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Upper East Side Rowhouse Growth Spurt

No. 314 East 69th, left, is pretty much as it was in the late 1870s. Its neighbor No. 312, center, received a bow-front within the last few years and pale yellow No. 310 has sported a balcony for quite awhile.CreditRuby Washington/The New York Times

When does a coherent row of brownstones become a miscellany of masonry? That point is nearing or even past for the rowhouses on the south side of East 69th Street, from Second to First Avenues. Thirty years ago they were a nearly uniform group of charming dwellings. Now the string has broken, and these little pearls are skittering across the floor.

Not many blocks east of Third Avenue saw sustained rowhouse development, but for some reason in the late 1870s the developer James E. Ray favored this block with a particularly expansive row of 30 houses. He built the houses closer to Second, Nos. 310-344, three stories tall with a high stoop; for those closer to First, Nos. 346-368, he stopped at two stories and a stoop. Ray worked with several architects, and the variations are modest. But in the 20th century, the sweep of the row, especially the two-story models, was striking.

Ads for the houses began running in early 1880, when The New York Times offered No. 340 for rent for $65 per month. The 1880 census indicates that perhaps half the original residents were born abroad, with nativity noted as Germany, Austria, Bavaria, Prussia, Bremen and so on.

A rendering of the future and much enlarged 358 East 69th Street. CreditJalbert Architects

The number of residents in 19th-century rowhouses was far higher than we expect today. Henry Stadler, a gas fitter from Hesse, lived in the two-story house at 368 East 69th with nine family members and a boarder.

Even new houses were not always occupied as we might suppose: In 1883 The Herald offered the “Upper Part of First Class private house” at No. 334 with “private bathroom,” and in 1888 the same paper indicated that individual rooms at No. 324 were available, including the “magnificent” back parlor for $30 a month.

Each house enclosed dreams and hopes. In 1883 The Herald carried an ad from a “north German young lady” employed at 324 East 69th, who sought work as a governess and was “perfect in music, German and fancy needlework.”

Another East 69th Street striver identified himself in The Times in 1912 as “M. Heib” and announced: “Young Man wishes position as cook; understands French, Hungarian, German cooking; first class pastry man; speaks French, German, Hungarian; understands English.” Mr. Heib lived at No. 366, apparently as a boarder.

Hungarians, Czechs and other Central Europeans were increasing in the neighborhood and in 1915 the Hungarian Reformed Church of New York retained the architect Emery Roth to design its towered Secessionist-style church at 346 East 69th Street. The Herald described East 72nd Street as “the gateway to the Hungarian section in New York.”

After the church went up, change occurred in modest increments. A few owners de-stooped their houses, and Modernism arrived in 1960 when the builder Herman Axelrod gutted the front of 364 East 69th, replacing the old brownstone facade with plate glass and open balconies.

Another radical reconstruction occurred sometime after 1983, when 320 East 69th Street got a French provincial makeover. And at some point, the upper section of 310 East 69th Street received a clunky balcony, suggesting a need to pour boiling oil on unwanted guests.

Around this time the block association briefly consulted with me, and with Andrew S. Dolkart, about securing landmark designation for the block from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, but the idea was voted down. The architect William B. Gleckman owned No. 312, at the time nearly perfectly intact, and he objected to the proposal, dismissing the houses as having been built “for a very bourgeois public.”

A subsequent owner stripped off the old brownstone facing around 2010 and replaced it with an awkward full-height window bay. However, the building is still the same height as the flanking houses.

The other end of the block is in renovation ferment. Recently the firmDesign AIDD gave two-story-high 368 East 69th Street a glass box enclosure and a three-floor addition. That’s enough to make Mr. Axelrod’s 1960 facade look positively antique, but change is also coming to two-story 358 East 69th: an austere five-story high masonry facade with broad windows. It is built to sell; Thomas Wexler at the Corcoran Group is the broker; interior and exterior views may be found on the Corcoran website.

The townhouse is for sale for $7.5 million and Mr. Wexler said the reason the project went this way was simply “space — it doubles it”; the regular two-story houses with walk-out basements trade in the $3.5 million range. The reimagined No. 358 has a pool, an elevator, a wine cellar and will “fulfill your wildest dreams in unsurpassed luxury,” according to the Corcoran listing.

Mr. Wexler says that No. 358 is just the first — 360 and 362 East 69th Street are going to be rebuilt along the same lines. A final judgment of how the charm of the 21st century will stack up against that of the 19th will have to wait another year or so, when all three are completed.

 

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After a Short Nap, Harlem Is Back

After a Short Nap, Harlem Is Back

Julie Glassberg for The New York Times

Joel Feazell and Claudia Aguirre paid $920,000 for their home-to-be on West 120th Street in Harlem. The couple are midway through a renovation.

FOR a time, Claudia Aguirre and Joel Feazell lived happily in a two-bedroom one-bath co-op on the Upper West Side with their two daughters. But as the children grew, the space became increasingly cramped. In particular, they needed another bathroom. They began to hunt for a larger apartment, which eventually led them north of 110th Street. There, they spent months researching condominiums, co-ops and, finally, brownstones.

Julie Glassberg for The New York Times

Joel Feazell and Claudia Aguirre with their daughters, Paloma, left, and Daniela, on the steps

“It dawned on us that the price we would pay for one more bathroom on the Upper West Side would get us an entire brownstone in Harlem,” said Ms. Aguirre, the principal of M247 Dual Language Middle School on West 92nd Street.

So last fall, the couple bought an abandoned 17-foot-wide four-story row house on West 120th Street for $920,000. They are now midway through a gut renovation.

