$2M Continues To Be Limit for Harlem Townhouses

Exterior of 319 Convent in Hamilton HeightsA number of Harlem townhouses continue to flirt with the $2M mark, but few of them go over that amount. The latest to push $2M is 319 Convent Avenue – a single family house in Hamilton Heights which just sold for $1,971,830.

319 Convent is one of the grande dames of Harlem townhouses – 20 feet wide, 55 feet long, and 5 stories tall – so roughly 5,500 square feet, though officially the square footage is 3,596 which less than you’d expect if they didn’t count the basement. Still, a big grand ‘ol house.

While the location and scale of the house are exceptional, based on the available interior photos, the overall condition seems to be just fair to good. There are no kitchen and bathroom shots – which is always a bad sign, and in the photos they do show there’s peeling wallpaper and the floors clearly need to be refinished. I would also expect there to be 100 year old plumbing and electrical – so the buyer is looking at a minimum of $200,000+ to bring the house up to current standards – and I could totally see someone spending a half million or even more on renovations to really do a great job. It’s the type of house that deserves that level of money to be put into it.

319 Convent living room

Notice the peeling wallpaper over the door in the next photo…

319 Convent peeling wallpaper

All in all though – an incredible house that’s clearly been lovingly maintained in near-original condition. I think the new owners will have many happy memories in that house 🙂

What Things Are Selling For In West Harlem

The other day I looked at what things were selling for in and around Mount Morris Park, so I figured I’d do the same thing for West Harlem (Sugar Hill & Hamilton Heights). I did a radius around a friend’s place in the middle of the historic districts up there and what I found was that prices per square foot just aren’t as high in West Harlem as they are around Mount Morris Park.

Square Feet $/Sq. Ft.
Address Date Price Official Actual Official Actual Class
406 W 146 27-Aug-10 $526,050 4,510 4,250 $117 $124 C0
410 Convent 21-Dec-10 $1,450,000 3,328 3,328 $436 $436 B1
413 W 148 30-Dec-10 $1,120,000 4,760 4,400 $235 $255 B1
761 St Nic 16-Nov-10 $707,500 5,673 5,400 $125 $131 C5
466 W 144 01-Oct-10 $2,000,000 5,895 5,775 $339 $346 B1
197 E’combe 06-Oct-10 $923,793 2,802 3,334 $330 $277 C5
423 W 141 18-Nov-10 $1,100,000 3,440 3,150 $320 $349 C0
515 W 152 31-Jan-11 $610,000 3,764 3,871 $162 $158 B3
524 W 140 15-Dec-10 $920,000 2,825 2,430 $326 $379 C3
102 E’combe 01-Oct-10 $525,000 3,790 3,400 $139 $154 A9

Red lines are 1 and 2 family. Blue is 3 family. Black is 4+ family & SROs.

There are fewer sales to work off of, and none of the shells were in as bad shape as the ones near Mount Morris (the West Harlem shells all had windows), so it’s hard to do an exact comparison. Also, some of the sales on the list had odd histories with auctions and lis pendens just before the last sale – I’m not sure they’re good comps since other things may have been in play on those sales.

Regardless, while one sale did hit $2M, what you’ll notice is that the price per square foot for that sale was only mid-$300s/sq. ft. – about $100/sq. ft. lower than in Central/South Harlem. Only one sale got above $400/sq. ft.

When I did the same analysis 5 months ago I saw the same trend – West Harlem prices just aren’t as high on the high end – which leads me to the same conclusion – West Harlem is a great place if you want to pay a bit less for well-kept house. That’s also consistent with the low prices in South Washington Heights – just north of Sugar Hill.

The other conclusion is that because there’s less of a gap between shells and the high end there’s less opportunity to make money renovating a shell in West Harlem than further south.

Sugar Hill & Hamilton Heights Townhouse Sales, Early 2010

Continuing with an examination of townhouse sales this year, this time I’m looking at Sugar Hill and Hamilton Heights…

[Remember that price per square foot is generally pretty inaccurate because the measurement of townhouses is not consistent – some include the ground (basement) level in the square footage, others don’t.]

