The Big Apple
WHAT DO BUYERS WANT ANYWAY
These days, according to the New York Times, many prefer buildings that are two or more years old. The building is likely to be sold out, so there’s a better chance of securing financing. Then, buyers don’t have to worry whether the sponsor is going to finish the job or start renting out unsold apartments. The buildings also are likely to have: an observable community of neighbors; apartments with valuable custom upgrades such as surround-sound wiring or $25,000 automated window shades; sellers who have more flexibility to negotiate than most developers; and a relative dearth of new-building kinks, including the torment of ongoing construction. In addition, many buyers today believe that squeezed developers will inevitably cut corners on construction, finishes and amenities. Aware that common charges frequently escalate after a sponsor moves on, some buyers look for more certainty about monthly costs. Others seek to avoid the 1.825 percent transfer tax that buyers must pay on a brand-new condo. And some are dismayed by tales of construction delays and chronically unheeded punch lists. The heads-and-wallets school of purchase is developing its own guidelines: Too many renters are a turnoff; fringe locations are a major turnoff; a building should not be top-heavy with amenities; and classic-leaning design is preferable to ultramodern, while starchitect imprimatur is pretty much irrelevant. The Times led the Real Estate section with this long piece. And additional commentary on the subject of buying in new developments may also prove to be illuminating.
BUYERS SNAP UP 113 FORECLOSED PROPERTIES
Real Estate Disposition Corporation’s auction of residential properties rang up a total of $10 million in sales, reports Crain’s. Although, the second New York City auction generated less money than its March predecessor, the event drew 1,288 bargain hunters. During the five-hour event, 113 houses in the New York area were purchased. At the March auction, 207 properties were auctioned for $18.6 million. The biggest deals in the latest auction included a house in Staten Island that sold for $63,000 - a 90 percent discount from the property’s peak value of $595,000 - and a house in Newark, N.J. which sold for $12,500 - a 95 percent discount from its peak value of $280,000. In May, foreclosures rose 8 percent citywide from the previous month. Homes in Queens represented 73 percent of the foreclosures in the five boroughs, according to the latest figures by PropertyShark. There were 285 new foreclosures in the city last month.
CONSTRUCTION OF ALL TYPES HITS RECORD IN 2008
The New York Building Congress says a record $31.8 billion went into construction citywide last year, according to the Observer. Non-residential projects such as offices and sports/entertainment venues accounted for a significant part of the increase; $10.9 billion was spent on such construction, climbing from $8.9 billion in 2007 and just $3.1 billion five years ago (two baseball stadiums will do that). Residential construction was down to $5.9 billion from 2007’s $6.1 billion, and public sector spending declined for the first time annually, from $15 billion to $15.6 billion. Even so, residential construction produced more units than the previous year - 33,911 as opposed to 31,902.
DO YOU WANT TO BY A CONDO IN A NEW DEVELOPMENT
There are plenty of condos at the Sheffield57, as the New York Times and other publications have noted. Business partners are suing each other, charging that money meant for construction was siphoned off. One partner is accused of having hit another with an ice bucket. Also lodging lawsuits are rent-regulated and market-rate tenants as well as some 100 condo owners, who allege that the building’s developers are $5.4 million behind in paying there common charges, among other things. It’s a fun building, and more of the juicy details are available here.
VACANCY RATE IN MANHATTAN IS TRENDING DOWN
Manhattan's vacancy rate and rents in several neighborhoods fell slightly in May, according to a monthly rental market analysis from Citi Habitats. The overall vacancy rate in Manhattan fell to 1.72 percent in May from 2.28 percent in April, the first time since October that the vacancy rate has been below 2 percent. Rents also dropped slightly for one- and two-bedrooms, falling to $2,426 from $2,434 for one-bedrooms and to $3,444 from $3,460 for two-bedrooms. Rents for three-bedrooms increased slightly, to $4,657 from $4,607. The full report has all the details.