Ms. Aguirre and Mr. Feazell, who is a managing director at BNY Mellon, have joined a long list of middle- and upper-middle-class New Yorkers who moved to Harlem over the years in search of space and relative affordability. When real estate slumped in 2008, stories like theirs became less common, as glamorous new developments in a still-gentrifying Harlem suddenly seemed a risky bet. The median sales price in Harlem fell by nearly 16 percent between 2007 and last year, to $456,061, compared with less than 3 percent in Manhattan as a whole in the same period.

But in recent months, there have been signs of a resurgence, brokers and residents said. Inventory has fallen, with the number of apartments and brownstones for sale in Central Harlem, for example, decreasing by nearly 5 percent in 2011 compared with the previous year, versus less than 2 percent for all of Manhattan. During the same period, the median price in Central Harlem — the area from Morningside Avenue to the west and Fifth Avenue to the east, and from 110th Street north to 125th Street — jumped by nearly 18 percent, to $536,635. In East Harlem, from 97th Street to 125th Street east of Fifth Avenue, the median price increased by nearly 5 percent, to $440,000, in 2011.

This compares with an increase of just over 1 percent for all of Manhattan, according to Streeteasy data.

Sofia Song, the vice president for research of Streeteasy, said that increase could be attributed to a strong rental market and low interest rates — a combination that makes buying more attractive.

The short commute on the express trains to Midtown and downtown Manhattan is a plus, as are the growing number of businesses in the area.

“We have a flower shop, a cute cafe down the street and a ton of hip new restaurants that have opened,” said Melody Rollins Downes, who with her husband, Quintano Downes, recently spent $1.95 million on a renovated brownstone on West 120th Street, a few doors down from Ms. Aguirre and Mr. Feazell. Before the building was renovated, “it was a crack house and the basement level was a gambling spot,” she said. “But now, this whole block has been transformed and there is really a great vibe up here.”

Norman Horowitz, an executive vice president of Halstead Property who has sold several hundred properties over the last decade in Harlem, said, “Harlem was gentrifying before the recession, then there was a pause, and now the trend is picking up again.”

Some experts caution, however, that a Harlem recovery could be destabilized if a backlog of foreclosed or distressed properties went on the market. While figures are hard to come by, “there is a lot of hidden inventory, where banks are just holding on to these units, but have yet to put them up for sale,” said Willie Suggs, a well-known Harlem broker.

The supply of properties for sale has tightened for several reasons, brokers say. For one, condos built in the boom were more affordable to start with — usually around $1,000 per square foot and under — so deep price cuts on top of that ensured that many of the units were steadily, if slowly, bought up. Low interest rates and federal incentives also helped bolster sales.

The recession nearly turned off the financing spigot for new projects, and even now, with banks starting to lend again, developers are thinking twice before jumping back in the ring. Finally, when the market collapsed, some condominiums were converted to rentals.

At the Sedona, an 11-unit condominium at 346 East 119th Street, for example, just one apartment remains for sale. Three recent sales had multiple bids, said David Daniels, a vice president of Corcoran who represents the building. Unit 3A sold for $365,000, just $5,000 shy of the asking price, and 4A closed at $382,00, only $3,000 below asking. Unit 5A is now in contract for close to its asking price of $425,000 — even after a $15,000 increase in February.

Some developers are raising prices. This month, for example, Fifth on the Park, a 28-story brick-and-glass condominium at 120th Street and Fifth Avenue at Marcus Garvey Park, increased the price on many of its units, including No. 13C, a three-bedroom two-bath, by $10,000, to $953,000; and No. 19C, also a three-bedroom two-bath, by $16,000, to $959,000.

Hoping to buy an apartment in Harlem before prices rose precipitously, Molly Glenn and her boyfriend, Daniel Truax, searched for four months before they closed in December on an 800-square-foot two-bedroom on West 148th Street for $265,000. “It is everything we wanted,” said Mr. Truax, 26, who is the athletics ticket manager at Columbia University.

“While most of our friends are in Brooklyn,” said Ms. Glenn, also 26, a mechanical engineer at ThomasNet, “the parts of Brooklyn we really like are more expensive than here. I just didn’t see the point in spending more money to leave Manhattan and put a river between me and everything I do.”

Brownstones have also been selling at a clip, with the number of sales in Harlem up nearly 24 percent since 2008, to 47 sales last year, according to data from the appraisal firm Miller Samuel. A five-bedroom five-bath at 329 Convent Avenue on the western border of Harlem sold for $2.3 million, a $100,000 increase over its asking price. Nearby, 319 Convent Avenue sold for $1.97 million, far above the $1.6 million asking price.

“Normally, between Thanksgiving and Valentine’s Day we brokers go on vacation,” said Ms. Suggs, who is preparing to list two brownstones this spring for around $3 million each, a price tag not seen since the market crashed. “But not this year. People are willing to pay close to what they were paying prior to the market tanking, so we are doing our happy dance.”

Sensing that the market is turning, some developers are moving to bring new condos to the market. At 5 West 127th Street, a 13-unit condominium will go on the market in May. Mostly two-bedrooms, the apartments will have washers and dryers and granite countertops; some will have balconies. There will also a gym. Priced under $600 a square foot, the apartments range from $379,000, for a 698-square-foot one-bedroom with one bath, to $689,000, for a penthouse of 1,027 square feet with two bedrooms and two baths.

“Inventory is very low and the market is rebounding,” said Yoni Bak, the vice president for real estate development at Kane Ventures, the developer of the West 127th Street condos. Kane is preparing to break ground on a similar 15-unit project at 56-58 West 129th Street. “We are doubling down on Harlem right now,” Mr. Bak said, “because the prices for land are still reasonable up here.”

