Property Grunt

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Hunt: West Village and air rights

I was reading today's Hunt about the son of a horse farmer who was out to find an apartment in the West Village but ended up in Chelsea instead. There are two points from the article that caught my attention.

So, with a budget of $500,000 to $600,000, Mr. Decker went on the hunt for a one-bedroom apartment in the West Village, preferably west of Eighth Avenue. Many streets there allow parking from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m. - ideal for his reverse commute to Westchester. He would return just at the right time, park his car, and leave so early the next morning that his colleagues commented on how he was always the first one in the office.

Last winter, he visited a small ground-floor condominium on West 10th Street, listed at $540,000. He wasn't ready to buy, because the sale of the farm wasn't completed, but he liked the agent, Isabel Millot of Manhattan Apartments. She warned him that many co-ops would frown upon his plans for a co-owner and his outstanding loans from graduate school.

Apartments in his price range all seemed small or oddly laid out. Mr. Decker hated railroad apartments - "trains, I think they call them," he said. "I'd go into a place listed at $550,000 and go: 'No, God, I can't do this. I am willing to spend $550,000, but not on this.' "

But he did like one Horatio Street co-op, a "pseudo studio" with French doors dividing the room. The listing price was $565,000, but he offered $595,000, which was turned down.

The West Village, he realized, was too expensive, with co-ops priced at around $1,000 a square foot. But Chelsea, about 10 percent cheaper, was close enough. So Ms. Millot took him there.

I hated walking the West Village beat with rental clients because there were no deals to be found in that area. Because it is such a desirable location rents are quite competitive and I have never seen a no fee apartment in that area. What makes it more frustrating is that these prewar west village buildings have very impractical layouts and offer less space then other areas. It is a well-known fact the higher you go up in terms of location the more space you can get for your money.

I have never closed a rental deal in the west village because clients would realize what they were renting was simply the brand name of living in the West Village.

Then, two weeks before closing, he received a letter from the seller's lawyer, suggesting the building might sell its air rights and the closing might be delayed because of related financial issues.

"I was flipping out," Mr. Decker said. "I'm like, 'What's air rights?' I was calling friends saying, 'Hey, buddy, do you mind if I stay in your place for a week or two because I have no place to go?' It's kind of degrading. I'm over 30. I don't need to be sleeping on friends' couches anymore. I thought I was doing well in life - but I'm a bum."

The seller was quite ethical in presenting the air rights issue to Mr. Decker. Depending on the board and seller, some buyers do not know what status changes have occurred with the building until after the fact. I have heard stories about buyers who have slapped with assessments onto to their maintenance because of secret meetings that the board has conducted. In the meantime Mr. Decker should keep his ear to the ground regarding the air rights. Either join the board or get to know the board members. Because whatever the outcome is decided for the air rights it could either help or hurt the building. If it is the latter then Mr. Decker will have at least a heads up of what is going on and should be able to time his withdrawal from the co-op. Of course this is all speculation.

Gritting my teeth for another campaign of open houses tomorrow. There has to be a better way to spend a Sunday.