The headaches of owning a Manhattan house are obvious. No super when a pipe bursts. No doorman to sign for deliveries. Trash cans that spill. Crazies on the stoop.
Ah, but … “You’re getting your very own castle,” says Brown Harris Stevens’s Paula Del Nunzio. Want to play the drums at 4 a.m.? Paint your door in Peter Max sunbursts? Unless you’re in a landmark district, you probably can, and you are in rarefied territory: There are only a few thousand one-family houses in Manhattan. The go-it-alone romance is part of the equation. Prudential Douglas Elliman’s Leonard Steinberg says that whereas his apartment buyers usually focus on stuff like water pressure, “with townhouses, I’ve had people come to listen to the birds chirping.”
As it happens, single-families are having something of a moment. Available inventory in Manhattan is down from last year, to 516, according to appraiser Jonathan Miller. Sales, which started the year slowly, have picked up, particularly at the very high end. From June to December 2011, only one downtown house with an asking price over $9 million went into contract; in the past six months, nine did. Weirdly, cost may be a factor, even in that elite market: Luxury townhouses can be cheaper on a price-per-square-foot basis than top-shelf apartments, and prices for many single-families have yet to catch up to increasing demand.
The Least Expensive
392 Audubon Avenue
This eighteen-foot-wide brick three-story is an estate sale; the previous owners lived there for four decades. It’ll need a major refresh and doesn’t have a backyard, but it isn’t a shell and, according to StreetEasy, is the most affordable single-family house in the borough. The first floor is zoned for a storefront.
Broker: Svetlana Choi, Bellmarc Realty Photo: Michelle Feffer/New York Magazine
10 Sylvan Terrace
Built in 1882, this landmarked three-bedroom wood-frame house has five fireplaces and a backyard just big enough for a table and two chairs. Because Sylvan Terrace’s uniform look makes it popular with filmmakers”Boardwalk Empire has shot there”the fees they pay for tapings are used to defray taxes, meaning that the annual nut for this house is just $2,088.
Broker: Moises Santana, Halstead Property. Photo: Courtesy of the Broker
Price: $5.4 Million
27 Harrison Street
The mostly original façade and upstairs window frames show off this Federal-style townhouse’s 1796 roots, though inside, all but a few beams have been hidden by renovations. It was built by John McComb, who was the first New York starchitect (he built Gracie Mansion and City Hall). Originally on Washington Street, the 4,000-square-foot house was moved to its present site when Independence Plaza was built in the early seventies.
Brokers: Patrick Lilly and Martin Eiden, the Corcoran Group Photo: Michelle Feffer/New York Magazine
Price: $40 Million
34 East 62nd Street
It’s not built yet, but this four-bedroom is planned for the notorious parcel that once held physician Nicholas Bartha’s house before he blew it up during contentious divorce proceedings in 2006. Once built, it will be one of the first LEED-certified townhouses in the city, with a geothermal well to run the HVAC system.
Brokers: Lisa Verdi and Paige Nelson, Sotheby’s International Realty Photo: Courtesy of the Broker
Price: $3.495 Million
75 1/2 Bedford Street
A stop on many Greenwich Village walking tours, this house has an exceedingly lively history despite its limitations as living space. It’s just 9.5 feet wide, which (after you subtract the stairwell) makes for some oddly proportioned, if charming, rooms. They’ve been occupied by four famous residents: the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, Margaret Mead, John Barrymore, and Cary Grant.
Brokers: Bo Poulsen, Vladimir Luzader and Robert Treanor, Town Residential Photo: Michelle Feffer/New York Magazine; Bettmann/Corbis (Millay); Everett Collection (Grant)
The Only Completely Freestanding Mansion
Price: $14.95 Million
351 Riverside Drive
Freestanding single-family houses”those with exposures on all sides”are truly rare in Manhattan. At the moment, it appears that there’s only one on the market: the Schinasi Mansion on the Upper West Side, named after the tobacco trader who commissioned it in 1907. (There’s another listing downtown, 38 Bethune, that’s fully detached, but one wall is mere inches from its neighbor.) The Schinasi house is just ridiculously royal: twelve bedrooms, eleven baths, solid-oak banisters that are nearly a foot wide. Down below street level, there’s a remnant of a tunnel that once led to the Hudson River and may have been used to haul in hooch during Prohibition.
Broker: Tod Mercy, the Corcoran Group Photo: Courtesy of the Broker