On West 116th Street, between Lenox Avenue and Fifth Avenue, L+M Development Partners is breaking ground on 85 market-rate condominiums. The project, still unnamed, is across from the Kalahari, a 249-unit condominium, now sold out, that the developers built in 2009. Like the Kalahari, the new development will include a gym and a community room, with prices somewhere in the $600-a-square-foot range.

“The finishes won’t be over the top,” said Lisa Gomez, the executive vice president for development at L+M. “We will be using wide plank floors and stone countertops, but we don’t think people are moving to Harlem for a fancy toilet bowl. They are moving to Harlem because they like the neighborhood or because they can afford more space for their money.”

But though prices are rising, they are still well below their peak. At the Sedona on East 119th Street, for example, 3A and 4A, the two units that recently sold, were listed for $445,000 each in 2010, and their recent sales prices represented an 18 percent and 14.2 percent discount respectively. And even after the price increases at Fifth on the Park, No. 13C is listed at a 24.4 percent discount from its original asking price of $1.26 million in 2008, while No. 19C is 27.3 percent below its original $1.32 million price.

Some builders contend that prices are still too low to justify new development. “At $500 to $600 a square foot,” said Michael K. Shah, the chief executive of DelShah Capital, a developer, “condo projects just don’t pencil out yet.” Prerecession condominium prices in Harlem were around $850 a square foot, he said, and until prices climb further, “there is just too slim a profit margin after factoring in the cost of construction and land — I don’t think you will see a lot of new development for at least another two to three years.”

Still, some brokers and residents insist that this market rebound is meaningful.

The Downeses had been living in a three-bedroom condominium on West 119th Street for six years before their growing family created a need for more space.

“We looked all over the city,” said Ms. Downes, an executive vice president of Pacific Investment Management Company, “but it was really hard to find any four-bedrooms for under $3 million.” When they found the five-bedroom house around the corner on West 120th Street, they began a slow negotiation with the developer over the $2 million price tag.

“Then one weekend morning I was out walking my dog, and saw two couples looking at the house, talking about making offers come Monday,” she said. “I went up to them and said, ‘Oh, we are already in contract, that is my house.’ ” She and her husband, who works on Wall Street, quickly closed the deal and moved in earlier this year.

“The market is very competitive right now,” she said. “We were told by our broker we could probably relist this house today and get $2.7 million for it.”

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Renovated UWS Townhouse Manse Asking $12.99M Enters Contract

Renovated UWS Townhouse Manse Asking $12.99M Enters Contract

304 West 90th Street 1

Given that we are currently in what might be called the late-summer doldrums of real estate activity, it should come as no surprise that during last week’s term of business, shortened by the holiday, we saw no stratospheric contract signings. The top deal, according to Donna Olshan’s Luxury Report, was for a Walker Tower three-bedroom listed for $13 million—neither that price nor the (admittedly mighty fine) particulars of the unit are very novel, however, and we’ll spare you the rundown. Standing one spot lower on the podium, asking $12.99 million, was yet another west-side townhouse, which seem lately to be moving at quite a clip. This one, a fresh renovation at 304 West 90th Street, might just be the most alluring in the bunch, despite its somewhat altitudinous locale.

Purchased in what we can only assume was considerably humbled condition in 2012 for $4.2 million by 304 W 90th LLC—which appears to be a subsidiary of Omek Capital, a New York townhouse-centric investment firm—the home, an 8,000 square-foot six-bedroom spread today contains all the niceties of modern mansion living, while maintaining the exterior charms of its 1900 birth date. The house “intelligently combines luxury with technology to create an unmatched living experience,” according to the listing held by David Kornmeier at Brown Harris Stevens. (Ah, luxury and technology. So that’s the magic formula!)

Of course it's Italian.

An elevator runs from the basement, which houses a gym and a walk-in wine room, up to the sixth-floor, which is comprised of a planted roof terrace complete with grill and cooking era. (Additional terraces lurk below.) The third story hosts a full-floor master suite, and just one flight up, window gazers begin to take in the best views in the neighborhood, afforded by the home’s positioning on a slight rise. Bathrooms are full of marble—Botticino, Carrara and Bianco. (Do not confuse, please, the contents of lavatories with the holdings of the wine room.)

With so much marble to scrub and vino to serve, it’s a good job the garden level offers maid’s quarters, and with en suite kitchenette, no less. After all, we certainly can’t have the generics getting mixed up in the crisper with the good stuff from Whole Foods.

Not the maid's kitchen.

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Is NYC’s townhouse market undervalued?

Is NYC’s townhouse market undervalued?

The gap between single-family homes and new construction condos is widening as buyers pay a premium for apartment amenities

September 01, 2014
By E.B. Solomont

From left: Cortney and Robert Novogratz, and their 400 West Street townhouse

Realty television interior design duo Cortney and Robert Novogratz paid $4.3 million for their nearly 7,200-square-foot townhouse in the West Village in 2007. They recently listed the home for $21.5 million, or just under $3,000 per square foot.

While that price may seem high, the Novogratzes, who had their own HGTV show, “Home by Novogratz,” previously listed the house, which is located at 400 West Street, in 2009 for $25 million to no avail. And yet, compared with prices for new development condos in the neighborhood, the property, which is being listed by Douglas Elliman broker Raphael De Niro, is a relative steal, according to some top brokers.

That relative bargain stems from the fact that the price spread between townhouses and condos is widening, thanks to the explosion of luxury condos in recent years.

Halstead Property’s Louise Phillips Forbes went a step further, saying that on a price-per-foot basis townhouses are significantly undervalued in New York City. Compared with the Novogratzes’ asking price of $3,000 a foot, nearby condos range from $3,750 to $4,450 a foot.

