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2A vs. 3A vs. 4A

When identical apartments battle for buyers.

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Illustration by Julia Rothman  

Ashley Gum intended to sell his Brooklyn Heights one-bedroom last year, but his broker, Corcoran’s Maggie Ross, recommended touch-ups and a kitchen makeover first. By the time it was ready, the two discovered an awkward surprise: An essentially identical apartment one floor below had just hit the market. Since it carried a price of $445,000, their own price was all but dictated to them, and they were all set to list theirs at $465,000. Then the unit above came on the market, too—at $485,000. Eager to appear ready to deal, they repositioned themselves at $455,000.

It’s hard enough trying to sell in this skittish market. When you find yourself head-to-head with neighbors—where potential buyers can literally walk across the hall and make a deal—it can seem twice as difficult. “Disheartening,” admits Valerie Yin, whose East 40th Street one-bedroom gained two in-building rivals this summer. To start, buyers may find it suspect if a lot of units are listed at once. (Is the co-op underfunded? Do the pipes rattle? Is it noisy at night?) In showings, too, one apartment inevitably seems inferior by comparison, no matter how nice it’d look on its own. “Everybody who came to mine went to the others,” says Halstead’s Jill Sloane, who faced off with two neighbors when she sold her own condo.

With so much in common—amenities, location, policies—“there’s more clarity in how the differences are valued by the marketplace,” says appraiser Jonathan Miller. (How much are those Bisazza tiles and California Closets really worth?) In large, newish developments, where units can’t easily be differentiated by condition and apartments are frequently flipped, price wars can intensify and a “race to the bottom” can ensue, says Miller. “If someone underprices, it can hurt you,” adds Sloane, who’s handling a property with dozens of competitors.

Is there an upside? Dueling listings draw extra traffic to open houses, and that can translate to a fast sale, especially if someone gets outbid on another unit. (Ross and her client ended up making a quick all-cash sale.) Halstead’s Diana Ventura, who repped an uptown co-op with a next-door competitor, says, “With all the traffic that came in, we were able to sell them, separately, within a week of each other.” Her buyer? A woman who lived a few floors down.


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