prime Soho loft needs imagination, but only $1,091/ft to buy

3 exposures help
A numbers guy would just focus on the price at which the “2,200 sq ft” Manhattan loft on the 3rd floor at 345 West Broadway sold at year end, but an aesthete like this Manhattan Loft Guy is intrigued by those ceilings. The loft is billed as a project, using the word “imagination” rather than “primitive” or “gut”, which are two words that come to mind in looking at the photos (use large format, of course!). Hard to tell how long ago this space was last “updated”, given the absence of any photos of the kitchen or baths (artful marketing, that), but my guess is 30+ years. The flooring looks in good enough shape it may be younger (bamboo?), but the flat walls without character and the dropped ceiling strike me as Early Residential Soho.

It is possible that those ceilings are much older, and that in real life they may look more ‘authentic’ even if not tin. I can’t remember seeing Manhattan loft ceilings quite like that before, but they appear (at least, in the photos) as … er … cheap. The sprinklers are pretty close to the ceilings, suggesting that there may not be much space above, and the fact that the electrical is affixed to the ceiling suggests it was easier (cheaper) to install ‘upgraded’ service at some point (when?) that way than to go into any dead space above. This is all pretty standard for Early Residential Soho, but I do wonder what is above and I am pretty certain that the buyer will invest some time and money to find out.

Read between these lines (and around the edges of listing photos) for the scope for the project:

Prime Soho sunny loft … awaits your imagination. The floor plate gives you ultimate flexibility. … 2 separate units, one with w/d.. Keep it divided for your own personal needs, or open it up and create a wonderful 2 or more bedroom/2 bath living environment designed to reflct [sic] your own style and taste

In other words, plan on taking down all the walls, replace the existing bathrooms, and build a new kitchen. Unless you don’t have the budget to do a half million dollar renovation, in which case you should not have bought a loft for $2.4mm.

no bones about it
In a lot of primitive lofts of this vintage there are classic loft elements to be preserved or enhanced in a renovation, sometimes babbled as “great bones”. Not in this one, so far as the photos and broker babble tell the story. The outstanding structural elements present are the “high” ceilings and 3 exposures in a classic Long-and-Narrow footprint, 22+ feet wide with windows front and back, plus 6 windows on the long south side, with plumbing stacks seemingly widely separated along that south wall. But there are no columns needed to hold up the building, or to add authentic Manhattan loft character. And likely nothing of particular interest on or above the current ceilings.

In other words, there is nothing to preserve or restore, so let the demolition begin!

The Market was pretty enthusiastic about the prospect, as it took only 6 weeks to find a contract at a nominal discount, closing on December 28 at $2.4mm (ask had been $2.495mm). Perhaps too enthusiastic, in a rational market sense.

making the new neighbors happy, and the old neighbors mad
Look again at timing and prices in the last paragraph. The history of the loft downstairs bears an eerie resemblance:

Feb 24, 2012 new to market $2.495mm
Mar 15 contract  
May 9 sold $2.4mm

Same ask, same clearing price, but only 3 weeks to contract for the 2nd floor loft instead of the 6 weeks that the (laggard!) 3rd floor took later in the year. In a rational market you’d expect this parallel treatment for same building, same size lofts in the same condition. But there’s nothing rational about this pair of data points because the 2nd floor was billed as a “classic, mint condition, full-floor Soho loft with understated architectural character” (my italics, of course).

Compare the imaginary babble for the 3rd floor up top with this enthusiastic babbling about the 2nd floor:

four banks of double-hung windows with 10-foot ceilings and recessed lighting playing down a wall of exposed brick. … kitchen’s centerpiece is a 6-burner commercial gas stove for the culinary enthusiast, plus stone counter surfaces, glass cabinetry, and a walk-in pantry. The master suite is truly oversized (20′ x 14′) with over 26 linear feet of closets and quiet exposures. The classical dcor [sic] of the master bathroom includes double vanity, honeycomb white tile, glass shower, and claw-foot tub. The second bedroom also features 2 closets plus a jack and jill entrance to the full guest bathroom. Modern touches include central air conditioning and a laundry room with full-sized washer and vented dryer. Throughout the intimate loft building, you’ll find authentic details from its turn of the century provenance, like knotty pine floors and French Second Empire wrought ironwork.

The footprints are exactly the same (but the 2nd floor plan is presented upside down, compared to the 3rd), with the 2nd floor having 3 fewer south windows, critically missing those two windows in the living room corner that look down West Broadway from the 3rd floor. (Note that the 2nd floor shows there are plumbing stacks on both long walls; an ideal canvass!)

The 2nd floor as built-out tells us some things about the 3rd floor project. First, there’s not likely to be much of interest above those weird ceilings on the 3rd floor, given that the 2nd floor chose to drop the ceilings to fit recessed lighting and central air conditioning. Second, the 3rd floor flooring that I guessed as bamboo is either on top of or (gasp) replaced the “knotty pine floors” that the 2nd floor babble thought was “throughout the … building” (note that it includes many wide pieces on #2, and is laid sideways; the 3rd floor flooring is uniform in width and oriented north-to-south). Third, if the 3rd floor buyer is a fan of exposed brick, there’s probably a lot of brick behind the 3rd floor sheetrocked walls.

before there was Before, there was After
What an interesting pair of lofts! Pricing aside (for the moment; only for the moment), you have two lofts that are not only same-building but share a ceiling/floor, that sold in the same year, with one as post-renovation and the other as pre-demolition.

The 2nd floor shows what little classic loft character there is in this building, exposing some bricks and preserving the knotty pine flooring, and also shows the sophisticated look one can build out in a Long-and-Narrow footprint unencumbered by loadbearing elements.

The 3rd floor shows what the 2nd floor looked like (more or less) before it was turned into that serene space. The new owners on the 3rd floor could simply engage the 2nd floor architect and contractor team and … voila! More likely, of course, the new 3rd floor owners will do their own thing, with their own people, crafting a loft that resembles the 2nd floor only in shape. That’s what makes Manhattan lofts so interesting, of course.

But what makes comping Manhattan lofts so hard?

firm data points in an irrational world
I don’t have to beat this horse much at this point, right? The Market thought that a “2,200 sq ft” loft just above Grand Street on West Broadway in mint condition was worth $2.4mm 10 months ago, when the 2nd floor went to contract. The Market also thought that a “2,200 sq ft” loft just above Grand Street on West Broadway needing a gut renovation was worth $2.4mm 2 months ago, when the 3rd floor went to contract.

Both of these things are facts. Neither fact makes sense in relationship to the other.

On a micro and emotional level, I have to think that the 3rd floor seller and 2nd floor buyer are doing a happy dance, while the 3rd floor buyer and 2nd floor seller are renewing antidepressant medications. (The 2nd floor pair might well be surprised; the 3rd floor pair did this on pupose.) On a macro and emotional level, Manhattan Loft Guy is merely resigned to this asynchronicity, yet also guiltily thrilled that there are such inexplicable Market Facts in close calendar and geographic proximity.

Such is life in the big city. Take your fun where you can, which is easier to do as a spectator than a participant.

© Sandy Mattingly 2013

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