“What [my clients] can get in a co-op or condo is nowhere near what you can buy, on a square-footage basis, in a townhouse,” Forbes said.

“There’s been a run on our luxury market,” Forbes said. “These [condo] developments have captured massive numbers, and that market momentum has magnified these numbers in the differentials tremendously.”

Brown Harris Stevens’ Paula Del Nunzio, who said townhouses are a “fantastic bargain,” predicted that prices for single-family homes in Manhattan would continue to rise.

“There will come a time when a house will cost $100 million, or $5,000 a foot, and nobody will blink,” she said.

Still, the day for $100 million townhomes hasn’t quite arrived.

“We have not seen, ‘Put any number on it and it will sell,’ like the condo market,’ ” said Linda Melnick, a broker with Stribling & Associates.

Widening spreads

While townhouse prices are climbing, they are not rising nearly as fast as condo prices.

The median sales price for a townhouse in Manhattan was $3.59 million in 2013 versus $2.7 million in 2004, a 33 percent jump, according to appraisal firm Miller Samuel. However, median condo prices saw a far more dramatic rise, jumping from $804,418 in 2003 versus $1.25 million in 2013 — a massive 55 percent increase.

The average price per square foot of a townhouse — $1,144 — is less than the $1,484 condo average. But averages, of course, are often skewed by the astronomical sales that have been more readily defining the condo market.)

Sources do point out that comparing the two types of housing can be tricky, since townhouse measurements include exterior walls and common space, while condos do not. Condos also get more expensive as they get higher in the building, while townhouses obviously don’t have that advantage.

According to Jed Garfield, managing partner at townhouse specialist Leslie J. Garfield & Co., “there is an intrinsic difference in value.”

“With a condominium, you’re getting all the services that are associated with that,” Garfield said. “Some people will pay a premium for a condominium for just that reason.”

And that premium only seems to be increasing.

Garfield said that in Chelsea, the average condo can fetch upwards of $3,500 per square foot, while the average townhouse would likely average $3,000. A 15 percent-plus spread is typical in almost every Manhattan neighborhood, and it can be higher in certain areas, he said.

“Those spreads are very real,” Garfield added, who nonetheless noted that his office’s average sales are 20 percent higher on a per-square-foot basis this year than last.

The townhouse market represents just a sliver of the whole residential sector. Overall, it amounts to less than 2 percent of residential transactions, said Jonathan Miller, president of Miller Samuel.

In Manhattan, there were 436 townhouses listed in the second quarter, up 4.8 percent from a year ago. But even as inventory edged up, the number of transactions dropped to 59 in the second quarter, compared with 78 in the prior-year period.

According to Miller, the drop is a tapering off of last year’s frenzied buying, which he attributed to buyers’ pent-up demand.

Potential profits

All of this isn’t to say that well-priced townhouses aren’t going into bidding wars. Maura Jarach, chair of the townhouse division at Keller Williams NYC, said she’s seen plenty of those, too. But she’s also seen a buildup of overpriced listings, where the sellers are unrealistic about how much their townhouse is worth.

Others concurred. “[Townhouse] sellers are looking at the $90 million apartments and saying, ‘Oh my God, I have 6,000 square feet,’ ” said Stribling’s Melnick. “It’s like everyone’s child is gorgeous. You don’t see the flaws when it’s your own.”

In addition, unlike new construction condos, townhouses often require extensive renovations, which can be daunting given the age, and potential landmark status, of the 19th-century buildings that make up the majority of the city’s townhouse stock.

None of that matters for some buyers, especially those in brownstone Brooklyn.

“The bidding wars are still going on, and the outskirt areas that weren’t as popular five years ago are definitely getting much higher prices,” said Halstead’s Jackie Lew, who sold a townhouse in July at 66 Midwood Street in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens for $450,000 over the $1.9 million asking price.

“It was an exorbitant number,” said Lew, adding that new condo development hasn’t inhibited townhouse buyers. “If they’re looking for a townhouse, they are looking for a townhouse.”

Over the past few years, developers have recognized the potential profitability that the townhouse market offers and have given buyers the best of both worlds: new construction and newly renovated townhouses.

Developers throughout Manhattan and Brooklyn have added townhouse components to larger condos complexes — from Related Companies’ Townhouses at Superior Ink to Rudin Management’s Greenwich Lane project to Hamlin Ventures and Time Equities’ 23 townhouses in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn.

“There are people recognizing that they can make more money by building out the spaces and marketing to people who aren’t getting what they want in the co-op and condo market,” Forbes said.

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Townhouse Turnaround

Townhouse Turnaround

Doug Derryberry and Serena Mulhern with their children, Justice and Jane, in the townhouse they are renovating in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.

The New York townhouse has been through a lot since it began appearing in profusion in the 19th century.

These stately buildings started life as single-family houses sheltering comfortable middle- and upper-class families and their servants. By the Great Depression, most had been chopped into single-room apartments, the unlucky among them getting the greatest wear, as rooming houses for the down and out.

In the ‘60s, plucky young New Yorkers with more enthusiasm than cash began buying these down-at-the-heels beauties and spiffing them up for their families, usually retaining tenants who provided rental income and in many cases were impossible to dislodge.

In the past few years, the historic townhouse has started to come full circle. Thanks to the growing appetite for larger and more luxurious private urban dwellings among people happy to pay upward of $10 million, many townhouses have been returned to the elegant single-family homes they once were.

To the casual passer-by, the changes may be invisible. On the East and West Sides of Manhattan, in Greenwich Village and in large swaths of what is commonly called Brooklyn’s brownstone belt, brick, brownstone and limestone facades encrusted with corbels and lintels continue to mirror a distant era.

