Stephen G. Kliegerman
President of Development Marketing
By TERI KARUSH ROGERS
FOR decades, Manhattan's graceful, well-constructed prewar apartments have lorded it over their bland, low-ceilinged postwar kin.
Then, brazen and unapologetic, the nouveau condos arrived. From glass-wrapped towers slicked in showy minimalism to more sedate structures melding prewar touches with contemporary floor plans and finishes, the newcomers are creating an entirely new category of Manhattan real estate.
While there is no way to know whether the upstarts will have staying power, the fabled prewar luster is already fading among a certain sort of buyer. "A lot of our young rich people are outgrowing this self-validation that getting into a prewar big-name co-op has always had for a New Yorker," said Michele Conte, a senior vice president and managing director of Brown Harris Stevens.
Some just don't care about the style or status of prewar, Ms. Conte said, while others have been liberated by the new alternatives. "The old buildings are wonderful, but there's something fresh and exciting about the newer space," she said.
In choosing great glass houses in the sky over inward-facing dwellings designed for their great-grandparents, a younger-than-ever moneyed class has embraced a modern design ethic — and plug-and-play, amenity-laden lives, with no messy renovations required. They may prefer an apartment that is more akin to an iPod than something with a decent kitchen convenient to transportation. And for those who find prewar too understated and even claustrophobic, the new hot stuff comes with a different set of bragging rights: Manhattanites have been glibly tossing off "starchitect" names the way they once batted around Internet stocks.
"It used to be that condos played second fiddle to the prewar co-ops," said Pamela Liebman, the chief executive of the Corcoran Group. "Now, there's a lot of status attached to living in the latest great condominium building or high-rise. People think it's cool — it's like owning art."
Unlike prewar co-ops with their often zealous co-op boards regulating admission standards, anyone with enough zeros in a bank account can buy a condo.
"People drawn to the glass buildings are a little bit more on the showy side," said Michael Shvo, a real estate marketer. "They're not as discreet, and these are not discreet buildings. These are people who don't mind having other people know they have money. You can live on the third floor or fifth floor, and everyone can really see into the apartment."
For some who have made the switch from prewar to ultramodern, it's also a different way of living — of living inside out, with the goal of feeling more connected to the outside world rather than projecting one's image outward.
Gilbert H. Lamphere, 53, is a financier who, after a divorce and remarriage, traded in an elegant four-bedroom Sutton Place prewar co-op for a glassy $6.6 million penthouse duplex in one of the Richard Meier towers, which he found with Kirk Henckels, the director of Stribling Private Brokerage.
"When I was at One Sutton Place, and my first wife had created this great space, you felt comfortable in a cocoon, in a beautifully decorated cocoon," he said. "There was nothing jarring. And I think for most of the places on the Upper East Side, that is the objective. There's nothing jarring, it's comforting, you can sit down, you can read a book, you can entertain, and your mind is at rest visually."
In his aerie, which he shares with his wife, Lucy O'Laughlin, 54, he said, "there's no cocoon when you're living 15 stories up and seagulls are flying by."
"I think these spaces are about stimulation," he said. "You are intensely aware of the outside, and on the Upper East Side, I think you're intensely aware of the inside."
Asked whether he could envision going back to prewar one day, he hesitated. "I think you would feel confined," he said. "It would take an adjustment, but over time you'd probably adjust back again."
The new buildings are drawing others like Mr. Lamphere, people who in the past would have remained solidly wed to their prewar apartments. "I was surprised by how many people moved out of prewar," said Ms. Conte of Brown Harris Stevens, who was the sales director for the Metropolitan, a new condo at 181 East 90th Street, at Third Avenue. About 30 percent of the buyers came from neighboring prewar buildings, she said, citing their thirst for big windows and new finishes.
A few blocks east, about 50 to 70 percent of the people who expressed interest in a 110-unit condo building being constructed at 170 East End live in prewar co-ops, said Louise Sunshine, chairwoman emeritus of Corcoran Sunshine Marketing, the marketing and sales agent for buildings designed by Peter Marino.
Billed as "couture homes" for families, the $2,000-a-square-foot units opposite Gracie Mansion combine prewar layouts with a modern, glassy exterior as well as amenities like on-site parking, a billiards room, a golf simulator, a squash court, a chauffeur's room and a high-tech video arcade.
Along with modern infrastructure and light, amenities like these make the services of a typical prewar building — often a doorman and maybe a porter — seem anachronistic and puny.
"For young people coming out of Wall Street, when they go home after working such long hours, they have the gym, perhaps a built-in social life, and they have a cachet almost like a designer handbag," said Joy Weiner, a senior vice president of Corcoran.
These buyers want to be pampered. "There's this whole sort of I-deserve-it mentality," said Frederick Peters, the president of the Warburg Realty Partnership. The thirst for pampering may also have a link to a growing cultural obsession with celebrities. "Andy Warhol promised us 15 minutes of fame," Mr. Peters said. "This feels like you're getting it."
And getting something new, a powerful lure for many.
"This is a consumer culture," Ms. Conte said. "People want new. They want to be the first owner. I call it the virgin syndrome."
