Friday, July 27, 2012

The West Village. Sui generis. What it costs to live there and what you get for the money.

The narrow, cobblestoned streets of the West Village are lined with rowhouses two hundred years old and shaded by the green canopies of ancient trees.   
West Village Street in winter (Wikipedia)
These streets wander at the will of the settlers who moved north of the original city to escape the cholera and yellow fever epidemics of the early 19th century.  Some of them wander at the will of the cows that grazed there even earlier.

The West Village is bounded on the east by 7th Avenue (some say 6th), on the west by the Hudson River, on the north by 14th Street and on the south by Houston or perhaps a few blocks below. What's between does not follow Manhattan’s grid.

Minetta Street, named for the brook that still runs under parts of it, makes an abrupt turn for no particular reason.  So does Gay Street.  4th and 11th Streets intersect.  Commerce Street has absolutely nothing to do with commerce.

No wonder it was home to the Bohemians, artists, poets, folksingers and others of earlier generations who rebelled against convention.
Once, when I was new to New York, after venturing only a few blocks into the West Village, I got so lost that I had to take a taxi to get back to my apartment on 12th Street.  It was years before I went back in there again without a map. 

The early 20th century Gothic horror writer H. P. Lovecraft wrote a bone-chilling story about an unfortunate who gets lost in the West Village late one night under a full moon (and apparently couldn’t get a taxi).  I will spare you the grisly details.*  But that was long, long ago, and besides, he made it up.

Today the shops along Bleecker Street are as chic and trendy as those in Soho or on upper Madison.   The historic townhouses are as pricey as are to be found anywhere in Manhattan.  A penthouse condo can cost upwards of $20,000,000.
Gay Street winds around a corner (Chester Higgins photo, NY Times)

But if you’re willing to make certain sacrifices, you can live there quite inexpensively.

If you don’t mind the climb, a fourth-floor walkup studio can be yours for under $350,000.  The average one bedroom apartment will cost you about $800,000, with maintenance of about $1100.

Not bad when you consider that the average one-bedroom in the Central Village just a few blocks east costs $880,000, and could run as high as nearly $3,000,000 if it has a garden and is on the Gold Coast (that would be Fifth Avenue or just off it). 

A two bedroom apartment in the West Village will cost an average of $2,750,000.  

If you want amenities such as a doorman, or if you want a condo, especially a prewar condo, you’ll pay more—about $1,500,000 for a one bedroom, $2,900,000 for a two bedroom. 

Until recently, there were three pre-eminent prewar doorman condos in the West Village, all built in the 1920s by the architectural firm of Bing & Bing.  They are 299 and 302 West 12th Streets and 45 Christopher Street. 
Map of old Greenwich Village. A section of Bernard Ratzer's map of New York and its suburbs, made in the Eighteenth Century, when Greenwich was more than two miles from the city. ("Greenwich Village" Anna Alice Chapin)

But this year, two other prewar buildings have converted to condominiums. 

130 West 12th Street was a residential building for the staff of Roosevelt Hospital. 

It is now, as per the website, “Forty-Two Boutique Residences-One to Four Bedrooms $1.395 Million to $12.850 Million.“   They came to market last November and the building is now sold out. 

The Abingdon, formerly a nursing home and now ten very large and very pricey condos, is also selling briskly.  The smallest measures 3263 square feet and is priced at $8,750,000. 

The largest, at 9615 square feet (or nearly a quarter of an acre) plus a substantial terrace, is $25,000,000.   These were first offered in early June, and five of the ten are now under contract.

Sorry. I was going to talk about how inexpensive it can be to live in the West Village.  Somehow I got sidetracked.  Back to reality.

If you don’t have $8,750,000 at the moment and would prefer to rent anyway, you can have one of a few—a very few—studios in walkup buildings for under $2,000. 

The average rent for a studio apartment is about $2,800.  For a one bedroom, the average is about $4,500, and for a two bedroom the average is about $7,900. 

Be aware that once you live in the West Village, you will find it difficult to live anywhere else.  As a broker, I have never been able to pry anyone out with a crowbar.

*Okay, I'll give you this much: "...a colossal, shapeless influx of inky substance starred with shining, malevolent eyes.....poured thickly, like a flood of oil bursting a rotten bulkhead, overturned a chair as it spread, and finally flowed under the table and across the room to where the blackened head...still glared at me." 

You gotta love Lovecraft. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Soho update: Will the artist certification requirement be eliminated? Well, a committee's working on it.

The Soho/Noho artist certification requirement wars continue.

As discussed here earlier (see, the city passed a law in 1971 that requires at least one resident of every loft in Soho and Noho to be certified as a fine artist by the Department of Cultural Affairs.
The law also says that, without a special permit, commercial spaces must be for wholesale use only.
As nobody’s paid much attention to this law in the last fifteen to twenty years, there are those who think it should be eliminated. 
There are others who think it should stay. 
The problem is that the city does not have to give a certificate of occupancy to a building that doesn't comply with the artist certification requirement.  And there are many Soho buildings that don't have permanent certificates of occupancy.
Without a C of O, a co-op or condo can run into trouble when it wants permits from the city to do work on the building. 
Banks prefer not to lend in buildings that don't have a C of O.
Margaret Baisley, a real estate attorney who has long worked in Soho, is the chair of a committee that has raised $30,000 from Soho loft owners and is looking for a way to get rid of the certification requirement.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the money will be used to conduct a survey to determine how many certified artists still live in Soho and how many retail spaces are being occupied illegally. 

Baisley is in discussions with Baruch College’s Steven L. Newman Real Estate Institute, to begin conducting the survey later this month.

I have made numerous sales in Soho and Noho over the last 20 years.  I do not remember any of them being made to a certified artist. 

However, many were made to Wall Streeters who were attracted by the cachet of a neighborhood considered artistic and rather Bohemian.

As for the wholesale usage of commercial space, a quick walk through Soho leads one to believe that either there are a whole lot of special permits, or a whole lot of retailers are there illegally.  

There are the high-end retailers—Chanel, Prada, Coach and others who moved in when the Wall Streeters did.  And now there are two H & M stores within a couple of blocks of each other on Broadway plus numerous other bargain retail outlets. 

Whether you want a handbag for $3500 or a miniskirt with a lot of sequins for $25, Soho's where you go.  There's one whole store with nothing but Crocs.  Soho is retail heaven.

The artist certification requirement has always been controversial.  There are those who doubt its constitutionality.  And it’s somewhat whimsical.  Certification is only given to “fine” artists, that is, painters, poets and choreographers, not to “interpretive” artists such as actors, musicians and dancers. 

Why a poet would require a huge loft to write in is beyond me; Wallace Stevens wrote some of the 20th century’s greatest poetry on the sidewalks of Hartford while walking to work. 

Paloma Barrara, on the other hand, doesn’t need loft space, according to the DCA.  She can perform grand jetes and pirouettes in a closet for all they care.

The anti-elimination faction feels the character of Soho will change drastically if the requirement is eliminated.  Personally I question their use of the future tense. 

If they think it hasn't already changed drastically from what it was when they bought their lofts, they must never come out of them.

I will follow this committee’s efforts with great interest.