The delicate art of selling an apartment next to a prison

By Virginia K. Smith  | December 16, 2015 - 8:59AM

Even in New York City's hot market, not every deal goes off without a hitch. In our new feature Sold! we look at sales that almost didn't happen—and how the sellers managed to make it work.

The problem:

 A fifth-floor walk-up, an in-progress construction site next door, or a prison right across the street? Separately, each of the factors might give a buyer pause, but on their own, "it was a triple whammy," says Citi Habitats agent Terry di Paolo of a recent sale of a two-bedroom in Boerum Hill.

"The apartment itself was gorgeous," he remembers. "It was bright, wonderful, it showed well. But when people started thinking about it after the fact, that’s when things would really unravel." 

And even though a neighborhood prison doesn't really pose immediate quality-of-life issues—as di Paolo points out, it's not like the inmates are roaming the street, and the noise level is far lower than that of a bar or restaurant—at some open houses, the detention center next door would be the only topic of conversation.

The negotiation:

While the neighborhood prison was a frequent topic of conversation, the construction site next door and the amount of stairs involved were actually bigger sticking points with prospective buyers, says di Paolo.

Given that it was a two-bedroom, families would come look at the place, then balk at the prospect of schlepping a stroller up the stairs. To expand the pool of prospective buyers, he removed photos from the listing showing the second bedroom as a nursery (the sellers themselves had kids), and tweaked the description to emphasize the area's amenities, and easy access to trains.

As for the construction, the project was one of those long-stalled casualties of the recession, and di Paolo had to do some digging to reassure buyers they wouldn't be living with years of jackhammer noise—or end up having their views blocked. "That scares people more than anything," he says. The property had changed hands several times, and to get to the bottom of it, he first contacted the original broker who'd sold the property, then dug up details on PropertyShark, and eventually was able to get in touch with the developer behind the project for details.

"I had print-outs at every open house about the construction," he said. "And as it turned out, it was a small two-story project, so it wasn't going to block views from the apartment."

Ultimately, after one offer fell apart, di Paolo and his seller decided to drop the price from $675,000 to $640,000 to speed up the sale, and a buyer materialized. "In the end, it was space, price, and location, which are always the biggest factors," he explains. "It was a young guy who needed to get to Manhattan for work, and the apartment was just a few blocks from the Borough Hall stop.

The takeaway:

Besides the old saw of "location, location, location," if you do have something in the neighborhood that might give buyers pause, the more information you can offer, the better. And, of course, a $35,000 price chop never hurts, either.


How one tricky sale ended in negotiations over the buyer's takeout bills

Air rights map lets you know if developers may be headed for your neighborhood

Condo owners: beware this tricky fine print in the contract before you rent

Sellers: why pricing your apartment lower can get you more money—even in a hot market

Everything must go: how to sell an apartment with everything in it

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