The Market

Every apartment has its pigeon. Here are a few.

By Lorna Leibowitz  | January 28, 2011 - 7:56AM

Six years ago, I had a listing on Central Park South that was a beautiful park view apartment. There was just one little problem: The pigeons nesting on the balustrades outside the living room window. I could not sell that place because nobody could see past the pigeon poop.

Eventually, with the help of the super and some artfully laid sticky bird gel (pigeons apparently don't like it when their feet get sticky), we persuaded the pigeons to move on. As soon as they relocated, the apartment sold (well).

Over the years I have come to call the shortcomings of my new listings the “pigeon in the apartment". Here are some of the other “pigeons” I have dealt with over the past two decades:

  • A two-bedroom facing Carl Schurz Park on East End Avenue had a spacious layout and was lovely--with one exception: The kitchen was dark and narrow, roughly six feet wide compared to the average of seven feet. There was nothing we could do about the size of the kitchen. However, I was able to replace the old fluorescent light fixture with a new modern light, and that helped the appearance. We also left a bowl of oranges on the counter to distract the eye and give off a nice aroma.
  • Another pair of clients wanted to buy a seven-room apartment on West End Avenue. Originally a six room apartment, it now had seven rooms, as the current owner had purchased half of the adjacent apartment (the other half had been sold to the shareholders on the other side).  My buyers wanted the seller to prove the combination was a legal apartment by providing the Certificate of Completion issued by the Department of Buildings.  A drop-dead date for the deal gave the seller 90 days to supply the paperwork. Supposedly an expediter was hired and still 90 days later no certificate appeared. The deal died.  
  • Another East End story, this one involving an estate apartment with a balcony and a lovely view of the river. This apartment had been languishing on the market after a board turndown with another broker. Renovations had been done but were now at least ten years old. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was the cracked, peeling pink walls in the foyer, the cherubs on the ceiling, and the purple walls in the second bedroom. The solution was a skim coat of plaster and Benjamin Moore Navajo White paint. But even with the new look I still sensed something was wrong. I placed a call to someone I save for a very special kind of problem, a mystic who performed a sage brush ceremony to invite the spirit of the previous owner (who had died in the apartment) to move on, so that the new owners could move in. The apartment sold the following week.
  • Then there was the huge, combined estate-sale apartment at Lincoln Towers with three bedrooms and three baths and a balcony looking past the Trump Buildings on Riverside Blvd toward the Hudson River. The market was hot, but this property was poorly configured and while not totally neglected, the renovations were extremely dated. The island in the kitchen was a throwback to earlier styles and wasted a tremendous amount of space. While the apartment had been appraised at $1.6 million, I knew it would never sell in this condition.  We emptied the contents (including the hospital beds), took down the awkward room dividers that had been created to provide a music room for the previous owner, did the Benjamin Moore paint, scraped and refinished the floors and sold the apartment at just under $2 million.
  • A “Classic Six” in Washington Heights in a grand prewar building with a full-time doorman had a terrific, sprawling layout...and several pigeons. Nothing had been touched in decades, and the problems included excess clutter, antique electrical system, 1920’s original kitchen and bath, deteriorated walls and floors.  We could have sold it in short order at a discount for the lack of renovations. But the seller decided to renovate in order to get a better price in a down market and what a time he had! He didn’t realize that the board gets to approve the renovations and with his gruff manner he managed to incite them from the get-go. Of course, the board had the final say and delayed approval for months. When the plan finally was executed, the refrigerator stood in the middle of the kitchen as the designer/contractor had neglected to plan for a proper place for it. When the buyer finally came in, he needed to rip out the renovated kitchen in order to upgrade the electrical system.  All in all, a total waste of six months of time and money. This was a case where it would have been better to leave the apartment in estate condition, save the money that could never be recouped, and sell it quickly at the right price.
  • Maintenance was extremely high in this famous land-lease building, The Excelsior--at least twice as high as comparable apartments in similar neighborhood buildings. The solution to this pigeon:  offer the buyer a partial maintenance rebate for three years to be competitive with comparable apartments in buildings with more typical monthly costs. An additional pigeon here was the worn furniture and dated décor. My staging guru came in and rearranged the layout, using the good pieces that were there and supplementing with some rental furniture and pillows from Churchill Furniture.  To sweeten the deal, we also offered the buyers a renovation allowance of approximately $30,000. This apartment sold quickly while 14 similar dwellings in the building languished.

Bottom line: Every apartment has a pigeon, and you or your broker need to spot yours quickly and deal with it if you want to sell your place fast and at the best price.


Lorna Leibowitz is an associate broker at Prudential Douglas Elliman in Manhattan.



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