Home and Hearth
IF YOU HAVE FURNITURE TO UNLOAD, READ THIS
Whether you want to sell about large pieces of furniture to raise cash or just because you’re tired of them, there are many options beyond Craigslist or eBay, notes the New York Times. For those who have inherited furniture and have an overwhelming need to sell it immediately - or even those who have owned heirloom-quality antiques for years - the best advice is to proceed with care and to consult a professional dealer. The National Antique and Art Dealers Association of America (naadaa.org) and the Antiques Dealers’ Association of America (adadealers.com) provide information on registered dealers, and many states have their own dealers’ associations. There are numerous additional options.
PRICE CONCERNS CAUSE DROP IN PERMITS FOR REMODELING
A semi-annual survey of 5,000 home owners about their remodeling plans shows a 20 percent decline in the number of permits issued compared with the first quarter of 2008, says Realtor magazine. But RemodelorMove.com, which conducted the survey, also reports that the number of home owners who will probably remodel in the next 12 months rose 5 percent in the first quarter of 2009. Even though the cost to remodel has fallen an estimated 20 percent in the last year, 82 percent of respondents said price is their biggest concern and 89 percent of respondents are changing their remodeling plans because of the recession.
The Mortgage Biz
RATES CONTINUE THEIR UPWARD CLIMB
The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage (FRM) averaged 5.59 percent for the week, up from last week's 5.29 percent but still below last year's 6.32 percent. The last time the 30-year FRM was higher was the week ending Nov. 26, when it averaged 5.97 percent. The 15-year FRM was 5.06 percent this week in comparison with 4.79 percent last week and 5.93 percent a year ago at this time. It has not been higher since the week ending Dec. 11, when it averaged 5.20 percent. Five-year Treasury-indexed hybrid adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs) averaged 5.17 percent this week, up from last week's 4.85 percent; a year ago, they were 5.70 percent. The rate was higher the week ending Feb. 12, when it averaged 5.23 percent. One-year Treasury-indexed ARMs were 5.04 percent this week, up from 4.81 percent last week. At this time last year, the one-year ARM averaged 5.09 percent. The last time the one-year ARM was higher was the week ending Dec. 11, when it averaged 5.09 percent.
FAST-RISING RATES MAY HOBBLE HOUSING RECOVERY
Rising interest rates threaten to dim prospects for a housing recovery and choke off a refinance wave that was a major plank of the Obama administration's economic-stimulus efforts, reports the Wall Street Journal. On Wednesday, rates on 30-year fixed-rate mortgages climbed to 5.79 percent, up from 5 percent two weeks ago, according to HSH Associates. That jump will cut roughly in half the number of borrowers with an incentive to refinance, according to FTN Financial. Refinance activity at JPMorgan Chase is already "really down" since rates began rising, a spokesman says. "Mortgage rates at these levels will hobble the [housing] recovery, and it was just the beginning of the recovery," says Kenneth Rosen, chairman of the Fisher Center for Real Estate and Urban Economics at the University of California, Berkeley.
$8,000 TAX CREDIT CAN BE USED FOR DOWN PAYMENTS
The FHA announced that the new $8,000 first-time homebuyer tax credit can now be used toward a down payment. The announcement details FHA’s rules allowing state Housing Finance Agencies and certain non-profits to “monetize” up to the full amount of the tax credit (depending on the amount of the mortgage) so that borrowers can immediately apply the funds toward their down payments. Home buyers using FHA-approved lenders can apply the tax credit to their down payment in excess of 3.5 percent of appraised value or their closing costs, helping to achieve a lower interest rate. Buyers financing through state Housing Finance Agencies and certain non-profits will be able to use the tax credit for their down payments via secondary financing. In addition to the borrower’s own cash investment, FHA allows parents, employers and other governmental entities to contribute toward the down payment. The full credit is limited to single individuals whose income is below $75,000, and the benefit decreases for incomes up to $95,000. For couples, it is $150,000 and $170,000.
