hints in the floor plan of a life lived in 32 West 20 Street loft as it sells after 23 years

the Manhattan loft  Floor Plan Whisperer says … not a conventional plan, is it?

If you owned an (officially, as always) “2,000 sq ft” loft that was nearly square, with two exposures and plumbing risers in multiple locations, you could draw many different configurations of lines on the footprint to maximize its utility for your life. Certainly, you could imagine an en suite bath; possibly, multiple bedrooms. You would not, if you had choices and resources, put a half bath through a locked door across a shared hallway, as the most convenient middle of the night toilet or morning tooth-brushing station. But if you’d owned it since way back in the day, and that was the way it always was, and it is was quiet and private and suited your lifestyle just fine ThankYouVeryMuch, you might deliver a floor plan like this to a new owner, as the longtime owners of the “2,000 sq ft” Manhattan loft #8S at 32 West 20 Street did a month ago:

this is a very old school residential loft layout, likely close to original from the residential conversion (thx Douglas Elliman, for the images)

Judging from the fact that the alternative floor plan suggested in the listing retains that corridor on the west wall, and only moves (and expands) the plumbing rooms so that they attach to the living space, I will bet you a quarter that the corridor provides fire escape access for other units on the 8th floor (see the open window on the floor plan?), and must be retained. (Other wise it would be fully integrated into loft #8S, right?)

The key to my hypothesis about the floor plan is that the recent sellers lived here for a long time. You can’t tell from StreetEasy, but our listing system shows that this loft last sold in 1994 (for $343,000, as you know if you checked my Master List of Manhattan loft sales under $6mm). That, and the fact that this is a residential loft that has been ‘improved’ to the slightest extent possible consistent with having a closed room in which to sleep.

Put the big plumbing rooms (kitchen, full bath) where the greatest number of plumbing risers seems to be, leave the rest as open as possible by putting the single real wall in a corner that leaves a vast rectangle for the (truly) great room with eight windows. And give the denizens of that bedroom quick access to a half bath through the fire corridor. Put the only closets in the space along the entry wall, so that once you clear that corner (about five steps after entering) the rest of the loft opens up before you.

This is the sort of ‘design’ non-architects did on a napkin, back in the day when lofts were not nearly so fashionable, when loft owners typically didn’t have banker money (for purchases, for renovations, for anything else), and when much of the appeal for loft dwellers in those days was more about ‘space’ than about finishes. (Trust me: I paid $134/ft for a larger loft than #8S the year before these recent sellers bought at $171/ft, six short blocks due north of this loft.)

The broker babble and the photos amply support that this was and remains a basic loft, minimally improved over the years. The babble is enthusiastic about “opportunities”, with nary a word about finishes. Even the kitchen photo is all about volume and scale, not materials or appliances:

a kitchen built for entertaining at scale (16’6″ x 15′!), while being open to the loft over the sink and around the frig

Even the kitchen floor tile reminds me of loft kitchens built in the 1980s: sturdy, cheap, and easy to clean, rather than ‘designer’.

Do you see the column in the kitchen photo? You need to squint a bit, and may need to scroll up to the floor plan to see exactly where it is; then you will notice it easily. This column, like two of the other three, is treated here as a neutral element, painted white to disappear as much as possible (this one blends in quite well!), with what was (probably not coincidentally) the least expensive treatment for sealing and finishing cast iron columns. (And note on the floor plan that one of the four columns is hidden completely, in a closet.) I will bet you a quarter that this loft gets a gut renovation that includes a natural finish on the columns. (Imagine that column in the third listing photo as a focal point.)

Finally, note the complete absence of the bath and a half in the babble and photos. They won’t survive long in their current condition, which is part of the “endless opportunities”, indeed as part of “the ideal backdrop for your own unique character”.

The new owners paid $2.53mm for the opportunity (say, $1,260/ft), and will put another … what … $500,000 into it to bring it up to 2017 standards. Still, not bad for a prime Flatiron location and all those south-facing windows. (And the columns; please do the columns!!)

they’re not the only long-time owners

The past sales history for this smallish building (18 units, converted to residential living in 1970, and to a coop in 1978, according to our listings system) is fascinating. The entire 4th floor of this building sold seven months ago, again as an ‘opportunity’ (indeed, as “a rare opportunity for a buyer with vision”). It took 17 months, price drops of $1.75mm, and a further discount of $735,000, to get to contract, but it did sell. No need to have pictured or described the kitchen or baths, as any buyer with vision would gut them. This floor was “owned continuously for 35 years”, taking us back to almost to the creation of the coop . (In comparison, the #8S owners were relative interlopers, having bought in 1994.)

