As most luxury projects raise skyward in Manhattan, a completely different type of residential offering is simultaneously being built on a more modest scale to compete for high-net-worth buyers: townhouses.
When most New Yorkers hear the word townhouse, they likely think of that status symbol brownstone or classic brick home built near the turn of the 20th century on the Upper East Side, or in the West Village or Brooklyn Heights. But the new crop of townhouses maintains the privacy and charm of these classic homes, while borrowing many modern features, like high ceilings and luxurious finishes from the new construction condo world. Oftentimes, new townhouses are attached to a luxury condo development, which means buyers can also take advantage of convenient services and a full suite of amenities, experts say.
“Owning a traditional townhouse comes with a lot of responsibility and maintenance,” said Samantha Rudin, the vice president of Rudin Management Company, the developer of the 200-unit, Greenwich Lane project, which includes five townhouses with entrances on the quiet and tree-lined West 11th Street. (The Greenwich Lane is co-developed by Rudin Management Company and Global Holdings.) “But these new townhouses are stress free,” she continued, noting that while each has a private entrance, they’re attached to a full-service doorman building that receives packages, handles garbage and snow removal, and deals with any maintenance issues.
“To have your own standalone residence, yet be completely connected to building with a full suite of amenities attracts buyers who may have been hesitant to enter the townhouse market before,” said Corcoran Sunshine’s senior sales director, Dan Tubb, who’s selling the final townhouse, listed at $25 million. “You get the best of both worlds—a townhouse with luxury services and amenities.”
New townhouses improve on potential deal breakers in classics
Owning a New York City townhouse has always been considered a status symbol, experts say, and one that people who crave privacy and the feeling of a single-family home in an urban environment gravitate toward.
But many young buyers who want to live downtown in a place with the charm and the privacy that a townhouse offers are turned off by this type of property’s constraints, said Brett Wolfe, the managing director for sales and marketing at Manhattan-based development company, Property Markets Group (PMG).
Unless someone is willing to do a complete gut renovation, they’re often stuck with low ceilings, a relatively narrow footprint, a sometimes dreary or dark interior, and too many stairs, Mr. Wolfe said, that aren’t conducive to modern living. “And even with a gut renovation,” he added, “they’re still constrained by the existing façade.”
New construction townhouses, on the other hand, like the four that PMG built attached to the 10 Sullivan Street development in SoHo—the final one at 20 Sullivan St., which is listed by Compass for $14.955 million—have more of a loft-like feeling.
“We can adjust ceiling heights—and we do—and do anything we want with the facades,” Mr. Wolfe said, noting that 20 Sullivan is 6,300-plus square feet, with 12-foot ceilings on the parlor floor, and 9-foot ceilings in the rest of the house. “Having the flexibility to maximize the home’s size is a huge benefit.”
A new project at 11 Beach Street in Tribeca, like 20 Sullivan, has three triplex townhouses that are as big as many penthouses, ranging in size from 4,700 to 6,100 square feet. They also are wider than a typical townhouse, at 23 feet across, with ceilings as high as 13 feet.
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“Our buyers will likely be people who are used to townhouse living, but like the scale of these homes, with the access to amenities from a full-service building,” said Douglas Elliman broker Dina Lewis, who will be selling the 11 Beach Street townhouses—likely priced between $10 million and $12 million—when they hit the market in the fall.
Modern townhouses are also cropping up in cities like Washington, D.C., Miami and Los Angeles, where the AIRE Santa Monica project, which has two townhouses remaining on the market out of 10 total in the development, dealt with the problem of having too little outdoor space attached and too little light inside head-on.
“These townhouses look like something you’d find in Mykonos,” said broker Don Heller of The Agency. Priced at $1.578 million and $1.988 million, they use an architectural design with floor-to-ceiling glass doors, double-height ceilings and a white exterior, with a significantly larger sundeck than what you’d typically find in the area. “There’s a bright and airy feeling inside the units,” he continued, “thus the name.”
And when it comes to having too many stairs, many new townhouses take the easy solution: an elevator in units whenever possible, plus laundry chutes on every floor that go straight to the lower level laundry room.
For instance, 20 Sullivan has both a full-size elevator that goes up to the roof deck, and laundry chutes throughout to up the convenience factor. The remaining Greenwich Lane townhouse also has an elevator, as do both duplex townhomes in a project at 20 East End Avenue, one townhouse at 11 Beach Street, and one townhouse-like maisonette at 550 Vanderbilt in Brooklyn.
