Limited Supply of Manhattan Townhouses

I was looking through The Real Deal the other day and they have an article on Manhattan townhouses

Recession notwithstanding, the median sales price of a Manhattan townhouse jumped 13.2 percent between 2009 and 2010 … One reason for the jump is that, unlike condos, very few newly built townhouses have been added to the housing stock …

If you’re trying to choose between a condo and a townhouse the supply of each should be one of the things you take into consideration. Think twice about the fact that 1) it’s easy to find a condo or coop, but 2) difficult to find a townhouse. Limited supply = scarcity = higher prices. This will only become more true in the next 10 to 20 years as far more condos are built than townhouses.

The article goes on to explore why Manhattanites prefer new construction for their condos and old historic buildings for their townhouses…

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.”

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.”

Well, we’re doing a contemporary interior inside a historic exterior – so not exactly following their advice. Then again we don’t have any original details and we don’t have the budget to recreate a high quality “original”(ish) look. I’d love to ask “Desmond” more details about his statement. Was the level of finish equivalent on the contemporary interiors? Were the contemporary interiors taste specific or dated in anyway?

One of my mantras in the design of our place was that the space not feel particularly dated in 10 years. We saw some (nice) townhouses on our search that were already feeling dated just 5 years after they were completed. There was on on 130th Street that had an “infinity” bathtub where the water came from the ceiling. A more classic bathtub with contemporary details wouldn’t have felt so dated.

There’s a difference between “dated” and “classic”. If you can manage to hit on something that becomes “classic” it won’t ever really feel “dated” – at least not in a negative way. Take Poliform / Varenna as an example. If you saw a kitchen they did 10 years ago, I’m guessing it would be difficult to tell it wasn’t done last year – they understand how to do a “classic minimalist” aesthetic.

The other way we looked at it was whether it’s easy to “freshen” up the space to make it more current. We wanted fixed elements to be classic and we’re OK with more replaceable elements being a bit more “on trend”. For example, I was worried about the design of our staircase until our architect proposed a staircase with removable panels. If the shape or materials we use become dated, we (or the new owner) can always replace them with something else without replacing the entire staircase. If the new owner doesn’t like the fact that we have open risers, they can fill in the space and have closed risers, etc. If the new owner doesn’t like our flush baseboards and lack of crown mouldings, they can add baseboards and crown mouldings over what we’ve done.

But I digress… The point of the article is that Manhattan is only so big and as the space in Manhattan becomes more valuable “extravagances” like townhouses will be come more and more rare. On top of that there’s a limited supply of historic townhouses in Manhattan and that leads to the prices of those townhouses increasing faster than other types of properties – especially when the interior feels historic as well as the exterior. Ergo, Manhattan townhouses are a good investment. I really do think Harlem will be the Manhattan neighborhood with the highest price increases over the next 20 years and I think the best investment within Harlem right now are townhouse shells. But that’s just my opinion – I’m a bit biased 🙂

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