big space, small price for 142 West 26 Street

but there’s an alibi
There is a reason why the “3,870 sq ft” Manhattan loft on the 7th floor at 142 West 26 Street sold on September 19 at only $722/ft ($2.475mm) despite having a “chef’s kitchen … with Liebherr, Viking and Meile appliances [and] … bathrooms [with] Waterworks fixtures and … blue English limestone and Italian tiles”, and this time I know the answer! (Unlike my futzing around about the scope of a renovation in Noho [September 28, 682 Broadway loft sells up 33% since 2007 after moving some walls] or my plain begging for help about anomalous pricing for river views in Tribeca [September 16, why did 288 West Street lofts close with such a wide spread?].)

The short answer is that this loft has one foot in the 1990s and one foot firmly in the 1970s. Freshen your coffee for the longer answer.

is it schizophrenic or bi-polar?
I can’t find my DSM-IV and don’t feel like running the WIki on this one, but you should feel free to use your favorite metaphor for duality (Jekyll and Hyde might be too violent? passive-aggressive might work, if you don’t mind). You can’t really see this directly from the floor plan, but the front and back of the loft are of two different eras, with a step-by-step transition from Now (or at least ‘recent’) to Then. I will try to reconstruct the existing floor plan from when I visited this loft twice (once without, once with, buyers).

On the one hand, you have the front of the loft, with the fancy kitchen and bamboo floors and new windows. The middle of the loft has the “den” along the east side, next to the bathrooms, with (I think) one of those “studio spaces” on the west wall; or maybe that is one of the bedrooms. (See pix #4 and #5 for the den; pic #7 and #9 are from the west wall.) Point being, the “den” has a raised floor (to get the bathroom plumbing under??) and is a narrow passage way to the back on the easy side of the kitchen. The west side of the kitchen is a separate passageway (no bump in the floor) with auxiliary space ‘rooms’ behind the freight elevator and a bedroom in that front (NW) corner.

The back of the loft has a huge ‘master suite’ with walk-in closet in the SE corner that I recall as (no slur intended) as rather primitive, while the opposite back corner has the two “large scale studio spaces with original pine floors”. Those spaces (and that floor) are more (less?) than primitive; I would call them raw.

These sellers must have lived here a long time, as there are suggestions of at least 3 stages of development in this huge space. At each time they improved, they had so much space they could only improve a part and still end up with a substantial part improved, and a substantial part ‘as was’. So the loft presents to any serious potential buyer as a huge renovation job. But it gets worse….

The biggest renovation investment the sellers made over the years is undoubtedly the kitchen. It is large and (as noted) well appointed, and is open to the “sun-drenched living / dining room”. But I will bet you any amount of money that the buyers will gut the kitchen because it is in the wrong place for anyone who would do a full renovation of the loft. As is, it blocks that front light from penetrating very far into the loft. I don’t remember where the plumbing stacks are (or how many there are), but I would move the kitchen to the NW corner windows or well back into the darker parts of the loft. (That rear windows provide very little light, but with 43 feet of back wall with 4 pairs of windows, most people would put bedrooms across that back wall.)

Depending on the plumbing stacks (that raised ‘den’ transitioning to the bathrooms makes me nervous), the footprint is a prime candidate for a classic Long-and-Narrow floor plan: 3 large bedrooms across the back, the kitchen closer to the back than the front, and a huge space in the middle, all open to those large north facing windows. The only ‘pinch’ in the floor plan would be the passenger elevator and public stair on the east wall and the freight on the west wall.

costs add up, deducted from price
Looked at a total gut job (as if the entire space were in primitive condition), this would be around a $1mm renovation for the “3,870 sq ft”. All in, that gets to around $1,000/ft even starting from the $722/ft purchase price.

Compare the dollars and likely result of fixing up this large loft with the reaction of The Market to an already fixed up almost as large space with river views in Tribeca. The “3,234 sq ft” loft #4A at 487 Greenwich Street probably deserves a post of its own as a recent sale, but for now let me point out just that the pix show a very-nice-if-not-better renovation with a recent market value of only $904/ft. I would be surprised if you could achieve the same quality result at 142 West 26 Street anywhere near $904/ft (all in), and you’d still be on a gritty commercial block in north Chelsea instead of on a quiet north Tribeca block with river views.

Or you could compare the dollars and likely result of fixing up this large loft with the reaction of The Market to an already fixed up almost as large space with “extraordinary light and city views” in closer-to-prime Chelsea. That “3,000 sq ft” loft on the 5th floor at 132 West 22 Street (the Stanwick) sold with what looks like a beautiful renovation sold for (only) $1,067/ft ($3.2mm) on September 2.

In other words, it is not surprising that The Market did not leap to the opportunity that was the 7th floor at 142 West 26 Street until it got within range of the (eventual) $2.475mm clearing price. It took a while for that to happen; a very long while (with 2 obvious hiccups):

July 30, 2009 new to market $3.495mm
Jan 26, 2010   $2.995mm
Mar 27 contract  
April 28 back  
June 14 contract  
Aug 25 back  
Nov 4   $2.795mm
June 25, 2011 contract  
Sept 19 sold $2.475mm

sellers long ago moved on
This large loft carries monthly maintenance that is not proportionately large, but is nonetheless daunting ($4,360/mo), especially to carry a vacant loft. It was vacant when I first saw it last year, and had probably been vacant since these sellers moved in to an even larger loft in prime Chelsea two years ago.

They probably did some work before moving in to the “4,765 sq ft” 2nd floor at 147 West 15 Street (purchased on June 8, 2009 for $5mm) as it had 2 kitchens when they bought it, and had a floor plan that screams 2-never-really-combined-rationally front and back lofts. These folks like space: again, the new place has almost 5,000 sq ft plus a very large terrace, this time with 13 foot ceilings.

It is nice to have the financial flexibility to do this kind of thing: pay $5mm for the new place that needed (at least) some renovation before moving in, while carrying the (at some point) vacant old place, while paying maintenance on both of $8,876/mo ($4,360 + $4,516). By the by, there’s no sign of a mortgage on the new-in-2009 place, per The Shark. (They did not wait long to put the old place on the market after buying the new one, so maybe they lived in a small [!] part of the new place while renovating around them; or maybe they just went to Europe.)

Nice, indeed.

© Sandy Mattingly 2011


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