Investing In A Pre-War Manhattan Condo Apartment

Posted by Wei Min Tan on November 4, 2018

A pre-war Manhattan condominium is highly desirable by both buyers and tenants because of its scarcity and charm.   The “war” referred to here is the Second World War and the reference date is 1945.  A pre-war condo is hence a condo building built before 1945.

Before 1945, all apartments were of the Cooperative ownership structure.  The condominium ownership structure only got introduced in the 1960s.  Hence, most Coops are prewar while most condos are post war.

So how does a pre war condo exist?  Well, it happens when a developer converts a pre-war building, usually a commercial or rental building, to condominium structure.  A lot of these conversions happened during the 2006 to 2008 development wave.

 

pre war condo building
The Apthorp of Renaissance Revival architecture in Upper West Side

Scarcity

Condominiums make up only 10 percent of residential housing inventory in Manhattan.   While supply of condos is limited, supply of a pre war condo is even more scarce.  Why not just get a pre-war Coop?  Reason is that a condo does not require board approval and is investor friendly in that the owner can rent out the condo at any time.  A Condo is preferable to a Coop.

High Ceilings and Thicker Walls

A key feature of a pre-war building is the high ceilings.  Pre-war buildings have ceilings of between 10 to 12 feet while post war buildings’ ceilings are around 8 to 9.5 feet.  The extra height of a pre-war condo makes the apartment feel larger and more spacious.  This also has to do with developers’ changing perspectives and profit-oriented motives over time.

Pre war condos have thicker walls hence sound insulation is better.

 

Pre war condo manhattan
High ceiling at 88 Greenwich Street

 

Character

Many New Yorkers like the character of older buildings.  For example, pre-war condos such as 99 John Street and 88 Greenwich Street are of the Art Deco style.   The Ansonia, converted to residential condo from hotel, in the Upper West Side is of the Beaux Arts style.   The Grand Madison on Fifth Avenue, also converted from a hotel, is of the Renaissance Revival style.

Pre war buildings have more ornate designs on the outside when compared to new buildings that are often all glass which some say lack character.

 

Downsides

A downside of pre-war condos is that windows are smaller when compared to new all-glass buildings that have floor-to-ceiling windows.  In Soho lofts where most are pre-war, the floors may be creaky.  Creaky floors are usually not an issue in large converted buildings.

 

Notable Pre War Condos in Manhattan

Walker Tower in Chelsea

The Plaza on Fifth Avenue

88 Greenwich Street, 99 John Street in Financial District

Ansonia in Upper West Side

260 Park Avenue South in Flatiron

The Grand Madison in Madison Square Park

Apthorp in Upper West Side

 

In summary, pre-war condominium apartments are a very good investment.  It boils down to selecting the right apartment with the proper exposure in a highly desirable building.

 

 

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Wei Min Tan is a property broker focusing on Manhattan, New York luxury condominiums and foreign buyers. He is often interviewed by the media including CNN, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal on the subject of foreign buyers of Manhattan property.