Manhattan McMansions?

Despite love of condo development, buyers prefer their townhouses old, not new

Recession notwithstanding, the median sales price of a Manhattan townhouse jumped 13.2 percent between 2009 and 2010, according to appraisal firm Miller Samuel. One reason for the jump is that, unlike condos, very few newly built townhouses have been added to the housing stock, according to Jonathan Miller, the president and CEO of Miller Samuel.

That begs the question of why so many New Yorkers spend millions to painstakingly renovate historic brownstones, rather than just building new houses. After all, many Manhattanites love newly built condos, and modern McMansions have spread like wildfire across the country in recent years.

Building a house in Manhattan isn’t for the faint of heart. “It’s easier to build a building in Timbuktu than to renovate a small kitchen in Manhattan,” joked Stribling senior vice president Tim Desmond.

But there’s more to it than that. It turns out most New York townhouse buyers just like historic homes.

In Manhattan, “new construction [townhouses are] not well received,” Miller concurred. “Gut rehabs are fine, but it’s got to have the bones and the façade.”

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Failure to heed this preference can damage a house’s value.

“I’ve seen houses that had contemporary interiors linger on the market,” Desmond said. “One of the reasons people like houses is because they like the way they were built originally, with all the different kinds of woods for the floors and that kind of thing.”
When advising Manhattan homeowners who are renovating, he said, “I always tell people that you should keep as much of the original detail as you can … because that is what will sell the house.”

There are some newly constructed houses in Manhattan. New condo Superior Ink includes several adjacent townhouses, two of which are still available, though the rest of the project is sold out, according to director of sales Leslie Wilson.

The Townhomes of Downing Street, three brand-new houses in Greenwich Village, were designed by 1100 Architect. (Two are in contract, and one is available for $16.95 million.)
These projects were “very well done,” Desmond said, but the audience of potential buyers is simply smaller, especially at the contemporary-feeling Downing Street houses.

“Most people that are attracted to the far West Village like the feeling of the West Village houses,” Desmond said. “It’s a unique buyer who would go for something like Downing Street.”