MORTGAGE DELINQUENCIES GROW BY 14 PERCENT IN A QUARTER
Mortgage loan delinquency (the ratio of borrowers 60 or more days past due) increased for the ninth straight quarter, hitting a national average high of 5.22 percent for the first quarter of 2009, reports the TransUnion credit agency. Traditionally seen as a precursor to foreclosures, this statistic is up from the previous quarter's 4.58 percent average in comparison with 16 percent from the third to fourth quarters of 2008. Year-over-year, mortgage loan delinquency is up approximately 62 percent (from 3.23 percent). The average national mortgage debt per borrower rose again (1.41 percent) to $195,500 from the previous quarter's $192,789. On a year-over-year basis, the first quarter 2009 average represents a 1.87 percent increase versus the first quarter 2008 average of $191,917. "The troubling news is that the mortgage delinquency rate continues to climb upward at an average quarterly pace almost doubling that experienced in the last recession," said Keith Carson, a senior consultant in TransUnion's financial services group. “However, this quarter's results offer a glimmer of hope and a chance for optimism. For the first time since the recession began at the end of 2007, the quarterly growth rate for national mortgage delinquency decreased.”
ADVOCACY GROUP SAYS FORECLOSURES HAVE PASSED 1 MILLION
That’s the estimate for so far this year by the Center for Responsible Living (CRL). “The escalation of foreclosures on all types of loans is alarming,” said Michael Calhoun, president of CRL, whose job, after all, is to be alarmed. “It’s easy to think, ‘Well, that’s tough luck for the families that lose their homes.’” CRL projects 2.4 million foreclosure starts in 2009, reducing the property values of some 70 million nearby households a total of $502 billion - approximately $7,200 per family. Through 2012, those numbers will rise to at least 9 million foreclosures that will cost 92 million neighboring families $1.9 trillion in lost home value, according to the organization.
BUT BANKS ENJOY THE FRUITS OF REFINANCINGS
Banks reported a sharp uptick in profits on mortgage originations in the first quarter as they benefited from bigger margins, less competition and higher fees on loans sold primarily to government-backed agencies, according to a study by Inside Mortgage Finance, a mortgage-industry trade publication, says the Wall Street Journal. The study looked at earnings statements from nine of the largest mortgage lenders and found that they posted, as a group, $4.5 billion in mortgage-production income during the first quarter, up from $533 million in the fourth quarter of 2008 and $1.49 billion in the previous year's first quarter.
PURCHASE AND REFI LOAN APPLICATIONS DECLINE
The Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) reports that volume fell 7.2 percent for the week ending June 4 on a seasonally adjusted basis from one week earlier. On an unadjusted basis, however, activity was up 15.7 percent; it also rose, by 7.6 percent, compared with the same week one year earlier. Refinancings dropped 11.8 percent from the previous week, but purchase applications increased 1.1 percent. The refinance share of mortgage activity decreased to 59.4 percent of total applications from 62.4 percent the previous week, the lowest percentage since last November 2008. The adjustable-rate mortgage (ARM) share grew to 3.4 percent from 3.0 percent of the total.
REVERSE MORTGAGES GAIN IN POPULARITY
The number of reverse mortgages backed by the government jumped nearly 20 percent in March and April from the same period last year, says the Wall Street Journal. In April alone, the government insured 11,660 reverse mortgages, the highest monthly total since the government-backed program began in 1990. By contrast, the number of new home-equity loans was off approximately 70 percent in the first quarter from the prior-year period, according to Inside Mortgage Finance. Financial advisers say that reverse mortgages aren't for everyone and shouldn't always be a first choice, particularly because the loans are expensive. That means the loans "make the most sense for somebody that doesn't have much in the way of other savings," says
David Certner, legislative policy director for the AARP. He adds that the
loans can cost as much as 10 percent of a home's value over the life of the loan in fees.
MAY FORECLOSURES DOWN FROM APRIL, UP IN A YEAR
RealtyTrac says default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions were reported on 321,480 U.S. properties during the month, a decrease of 6 percent from the previous month but an increase of nearly 18 percent from May 2008. The report also shows that one in every 398 U.S. housing units received a foreclosure filing in May. May foreclosure activity was the third highest month on record and marked the third straight month where the total number of properties with foreclosure filings exceeded 300,000. Six percent fewer New York City homeowners received foreclosure notices last month than in April; the number of foreclosure notices fell 9.3 percent year-over-year, to 1,885 notices. Commented CEO James J. Saccacio: “While defaults and scheduled foreclosure auctions were both down from the previous month, bank repossessions, or REOs, were up 2 percent thanks largely to substantial increases in several states, including Michigan, Arizona, Washington, Nevada, Oregon and New York. We expect REO activity to spike in the coming months as foreclosure delays and moratoria implemented by various state laws come to an end.”