There’s a tiny loft on what looks like the northeast corner of the 8th floor, probably carved out in the 1970s. It was described when it sold in 2014 as “open raw loft space” with “original wood floors” and a sleep loft. Gonna guess that this was a writer’s space back in the 1970s, sold as raw in 2014 for someone to gut (they preserved that flooring, I hope, I hope!).

The north loft on the 6th floor sold in 2012 in “industrial chic” condition with a snazzy kitchen and features like in-wall sound wiring (for $2.199mm, if you check the “#6N” deed record). You can’t tell from StreetEasy, alas, but those 2012 sellers bought that loft in “triple mint” condition in 1999, according to our listing system (for $1.05mm, for completists).

You have to click on the listing photos for the entire 5th floor when it sold in March 2012 (for $3.8mm): you will see what was then “the home and work space of one of New York’s most influential figures in fiber arts, [and was offered as a] … sprawling canvas … ready for your architect to craft the perfect space for your luxury home”. I wonder if that fiber artist was an original owner, as we have no record in our listings system of any prior sale.

I can’t swear that our listings system is complete going back to Olden Times, but it appears as though the 2nd floor owners have been in the building since 1994 and the 3rd floor owners since 1997 (we might have missed a private sale, but if it was a listing from a similar firm in the 1990s, we’d probably have it).

And it appears that no part of the 7th floor has sold since 1996, but StreetEasy knows that the north loft on the 7th floor was offered for sale from Fall 2014 to Fall 2015 without selling. That listing is worth a few clicks as it is completely dressed to the nines, “designed as a showcase for entertaining and an extensive contemporary art collection”, with Venetian plaster walls, central air, “a Craig Roberts Associates designed lighting system that can switch modes effortlessly providing both ambient and specific art lights”, and more! The photos show a loft that is as unlike loft #8S as you could imagine. That tasteful owner also owned for 20 years, but had different needs and a different lifestyle, certainly.

Net net, there has been extraordinarily little turnover in this 18-unit coop since the 1990s, and evidence that at least some long-time owners were, as we now say, creatives. Which brings me back to the recent #8S sellers.

Manhattan Loft Voyeur will not be shown on this channel

I am always curious about where long-time loft owners go after they sell a loft they’ve lived in for a long time. Alas (and alack), the deed record for the #8S sellers gives a law firm as their notice address, instead of a new residence address. You can sometimes find folks like this (by doing a name search in Property Shark, for example) but I wasn’t able to scratch my curiosity about whether folks who lived so long in such classic loft space (happily, if the decor in the photos is any indication) got tired of loft living and moved to Scarsdale, or cashed big royalty checks and bought an uber-loft in Tribeca, or wanted structure in their lives and bought an ‘apartment’ on the Upper East Side.

No dice. But having obsessed over the floor plan and listing photos I can confidently predict that they are cosmopolitans, without children. Having engaged The Google, I did learn more about each of them, but that is stuff less suited for a real estate blog like Manhattan Loft Guy than it is for another medium. Like Facebook. Like Manhattan Loft Guy’s Facebook page. Look there for a more voyeuristic angle on the #8S loft sellers, but not for a day or two.

The Math and The Feet

Finally, let me close (briefly!) on a Manhattan Loft Guy fetish. We have loft #8S at “2,000 sq ft” in our listings system, perhaps because that is a figure found in the Schedule A in the original 1978 prospectus. StreetEasy has the same figure on the listing but, curiously, Douglas Elliman has no square footage figure on their website. The floor plan, however, does have room dimensions (and a footnote on the DE site about not taking that stuff seriously), which suggest that the complete south loft interior space is about 46′ x 39′.

Hmmm … do that math (yeah, yeah, they caution you against doing the math) and you get 1,794 sq ft. But this is just the rectangle, and includes that winding fire corridor of 39′ (say, 3′ wide, or 117 sq ft). So if whoever did the interior measurements is right (I’d put my money on that person, though I only bet a quarter at a time), the interior space for this unit is about 1,677 sq ft, which is not terribly close to 2,000.

I wish there were a standard way that loft listings reported square footage, so that everyone could figure out a fudge factor. I wish there were a trade association to which agents at all the major firms had to belong that had the authority to set rules for stuff like this, as REALTOR® boards do everywhere else in America.

Oh wait … REBNY has such authority, and the means.

But REBNY lacks the will to help consumers in this manner. Instead, it employs lawyers to craft disclaimers so that REBNY members don’t get sued by consumers over stuff like this. (See my November 2, 2010, the square footage dilemma: REBNY “leads” by protecting brokers, not buyers.) Sigh ….

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