Spit and Polish: A slick lobby renovation can pay for itself and then some

New York Magazine

S.Jhoanna Robledo
Dec. 26, 2005

Plastic surgery is painful and expensive, so it’s no wonder tenants of one Jane Street building are divided over the need for an extreme makeover. At a recent shareholders’ meeting, a larger-than-usual crowd congregated in the lobby—which is a bit shabby but not a dump—to discuss if they should rip up the flooring, strip and repaint the walls, and install sleek furniture and light fixtures. The price? More than $100,000 to be shouldered by homeowners as a onetime assessment. (A scaled-down renovation would cost $35,000; residents could also opt to do nothing.) Annie Yanovsky, a resident who describes the building as “a mishmash of economics,” where bankers and rock stars live next to artists and writers, suggested that some tenants might run into trouble there: “I said not everyone could afford it,” she says. To which she says a neighbor offered this cutting response: “You need to get with the program.”

It’s a scene played out all over New York these days, as buildings feel the pressure to prettify so as not to lose affluent buyers to the fancy new construction next door. “For older buildings to compete, they have to get a face-lift,” says Eddie Shapiro, CEO of boutique brokerage firm Nest Seekers International. Just as in many new condominiums, some are hiring name architects to redesign lobbies and hallways. “People don’t want to live in an also-ran,” agrees Richard Grossman, director of sales for Halstead’s downtown offices. Never mind the epic fights over décor, or that the apartments themselves aren’t changing a bit. This trend is all about curb appeal, and, says Grossman, it pays off: “You reap the rewards tenfold in a higher sales price. If a building is putting in $5,000 [per resident] in upgrades, you’ll see a $50,000 increase in value [per apartment].”

That’s precisely why Corcoran’s Kenny Blumstein, who heads the board of his building on East 11th Street (pictured), championed gilding his lobby with high-end finishes, including yards of marble and terrazzo inlaid with mother-of-pearl. (Only two of the four board members, including Blumstein, pushed hard for the pricey renovations.) “Buyers apply new-construction standards to older buildings. You have to prove yourself worthy,” he says. “We’ve had certain apartments turn over in resale, and they could’ve gone for more had the lobby been done.” And in this buyers-love-me-love-me-not market, it may be the ticket to survival. “With all this bubble talk, it’s even more important to make sure everything’s top quality,” says Shapiro.