nearly square space with two long sets of windows. Among many odd things, note that the master bedroom has two entrances but no direct access to the master bath. I can’t find an example of the original floor plans for either the “F” or “G” lines, but it looks as though they made the simplest combination to get 5 bedrooms as possible, with no actual architecture having been practiced, other than procuring a signature on plans.

The original two lofts were combined not later than 1990. Property Shark provides access to building permits in this building going back to that year. There are five permits for work on combined units, and many other permits, but I found none relating to #6FG. In other words, this set of walls is very likely to have been in place since before 1990.

I don’t think that these walls will survive very much longer, for the reasons mentioned and because the buyers are not likely to need 5 bedrooms. Who does? Only a very few families, and these buyers had been living in a “1,500 sq ft” loft set up as 1 bedroom plus home office (more on that, below). I am not sure what I would do with this space (does that huge bathroom have to stay in the middle? can the master suite take the family room plus wet bar?), but some serious architecture can be practiced here and I am willing to bet my standard 25 cents that the new living room ends up with at least 12 windows.

One last whack at this loft …. There is no absolutely bragging about finishes in the broker babble, consistent with a loft that really needs updating, This is so despite the fact that the kitchen features at least one very proper proper name (I have a thing for Garland stoves; not as big a thing as for Aga, but still) and that wide frig just might be Sub Zero. It is really hard to judge the quality of counters and cabinets from photos, but remember: there is no bragging here. That is consistent with a pedestrian (dated!) set of materials (though I like the shiny red backsplash) and that kitchen floor might be new and classy but to me it screams 1980s!!

As I said, I have 25 cents at risk, betting that very little of this loft survives the (inevitable) renovation.

All of which is offered to explain my provocation above that they overpaid for this loft. If you put a $250/ft renovation (or more) on top of this purchase, the net is very hard to reconcile with the sales history at the Jensen Lewis (and I don’t mean shelving or couches available on the ground floor) … even including Peak sales.

The record high price-per-foot in the building was #7A at $1,219/ft on December 18, 2008, but that is deceiving because it includes a roof terrace of roughly 800 sq ft. If you adjust the purchase price of $1.975mm for “1,620 sq ft” of interior and value the terrace at 50% of the interior (per The Miller’s rules), that $1,219/ft drops to $978/ft. (Note that #7A probably took a hit as a post-Lehman contract.)

That leaves the December 14, 2006 sale of #5A as the record prior sale, at $1.475mm for “1,440 sq ft”. That prior sale record just barely reaches four figures, at $1,024/ft.

Now do you see why I think they overpaid for #6FG??

the real record, however, is fresh
Hard as it is for me to believe, that loft yesterday (#3D; modest 7.6% gain since 2006 for modest Jensen Lewis loft marketed modestly at 165 West 15 Street) sold for more than any other loft in the building on a price-per-foot basis. Had I looked more carefully at the local history, I would not have started yesterday’s post with this theme:

The Manhattan loft #3D at 165 West 15 Street … sold on February 8 at the asking price of $995,000, earning the yellow tag on the Master List of Manhattan Lofts Sold Since November 2008, so you’d think that there’d be a lot to brag about here. Think again.

I used that word “modest” over and over (and over and over), as it seemed to fit the #3D layout, size, finishes, and price history (having sold at that … errr … “modest” 7.6% gain over October 2006. But that sale on February 8 at $1,069/ft is the all-time record for the building. So it should brag, darn it!

memory lane beckons, I follow
It is odd that the former building record is so old. #2H was a Manhattan Loft Guy fave that I hit it twice as an active listing (those were the days!) leading into The Peak. That “1,820 sq ft” loft cleared at $1.82mm ($983/ft) very close to The Peak, on April 30, 2008. I hit it as a new listing (October 3, 2007, will the new one at 161 W 15 St add up?) and again when it went into contract (December 26, 2007, 161 W 15 drops down to add up to contract). Even with a lot going for it, it did not crack $1,000/ft. Here’s what I said in that October 3, 2007 post:

very enthusiastically presented ("stunning", "one of a kind", "meticulously renovated" in an "imposing, fantastically convenient building"). Cook’s kitchen with the proper proper nouns. Central air. 14 foot vaulted ceilings.

In the later post (when the floor plan was available) I noted some issues with #2H:

The challenge of the (nearly square) footprint is obvious: the 4 west windows are it, so you either put any bedrooms on the dark walls near the front door (as the seller has done) or use all the windows for bedrooms and have the public space in the dark. With the plumbing along the north wall, the larger of 2 bedrooms in the current configuration is a stroll-in-PJs from the ‘public’ bathroom, with the smaller (guest) bedroom en suite. Hardly an ideal layout, but perhaps the most logical one once you have decided to maximize the windows and light. Especially as those second floor windows overlook Seventh Avenue.

celebrity stalking is usually not my thing, but …
This celebrity couple contains at least one loft lover, as the wife (and her mom) sold their former loft to buy this one 3 blocks down and 2 blocks west. I love it when people trade up in the loft world! That one was the “1,500 sq ft” Manhattan loft #6C at 105 Fifth Avenue, which happened to have been sold at a 15% loss from when mom-and-daughter bought this place (pre-marriage, I assume) in 2006. (There’s no comfort to the 2006-buyer-turned-2010-seller, but that 2010 clearing price was at a 7% premium over the December 2004 purchase price of $1.26mm; now read again the third sentence above.)

