it’s the exposures, Mars; why stunning loft at 161 West 15 Street sold under $1,200/ft

making the most of what you’ve got didn’t help this Chelsea loft (much)

In a world in which a Manhattan loft needing a great deal of work can sell near $1,200/ft, it is rather jarring to see that the “1,200 sq ft” Manhattan loft #5E at 161 West 15 Street (in the Jensen Lewis Building) just sold for $1.395mm, given that the broker babble carries on about such things as a [s]tunning authentic flatiron* loft”, and “12′ barrel ceilings”, and a “sun flooded southern exposure”, and “mint condition designer excellence”, and “open chef’s kitchen featuring a custom island, terrific storage, a 6 burner Viking range, LG fridge, Bosche dishwasher and a 46 bottle Liebherr wine fridge” and “gorgeous built-in book shelves”, and “a home office area … big enough to create a full second bedroom”, and a “[f]ully renovated modern bathroom with a Jacuzzi tub”, and an “in wall speaker system”, and (finally) “gorgeous cherry hardwood floors”. That’s a lot of … stuff. (*But it’s not Flatiron, not at the corner of Seventh Avenue.)

The sellers were under no illusions, however, as the $1.395mm clearing price on October 7 was exactly what they were asking when they started marketing on June 21; the full-price contract was fairly quick, by July 23. That’s $1,163/ft, or only $150/ft more than the gut renovation loft in Noho that I hit in my October 10, classic loft project at 644 Broadway sells above ask after difficult price discovery (as just one such to-be-gutted loft sale). To be fair, loft #5E is not the only loft seemingly punished by The Market (it is in the same dollar neighborhood as the Tribeca loft I hit in my October 22, having it all in Tribeca for relatively little, as 405 Greenwich Street condo loft goes for $1,173/ft, for example.)

Unlike that northwest Tribeca loft (whose low value is still something of a mystery to me), there are two good reasons for the #5E valuation: location and shape. First, I don’t hate on the northeast corner of 7th Avenue and 15th Street, but the market has never loved this building (more, below). Just as the sellers could do nothing to change their address, they were stuck with the shape of the loft (the second explanation for a market penalty).

The #5E floor plan looks like the leftover space, after the architect who worked on converting this former commercial property into residential lofts more than 30 years ago got done allocating space to the other units on the floor. The shape is almost a backwards “F”, with the bottom stub housing an interior “bedroom” and all the windows on top in the living room and kitchen (facing south, in fact, so if the floor plan were oriented with north at the top it would look almost like an “L”).

The problems start with that single exposure. Yes, you can put a second bedroom in that southeast corner (as the alternate floor plan suggests), but then your sun will drench just  a little less and you will have to squeeze your living room and dining area into a smaller space, butting up against the custom kitchen island.

The problems continue at the dark end of the loft, the only logical use for which is as an interior bedroom. With the bathroom, laundry, and entry massed together, there’s not much flexibility to make a real master suite (assuming you could convert the laundry to a master bath). You’d need a new closet for the master suite (if there’s a second bath), at which point the master is shrinking to an un-master scale. In short, there is one awkward choice to be made after another, if one were tempted to make this a place where more people than can fit in the master can sleep.

But as the listing photos show, that front room is lovely, as is, drenched in sun, with wonderful proportions aided by the 12 foot ceilings. Yet … $1,163/ft.

there is a hard ceiling in this loft building

The two sales in the building this year were the “1,750 sq ft” Manhattan loft #6H in May at $1,005/ft and the “1,170 sq ft” #6B in March at $1,090/ft. The larger one reads (in the babble and the photos) as needing some updating, but has more layout options than #5E even though it also has a single exposure and only 4 windows. Shiny bathroom aside, the smaller loft could also use some upgrades, but also has a rectangle that would permit more options than #5E (in this case, for a second interior room, but still).

At $1,163/ft, modest as that is, #5E seems to be the building record holder on a dollar per foot basis. The “1,620 sq ft” unfortunately timed “penthouse” loft #7A sold for $1.975mm in December 2008 (contract was just after Lehman, alas), but there’s 600+ sq ft of terrace space to be adjusted for. Adjusting at the lower end of The Miller’s rubric (outdoor space valued at 25% of the interior) that yields an adjusted value for #7A of $1,116/ft. Loft #5E keeps its building record crown, modest as it is at $1,163/ft.

There are many bad layouts in this building. I hit another well renovated but low selling loft here in my March 16, 2012, spectacular renovation does not prevent 161 West 15 Street loft from closing down 7% since 2006. (By “low selling”, I mean $955/ft.) Way (way!) back on December 26, 2007, in my 161 W 15 drops down to add up to contract (when I was still writing about active listings), I talked about the layout of loft #2H, which finally closed at The Peak (well, April 30, 2008, but off a December 2007 contract, obviously) for $984/ft:

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.

In between those visits to Jensen Lewis, I hit a very brave sale at $911/ft in my July 21, 2009, courage is rewarded / 161 West 15 Street sells in the sweet spot of a cold market. Again, the layout was awkward:

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.

Yes, folks, there is a reason The Market is unwilling to pay premium prices for even a “stunning” renovation of an “authentic” loft. Expect that situation to continue, at least until this contract shoe closes drops.

Seekers of “value” who prefer to sleep in total darkness, take note.

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  1. […] Loft Guy who stay one step ahead of me know that the next link will be to my November 15, it’s the exposures, Mars; why stunning loft at 161 West 15 Street sold under $1,200/ft, which was a bit of a head-shaker about a nearby loft in  better condition than #5J seems to be […]

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