Authenticity Fetches Big Bucks Renovating Pre-War Apartments

Real estate brokers are familiar with the scenario: An excited buyer enters a spacious apartment in a building located at a desirable address. Despite the fact that she's been warned by the broker that the interior has been modernized, the buyer is convinced that it will be love at first sight. But instead of her dream home she sees a bland space that has no character. Excessive renovation has resulted in an apartment that seems out of place in the charming pre-war building.

It's true that a new kitchen and bath can increase the value of your co-op and condo, but these changesas well as others that can be done to living or dining areas, bedrooms, hallways or storage spaceshould be done carefully while taking into consideration the period and style in which the apartment was built. The same rule applies to lobbies and other common areas in a residential building.

Authenticity is a Commodity

We know that when people buy a home they do so from an emotional standpoint, says Marilyn Harra Kaye, president of Prudential MLBKaye International Realty, a full-service brokerage firm in Manhattan. They go on their gut instincts. When they first walk into a potential home, they tend to either love it or hate it. According to Kaye, these days just about everyone goes for pre-war apartments and this has almost always been the case with many European and South American clients who don't relate to the austere look of more contemporary buildings. So if you own a pre-war gem, and are thinking about doing a renovation, she cautions against stripping the interior. Retaining original features such as light fixtures, moldings, arches, French doors, built-in shelving, stained glass, a pedestal sink or iron bathtub can make a difference of $100,000 to $200,000 when it comes time to sell.

Preserving assets from the past may mean hiring an artisan and it can sometimes be an expensive proposition, but it's a shame not to do so. As Kaye points out, undertaking a massive renovation could be a waste if the next owner attempts to put things back the way they used to be. As a general rule, she explains, when you maintain the old touches it keeps the price and value up. Two exceptions are the kitchen and bathroom where some things can't be used and must be replaced. But here, again, you should strive to stay as close to the old as possible. This can be achieved by reglazing old fixtures to give them a fresh appearance and enhanced durability. Reproductions of antique or period fixtures, which are becoming increasingly available in a wide range of prices, are another option.

It's unfortunate when the detail is removed during a renovation, agrees Roger Lang, a spokesman for the New York Landmarks Conservancy, a not-for-profit organization in Manhattan dedicated to preserving old buildings city-wide. If the building is plain, go ahead and renovate to your heart's content; but I think you should think twice before throwing away architectural details especially when we know buyers are eager to pay more for them. I cherish the fireplaces, the paneled doors. Some of the fancier ceilings have rosettes and plaster medallions. All these touches lend charm and authenticity to an apartment. Personally I feel a little sad when I see these being destroyed, because I think history and contemporary living can go hand in hand.

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