But these ornate fronts conceal profound shifts in occupancy, demographics and financial structure. Townhouses represent only a small fraction of the city’s housing stock, but because they define certain beloved neighborhoods, the implications of their transformation are great — though whether the shift represents boon or blight depends on who is being asked.

“These houses have always been commodities — they were built, after all, by real estate developers,” said Patrick Ciccone, a preservationist who is preparing a revised edition of “Bricks and Brownstone,” Charles Lockwood’s landmark 1972 study of the New York townhouse. “So returning a townhouse to single-family occupancy might be the most historically appropriate thing to do, given its original use.”

But, Mr. Ciccone added, in the process of such conversions, what may be sacrificed is the life and activity on the street produced by variety in the size, density and affordability of residences. “So what’s good for one house,” he said, “can also be bad urbanism for the city as a whole.”

This time around, a different breed of New Yorker is working the magic on these buildings. As tenants move or die off, many owners are reclaiming entire buildings. Perhaps most important, developers are doing the same, a process that often entails a gut renovation and high-end amenities (elevators and wine cellars de rigueur).

Notwithstanding the rear glass walls increasingly common in retrofitted townhouses, the better to brighten dark interiors, many 21st-century buyers harbor an unexpected taste for Edith Wharton-style décor. They wax eloquent about coffered ceilings and mahogany wainscoting. Savoring a 19th-century aesthetic, they seek meticulously preserved period facades along with lush interior details like carved moldings and wood-burning fireplaces, even if reinterpreted in contemporary materials.

And the numbers of these buyers is growing. According to Dexter Guerrieri, the president of Vandenberg, the Townhouse Experts, 15 of the 48 townhouses sold last year on the Upper West Side were multifamily dwellings being returned to single-family homes, either by developers or what are called “end users.” “That’s nearly a third of West Side sales,” Mr. Guerrieri said, “a high percentage and one that’s been increasing in recent years.”

He and other townhouse watchers attribute the shift in part to a desire for bigger and more opulent homes that provide a degree of privacy unavailable in condominiums and especially co-ops. These homes also often offer other benefits: Residents can have a garden; they can own a dog without asking anyone’s permission. Many of these houses are in picturesque neighborhoods with an embracing sense of community.

“But money is the driving force,” Mr. Guerrieri said. “Values are rising, and developers are seeing the big numbers that these houses sell for.”

Because supply is limited — estimates suggest that fewer than 10,000 pre-World War I townhouses survive in Manhattan, with perhaps 50,000 citywide, mostly in Brooklyn — operating in this market can be highly profitable.

For couples like Doug Derryberry and Serena Mulhern, whose home must double as a work space, the benefits of a spacious and flexible townhouse are considerable. Mr. Derryberry, a musician and record producer, and Dr. Mulhern, a physician, own a two-bedroom, 1,000-square-foot condominium on Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. But as their family grew to include two children, Jane, 5, and Justice, 3, the challenges of combining work and family proved daunting.

“I always had work space in the house,” Mr. Derryberry said. “But by the time the second one learned to walk, it became clear I needed space outside the house. My wife would say to the children, ‘Leave Daddy alone, he’s working.’ They’d say, ‘No, he’s not, he’s just playing the guitar.’ ”

Yet when Mr. Derryberry maintained a studio elsewhere, the shuttling from place to place, often with quantities of unwieldy equipment, made a hectic schedule even more demanding. “My equipment seemed to metastasize,” he said. “Plus, we underestimated the complexity of the hours from 5 to 8, the hours of dinner and the baths.”

On nearby Prospect Place, a century-old three-story townhouse with a fig tree in the pocket-size front garden offered a solution. The couple bought it for about $1 million in December 2012, shortly after the final tenant departed.

The plan is to return the structure to single-family use, to create a studio for Mr. Derryberry and to add an elder-friendly guest suite in the rear for two pairs of doting grandparents. Many traditional architectural elements will be preserved, among them two fireplaces and the white oak paneling on the parlor and upstairs floors. Thanks to James Wagman, the couple’s architect, and Cramer Silkworth, an engineer, this will be a passive house, ensuring maximum energy efficiency and a minimal ecological footprint.

Mr. Derryberry and Dr. Mulhern have been deeply involved in the reconstruction of their future home. But veteran developers more typically assume the risks and headaches involved in restoring these down-on-their-luck properties to their former glamour, especially with top-of-the-line townhouses in neighborhoods like the Upper West Side.

This is what happened with the Renaissance Revival townhouse at 304 West 90th Street being prepared for sale by Omek Capital, a Long Island real estate investment firm that specializes in townhouse redevelopment. The five-story 1891 structure, designed byClarence True, contains 7,300 square feet of space and has 12-foot ceilings and a south-facing garden. Once home to seven apartments — “tiny but great,” said Keith Strand, the Harlem-based architect who is redoing the structure — the house is on the market for $12.995 million.

Keith Strand is the architect overseeing the return to opulence of a townhouse on West 90th Street in Manhattan. A project of an investment firm, it can be yours for $12.995 million.
Sasha Maslov for The New York Times
Keith Strand is the architect overseeing the return to opulence of a townhouse on West 90th Street in Manhattan. A project of an investment firm, it can be yours for $12.995 million.

 Along with five bedrooms and nine baths, amenities will include an elevator to whisk residents from the walk-in wine cellar and steam-room-plus-gym in the basement to the topmost terrace (one of five). The maid’s quarters have a kitchen and an en-suite bath. Three types of marble are being used for finishes.

