Yesterday and today have been busy days… Yesterday the bank’s surveyor came by and we had to get him into the back yard (easier said than done). Today we had two appointments – one with the bank’s appraiser who is tasked with figuring out the future value of the house after renovations. And the second appointment was with a DOB building inspector to get our stop work order lifted.
In preparation for the appraiser I shelled out $70 for a Property Shark membership and stayed up late last night looking at the numbers. Banks have reputations for getting the least expensive appraiser – often ones who have no experience with Manhattan real estate. Even people who understand Manhattan real estate can get tripped up with Harlem townhouses – you have ones selling for $300,000 and others for $2 million and the official square footage is sometimes right and sometimes completely wrong. I figured I’d give the appraiser my own list of comps to reduce their chance of getting it wrong and messing up our mortgage. So here’s what I found…
|168 W 123
|136 W 123
|139 W 123
|124 W 123
|124 W 123
|239 W 123
|115 W 120
|148 W 120
|260 W 121
|22 W 123
|18 W 123
|108 W 119
|120 W 127
|118 W 127
|19 W 120
|140 W 118
|57 W 119
|64 W 119
|146 W 130
|140 W 130
|11 E 127
|152 W 132
|233 W 113
There were more columns on my spreadsheet, but they didn’t all fit. The places are ordered by distance from our place. There are a few things to note…
First, the ones that are struck through are foreclosures – their amounts aren’t real sales amounts, they’re the amounts that were due on the mortgages. There may be foreclosures that aren’t struck through – I didn’t check extensively.
The next thing to note is the ‘building class’ column. Class B buildings are 1 and 2 family. “C0” buildings are 3 family. C2 is 5 or 6 family. C4s (like ours) are old law tenements. And C5s are rooming houses. (C4 and C5 are collectively SROs). The one S5 was an old union lodge.
You would think that 3 family homes would sell well since there’s lots of rental income to offset expenses, but taxes on them are still low, but that’s not the case. As you can see Class B buildings (2 family) consistently have much higher prices (I’ve colored them dark red). A while back Harlem Bespoke made a big of a deal that the $2 million ceiling had been broken with the sale of 2087 5th Avenue, but it’s a 5 or 6 family building. That’s more of a rental building than a typical townhouse, so I wouldn’t say the ceiling has been broken at all – it’s still very much in tact.
The other thing to note is that shells can still be picked up for under $150/sq. ft. and after rehab they’re worth about $450/sq. ft. If you do a nice, but not extravagant job rehab will cost about $200/sq. ft., so you’ll net $100/sq. ft. in profit (on paper at least). If you can put up with 2 years of chaos, shells are still an excellent investment.
As it turns out I didn’t really need to do the cheat sheet for the appraiser. When I showed him what I had done he pointed to the Class B prices and said he had seen those and that was the ballpark he was considering going into our meeting. So it looks like we’re safe on our appraisal. The bank needs us to appraise at or above $1.35M and it looks like he’ll put our future value somewhere between $1.5M and $2.0M.
I’ve been meaning to do a series of blog posts on the state of townhouse sales so far in 2010 by neighborhood. Here’s the first in that series – covering the neighborhood that’s near and dear to us – Mount Morris Park…
Generally I find there are two groups of townhouses – 1) ones that need $500K+/- in renovations, and 2) ones that don’t (at least not right away).
On the high end…
||20′ wide, 5 story, former mortuary, needs work
|22 West 120
||Steel and concrete minimalist interior
|4 W 123
||17′ wide, single family, 2,547 square foot (probably not including ground floor), some great details but needed work
|5 W 121
||20′ wide, three family, 4,393 square foot
|19 W 120
||20′ wide two-family w/ original details, 4,865 square feet
|115 W 120
||20′ wide, 4 story, two family, approx 4,800 square feet
The very first one, 226 Lenox was a bit of a special case – it’s probably at the high end of the ones needing around $500K in renovation. Among the others you can see the trend is generally up (slightly). The standard price seemed to be $1.65M (no matter what the size, oddly), but now that’s been broken and prices are just under $2M.
On the low end…
|21 W 120
||20′ wide, 4,472 square-foot fully occupied SRO
|168 W 123
||Our place. 15′ wide, 5 story, totally gutted shell with fire damage, SRO with a certificate of no harassment
|162 W 120
||17′ wide, 4 story limestone, 4,058 square feet
|104 W 120
|20 W 120
|128 West 123
||4 story brick townhouse with mansard roof
||19′ wide, SRO w/storefront, 4,139 square foot
The first thing to notice is that this is still a great time to buy a townhouse shell in Harlem. There’s over a million dollar difference between the price of shells and the high end places, but you can renovate a shell into a high end townhouse for about $600-$800K, so you’re likely to net between $300K and $500K on the renovation.
