Inside the open houses of the far West 30s

<i>Beyond Penn Station, bargain prices and pioneering buyers</i>

This month, Tracy McNamara drops in on open houses in the West 30s

The hustle and bustle of the Penn Station area and the blocks to the west may make the neighborhood a hard sell to many buyers, but some are looking for value in a potential revival that could come on the heels of a massive redevelopment project. Others just want to live in a centrally located area that hasn’t seen a Times Square-style Disneyfication yet, where grittiness still predominates.

It’s a neighborhood without a catchy name. “It’s NoPo,” joked Isaac Halpern, a Halstead vice president, for north of the large Farley Post Office on Eighth Avenue between West 31st and West 33rd streets, where developers plan to rebuild Penn Station and Madison Square Garden. Halpern said the neighborhood has attracted many Europeans who like the energy of the area more than New Yorkers, who tend to associate it only with Penn Station.

The project would shift Penn Station and Madison Square Garden one block west, and Vornado Realty Trust and the Related Companies’ massive $14 billion development plan would add 10 million square feet of office space and bring in restaurants, shops and residential development.

From Seventh to 11th avenues, and from West 36th to West 39th streets, there are at least nine major residential conversions of buildings that once housed light manufacturing and garment businesses. Seven are co-op and two are condo. Prewar loft sizes range from around 1,000 to almost 4,000 square feet, and in price from just under $900,000 to almost $4 million.

Value-conscious singles comprise the majority of tenants in the rental buildings in the area, such as the Olivia, a 333-rental unit luxury building on West 33rd Street where studios are available for $2,600 a month.

“Couples without children have tended to dominate the lofts and the West 34th Street co-ops, though now that’s changing noticeably as more couples with kids view the area as suitable, convenient and friendly for families,” said Michael Santo, a Halstead sales associate.

“You can still find some value on properties that have been appreciating at pace with the rest of the Downtown and Midtown areas,” said Santo, who has lived in the West 30s for five years. “It has its own character and is just a hop, skip and jump from everything you associate with living in Manhattan.”

All 36 units at a new condo building, 38Nine Condominium at 502 Ninth Avenue and West 38th Street, are in contract, said Santo. Average prices at this doorman building are just under $1,000 per square foot, he said.

Average sales prices for co-ops and condos in the neighborhood in 2006 were $480,214 for a studio, $774,451 for a one-bedroom and $1,247,819 for a two-bedroom, according to appraisal firm Miller Samuel.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, a handful of buyers visited 408 West 34th Street between Ninth and 10th avenues to see unit 6D, a top-floor alcove studio apartment in a well-maintained building that was built in the 1960s.

The 500-square-foot unit, listed with Corcoran for $429,000, is sunny with wide-open eastern views of the city. It felt larger than its relatively modest square footage, with ample room for a kitchen table set apart from the bed area.

One potential buyer was particularly pleased with the separate kitchen, which was recently renovated with white cupboards, and appreciated the full-size appliances and a dishwasher — a rare find in studios in that price range.

The elevator building has garage storage, a live-in super, laundry, a recently renovated lobby and carpeted hallways.

Kelly Cole, a Corcoran vice president, said there was an accepted offer on the apartment, but declined to give the price.

One buyer said he liked the neighborhood’s central location and said buying there would make sense as a long- term investment.

“The price is a little high for the location, but I think it’s a good investment since Penn Station will be moving and reviving the area,” said Henry Wu, 28, who works in downtown Manhattan in finance and rents in Jersey City. “I like to be in the middle of things during the weekend … I like this location and will continue to look at studios in the area.”

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The unit ran almost $100,000 more than the average price for a Midtown West studio apartment, which was $349,000 for the second quarter of 2007, according to a report by the Corcoran Group. The price was close to the average price for a Manhattan studio, which was $454,000 in the second quarter, according to the report.

The area around Ninth and 10th avenues is somewhat desolate, with few stores or restaurants — significant retail options on West 34th Street, for example, peak at a Loews movie theater, a McDonald’s and a small diner. One buyer thought the low prices made the lack of retail an acceptable tradeoff.

“The neighborhood is OK. It’s not my favorite, but prices are a little lower, so I figured I should keep my options open,” said Jean Yu, 37, who currently lives in World Wide Plaza in Midtown West and works in the fashion industry in the Garment District. “There’s not much around here, though — like, only one restaurant to go to. Still, transportation is good. I also wish there was a doorman — I’m not sure I would feel safe here at night.”

While the $429,000 studio drew complaints for being pricey, a smaller studio down the block in a doorman building at 433 West 34th Street, also between Ninth and 10th avenues, attracted buyers because of its low price.

At 300 square feet, the co-op apartment is listed with Corcoran for $315,000. Unit 3B has been on the market since July 10, and while there were only two visitors on a recent Sunday afternoon, they seemed unperturbed by the studio’s small size or moving boxes strewn across the space by the departing subtenant. Each potential buyer commented on how large the bathroom was, with a full tub and stylish black-and-white tiled floor.

A bonus: The building is in a Bing & Bing prewar with an attractive marble lobby. Buildings by the Bings — brothers Alexander and Leo Bing were prolific designers in the first four decades of the 20th century — are known for their classic, stately features, many with Art Deco touches.

The sunny studio is relatively quiet considering its busy location; it looks out onto the Lincoln Tunnel entrance and a bus stop.

Another possible buyer, a single man in his forties who lives Downtown and works in the Theater District, said he had never considered the West 30s before because it seemed remote. But he added the area has become more vibrant in recent years and is more affordable than other parts of Manhattan, and that the building’s architecture caught his eye.

Another potential buyer, Seth Klinek, who currently rents a studio on the Upper East Side, decided to visit the open house on his way back from work as a manager at nearby Lord & Taylor on Fifth Avenue and East 39th Street.

“The building was surprisingly nice,” said Klinek, 37, who said he’s seen studios in poorer conditions at the same price point. “The price seems decent and it’s a nice building, but the traffic could be too much. There’s a traffic cop outside the building on a Sunday, which seems pretty aggressive.”

Corcoran broker Steve Millhollon noted that there was currently one offer on the studio.

Also on the market, a few streets over, is a two-bedroom, two-bath, 1,000-square-foot condo at 408 Eighth Avenue between 30th and 31st streets for $1.29 million. The doorman building is on a bustling street filled with ethnic restaurants and a post office.

The boutique condo, which has 29 units, has only three apartments per floor. Unit 7A, which has a west-facing balcony, was recently renovated with chocolate oak strip floors, stainless steel kitchen appliances, poured concrete countertops, vented washer and dryer and central air. While there is not much of a lobby, a doorman is perched at the front door.

Halpern noted that the apartment is zoned for live/work, so it may be especially appealing to someone who is looking for a home office, such as a therapist. He said an offer on the apartment fell through after lengthy negotiations.

Peering around the apartment for a while on a recent Sunday afternoon, a man in his early thirties and his girlfriend seemed interested as they made approving comments on the style.

“Everything about this is perfect,” said Sam Patel, who commutes to New Jersey for work and lives on East 25th Street and Park Avenue.

“The price is great — where else can you get such a nice two-bedroom for this price? But I’m not interested because of the outdoor space. It’s big enough, but I [can’t] envision having a relaxing cup of coffee on the balcony and overlooking Eighth Avenue since it’s so hectic.”