The Real Deal New York

Pieds-à-terre step into co-ops

November 27, 2007
By Tom Acitelli

For part-time New Yorkers those who use seasons of the year as verbs owning a pied-à-terre apartment has usually required a condo building. But these “feet on the ground” can and are stomping into even the ritziest of co-ops.

In the booming residential market, where a pied-à-terre is as likely to be flipped as to be lived in for a little bit of the year (their usual role), co-ops are trying to attract them. The appeal? Their usually wealthy owners, buyers who can not only afford the sales price but also the monthly upkeep costs for a place they won’t occupy year-round.

“There are co-op buildings, even on Fifth Avenue, that don’t mind a pied-à-terre person,” said Dianne Van Laer, a senior vice president at Bellmarc Realty. “In fact, their boards are smart enough to know that someone who is extremely wealthy and financially qualified doesn’t just have one home.

“How great is that,” she asked, “for a co-op building to have someone who is financially qualified, wants to buy a multi-million-dollar apartment and wants to use it for a few weeks out of the year? That’s less wear and tear on the building and on the staff. And it’s great if you share a floor with a pied- -terre person because they’re never there.”

In Manhattan, pieds- -terre are best understood anecdotally as they exist more as a concept than as a physical thing, something owners do rather than buy.

“Pieds-à-terre are not really an entity onto themselves, if you will,” said Sandi Schapiro, a broker with Fenwick-Keats. “In other words, you buy the apartment, and you use it in the sense that it becomes like a pied- -terre. It’s not like you’re buying a specific product called a pied- -terre.”

Condos in the tonier neighborhoods of the city Greenwich Village, the Upper East Side toward Central Park, Murray Hill have generally been the pied- -terre locales of choice, brokers say. Once you own a condo, after all, you essentially own a house that neighbors can’t meddle with as is often the case in co-ops.

The main obstacle to pieds-à-terre in co-ops is fear by neighbors that the apartment will become an inn for the primary owner’s family and friends. Worse, college-age children of the owners may move in, especially in the Village and along lower Fifth Avenue because of nearby New York University. Co-ops, in fact, may require primary owners to live in their spreads for at least a year, maybe two, before renting it.

“Some co-ops, they don’t want to be considered a dormitory,” said Joe Testone, another Bellmarc broker, who recently got co-op board approval for a client’s purchase of a one-bedroom pied- -terre on the 20th floor in 2 Fifth Avenue.

If co-op boards can see past the concerns, they can find more owners like the ones Van Laer represents at 870 Fifth Avenue.

Those owners are selling for $3.7 million the classic six they’ve used as a pied-à-terre. The buyers, she said, could easily do the same thing with the apartment, despite it being in a co-op next to Central Park.

“What I hope to find for the apartment,” Van Laer said, “is the same scenario in the buyer.”

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