difficult penthouse loft sells above ask at 399 Washington Street


attention to some details, not others

The “1,800 sq ft” Manhattan penthouse loft on the 5th floor of 399 Washington Street at a funny little corner in Northwest Tribeca has many surface similarities to the raw-to-mints-in-3-years loft that I hit in Monday’s from raw to mints, 14 Jay Street loft doubles in value. They are approximately the same size Long-and-Narrow lofts with similarly enthusiastic broker babble about their renovations into 2-bedroom 2-bath arrays in small no-frills coop buildings a few hundred yards from each other in Tribeca; the market snapped them both up (contracts in 20 and 27 days), both for $100,000 more than the asking price. (This penthouse got $2.3mm on July 18.) But it is the differences between them that most interest me.


Most obviously, most buyers will view Jay Street off Hudson as close to prime Tribeca while Washington Street off Hubert suffers from proximity to the deadening dead-end of the Citi-complex. The top-floor Washington Street earns the “penthouse” moniker for having private rooftop space, yet the smaller (in theory) Jay Street loft sold much higher. Finally, while the layouts are similar, the more I look at the Washington Street floor plan the more irritated I get.

of course everyone is in the kitchen

Let’s start with the broker babble:

meticulously renovated in 2009 with mindful attention to detail that even the most discerning aesthetic eye will appreciate. The loft is topped off with a deeded roof deck that offers a respite from busy city life. A spectacular light-infusing skylight is the crown jewel of the loft. Imbued with a clean look, the loft features a professional chefs kitchen with 30ft of custom white glass cabinetry, 10ft ceilings, 7ft tall windows and more. The dream kitchen boasts glass tile backsplash and absolute noir Caesar stone quartz countertops that create an understated elegance. A grand scale master bedroom suite including customized walk-in closet and master bath completes this loft.

You don’t need the floor plan to conclude that that kitchen (with 30 feet of cabinetry) dominates the public space but it helps to have the 1” = 12’ thingy and the first two listing photos. Especially in comparison to 30 feet of kitchen cabinets, that living room is … er … cozy. Open to the kitchen area, obviously, but in terms of defined space (the rug, the seating, the entrance), the “living area” gets a small percentage of the main open room (a third?). If the photos actually capture how the sellers lived in the space, there is almost as much seating at the kitchen island as in the living room, and much more at the dining table than in the living room.

what do you think of this floor plan??

They owned it (and built it), so were free to do what they wanted. (Ah, the freedom of loft living!) But I would be surprised if most buyers would prefer a more conventional distribution of space in the front. My guess is that they wanted to put the island and the main kitchen utilities under that big skylight, which then dictated a loooong kitchen rather than an “L” shaped kitchen open to the front. (What else to do with the stairway wall opposite the “den/bedroom”, other than cabinets or closets?)

It gets worse (more odd) in the back …. Maybe there is something especially restrictive about where the plumbing stacks are at 399 Washington, but that master suite layout is pretty weird, and wasteful. That master bath nearly blocks 2 of the 4 windows, and there’s got to be a more efficient way to use that back space (especially if you could move the master bath where the walk-in closet is). Again, the plumbing stacks may dictate this array, but you are left with a “den/bedroom” with half a skylight but no window, instead of side-by-side bedroom son the rear wall like so many Long-and-Narrow lofts.

But that’s not all!

If someone is sleeping in that “den/bedroom”, note the odyssey needed in the middle of the night: out the door that is nearly as far back as it can be; walk 50 feet through Scylla and Charybdis between the kitchen cabinetry and island; make a U-turn through the elevator lobby; and (finally) open the door at the end of that odd extended foyer. Relief! That second bathroom is about 20 feet from the nearest corner of the “den/bedroom”, but is blocked by that huge kitchen; hence, a long walk in your PJs to use the WC. Weird.

Don’t you love the brick detail highlighted in bright red (pic #13 in the duplicating listing photos)? There’s the remains of an archway that probably provided access between 399 Washington and its neighboring warehouse or factory. There’s the hinge remnants on that elevator wall.

It took me an unusually long time to figure out that the red photo is the elevator lobby, meant to be forgotten on making the hard left off the elevator “into” the loft. It remains a vestigial space, with plumbing for a washer-dryer and that 2nd bath, but cut off visually from the loft proper, and a long walk to the loo for anyone not sleeping in the master. Wasting the corridor needed to retain access to the public stairwell.

Weird. All because these folks wanted a 30 foot run of kitchen cabinets. I am not saying the 2009 renovation was not done with “mindful attention to detail that even the most discerning aesthetic eye will appreciate”; just that my (discerning?) eye does not appreciate the details they chose to be mindful of, and wishes they had focused on other details.

One more thing about the floor plan: the outdoor space is not on it. Nor is it described by size in the broker babble. From the last listing photo, it appears to be less than 20 x 20 feet, with no attention having been paid to it in the renovation. The wood decking long predates the 2009 interior renovation; the 3 lonely (plastic?) chairs confirm that no one spent much thought or time up here. Not much of a respite from city living up there now, but certainly there’s the opportunity to exploit it.

we got comps

Just for fun, let’s ballpark that roofdeck at 400 sq ft, and assume it is worth a generous 33% of the interior space on a dollar per foot basis (splitting the rubric of 25% to 50% of The Miller, with which I love to riff). That implies an adjusted value for this penthouse loft of $1,190/ft. That compares (very poorly) to the $1,543/ft for Monday’s loft at 14 Jay Street.

Part of that difference in value is undoubtedly due to location, part of it is probably due to the 399 Washington penthouse not really being “1,800 sq ft” (so the $/ft value is understated), part of the deficit is likely due to the mints being mintier at 14 Jay Street, and I would really like to believe that part of the deficit is due to the odd layout choices the 399 Washington Street owners made in the 2009 renovation.

One more parallel between these two lofts: the 14 Jay Street sellers did a gut renovation after buying the loft raw in 2010; the 399 Washington Street sellers did a “meticulous” renovation in 2009, after buying the loft (in unknown condition) in 2006 for $1.48mm. I am going to guess that the Jay Street sellers put more money into their renovation; they certainly got more out of it. (They doubled the value in 3 years after renovating; the penthouse folks merely increased the worth by 55% in 7 years before deducting for renovation costs.)

Comping is fun!

© Sandy Mattingly 2013


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