Dr. Matthew C. Gomillion, a 46-year-old anesthesiologist and a former prewar owner, said a desire for something new, not just different, led him to exchange his sunny two-bedroom prewar Riverside Drive apartment — and his prized river views — for a modern one-bedroom a block south in the Heritage at Trump Place condominium, at West 72nd and Riverside.
"A couple of years ago, I went away to Boston and stayed in a little boutique hotel, and I really enjoyed the luxury of having all the extra services," Dr. Gomillion said. "It was just all fresh and newly renovated."
Though he still had feelings for his prewar apartment — "I loved the building, I loved the apartment, I loved the views," he said — he found himself tempted to exchange it for the real estate equivalent of a younger, more up-to-date spouse. "Since my apartment had appreciated quite significantly, I thought why not take advantage of this?" he said.
With the help of Sharon Bergh, an Associate Broker of Halstead Property, he bought his condo from floor plans in September 2003. "I liked the fact that it was brand new with luxurious amenities — a health club, sauna, swimming pool, a garage in the building, almost floor-to-ceiling windows," said Dr. Gomillion, who moved in last month. "I love it. It's everything I thought it would be."
While the new buildings may be luring former fans of prewar, brokers say that the old buildings are not suffering from falling values as a result. The supply is too limited and too far outstripped by demand.
"There is always going to be a large group of New Yorkers who want plaster walls and a particular kind of prewar feeling you can't duplicate in new construction no matter how beautiful it is," Mr. Peters said. "And one thing to remember is it's not only about buildings, it's also about location. There aren't the spots to build on the prime avenues, and people are always going to want to live there."
As so many glass buildings rise in so many parts of the city, the status of the oldest stock might even rise. "If anything, new luxury condominiums give added value to the prewars that can no longer be built," said Ruth McCoy, director of sales at Brown Harris Stevens.
Prewar co-ops have long sold for less per square foot than condos, and that ratio continues at about the same level. At the end of last year, the average co-op price in all of Manhattan was $972 a square foot, versus $1,212 for post-1990 condos, according to the appraisal firm Miller Samuel. The disparity reflects the premium put on the condominium form of ownership.
It is postwar apartments — built in the 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's with an eye more toward cost containment than luxury — that may be worst equipped to compete in today's souped-up luxury market.
The postwar buildings do not have the same quality of construction or finishes, and they do not have the tax abatements that help lure buyers to new condos.
Postwar resales are hardest hit when a competitively priced building comes on the market nearby. A new building "basically is a whirlpool that sucks in all the customers," said Richard V. Hamilton, of Halstead Property. Activity on his Chelsea-area postwar listings slowed significantly when a competitively priced 337-unit, 14-story development at 555 West 23rd came on the market in August.
"If you're sitting there owning a 1970's condominium apartment that doesn't particularly have the prewar style and may not have so much to offer over something brand new," Mr. Hamilton said, "you could be in a little bit of trouble."
But in a decade or two, it may be today's ultramodern buildings whose values are impaired, as hidden or ignored costs add up. For example, amenities could wind up costing more than expected or more than justified by their use, particularly in smaller buildings where the cost is divided among fewer owners. "Low common charges are often a lure — they start low and start escalating," said Ms. Weiner of Corcoran.
Escalating property taxes will take a bite, too. Under the widespread tax abatements helping to fuel the condo boom, property taxes start out at a fraction of their ultimate cost, rising every two years for 10 years. Higher taxes could eat into the resale value, even as some owners, too optimistic about their earning power when they signed the contract, decide to sell. "I wouldn't call it a time bomb, but it could be an unpleasant surprise," said Jonathan J. Miller, the president of Miller Samuel.
In the glass-curtain buildings, another potential cost is hidden in plain view: "You get a lot of heat loss from the curtain walls," which will matter more as fuel becomes more expensive, said Stephen G. Kliegerman, executive director for development at Halstead.
And then there are the aesthetic questions. What happens, for instance, when a building's exterior is degraded by a hodgepodge of window covering styles? From the inside, glass-happy apartments "can be very difficult to furnish," Mr. Kliegerman said. "It's wonderful to have a lot of glass if you have a fabulous vista. But if you don't have a great view, a lot of people will feel like they're living in a fishbowl."
Some buyers fret over a cookie-cutter sameness among the new buildings. Charlotte Van Doren, a vice president of Stribling, recalled a prewar resident who looked at a new building and remarked, "I'm worried it's going to be just like a first-class Hilton."
Savvy buyers would do well to buy a unit that offers something different from the rest of a building's apartments, according to Mr. Miller, the appraiser. "Buy outdoor space, a view break, something with a fireplace," he said.
He also cautioned buyers to consider what may happen to a new apartment's value when the marketing is just a memory and the unit goes on the market with a sea of similar apartments. Today's branding of a building may lend a temporary boost to its value that cannot be sustained later.
The biggest question is their aesthetic staying power.
"In 20 years, maybe all of these buildings that are the hottest things now will look completely outdated," Mr. Shvo said, "whereas the prewar building is always going to look beautiful. But you're looking at a generation that doesn't plan 20 years ahead — they're lucky if they plan two years away."
Sunday, March 19, 2006