BANK REPAYMENT TO FEDS MAY HURT HOUSING RECOVERY
In a piece reporting that 10 large banks have received permission to repay the federal government’s TARP money, the New York Times says returning the total $68.3 billion might make it harder for borrowers to obtain mortgage loans. More on this here.
SPENDING ON CONSTRUCTION IS UP, DEFYING PREDICTIONS
Construction spending rose 0.8 percent in April, the most since last August and a reversal of the drop analysts predicted, according to Bloomberg in Realtor magazine. The U.S. Commerce Department said yesterday that residential construction was up 0.6 percent. “Residential construction may be bottoming,” said Steven Wood, president of Insight Economics.
APPRAISAL SHORTFALLS BEDEVIL SALES AND REFINANCINGS
Appraisals are becoming one of the biggest obstacles for Americans trying to sell their homes, refinance their mortgages or tap into home-equity credit lines, the Wall Street Journal observes. Lenders burned by huge losses from defaults now are pressing appraisers to be more conservative. And appraising itself is more difficult with home prices fluctuating rapidly and transactions few and far between in some markets; sale prices from a few months back may no longer reliably indicate the value of nearby homes. "If history is no longer valid, then it is very difficult to get good and accurate values," said Mark Rattermann, an appraisal trainer in Indianapolis. In some cases, lenders are requiring that appraisals be based on sales closed within the past three months rather than the prior six-month norm, appraisers said. Some lenders are also asking for comparisons with at least one sale in the past 30 days. The situation became more complicated on May 1, when the appraisal industry adopted the Home Valuation Code of Conduct, which apply to mortgages that will be owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
TIMESHARE SALES WANE FOR FIRST TIME IN 34 YEARS
Timeshare sales dropped 8 percent last year, the first time sales have fallen since the American Resort Development Association began tracking sales 34 years ago, says the New York Times. in 2007, timeshare sales rose 6 percent from 2006, to $10.6 billion. “Timeshares used to be the little engine that could, whether the economy was up or down,” said Howard Nusbaum, the association’s president and chief executive. “We were the one piece that always outperformed the market.” Today, as Americans pull back on traveling and rein in their spending, developers, such as Marriott International, Starwood Hotels & Resorts and Wyndham Worldwide, are closing sales centers, suspending new projects and reporting drops in timeshare sales. For individual owners who want to unload their timeshares, selling in a recession has grown more difficult. Prices have slumped as timeshare listings have grown on eBay and Craigslist, so sellers must now offer more to stand out. High on the list are offers to pay closing costs and maintenance fees; sometimes bonus weeks are even thrown in to sweeten the deal.
JOAN RIVERS WANTS TO SPEND MORE TIME ON THE LEFT COAST
Some 20 years ago, when the reconstructed comedian bought a 5,190- sf duplex condominium, with a garden, atop a newly converted 42-foot-wide 1903 mansion in the East 60s just off Fifth Avenue, she set about restoring the space, including what had once been the double-height ballroom, notes the New York Times. To restore the property - the asking price of which is $25 million - to its original splendor, craftsmen stripped away layers of paint and grime from the elaborate paneling, recreated gilded molding and painted the ballroom ceiling pale blue with white clouds. The apartment’s formal dining room and ornately paneled library overlook a south-facing terrace. The three bedrooms include a master bedroom suite looking out over a second terrace with Central Park views. She put the apartment on the market because she is planning to spend more of her time on the West Coast with her daughter and her grandson.