Higher end properties

Sugar Hill

  • 2/17/2010 – 614 West 148th Street, $1,316,199, 3,000 sq. ft., $438/sq. ft. – SRO restricted
  • 4/21/2010 – 545 West 149th Street, $1.095M, 3,264 sq. ft., $335/sq. ft. – SRO restricted
  • 5/19/2010 – 413 West 154th Street, $1.2M, 4,368 sq. ft., $274/sq. ft. – Landmarked, not SRO restricted, Aging ’80s renovations, English basement, 25′ foot wide

Hamilton Heights

  • 1/20/2010 – 410 West 145th Street, $900K, 3,608 sq. ft., $249/sq. ft. – Landmarked, not SRO restricted, on busy commercial street
  • 3/3/2010 – 522 West 142nd Street, $895,638, 2,872 sq. ft., $311/sq.ft. – Not SRO restricted
  • 6/4/2010 – 554 West 142nd Street, $1.12M, 4,543 sq. ft., $246/sq. ft. – SRO restricted

What’s shocking here is that nothing sold on Hamilton Terrace, Convent Avenue, or the prime, landmarked blocks in Hamilton Heights (with house numbers in the 400s). The other rather shocking thing is the generally low prices. With the high end of Mount Morris Park now pushing $2M, the highest sale in Sugar Hill was barely over $1.3M, and calling $895K “higher end” just feels odd to me…

We actually went through 413 West 154th Street during our search. It sold for more than we expected. A nearly identical sister townhouse just around the corner on St. Nick had sold in August of 2009 for $1.05M and it was recently renovated. 413 needed $200K to $300K in renovations. Still, it was a very solid house in good repair. If you didn’t mind the aging renovations there was nothing that needed to be done.

Low end properties

Sugar Hill

  • 2/16/2010 – 844 St. Nick, $775K, 5,195 sq. ft, $149/sq. ft. – Huge ark of a house on a small lot, had certificate of no harassment and approved plans (under 1968 building code) for renovation to 2 family, some original details, lots of charm with a lot of big huge rooms
  • 4/14/2010 – 427 West 146th Street, $450K, $165/sq. ft. – Habitable, SRO-restricted
  • 5/18/2010 – 521 West 150th Street, $250K, $89/sq. ft. – SRO restricted

Hamilton Heights

  • 1/29/2010 – 48 Hamilton Place (near 140th St), $450K, 3,146, $143/sq. ft. – Active, occupied SRO
  • 2/5/2010 – 505 West 144th Street, $425K, 3,468 sq. ft., $122/sq. ft – Had certificate of no harassment, estate sale, some interesting original details, but smelled (badly) of urine, and on a block that is a bit rough at times

A few of these houses we knew pretty well. We had gone through 844 St. Nick a couple times. It was a wonderful ark of a house with huge rooms, great bones, some original details, a certificate of no harassment, and approved plans for conversion to 2 family (under 1968 building code). It was owned by a friend and initially we thought we couldn’t afford it, then he confided what he really wanted and we bid $765K, but he already had a verbally accepted offer for $775K and so we didn’t get it.

505 West 144th Street was always the one we’d bring up when we got discouraged and thought we weren’t going to be able to buy a townhouse. We went through it twice. Despite the strong sense of dog urine (a ‘caretaker’ had a dog in there for years and didn’t walk it very often), it had some real charm. But ultimately we walked away because we didn’t feel comfortable or safe on the block at night.

With the exception of 521 West 150th, low end prices were slightly higher than I would have expected – especially given the stagnation in the neighborhood in the higher end properties. There’s less of a gap between shells and high end properties than there is in Mount Morris Park which means less opportunity to make a profit from renovation.

It would seem Hamilton Heights and Sugar Hill are are the place to buy if you want a higher end property that needs minimal renovation – the properties are going for a half million less than they are 20 blocks south. What might be hurting sales is the lack of services. Mount Morris Park and South Harlem have great restaurants, grocery stores, etc. Those are sorely lacking in Hamilton Heights / Sugar Hill.

Hamilton Heights Comp – 505 West 144th Street

505 West 144th Street, Hamilton Heights, HarlemThis townhouse is one that we kept coming back to. There were times when we thought we might not be able to afford to get a townhouse and when those times came up 505 West 144th Street was always one of the ones we’d bring up that we could afford. In many ways it was the financially safe option.