“Back in the ‘70s,” Mr. Strand said, “this sort of work was more do-it-yourself. But now it’s luxury finishes, appliances, everything high-end.” As if to offset a rear wall sheathed with glass, the brownstone facade is being restored in traditional fashion, and Mr. Strand is especially pleased that the stoop, ripped out decades earlier to create an extra downstairs bedroom, is being replaced.

Though work will not be completed until February, on a recent weekday David Kornmeier of Brown Harris Stevens showed the house to three potential buyers, who stepped gingerly around exposed floorboards and dodged masked workers to inspect premises stripped to the studs. Mr. Kornmeier expected nine more visitors in the coming days, and he is not surprised that traffic has been brisk. “It’s almost impossible to find an 8,000-square-foot apartment in Manhattan,” he said. “To get just 7,000 square feet of space at 15 Central Park West would cost you $88 million.”

A similar old-school beauty will go on the market in the coming weeks at 38 West 87th Street, where Allerand Capital is putting the finishing touches on an 1891 Gilbert Schellenger townhouse priced at $18 million. The company bought the 6,300-square-foot building, which contained 10 apartments, for $5.15 million in 2011. When finished, the house will have six bedrooms, a grand salon, a formal dining room, three fireplaces, two roof decks, a terrace and a full butler’s pantry with a dumbwaiter.

“The house will be beautiful, mint-modern,” said Ann Marie Folan, the Douglas Elliman broker who is handling the sale with her colleague Eileen Foy. “But it will capture a traditional look with the staircase, fireplaces and exposed brick.”

Proponents see the shift to one-family occupancy of townhouses as representing a resounding vote of confidence in the city, a sign of robust civic health.

“This trend, which we’ve been seeing in the oughts and the teens, represents an investment and belief in New York City,” said John Berson, a partner of Sawyer/Berson, a Manhattan architecture firm that specializes in townhouses. “It represents people saying, in effect, ‘They’ll have to take me out of here feet first.’ It also raises the overall value of a block. There’s enormous benefit to preserving these beautiful houses.”

Critics bemoan the reduced street traffic and less lively street life — fewer schools, churches, delis and dry cleaners, and especially fewer children — that come with lower density and altered demographics.

“There’s something nice about the fact that people are restoring these houses to single-family living, as they were intended,” said Arlene Simon, who grew up in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, moved in 1960 to a $115-a-month parlor-floor apartment in a West Side townhouse, and currently observes neighborhood change from her perch as president ofLandmark West!, a preservation group. “It’s nice that the stoops, which were removed in the midcentury, are being restored.”

But with fewer people per building and with some homes serving as pieds-à-terre, Ms. Simon fears that street life on townhouse-lined blocks will be noticeably quieter. “And of course street life makes all the difference in the world,” she said.

Brian Sawyer, Mr. Berson’s architectural partner, shares these feelings. “When you walk down a block and you see house after house with one buzzer instead of 12,” Mr. Sawyer said, “there will be a silent change. In some ways it makes the block less interesting. At night, if you live in a city, there’s nothing more delightful than looking into those lighted windows and peeking into someone else’s life. When there are fewer people living on a block, something changes. The changes don’t kill the entire block, but there’s a noticeable difference.”

Critics of the shift also cite the gradual disappearance of the townhouse rental apartment, leading to a small but palpable depletion of the city’s housing stock. The loss is deepened by the fact that these apartments, immortalized in films from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” to “You’ve Got Mail,” were so beloved.

Mr. Sawyer remembers moving to his first such place in the late ‘80s.

“I walked into this studio on Morton Street in the Village that was for rent for $400,” he said. “The plaster was crumbling. But I was overjoyed. There were huge ceilings and moldings and a fireplace. I put a tent in the middle of the room to sleep in. I lived there for 10 years, and it was one of the best times in my life.”

Keir Dougall and Wendy Schick Dougall have lived for years in a townhouse in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with their sons, Jared and Cailan (top). It was only recently that they decided to return the building to its original single-family self.
Sasha Maslov for The New York Times
Keir Dougall and Wendy Schick Dougall have lived for years in a townhouse in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with their sons, Jared and Cailan (top). It was only recently that they decided to return the building to its original single-family self.

 Families taking over newly restored townhouses, however, may be hard-pressed to discern downsides, as was the case for Keir Dougall and Wendy Schick Dougall, lawyers who in 2001 were living in an apartment in Park Slope when they bought an empty three-family building on nearby Garfield Place just months before Sept. 11. The 4,000-square-foot structure, for which the couple paid $1.1 million, had over its century-long existence been home to a succession oftenants. The abundance of fire doors, emergency exits and multiple locks survived as a ghostly reminder of their presence.

But although the final tenants had moved out by the time the couple bought the house, during their first decade at their new address the building remained configured as a multiple dwelling, an inconvenience to them and their sons, Jared, now 11, and Cailan, 13.

“We lived for much of that time in compressed quarters, with two small children, all of us smushed into one large bedroom,” Ms. Schick Dougall said, “and it was adding lots of stress to our lives. We had no closets. We couldn’t have people over. By the time the kids were approaching their teens, it was clear that they needed more privacy and so did their parents. It was now or never.”

In spring 2012 the couple hired Ben Baxt of Baxt Ingui Architects, a Brooklyn firm, to retrofit the house for one-family use. In August, after a year in a rental, the family returned to find the evidence of the building’s time as a three-family dwelling almost entirely erased.

The original oak floor edged with mahogany can be seen in the formal dining room. Period details rescued and brought to glowing life include two original fireplaces and wood molding delicately carved with swirls and fruit. The renovation produced so many closets, Ms. Schick Dougall has lost count.

The project satisfied many of the couple’s goals, notably providing an abundance of space. And as Ms. Schick Dougall, who grew up on Long Island, added: “We were not apartment people. Plus, to be honest, I’m secretly a suburban girl. I think that sort of thing is in your DNA.”