THE PRICE GAP BETWEEN HIS OLD AND NEW PADS YAWNS WIDE
Dave Gahan, the lead singer of Depeche Mode, has sold his three-bedroom, 1,920-sf loft at 99 Jane Street for $4 million, says the Observer. The apartment, with a soaking tub and separate shower in the master suite, went to one Atalanti Martinou. City records show that Gahan and his wife Jennifer closed earlier this year on a $5,956,250 penthouse at Battery Park City's eco-friendly condo Riverhouse. The couple and Leonardo DiCaprio will be getting twice-filtered air and solar-powered energy in their new building.
A QUARTERBACK TRIES A HAIL MARY TO SELL HIS HOUSE
Unable to find a buyer for his Weston, Fla., home, Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino has a new game plan, says the Wall Street Journal He’s throwing in $1.5 million worth of designer furniture and a signed football, too. The former Miami Dolphin first listed the house - about 25 miles west of Fort Lauderdale - three years ago and twice cut the price. Now, Marino, 47, and his wife Claire are asking $13.5 million for the 15,000-sf Tuscan-style home on four acres. They built it in 1998 and, among other things, put in a new master suite and marble showers. The home has 10 bedrooms, 12 bathrooms and two powder rooms, and the property includes two guest houses, a pool, a putting green, a 5,000-bottle wine cellar and a pond stocked with fresh bass. “We’re looking to downsize a little bit,” says Marino, who first put the place on the market in 2006 for $15.9 million. “I’ll leave one football, how’s that?”
THE HOUSE WHERE JANE LIVED AND WROTE IS FOR SALE
The West Village townhouse at 555 Hudson Street where the late Jane Jacobs wrote her iconic The Death and Life of Great American Cities nearly 50 years ago is now on the market for $3.5 million, says the Observer. A combination of a closed storefront and a two-story house above, it can be sold either domestically, commercially or both domestically and commercially. But the townhouse cannot be split into apartments, according to owner Kathleen Murphy. An extra 1,600 square feet can be added to the 2,080-sf townhouse. The townhouse was built in 1800. Jacobs, who died in 2006, lived there in the late 1950s and 1960s and moved to Toronto.
A NEWS TITAN IS LISTING HIS GETAWAY ON THE NORTH SHORE
Rupert and Wendi Murdoch have put Rosehearty, their summer getaway on Long Island North Shore, on the market for $12.8 million, according to New York Magazine. They just weren’t using it enough, given all their other homes. In the meantime, they’ve been renting it to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, for more than $100,000 a month. It’s set on around five acres, with eleven bedrooms, seven fireplaces, guest house and tennis court on its own stretch of beach with a dock.
THERE’S NO GARDEN, SO NO FIREFLIES FOR HER
Julia Roberts is renting two apartments (for a total of about $50,000 a month) at 1 Morton Square on West Street while she's in town filming "Eat, Pray, Love" from July to September, reports the New York Post. One three-bedroom apartment is for her family. A two-bedroom unit is for her nanny and staff. Neighbors say she fell in love with the building when she arrived for a showing, via yellow cab, in low-key skinny jeans and a T-shirt.
THE PRICE A VOICE ARTIST PAID FOR A BEL-AIR HOME IS NO JOKE
Hank Azaria, the “Simpsons’” voice artist and comedic actor, paid $10 million for his new 9,000-sf-home, which includes seven bedrooms, 10 baths, a dance studio and a library, according to the Los Angeles Times. Outside, on the nearly three-quarters of an acre-spread, there's a gazebo, a spacious lawn and a pool. The two-story view home, built in 1932, also has four fireplaces, an art studio and a den. The living room opens out onto a backyard patio, with an additional fireplace and a swimming pool. Public records show the house previously sold in 2004 for $6.25 million.
BUYERS SHOULD HOPE HE DOESN’T DRIVE A HARD BARGAIN
Shortly after James E. Press became Chrysler's new president last year, news broke that he had spent $13.5 million on a four-bedroom house boasting a grand marble foyer, an oak-floored living room with an antique wood-burning French fireplace, a full-floor master bedroom suite, a den with a wet bar and humidor, plus a finished basement with a gym and a 1,000-bottle, temperature-controlled wine cellar. Now, reports the Observer, his townhouse at 178 East 64th St. gone on the market for $15.7 million - or $35,000 per month. "It wasn't appropriate,” his broker understated. “He bought it with the intention of being in New York City full time, and he is not."