Price per square foot is tricky with shells. Taking our place as an example – officially it’s 4 stories and 3605 sq. ft. However, in actuality it’s 5 stories and 4500 sq. ft. Oddly, I thought the number of stories would get fixed as we went through the DOB plan approval process, but I saw the plan examiner look right at the plans and call it a 4 story building. However, they are now billing it as having 4,500 sq. ft. – at least that much is getting corrected. What this means is as you look at townhouses you need to calculate the real square footage and determine your own price per square foot.
The bottom line is, like the upper end, there is an upward trend in prices for shells. Not counting the fully occupied SRO (which you wouldn’t want to touch with a 10′ pole unless you wanted to be a landlord, not a home owner), our place was pretty much the low price on a price per square foot basis at $117/sq. ft. The others since that time have been more money on a price per square foot basis (which is how you really need to price buildings like these). Assuming the recent ones are 4 story buildings misclassified as 3 story buildings – that means the actual price per square foot for shells is now in the mid-$140s.
Harlem Bespoke just pointed out that 11 West 119th Street sold recently – for $400,000! That might seem like a low price, but actually it’s a surprisingly high price. The building is 14′ x 38′ on a shallow 65′ lot. 14′ x 38′ x 4 stories = approx. 2,128 sq. ft. So the cost per square foot was $188/sq. ft. By contrast we bought ours a few blocks away for $118/sq. ft. If 11 West 119th had sold for our price per square foot the price would have been $250,000. The final asking price was $450K. I’m not sure why the buyer only got $50K off final asking when most people buying similar properties tend to get $150-200K off asking. (For example, we got $265K off what they were asking when we started bidding).
During our search we went through the one 2 doors down – 7 West 119th Street. It was fully renovated with some high end finishes (Sub Zero fridge, but just “better than rental” cabinetry). It wound up selling for $1.0983M. It’s hard to figure out the square footage of #7. Officially it’s 2,794 sq. ft. so it officially sold for $393/sq. ft. However, the City has it’s length at 47′ when all it’s sibling neighbors are officially 38′. I don’t remember it being pushed out in the back and the permit they pulled said no enlargement was proposed. It’s on a lot with a diagonal back line – one side it’s 54′ deep, the other it’s 58′ deep. I remember the back yard basically being a small deck, but it the short side was definitely more than 7′ feet long. So I really think the square footage of #7 is smaller and more inline with it’s neighbors. On top of everything else they did a double height living room so it was probably under 2,000 of real square feet. If it were 2,000 sq. ft. then the price per square foot would have been $549/sq. ft. which is way over what the other comps support. By comparison the incredible one on Strivers’ Row went for $505/sq. ft.
11 West 119th is a SMALL townhouse that shouldn’t be made into more than a single family home (#7 was made into a 2 family with a tiny studio apartment and I think it was a mistake). It’s not not in a historic district (though it is literally adjacent to a one). It’s steps from East Harlem where values are somewhat lower. It’s across the street from (relatively nice) public housing. So I’m not seeing how the property commanded $188/sq. ft. But with both #7 and #11 selling way over what the comps support — apparently they’re smoking really good over at that end of West 119th Street! 😉
No matter – this is a great comp for those of us who own townhouses. Be happy! And for the new owners of #7 and #11 West 119th Street – the values will go up in the coming years and they’ll still make money when they sell.
But honestly – if you’re looking to buy a Harlem townhouse shell – get a damn good real estate broker and a subscription to Property Shark that includes comps and really get to know what things are actually selling for (as opposed to what they’re listed for). A Property Shark membership is WAY cheaper than overpaying for real estate.
If you own a townhouse in Harlem you’ll be happy to hear that the market has hit bottom and is now starting to go back up. A few months ago I pulled a list of Harlem townhouses that had sold over $1M and the list was pretty short (only 5), the highest price was just under $1.7M and the price per square foot was pretty miserable. PRIME locations like Strivers’ Row were getting in the mid-$300s/sq. ft. and ones that needed significant TLC on decent blocks (like Hamilton Terrace) were selling for just under $300/sq. ft.
Well, if you bought at those prices I think you bought at the bottom of the market. Things are much better now. The number of sales over $1M has doubled to 10 for the past 6 months and at least one of the properties is back over $500/sq. ft.
And here they are…
- 262 W 139 St (Strivers’ Row) – $1.85M, 3,660 sq. ft., $505/sq. ft., two family with an owner’s triplex over a ground floor rental – This place is ABSOLUTELY IMMACULATE. It was an over the top renovation planned back when you couldn’t help but make money flipping townhouses in Harlem. Things didn’t go very well for the developer/seller, but the new owner has a stunning place to live (with a garage!)
