Friday, November 9, 2012

East side, west side, what price geography?

When I first moved to New York, sometime during the Jurassic period, the upper west side was not considered desirable.  It was thought of as a bit déclassé, maybe even dangerous. 

Over the years since then, things have definitely changed.
The West Side's American Museum of Natural History
(New York Magazine)
Not too long after I arrived, the New York Times printed an article on the west side’s emergence.  There was a big cartoon with caricatures of the various celebrities who might be found standing in line at Zabar’s.  Many of them were people I had actually heard of.

In the late ‘70s and ‘80s, as New York’s quality of life began to improve overall,  the area became more desirable.  Psychiatrists, concert violinists, magazine writers, Columbia professors and other members of the cultural elite lived there. They drank red wine and voted Democratic.   

(I have always been confused by the location of the FDR drive.  Wasn’t Roosevelt a Democrat?  Shouldn’t he be on the west side, like the other Democrats?  As a result, I’m always giving people the wrong directions for getting into the city from out of town.)

These prewar apartments were built in the scale and style of the ‘20s, when everybody had lots of children and sat down to a formal family dinner every night, served by the family’s live-in housekeeper. 
Indeed, the dining rooms are often larger than the living rooms, and an extra bedroom can be carved out of the window end of one.   

I well remember the first time I went to a party in one of those West Side sprawlers.  I had not since childhood lived in anything larger than 500 square feet. 
At this party I remember my eyes travelling across the 30-foot living room, past the fireplace, across a hall, and then farther on to the window at the other end of the dining room.  And there was something very relaxing about the trip. 
It was then that I discovered the true luxury of unnecessary space.
The east side's Metropolitan Museum of Art
Those generous classic six, seven and even eight or nine room apartments could then be had for a fraction of what they would cost on the opposite side, where people live on family trusts and/or Wall Street money, drink Martinis and vote Republican.

Today, the balance for very large apartments has shifted.  Those on the west side make those on the east side look like bargains.

At this writing, the average asking price for a classic seven in a prewar doorman co-op on the upper west side (between 59th and 110th Streets, between the Hudson River and Central Park West), is about $4,500,000, with the average maintenance about $4,000.   

Average price for a similar apartment on the upper east side is a mere $3,250,000, with average maintenance $4,600. 
And it should be noted that all of those currently available east side classic sevens are in the once super-expensive area west of Lexington and south of 96th Street, as opposed to the less chic area from Lexington to the East River. 

But for smaller apartments, prices are higher on the east side. 

For a classic five room prewar doorman co-op apartment--that is, two bedrooms, living room, kitchen and dining room on the west side--you’ll pay an average of  about $1,700,000, with average maintenance $2,600. 
On the east side,  the average price for a five is almost a million dollars higher at about $2,600,000, average maintenance $4,400.

On the west side, the average prewar doorman one bedroom co-op will cost about $665,000, average maintenance is $1,300.  On the east side, the numbers are $755,000 and $2,000.

Some other differences between the east side and the west side:  on CPW, you get morning sun.  On Fifth, you get afternoon sun. 

On the east side, most buildings are happy to have you use your apartment as a pied a terre; in fact, they expect you to have a house in Connecticut, another one in Southampton,  a villa in Tuscany, a castle in Spain, you name it. 
But buildings on the west side, especially those on Central Park West, usually expect you to live in them, not just visit, which tends to create a family atmosphere. 

Co-ops on the west side are more likely to permit financing than those on the east.   A number of the buildings on Fifth and Park, for example, do not allow financing at all.  Some require a multiple of the price of the apartment in liquid assets after closing.

In addition to price differences, there are some other things to consider when choosing between east and west.  The east side has Barney’s, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the restaurant Daniel. 
The west side has Loehmann’s,  the Museum of Natural History, and Bar Boulud, which is a more casual version of Daniel. And it has Riverside Park, which has not only the usual grass and trees but also a river.

To come: post-war and condo apartments on the upper east and west sides.

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