HE DOESN’T WANT TO BE THERE
Just a few months after listing their Water Mill home for $8.8 million, Richard Gere and his wife Carey Lowell have lowered the asking price for the estate by more than $1 million, according to Newsday. The new price for the seven-bedroom, 10-and-a-half-bath farmhouse is $7.2 million. The couple also owns a home and property in North Haven, right near neighbor Jimmy Buffett.
MOVIE MOGUL ASKS RECORD AMOUNT FOR HIS DUPLEX
The Real Deal quotes two sources as saying that Robert Weinstein’s 6,500-sf duplex at the Beresford on Central Park West is quietly being marketed for around $34 million. It cost him $20 million in September 2004, and the asking price today is more than anything else has sold for in the building, which is across the street from the American Museum of Natural History. The mega-investor William Ackman spent $26 million on his new duplex one floor up, and Jerry Seinfeld forked over just $4.35 million for Isaac Stern’s duplex last decade. Other celebrity residents include Glenn Close and John McEnroe. One broker who has seen the apartment sneered about the southern exposures: “You do see the park when you’re that high. But, obviously, the coveted view is east.” Said another broker: “I’ve seen it, it’s gorgeous. It’s absolutely pristine.” At that price, let’s hope so.
WITH PRICES AT LOWS, SALES CONTRACTS RISE A THIRD MONTH
The Pending Home Sales Index of the National Association of Realtors (NAR) had a 6.7 percent increase since March and was 3.2 percent higher than April 2008. Aside from foreclosures and market lows, the $8,000 government tax credit helped boost the forward-looking index. In the Northeast, pending sales shot up 32.6 percent, far more than any other region. The affordability index rose to 174.8 in April from an upwardly revised 171.9 in March, the second-highest monthly reading on record after peaking at 176.9 in January of this year. A family earning the median income of $60,900 could afford a home costing $296,800 in April with a 20 percent down payment. The affordable price was well above the median existing single-family home price in April, which was $169,800. “The relationship between contracts on pending home sales and closings on existing-home sales is taking longer than in the past for several reasons,” cautioned NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun. “Mortgage processing time has increased, it is taking many months to close on those homes requiring short sales with lender approval, and some sales are falling through at the last moment.”
THOSE GREEN SHOOTS KEEP POPPING UP
Two big builders, Toll Brothers and Hovnanian Enterprises, said losses in the fiscal second quarter ended April 30 shrank from year-earlier levels as lower prices lured some buyers back into the market, according to the Wall Street Journal. And a report from research firm IHS Global Insight said home prices on average fell at an annual rate of 2.2 percent in this year's first quarter compared with a 12.5 percent rate in the fourth quarter of 2008. The report is based on price data from the Federal Housing Finance Agency. In the latest quarter, prices were down in 199 of 330 metropolitan areas examined in the study. In the fourth quarter, 312 metro areas showed declines. "While it's too early to see a bottom of this housing downturn," the report said, the latest data "may signal that the market is beginning to stabilize." In addition, many home builders are once again venturing into so-called spec inventory. Builders realize many buyers want to sell a home before buying again, and first-time buyers who must close before December 1 to tap a federal tax credit need to reach deals soon. There is also fierce competition from existing inventory and bargain-priced foreclosures. "They want something that's either completed or nearly completed. If you don't have inventory on the ground, then you might be out of luck."
Here Comes the Sun
In the 17th Century, the land that is now Morningside Heights was known as Vandewater's Heights, named for a landowner, according to Wikipedia. On September 16, 1776, the Battle of Harlem Heights was fought there, with the most intense fighting occurring in a sloping wheat field that is now the site of Barnard College. A plaque by the Columbia University gate on 117th Street and Broadway commemorates this battle.
A century ago, as the New York Times has recounted, Morningside Heights was a desolate outpost on the northern fringe of the metropolis, almost empty except for the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum and the Leake & Watts Orphanage.