These days, the only indication of the house’s previous incarnation arrives with the mail. “Once in a while we still get letters addressed to the old tenants,” Mr. Dougall said. “We just mark them ‘return to sender.’ ”

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New York’s Once and Future Mansions

New York’s Once and Future Mansions

The Tracy Mansion at 105 Eighth Avenue in Brooklyn, center, can be yours for $13 million. The asking price for 57 East 64th Street, right, a 14,000-square-foot limestone giant designed by C.P.H. Gilbert, is $44 million. The Scribner Mansion at 39 East 67th Street, left, was just listed for $22.5 million.

When the architect/designer Ogden Codman Jr. built himself a splendidly self-indulgent 40-foot-wide limestone mansion on East 96th Street in 1913, he built it to last, and it did.

It outlasted him — Codman, the celebrated co-author, with Edith Wharton, of “The Decoration of Houses,” a turn-of-the-last-century home décor bible, relocated to Paris in the 1920s — and several subsequent owners, eventually becoming the Manhattan Country School.

Something similar happened at 39 East 67th Street, where the architect Ernest Flagg took a nondescript 1877 brownstone and in 1904 transformed it into a Beaux-Arts limestone palace and literary salon of sorts for Helen and Arthur Scribner, of the publishing dynasty. It was a sophisticated destination, with leaded glass windows and marble fireplaces, but after its owners’ deaths, the house was sold in 1951 and chopped into apartments with a suite of medical offices as the anchor tenant.

The 1905 mansion at 57 East 64th Street, a 14,000-square-foot limestone chateau designed by C.P.H. Gilbert for the oft-married heiress Arlene Tew to display her high-end Francophile taste, more recently served as the New York headquarters of an Italian clothing company.

The former Codman Mansion at 7 East 96th Street.CreditFred R. Conrad/The New York Times

A borough away on Eighth Avenue in Park Slope, Brooklyn, the 50-foot-wide palazzo-style 1916 Tracy Mansion designed by Helmle & Huberty for a discerning tugboat mogul, John Tracy, now sits vacant after being the site of a Montessori School since 1969.

But all four of those historic buildings, and several others of their ilk and vintage, are sharing a potential turn-back-the-clock moment: Besides being for sale to the highest (preferably cash) bidder, they will likely undergo the exacting transformation necessary for a return to their original use as privately owned residences.

“It’s like a return to the Gilded Age,” said Sharon Baum of the Corcoran Group, who, along with her Corcoran partner, David H. Enloe, and Timothy Sheehan of CBRE Group, listed the Codman mansion.

The catalyst that has put these mansions and townhouses back in play is the steady escalation of incredibly wealthy buyers, many of them foreign, intent on acquiring one-of-a-kind homes that offer a level of privacy impossible to find at the city’s most exclusive co-ops and condos. Several of the sellers are foreign as well: France, Senegal, China and Burkina Faso.

“As the superluxury market has gained strength, at the same time, debt-burdened foreign governments in the aftermath of the financial crisis are looking for ways to cut costs or generate cash,” said Jonathan J. Miller, the president of Miller Samuel, an appraisal firm. “So we see the trend toward consulates maybe receding and the conversion of mansions to single-family homes returning.”

The former Scribner residence on 67th Street is among the candidates for reclamation. It was just listed for sale at $22.5 million by James and Anna Hall of Stribling & Associates.

46 East 66th, until recently owned by the Republic of Senegal and now under renovation.CreditFred R. Conrad/The New York Times

“This change is reflective of what’s happening in the micro-economy of New York,” Ms. Hall said, “where we’re seeing a new breed of affluent, and often younger, buyers who have zero interest in being subjected to the rules and limitations presented by a co-op board. There’s an autonomy that comes with owning a free-standing property. A townhouse or mansion is almost like a piece of art and there are buyers who appreciate that history and want to be part of it.”

The Scribner property will require a substantial renovation, but boasts customized newer features like a top-floor glass conservatory. The seller inherited the property and has “no interest in being a landlord,” Ms. Hall said. “We envision two possible end users, an investor/developer or a buyer interested in turning it into their own residence, which we feel represents its best and highest use.”

No. 57 East 64th, which according to its co-listing broker, Paula Del Nunzio of Brown Harris Stevens, is the sole Gilbert-designed house on the market in New York at this time, is listed for $44 million. Another of Ms. Del Nunzio’s listings, the 1903 Charles Ogden mansion, currently the School for Practical Philosophy, on a pristine residential block at 12 East 79th Street, is for sale for $51 million.

A circa 1870s townhouse at 52 East 64th Street is on the market for the first time since 1970, listed at $17.75 million by Deanna Kory and Ileana Lopez-Balboa of the Corcoran Group. As a brownstone it was Miss Edward’s School in 1878, but after a serious limestone upgrade by the architect Frederick Sterner in 1916, it became a rental with high-profile tenants like Ethel Barrymore. The lower floors were for many years the site of a well-known veterinary facility, the Park East Animal Hospital.

The veterinarian, Dr. Lewis H. Berman, whose celebrity canine clients included Andy Warhol’s dachshund, Truman’s Capote’s bulldog and Lauren Bacall’s papillon, was renting the first floor for his business and a third-floor apartment for his family when the townhouse was put on the market “with me in it” in 1970.

He scraped together $5,000 in cash, obtained two mortgages, and became its owner/landlord, an arrangement that lasted until recently, when he moved his business to a larger space to “ensure the legacy of my animal hospital.” Dr. Berman said it was his hope that 52 East 64th, a historic house on a historic block, would find a buyer who, as the listing suggests, would embrace “a rare opportunity to convert back to a spectacular single family house.”