- 14 W 120 St (Mt. Morris) – $1.385M, $3,37 sq. ft., $456/sq. ft. – 18′ 4 story brick townhouse literally across the street from Marcus Garvey Park. SRO restricted. HPD says it has one class A apartment and 9 class B rooms. For some reason DOB has it classified as 4 family, but is aware it’s SRO restricted.
- 116 W 120 St – $1.485M, 3,636 sq. ft., $408/sq. ft. – 20′ 4 story painted limestone townhouse. Surprisingly this is an SRO restricted old law tenement. HPD says there is one class A apartment and 6 class be “rooms”. DOB still classifies it as an old law tenement, but doesn’t realize it’s SRO restricted.
- 7 W 119 St (just outside the Mt. Morris Historic District) – $1.098M, 2,794 sq. ft., $393/sq. ft. – This was a shell and was recently gut renovated with an uneven mix of high end and low end finishes. We went through it. The building is one of the smallest townhouses you’ll see – 14′ x 47′. The rooms in it are TINY and the “back yard” is just a small deck. Our couch wouldn’t come close to fitting in the living room. It’s a technically a 2 family since there’s a VERY small studio apartment in the front half of the ground floor. I have no clue how they’ll rent such a small space. It should have been made into a single family. In my opinion the buyer over paid, but that’s a good sign as far as the market goes.
- 106 W 118 St – $1.275M, 3,400 sq. ft., $375/sq. ft. – 17′ x 49′ 4 story brownstone. It’s a legal 3 family, that was converted about 10 years ago.
- 15 W 122 St (Mt. Morris) – $1.375, 4,180 sq. ft., $328/sq. ft. – 18′ x 53′ 4 story brownstone. This is technically an SRO. HPD shows it having one class A apartment and 8 class B rooms. However, DOB shows it has being an SRO-restricted 2 family.
- 590 W 152 St – $1.2M, 3,744 sq. ft., $320/sq. ft. – 16′ x 52′ 4 story limestone townhouse with a C1 commercial overlay on it’s zoning. Like the last one, HPD shows it having one class A apartment and 8 class B rooms. However, DOB shows it has being an SRO-restricted 2 family.
- 76 Edgecombe Ave – $1.436M, 4,611 sq. ft., $311/sq. ft. – This is a lovely 19′ brick townhouse on a corner lot. There would be incredible light in the building since the long wall faces south (too much for my tastes, but I know others like southern exposures). It’s a completely legal 4 family with no SRO restrictions.
- 226 Lenox Ave (Mt. Morris) – $1.25M, 4,932 sq. ft., $253/sq. ft. – A very grand 20′ brick townhouse that was a former funeral parlor. Curiously this is technically a rooming house with no apparent SRO restrictions – somehow with the funeral parlor in there they avoided SRO status. In addition to the funeral parlor there are 2 class A apartments.
- 146 W 136 St – $1.1M, 4,590 sq. ft., $239/sq. ft. – 17′ x 56′ 4 story townhouse. It shows as 3 family, but DOB is still showing it as SRO-restricted (probably an error). The new C of O was just issued a year ago, so this is newly renovated. This was an incredible deal. The weird part is I can’t find any record of it having been for sale, so there has to be more to this than you can see at first glance.
So there you have it – the top sales for the past 6 months for Harlem townhouses. Considering that just about every week a townhouse will sell in Brooklyn for over $2M, that’s sorta a sad lot by comparison, but at least things are better than they were a few months ago.
Where things are selling…
It’s also interesting to note that none of the sales were in Hamilton Heights / Sugar Hill. 6 of the 10 were south of 125th in and around the Mt. Morris Historic District. Given that our place is in the same area the good news is that we’ll have no problem with the future value appraisal for our rehab loan. It would seem our place will be worth about $400/sq. ft. when it’s completed.
Prices on shells will go up too…
That brings up another point… The sum total of all of these numbers is that when the top end of the market goes up, everyone goes up. Let’s take our case. When we were bidding I was thinking our place would be worth maybe $325-350/sq. ft. when it was done. So if we put $150-200/sq. ft. into it I had to subtract that from the finished value for things to make sense. We bought at $122/sq. ft. so we’d be safe no matter how you looked at it (provided the market didn’t continue to go down). Now that the top number is $400/sq. ft. things are significantly better.
I still think the biggest risk are the ones in the middle that need more work than you might think. It’s still easy to over pay for those properties. The best bets are shells and ones that are recently renovated.
Buy now! Buy low!
Unless there’s more economic turbulence, I’m firmly convinced now is the time to buy a Harlem townhouse. The trick is finding one in a decent area, without SRO issues, where they’ll sell low.