But in 1892, the Rt. Rev. Henry Codman Potter, Episcopal bishop of New York, bought the site of the orphanage and set about building the largest Gothic cathedral in the world, the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, which is still unfinished – and awesome. The same year, Columbia University paid $2 million for the asylum property and commissioned McKim, Meade & White to design a red-brick-and-limestone campus in an Italian-Renaissance style.
Use of the name "Morningside Heights" for the neighborhood arose in the 1890s around that time. Although the name "Bloomingdale" was used for the area, other names such as "Morningside Hill" and "Riverside Heights" had currency as well.
In time, two names gained the most use; "Morningside Heights" was preferred by the Barnard and Columbia, while "Cathedral Heights" was preferred by St. John's and St. Luke's. After about 1898, Morningside Heights became the most generally accepted moniker, yet the diocese at St. John's continued to call the neighborhood Cathedral Heights well into the 20th century. A remnant of that approach persists in the name of “Cathedral Parkway” alongside St. John. The term "Morningside" came from the park, on the east flank of the plateau, which was burnished by the rising sun and was called "Morning Side Park" in 1870, when the city parks commissioner recommended a survey of the land.
The neighborhood, bounded generally by 110th and 125th streets and Riverside and Morningside parks, is now home also to Union Theological Seminary, Jewish Theological Seminary, Riverside Church, the Manhattan School of Music and private secondary schools.
Morningside Heights is still a place where friends meet by chance and where local shopkeepers are sometimes known by their names. Among the neighborhood's other attractions are huge apartments with 12-foot ceilings, Hudson River vistas and venerable landmarks such as Tom’s Restaurant of Seinfeld’s TV program, Mondel Chocolates and the West End Cafe, where Jack Kerouac, who attended Columbia, is said to have written his early works on the Beat Generation, and where Allen Ginsberg read his poems. It has recently been absorbed into a Cuban restaurant chain, "Havana Central," and is now known as "Havana Central at the West End.”
What brings Morningside Heights to mind were visits to several apartments there. One of them, which affords views overlooking the northern portion of Morningside Park, has one of the worst layouts on the market. In a small 1910 building with an enchanting lobby and no amenities, the co-op once was a railroad flat. Now it is a disaster.
Entrance to the unit is into a hallway past a bedroom and bath into . . . a partially and inexpensively renovated kitchen. Beyond the kitchen is a squarish living/dining room, apparently for guests who just can’t wait to see what is for dinner. Through French doors in the wall opposite the kitchen is, yes, the second bedroom. Of course, that’s where the northern exposures provide the best views. If there is some good reason for the asking price of $625,000 with monthly maintenance of $838 and a special assessment of $167, reduced in two steps from the original $639,000 way back in December, it is a mystery.
Below, other properties listed by various brokers in Morningside Heights and elsewhere that were seen recently:
- A lovely 2,000-sf co-op, open, airy and sunny with 10-foot ceilings in a pre-war building in the mid-80s that has one of the most ornate and impressive lobbies in the neighborhood. Among the ninth-floor apartment’s many pluses are the beautifully proportioned rooms; built-in features in the combined dining and living rooms; splendid kitchen with countertops raised for very tall cooks and including an eight-burner Viking stove; two and a half renovated baths; a maid’s room; and excellent condition. The exposures overlook Broadway from the four major rooms. This unit is offered at $2.695 million, the maintenance is $3,374 per month (which is pretty high because the building’s finances are strained), and a buyer was making an offer in fewer than two weeks on the market.
- In the mid 90s close to Riverside Park, an extraordinarily overpriced condo in a 1908 building with one bedroom, down-at-the-heels kitchen, gigantic walk-in-closet and terrace that measures 12’5” x 62’. Unless you take the elevator down one flight from the lobby, it is possible to make your way down one flight of grimy stairs to reach this shabby excuse of an apartment. Oh, the terrace is adjacent to a school yard, so you can hear the kids’ happy shouts quite clearly. Nice! The asking price for this 890-sf unit is $829,000 with common charges and taxes totaling $985 a month.