52 East 64th Street, a former home of the Park East Animal Hospital.CreditFred R. Conrad/The New York Times

A graceful 1902 limestone townhouse at 9 East 89th Street that since 1981 has served as the headquarters of the New York Road Runners Club is listed at $24.75 million by Massey Knakal Realty Services, which anticipates a residential buyer. “Selling the building is a natural next step for our organization,” said Mary Wittenberg, the president of the Road Runners, which is moving its offices to Midtown.

After spending decades doing duty as schools, embassies, consulates, nonprofit headquarters, apartment houses and the like, these and a few other important and irreplaceable buildings, most already designated as landmarks, have returned to the market virtually simultaneously, with virtually identical marketing plans. The various brokerages entrusted with the listings are advertising them as ripe for conversion to what they were in the beginning: beauteous, commodious and expensive single-family residences.

“For 10 or so of these important properties to come on the market at the same time, that matters a lot,” said Gregory J. Heym, an executive vice president and the chief economist for Halstead Property and Brown Harris Stevens. “It’s a seller’s market like we haven’t seen in a while.”

Trophy townhouses are back in favor again with home buyers, according to Paul J. Massey Jr., a founding partner of Massey-Knakal, for a number of reasons: “The value of townhouses designated for some type of commercial or nonprofit role and the value of purely residential townhouses used to be more in line, “ he said.

“But in the past few years there’s been a growing schism between what they might sell for, with residential use commanding the higher premium. Some of the organizations that own these homes are shifting their mission, or downsizing.”

Residential customers, he said, are doing the opposite: They want large homes with grand interior space, “great old details,” and expansion potential.

The School of Practical Philosophy at 12 East 79th Street.CreditFred R. Conrad/The New York Times

Ms. Baum and her co-brokers marketed the former Codman mansion at 7 East 96th on behalf of the board of the Manhattan Country School. The original price was $23 million, cash only, but the mansion, which possesses that rarest of Manhattan amenities, a curb cut and interior courtyard with a garage, set off a bidding war and ultimately went to contract for considerably more than the asking price, according to Ms. Baum.

She said the mansion’s next owner is what is known as an angel buyer: a woman who plans to fully restore it, a megamillion-dollar undertaking, and eventually move in, yet has agreed to let the school remain in place for two years while it finalizes its relocation and expansion plans.

“The demand for these homes is much higher than the supply,” Ms. Baum said. “Very few prewar mansions are still left; what we have are all there’s ever going to be.

“From a buyer’s viewpoint, it’s very much like an art auction,” she added. “This particular Matisse may not come up for sale again during your lifetime. The same sentiment applies to many of these mansions. They are one-of-a-kind and not replaceable.”

To find the same square footage in a condo or co-op would, real estate agents say, approach the prohibitively expensive if not the impossible.

“One surprising thing in general is just how few single-family homes there are in Manhattan, less than 2,000,” said Mr. Heym, the economist. “Inherently there is a very limited supply to begin with, so when the opportunity to acquire one arises, especially one of decent size, their scarcity can be a motivating factor. Their locations tend to be in the most coveted neighborhoods. They also receive a more favored tax treatment than co-ops and condos.

The Road Runners Club, behind a tree at 9 East 89th Street.CreditFred R. Conrad/The New York Times

“And when an institution or nonprofit decides the time is right to downsize or cash in their equity and the next user is a homeowner, well, it means we’re creating one more unit of housing in a borough that badly needs it, right?” (Mr. Heym was only partly joking.)

The phenomenon might be described as a nouveau form of recycling, albeit on a grand and exclusionist scale. With prices ranging from $13 million (the Tracy Mansion in Brooklyn, listed by Marc Wisotsky and Jackie Lew of Halstead Property following the retirement of Anil and Hannah Sinha, career Montessori educators who had owned it for four decades) to more than $50 million, these rarefied mansions and townhouses are not destined for inhabitation by aspirational DIYers. Their asking prices don’t mention renovation and restoration, expensive and time-consuming undertakings that can rival the actual sales price.

The current crop of qualified buyers has one quality in common with most of the original owners of these mansions, said Ms. Del Nunzio of Brown Harris Stevens. “There is definitely an ‘I will be the king of my own castle’ attitude out there. And there are folks willing to spend $50 million or more to be the kings of their castles, where they feel like they can control everything and not have to answer to a co-op or condo board. At most, they answer to the Landmarks Commission and buildings department.”

Seekers of instant gratification within this stratospheric niche of homeownership, though, are advised to look elsewhere. Very few of these behemoths are in turnkey residential shape.

One exception is 46 East 66th Street, the longtime home to the Republic of Senegal’s ambassador and the site of the nation’s formal functions. The building, a circa 1890 landmark, has undergone a three-year restoration by HJ Development and will come to market later this year as a six-bedroom, seven-bath luxury townhouse priced at $28 million.

The developer, in an off-market deal, paid around $14 million in cash to acquire the 25-foot-wide property, which in 1919 gained a neo-Georgian brick facade by the society architect Mott B. Schmidt, and a smaller townhouse at 268 East 68th Street, which Senegal had used as offices. Both are being marketed as single-family homes, the first foray into that genre by the developer, whose previous focus was commercial-to-condo conversions, often in historic districts.

“To take a century-old building and totally reimagine and restore the interior and return it to the single-family residence it once was is a little like a surgeon going into someone’s body and performing major surgery,” said Ian Fishkin, the in-house counsel and acquisitions adviser at HJ Development. “We’re catering to the 1 percent at East 66th and Madison, but there is definitely something charming about owning your own home with your own front door and backyard at a significant address.”