The journalists at Gawker had some snark for the decor on that one, but I will stop with the celebrity ragging (for now). Except to note one thing about the building they left, which is yet one more thing to suggest that these folks overpaid for #6FG.

timing is a witch, or is she a female dog?
Coming from “1,500 sq ft” at 105 Fifth Avenue, the #6FG buyers at 161 West 15 Street obviously wanted a lot more space. Remember this line from the third paragraph?

The only way to tell if these #6FG buyers really overpaid for their Jensen Lewis loft is to look at what else was available to them at the same time that matched their preferred criteria including size, location, and price range. Maybe there wasn’t much available in the 3,000+ sq ft market, but ….

I don’t know when they started looking for new (very large) spaces, but they had been trying to sell #6C at 105 Fifth Avenue since June 29, 2009, and I have a really strong feeling that they really wish they had sold sooner. I am going to relate this sales history to another sale in a minute, so pay attention to this:

June 29, 2009 new $1.79mm
Oct 13   $1.65mm
Jan 11, 2010   $1.49mm
Jan 25   $1.4mm
Mar 20 contract  
April 23 back (contract fail!)
July 13 new firm $1.35mm
Sept 17 contract  
Dec 6 sold $1.3mm

If you remember that they paid $3.15mm for #6FG at 161 West 15 Street (that contract was January 15), it sure looks as though they needed (wanted?) to sell #6C before buying #6FG 2 blocks west.

Really close readers of Manhattan Loft Guy may see where this is going, since I hit an alternative to #6FG that they must have been aware of, just this week. In my March 1, true artist loft sells at 140 Grand Street at $938/ft, but that’s only half the story, the ‘other half of the story’ concerned the sale of a really large, really beautiful loft in the same building the #6FG buyers were then living in. Unless they really wanted to get off Fifth Avenue, #9-10E at 105 Fifth Avenue would have seemed to have been very suitable for them.

That one has 4 bedrooms and a layout that appears to be very efficient, with a sense of volume lacking (to my eyes) in #6FG, with probably better light and a similar corner. Maybe they don’t like a duplex, but I would think that anyone who would pay $3.15mm for #6FG would have happily paid $3.3mm for the duplex upstairs at 105 Fifth Avenue.

Compare the #9-10E listing history to that of #6C above, and tell me if this doesn’t suggest they might have bought the duplex if only their March 20, 2010 contract had not failed:

Nov 14, 2009 new $3.5mm
Mar 19, 2010 contract  
Apr 12 back (contract fail!)
May 20 contract  
July 7 sold $3.3mm

Now do you see why I think they overpaid for #6FG??

one heck of a coincidence
Look again at the weird overlap between the two 105 Fifth Avenue listing histories. Both lofts had contracts signed in March (on consecutive days), and both contracts failed and they went back on the market within about 4 weeks.

I suppose this is truly a coincidence, but I can’t help but wonder if maybe (just maybe) the #6C sellers signed a contract for #9-10E but had to pull out when their contract fell through. Granted, this is obviously very unlikely, if for no other reason (and there are many others) that the sequence works backwards, but that is one heck of a coincidence with two simultaneous failed contracts in the same building. True Rod Serling material, as if The Fates are just screwing with me….

Hang in there, for just a few more digressions.

more stalking, of yesterday’s seller
I wondered yesterday if the guy who sold #3D for that record amount 3 weeks ago was a real estate bear, because he seems to have moved to a rental. His name came up again today, as the December 14, 2006 seller of #5A, having traded that “1,440 sq ft” loft for the smaller #3D, which he purchased on October 5, 2006 for $925,000.

That guy is good, having sold two lofts at building records at 161 West 15 Street, 4 years apart.

agent snark
Go back to the listing photos for #6FG if you still have the patience. Obviously, at least one person who lives on one of the 5 bedrooms here is in a band, which you just get a glimpse of in the 3rd picture. But how hard wold it be to move that (keyboard?) case in the 4th picture, or the microphone stand there, or the guitar?? Aside from the band equipment in those two pictures, every other photo has classic staging de-cluttering: book shelves are nice and spare, the kitchen counters are virtually empty. Maybe they were intentionally appealing to a musician buyer niche. But for a $3.4mm listing ….

that building history point
I almost forgot one of the things I started with above, after which you can get on with your lives.

I really had forgotten the #6FG listing when I did yesterday’s post about the #3D sale, as I speculated there about the prior history of the Jensen Lewis building. Here’s the answer, from the #6FG listing, 161 West 15 Street is:

the former publishing factory of Street & Smith

If the floors could sustain the weight of printing machinery, I guess the band could play in #6FG without bothering the upstairs and downstairs neighbors (much).

One more time: Thanks for playing!

© Sandy Mattingly 2011


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