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What is a "white-glove building"—and where can I find one?

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If you hear the term "white-glove building" and immediately think of Downton Abbey and its armies of servants, you're not so far off. So says Kirk Henckels, director of Stribling Private Brokerage, the luxury division of Stribling & Associates.

"'White glove' refers to the highest caliber of top-of-the-line apartment buildings, where the doormen have always worn a dignified uniform and white gloves,” Henckels explained. "It is also possibly a subliminal reference to how immaculately such buildings are maintained. You certainly never hear of a 'brown-glove building!'"

Traditionally, white-glove buildings have been located on Park and Fifth avenues on the East Side, and Central Park West and Riverside Drive on the West Side, according to Adam Frisch, managing principal at Sierra Residential.

“The concept of a doorman and an apartment where very rich people live is a very New York thing which emerged in the 1920s,” Frisch said. "The old townhouses on Park and Fifth Avenues began to be torn down and the idea that very wealthy people would live in apartments was introduced."

The buildings that replaced these townhouses were no ordinary apartment buildings.

"These homes tended to be full-floor units, with a private entrance and doormen who would wear white gloves to assist residents," Frisch said. At the time, developers were "uncertain whether wealthy people would want to live that way, but it took off like wildfire," he added.

"It was so popular, in fact, that townhouses are only about 5 to 10 percent of the luxury inventory, even today," Frisch said.

White-glove buildings include condos, coops, and rental buildings. And nowadays, builders of new luxury complexes are getting in on the act, meaning you don't necessarily have to look for prewar buildings in Manhattan to find white-glove service. 

"It’s all about the level of service, not the age or type of building,” said Joshua D. Arcus, president of Siderow Residential Group. “When I hear someone asking for a 'white-glove building,' to me that means they want the type of building that has a fully-staffed lobby with a doorman, concierge and porter who are all there to help you get a cab or help you take your bags out of a cab. It means a clean, sleek building with impeccable service."

In today's highly varied real estate market, there isn't a hard and fast rule for what white-glove means for a building's prices, though it's a good bet it won't make an apartment cheaper. Frisch again: "In terms of price point, I don’t think it has to do with a building being white-glove. A new condo building in TriBeca might very well cost the same or more than a co-op building on the Upper East Side that’s considered white-glove."

 

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