Modern townhomes offer the convenience of a full-service building
In many older townhouses in cities like New York and Washington, D.C., a big negative of owning a townhome is dealing with maintenance, said developer Edward Baquero, the president of Corigin Real Estate Group, who’s completing the 20 East End Avenue project, in which the townhouses will be listed starting at $10.25 million in the fall. “We find that there are people who really want this homey lifestyle,” Mr. Baquero said, “but they want the conveniences of a condominium, and everything handled for them.”
Townhouses connected to full-service buildings do it all, experts say, from doorman service to handyman repairs and even snow removal.
At 550 Vanderbilt in the new Pacific Park development in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, three duplex maisonette residences that have private entrances but also doors from inside the main building, have access to all the conveniences that condo residents do. “You get to have townhouse-style living without all of the headaches,” said Nest Seekers broker Ryan Serhant, who is selling the first maisonette, recently listed for $4.65 million.
They also offer amenities that are typical of luxury condo living
Some of the newest townhouses in Manhattan have built-in amenities to rival any condo project. At 11 Beach Street in Tribeca, for instance, each townhouse will have its own private subterranean spa made of imported stone, which features a private pool, steam room, sauna and exercise area.
“This area is beautiful, and looks like a piece of art,” said Ms. Lewis, who noted that townhouse residents will also have access to the main building’s full fitness center, children’s playroom, and rooftop outdoor space. “So few homes are going to offer this,” she said.
20 Sullivan has a private parking garage, a media room, exercise room, and multiple outdoor spaces, including an indoor/outdoor sitting area off the kitchen, a terrace off the master bathroom, and a rooftop entertaining area with a full outdoor kitchen and fireplace.
550 Vanderbilt has a rooftop landscaped terrace for residents, with an outdoor kitchen and an array of garden plots, and AIRE Santa Monica PUBLIC Bikes, plus a bike room for tune-ups and repairs.
20 East End Avenue, which is designed by famed architect Robert A.M. Stern, has refined and elegant amenity spaces in the main building, including a library stocked with a collection of books that Mr. Stern curated on the history of New York, a billiards room with a bar for storing cordials, a wine cellar that stores 8,000 bottles, and a private dining room for hosting intimate dinner parties. On the outside of the Upper East Side building is a gated private motor court.
“This is all integrated to be an extension of your home,” Mr. Baquero said of the 1920s-inspired project. “The idea is that you can buy a somewhat modest, 5,000- square-foot townhome, but you can live as if it were a 20,000-square foot mansion because of all these extra spaces.”
A small—but important—part of the market
While developers are banking on townhouses in many U.S. cities, they’re still a relatively small portion of the overall market mix, experts say.
In Washington, D.C., townhouses make up 23% of the current home listings, and 18% of new construction in the D.C. metro area, according to Rob Carney, the Arlington, Virginia-based senior vice president of TTR Sotheby’s International Realty, citing the area’s multiple listing service, MRIS.
While they make up a small portion of the market, the look and feel of townhouses has changed in recent years to meet the high expectations of the luxury buyer, Mr. Carney said.
In projects like the Ballston Row, Potomac Yard and Cathedral View in Arlington, Virginia, ceiling heights have gotten higher; the homes have gotten larger; and the main level has most often been designed as an open loft-style space, Mr. Carney said.
In San Francisco, new construction townhouses are incredibly rare, said The Agency’s managing partner of the new San Francisco office, Rachel Swann, who noted that she always thinks of hassles when considering older townhouse resale. While in Los Angeles, luxe townhouses, like AIRE Santa Monica and a new project at 1345 Havenhurst in West Hollywood are becoming more common.A garden view at 1345 Havenhurst in West Hollywood
“The younger demographic of buyers wants some features of a single family-home,” said Paul Lester, L.A.-based brokerage The Agency’s partner and founder, “but also the advantages of condo living.”
In Manhattan, Mr. Wolfe shared recent data that showed how out of the 10,552 new development units that have launched for sale since 2014, just 70 of those have been townhouses—and only 24 of them new construction.
“This is a very small amount of real estate,” said Leonard Steinberg, the president of Compass, “which makes new construction townhouses a great collector’s item.”
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