In New York City real estate, space is more prized than a perfect parking spot (or at least AS prized as that).
If you’re looking for the most amount of space for the least amount of money–and are willing to tolerate some potential downsides in exchange for the ability to turn around without bruising your elbows–here are a few places to look:
1. A first-floor apartment
On average, says appraiser Jonathan Miller of Miller Samuel, “the price difference between a second and first floor apartment is 15 percent. The difference between a second-floor apartment and a third-floor apartment is probably another 10 percent”–meaning that the difference in price between a first and third floor apartment can be as much as 25 percent.
The reason? Market perceptions about security, privacy and street noise. “The exception, of course, would be a brownstone garden apartment,” says Miller, which will sell at a premium. The first floor in a walk-up is also a premium — think an inverse relationship of price to stairs.
When Jeff Appel, a loan specialist at Citibank, went apartment hunting recently, space was a top priority: He was relocating from the suburbs, has kids and a menagerie of pets, so he zeroed in on first-floor apartments.
“Ground floor apartments are a double whammy — not only are they a better value, but they also often can be configured to be larger apartments,” says Appel, who bought a ground-floor condo on Walker Street in Tribeca. “I have a floor-through plus basement space. My apartment is 3,600 square feet and the others in the building were 2,300-2,400 square feet.”
Appel pointed out one potential pitfall when it comes to having such a big space. “I have the single largest burden in terms of property taxes and common charges… you need to look at the economics of all of those things” before buying, he said.
Resale value, though something to think about, shouldn’t be too big an issue.
“Buyers sometimes are worried from an investment standpoint that a low floor apartment might not being good value, but as long as you were able to get the apartment for a good price that won’t be a problem for resale,” adds Dominique Punnett, a broker with Stribling
2. A post-war apartment
While it may not have the romantic cache of a pre-war or the coolness of a new development, post-wars (meaning those built during the post-World War II housing shortage) can translate into more space for less money.
“Often people who have come from larger homes and are downsizing find this the best choice to be able to achieve the highest square footage possible for their dollar,” says Neil Binder of The Bellmarc Group.
As long as buyers are not bothered about the sterile, white brick exterior and the long winding hallways, says Stribling’s Punnett, “you will get a lot more bang for your buck in a post war. I always tell my buyers when you’re inside the apartment you don’t see the exterior anyway! I’ve seen gorgeous renovations of apartments where you would never know you were in a post war building.”
All things being equal, says Miller, “which is a HUGE disclaimer,” there tends to be a 10 to 15 percent price difference between pre-war and post-war, “but the differences tend to be that pre-wars have higher ceiling height, hardwood floors versus parquet, and better soundproofing.”
3. An apartment with a slightly higher maintenance
Obviously you don’t want to burden yourself with a large, unrealistic maintenance each month, but sometimes a slightly higher maintenance can mean a lower purchase price (and down payment).
It’s a trick that can helpful for those who want more space for a little less (assuming they have consistent money coming in each month).
But, our experts say, there are several reasons to be slightly wary of high maintenances.
“Any broker or appraiser will tell you that higher monthly chages impact the value of the apartment,” says Adam Stone, a real estate lawyer with Regosin, Edwards, Stone and Feder. “You also need to be sure to look into why the maintenance is so high. It may be something innocuous, like it has twice as many staff members as others buildings. But maybe there was litigation against the building, and there was a judgment they had to pay out, or maybe there are construction issues. That’s why you need to dig deeper into the financials, and speak to a managing agent to get details.”
Also, keep in mind that most co-op boards won’t allow buyers to take on a monthly maintenance that is more than 25 percent of their income, and ”you probably don’t want maintenance and mortgage to be more than 35 percent,” says Stone.
From the bank’s point of view, Appel says, they rely on appraisers to decide whether a high maintenance is “an impediment to the apartment-achieving market price.”
As a consumer, Appel says, he’d be wary of taking on a higher maintenance in exchange for a lower price “because the discount is a one time thing and maintenance is ongoing. Also, if a property already has a high maintenance, will it become disproportionately higher?”
4. An apartment with location issues
Heading far away from public transportation (think First Avenue on the Upper East Side or Avenue B in the East Village), and on the fringe of other popular neighborhoods (like Morningside Heights vs. Upper West Side), can bring you a lot more for your money. But note that prices can vary from one street to the next.
“On the Upper East Side, for example,” Miller says, “prices go down as you go further East of Lexington, but they go right back up again when you hit East End,” he says.
5. Non-doorman building/walk-up
Those willing to live in non-doorman buildings are likely to see significant savings — 10 to 15 percent on average, according to Miller.
For those who are able to live above the second floor of a walk-up, you’ll see even more significant discounts. “The discount is almost geometric as you go up,” Miller says. “Below the fourth floor, you’re looking at a price about 5 percent less on each higher floor. Above that, it’s even more.”
Keep in mind that some lenders are reluctant to offer mortgages above the fourth floor of walk-ups. Yet the very fact that a mortgage might be a little tough to get means that you’re likely to snag a deal… especially if you’re able/ willing to pay in cash (more on that below).
6. Apartments on which banks are reluctant to lend
Sellers often offer small discounts for apartments which they know are not popular with the banks.
Examples, according to one mortgage broker who wished to remain anonymous, include brownstones, walk-ups above the fourth floor, HDFC (income-restricted) co-ops, condos where a single entity owns more than 10 percent, recent conversions where many tenants are still rent-stabilized, and anything with more than 20 percent commercial space.
“Also in buildings with a hotel component, you’re not going to get financed unless you have A LOT of money and a private banker.”
“Of course, a cash buyer is always going to get a slightly better deal,” he added.
But before you jump on one of these deals (and/or try and muster up enough money to buy one in cash), think about why the lenders are wary.
“A purchaser may have the same concerns that the lenders are wary about,” says Stone. But sometimes the issue — like a fifth-floor walk-up for a totally fit person — can be overcome despite bank trepidations,” he says.
“If you can handle that, it’s an issue that’s easily overcome. But if it’s an issue like a sponsor still owns 50 percent of units — you really need to check with a lawyer about the risks. In that case, if the sponsor/investor falls on tough times, it could negatively affect everyone in the building,” Stone says.
7. A fixer-upper
“For a period of time we were in a market where you could put a wreck on the market, and it was no drag on its value — in some cases it traded on a premium — but that has changed a lot,” says Appel. “If you’re willing to do work, that’s another way to drive value. I think people are loathe to buy what isn’t livable today.”
Also, Appel says, look for potential combination opportunities, especially when thinking about resale, since the sum of two parts is worth more than the two parts independently. “I think buyers willing to do a combination can often seen an upside in that property if they’re the ones willing to do the work (again).”
Beware of high common charges/maintenance charges though, as combinations usually result in higher charges than for a same-sized apartment that did not result from a combination. 8. Challenging layouts
Open plans are most popular with buyers these days. People want more entertaining space (meaning larger kitchens/living rooms and dining rooms) and fewer bedrooms, Appel says.
So, those who don’t mind — or even prefer — more traditional floor plans, with closed off kitchen, dining rooms and living rooms — may get a lot more space for their buck, he says.