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Crown Molding Is King

Once that nice new-car smell wears off, hot developments don’t always measure up to prewar grandeur.

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The clients, who were moving from a sleek contemporary building in London, were adamant: “I said I wanted absolutely nothing prewar,” says Simone. She and her husband thought those apartments dark, depressing, and old. Two years ago, even a year ago, they would’ve ended up in one, predicts their broker, Corcoran’s John Gasdaska, so frenzied was the demand for new construction and conversions. “People were more easily persuaded to buy new construction,” he explains. “The mentality was new is better, and old is kind of passé.” In the end, after weeks of fruitless searching—the ceilings were too low in one new development; another at Time Warner was much too small for their large family—the British transplants got exactly what they said they didn’t need: a four-bedroom Park Avenue condo built in 1925.

Could the glass-is-king trend have finally peaked? A few brokers say that their buyers are reacquiring a taste for the traditional. “People are going back to resales, to prewars,” Gasdaska says. (According to a Corcoran market report, condo prices were flat last quarter.) And why not? The traditional charms of prewar buildings, says Warburg Realty’s Frederick Peters by way of reminder, never went away. “They’re just built more solidly,” says Peters, who also lauds their “wasted space, which can be a good thing. The foyer, the butler’s pantry—they make the apartment feel spacious and generous.” (New condos are often hyperefficiently laid out.) Unsurprisingly, a handful of high-profile developments such as 15 Central Park West, 110 Central Park South, and Barbizon 63 are incorporating prewar touches like long galleries, crown moldings, paneled doors, and grand foyers. “People aren’t just looking for stark modernism anymore,” says John Cetra, the architect of Barbizon 63.

That means new condos debuting on the market can no longer rely on the buzz of being new, competing instead on the merits of the apartments themselves. (There’s tons of competition, too; According to PropertyShark.com, there are 32,098 prewar buildings in Manhattan, versus 1,067 constructed since 2000.) “Buyers are pausing more and assessing their options, regardless of what they’re buying,” says Peters. In the end, says Gasdaska, his clients simply found what best fit their needs: “The new stuff just wasn’t quite right. They were almost too glitzy, too new.”


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