When we were looking at it it was priced at $679K. Last month it finally sold for $425K. When we were bidding on it we went as high as $430K and they came down to $450K but then we withdrew our bid completely after spending an evening walking around the street. Even though it was just across Amsterdam Avenue from one of the best blocks in Harlem it was a remarkably rough block. The time we walked the block at night while we were bidding, it was summer, the windows were open and the salsa and merengue music was blaring from the windows. We realized that while the house itself had potential, the block didn’t have that much potential. It was never going to be a “good” block – at least not in the next 15 or 20 years. That would always limit the price of this townhouse, so we stopped budding on it. A few months later we second guessed our decision not to proceed on it so we walked the block again. This time as Dan was walking down one side of the street and I was walking down the other side, two “low income” women were yelling at each other and just about got into a fist fight as Dan passed them. He didn’t feel safe and that was absolutely the end of our thinking about 505 W 144.

On the plus side, the apartment building on the other side of the street and down a bit is where George Gershwin lived for a number of years, and there are 3 or 4 large apartment buildings on the block that have been designated part of an economic development zone and are getting 10-20 years of no real estate taxes in exchange for being redeveloped. One rooming house on the block has been gutted and turned into a condo and one building has been turned over to it’s tenants and is now a co-op. So the block is improving, but it’s still far from what we were looking for.

Here are the details…

Sale Price: $425,000
Sale Date: 5 February 2010
Square Feet: 3,468
Price Per Sq Ft: $122
Dimensions: 16.5 x 52 (no extensions)
DOB Classification: 2 family
HPD Classification: 1 class A apartment + 9 class B rooms
SRO Restricted: YES with certificate of no harassment
DOF Market Value: $1.13M
Annual taxes (2010): $3,039

It’s interesting that we paid the identical price per square foot for our place that the buyer paid for 505 W 144th – $122/sq. ft. but we feel like we made the right choice buying our place over this one.

The question then is if someone purchased this building what’s the best usage? Given the block I’d say it should be a 3 family rental with unremarkable finishes. You’d want three family instead of 4 to keep the taxes low. The ground floor would be a floor through 1 bedroom garden apartment. The parlor floor would be a large studio apartment. On the parlor floor the staircase is a switchback in the center of the building. That limits the layout options, hence a studio apartment on that floor. However, there are some interesting original details that could be preserved. Then the top two floors would be a nice, large 2(+) bedroom unit. There are original details on the master/mistress level, but not much of any on the top floor.

Given the block, I don’t see an owner living in this townhouse. IMHO, it’s value is purely as a rather average rental property.

Rough numbers… I’d conservatively say $1500 for the garden rental, $1,000 for the parlor studio and $2,000 for the top two floors. So $4,500/mo in income or $54K/yr. Assuming $1K/mo goes to running the building ($taxes, utilities, etc.), you could support a mortgage of about $600K off the rental income. At 80% financing that means the max value after renovations is about $750K and they have about $325K for renovations.

Renovations are a bit challenging because the house absolutely reeks of piss and shit. A “caretaker” had lived there for a number of years and during that time he didn’t walk his dog very much and the dog just did it’s business in the house. That means all the wood floors have to be torn out, the floor in the basement chopped up, removed and repoured, and Urine Off used liberally throughout the house. There’s also a fair amount of mold on the top floor – so all the “new” sheetrock walls on that floor need to be torn out and replaced. The plaster walls on the other levels are mold-proof, so they’d be OK. The building also needs all new electrical, plumbing as well as completely new kitchens and baths. It’s pushing it to get all of that done for $325K and bring it all up to code to get the new C of O, which means it’s not going to be very high quality.

There are some interesting original details. The triple mirror just inside the front door was incredible. It could be a great place, but I doubt it ever will be…

Delapidated wreck of a bathroom in a Harlem townhouseOld mirror in a dilapidated townhouse in Harlem
Disgusting old kitchen in Harlem townhouse wreckRun down hallway in old Harlem townhouse wreck

The one funny story from seeing this house was when the seller’s broker (Jean Adams of Prudential Douglas Elliman) was going down the dark, filthy staircase between the parlor and basement levels. She was a woman who carried herself with a fair amount of dignity but she was wearing flats walking down a staircase that was covered in rat droppings and god knows what else. She very calmly said “Wait a moment, I’ve got something in my shoe”. She didn’t have socks or stockings on, so that meant she had gotten what was probably rat feces in her shoe against her bare skin. Given what she had to endure to show that house, I had huge respect for her. Of course, she could have dressed differently… I for one always wore boots with steel soles and toes when I went through houses like that…