where the rubber meets the road, buyers can get hurt
The recent sale of the “1,100 sq ft” Manhattan loft on the 4th floor of 19 Hubert Street is the canary in the coal mine only for Tribeca small loft buyers who have not been paying attention. For active and informed searchers, the sale is just a rude exclamation point. First off, the loft has many charms, and the parade of people who saw it during the brief time it was available probably included many buyers who played with floor plans to see how to get more than a single bedroom into the space. (My guy was one of them.) In what passes for the “affordable” part of the Tribeca loft market, this loft started at $1.395mm and sold for $1.5mm. That’s $1,363/ft in a no-frills coop with dated finishes with a floor plan that may be “a one bedroom, [that] could easily convert to two” in a stretchy-y broker babble sort of way, but in no other sense.
Start with those many charms. Inside, the space has the street cred of old oak floors, long brick walls and tin ceilings, with the 6 north and (especially) 4 west windows bringing the light, and the river. Because that last west stretch of Hubert Street was widened for the Travelers / Citi / Smith Barney tower on the super-block that erased Ericsson Place west of Greenwich, the west view from 19 Hubert (aka 413 Greenwich Street) is largely open, down the wide Hubert to the river. (See the Google Streetview and listing pic #4.)
deconstructing a (very old?) layout
For buyers who can all sleep in the single bedroom, this loft is either in move-in condition, or to be updated, or a gut renovation. (Notice the lack of bathroom photo, or a direct shot of the [merely] “open” kitchen; this is damning with faint praise.) For any buyer interested in that “easy” conversion to two bedrooms, however, the easiest option is far from ideal, and any other option involves re-thinking the entire space.
The easy conversion is to add a second bedroom next to the current bedroom, taking the next north window by adding two walls of carpentry opposite the kitchen. This easy option does add a bedroom, but reduces the size of the main space and does not solve any of the awkward elements of the current (ancient) floor plan.
The current floor plan hearkens back to the day when people moved to Tribeca because the space was inexpensive, and did inexpensive things to these spaces. (Seriously; ask your parents.) Thus, all the plumbing along the south wall was easy to adapt to minimal needs for an individual or couple: bathroom, washer-dryer, and ridiculously long kitchen that may be “open” (faint praise, indeed!) and boast a copper hood, but takes up more than a third of the south wall. (You could wear yourself out making multiple trips from the sink or frig to the cooktop.)
Maybe the three bedroom walls and closet were in the original residential configuration; maybe the original settlers at one point tired of open-loft living. Whenever, those walls were a cheap way to solve a problem, that (intentionally or otherwise) wasted space. If you were to re-do the space to current standards, any architect would start by erasing all the lines on the floor plan and re-think everything. One challenge is that the elevator, fire stair and bathroom placement along the east wall make it difficult (read: expensive) to do the one thing that would give a greater sense of space, immediately on entry: give a view along the north wall to the river as soon as the elevator door opens. What an impressive look that would be!
But then you’d probably have to put the stairway entry in the (now) ensuite bedroom, add a public bath (or half) on the south wall, and condense the kitchen. (Maybe orient the kitchen S-N along the west wall of a new second bedroom.) These are simple (but not inexpensive) solutions, for consideration by anyone interested in a second bedroom, and by anyone thinking of upgrading the current plumbing functions.
But: $1,363/ft in a no-frills coop, before spending a dime on any improvements. Scary, indeed.
My guy identified this loft right after the listing went live (January 16) as a prime candidate in the low-million-dollar range for Tribeca, and based on conversations around getting an appointment and then seeing it with the buzzer ringing for the next appointment, it was obvious that it would not last. Our listing system does not have an “accepted offer” date, but it was probably soon after the only scheduled open house (January 20) and well before the Contract Signed as of February 7.
In the end, my buyer opted not to bid, as the work to be done for that second bedroom could not be justified (to him) with where the loft was likely to trade. We put it this way at the end of January: the loft would be perfect for him (even allowing for a major renovation) if it were only ten feet longer. In the (real) end, it was perfect for the buyers, at $1.5mm.
It’s a lovely loft. They should be very happy. I’d love to hear what they do to improve it, after having spent that $1,363/ft to buy in to a (repeat after me) no-frills coop.
The last loft to sell in the building sold at near-Peak, with 2 bedrooms, in better condition than the 4th floor. Even with (slightly) better light, as that was the 5th floor, sold for $1.41mm just two quarters before The Peak. StreetEasy has no pictures or floor plan from that listing, though the broker babble is much more enthusiastic (and specific) for the 5th floor in 2007 than the 4th floor in 2013. We have a single photo but a floor plan in our listing system, showing the top floor had an advantage in squeezing the bathroom next to the elevator (jutting out), and two bedrooms along the north wall. Even allowing that the 5th floor traded a little earlier than Peak (only a little, dammit), that $1.41mm is handily beaten by $1.5mm for the 4th floor just now, given the difference in finishes and the existing 2nd bedroom upstairs.
In other words, 19 Hubert is Post Peak, if by “Peak” we mean the first quarter of 2008, the quarter in which the overall Manhattan residential real estate market recorded the highest prices (to date!).
Every time this sort of leaving-comps-behind frenzy happens, the still-active-buyers get more frustrated. Some (most) remain in the market, others may retreat to re-think their approach, goals and/or resources. All are more sober, having seen a no-frills coop loft with a challenging layout go for $1,363/ft. The new normal, until more sellers sell, or more buyers quit, or something else happens to change this currently very dangerous environment for “small” loft buyers in Tribeca.
You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, and they don’t need to see another dead canary to know which way the market is moving.
© Sandy Mattingly 2013