- A poorly combined 1,992-sf condo in the high 60s that has living room and master suite one floor above, get this, Broadway for tranquil entertaining and undisturbed sleeping. This currently four-bedroom, three-bath apartment with interior den, great closet space, ceilings of standard height and worn condition went on the market at the end of April for $1.85 million with combined monthly costs of $2,311. In a full-service postwar building that prohibits dogs and boasts a garage, this unit is unlikely to find a buyer at such a price.
- On a Central Park block in the mid 90s, a pleasant one-bedroom co-op in an undistinguished 1900 building without amenities. This 650-sf apartment offers little in the way of exposures (the living room faces north over a busy street and the bedroom, other buildings). But with improved bath and pass-through kitchen, this unit in good shape is worth the reduced price of $499,000 with maintenance per month of $818.
- With windows in the master bedroom and sunken living room facing the Hudson River, an eccentric three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath co-op. The pre-war unit in the very low 100s, which changed hands two years ago, when it was listed for $2.1 million, has been reconfigured in strange ways: The master bath, which shares a shower with another bath, is reached through a walk-in closet; the kitchen has a stainless-steel sink jutting out of a wall with no counter on either side; entrance is into a foyer that faces half a wall in front a desk; and the flow is just weird. The asking price is $2.2 million with maintenance of $2,015 a month, reflecting denial of how the market has changed in two years.
- A one-bedroom maisonette (which, for the uninitiated, is a fancy word for an apartment that has a sidewalk entrance) that features untold wasted square footage given over to hallways, a living room that amounts to a huge kitchen and a bedroom replete with enough closets to satisfy Auntie Mame. In a low 80s pet-friendly 1911 building between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue, this 805-sf condo has been nicely renovated, including engineered hardwood floors and a bath with glass tiles. The price has been slashed all the way down to $775,000 from $799,000 with combined monthly costs of $1,308 plus an assessment of $90.
- A thoughtfully renovated studio in a pet-friendly post-war building that is a blemish on its block in the low 100s between Riverside Drive and West End Avenue. (Humphrey Bogart spent at least part of his childhood one block east.) The kitchen has been stylishly updated with butcher-block countertops and matching cabinetry. The owner elected to install a waist-high refrigerator to maximize cabinet space, and the space was designed to accommodate a larger one if desired. The only oven is a microwave. But the sunny, south-facing apartment overlooking brownstone gardens seems much larger than its square footage and is appropriately priced at $350,000 with maintenance of $582 a month.
- In Morningside Heights just east of Broadway well below Columbia University, a disjointed and dated three-bedroom co-op with two older baths, washer/dryer, excellent closet space, 80s galley kitchen and painted built-ins. This 1,435-sf apartment in a 1929 doorman building has three exposures, including south, where it matters. It is listed at $1.25 million with monthly maintenance of $1,420, and that feels aggressive in light of the work a buyer likely would want to do.
- A tri-level brownstone co-op in the low 80s that is more inviting garden than any other feature. Entry is down to the living room and that lovely 32’ x 17’9” landscaped terrace. Up half a flight is a nicely improved kitchen, and the bedroom and a space called “office” is up another half flight. The owners made the most of a small thing in an apartment that has rooms of diminutive proportions, adding glass bricks, more or less open staircases and naturally lighted spaces. Having gone on the market in October for $1.149 million with maintenance of $1,044 monthly, this unit is in a pet-friendly building is now listed for $879,000. Still too much, alas.
- In the high 70s with direct views of Central Park, a classic seven-room co-op that has a formal dining room, laundry, eat-in kitchen, three bedrooms and only two baths. This possibly 2,000-sf apartment in a 1920 building needs a fair amount of work, especially the kitchen and baths. Still, among its assets are a number of original features, adequate closet space and three exposures (of which two face other buildings to the rear). The place went on the market in October for a numbingly unlikely $3.85 million with monthly maintenance of $3,278. After two reductions, it now is $2.95 million. And counting.
of Manhattan's Latest Listings
here to view a sampling of newly listed properties. To see more of them or to obtain more information, please don't hesitate to be in touch.
Here to Sign Up For Your Free Issue
of Realty Digest!
2009 Service You Can Trust