Piecing together

Buyers covet townhouses ripe for conversion to single-family homes

A Greek Revival at 26 Bank Street
A Greek Revival at 26 Bank Street

Everything old is new again.

Many of the Village’s townhouses are reverting back to single-family residences after decades of containing multiple dwellings, and affluent buyers are pouncing. They’re forgoing the doormen, amenities and views offered by co-ops and condos for the historic architecture, upstairs-downstairs layouts and private backyards of townhouses.

“There are so many extraordinary structures, and there’s just a very progressive movement of people wanting that lifestyle in that location,” said Robert Dankner, president of real estate brokerage Prime Manhattan Residential, who lives and works in the area.

But finding that dream property isn’t always easy. In the Village, in the last three years, only about 30 townhouses have sold — the kind most buyers covet: those ripe for conversion to single-family, said Dankner.

A majority of Village townhouses still have multiple tenants, a deterrent to sales. Gaining approval for renovations in a neighborhood that is mostly protected as a historic district can also be difficult, though Dankner will work to secure necessary paperwork so properties can be delivered in renovation-ready condition, like 54 Charles Street, a Greek Revival listed in April at nearly $17 million.

It comes with permits and approvals to expand to 7,800 square feet from 5,000 square feet, though securing those nods cost about $750,000 and took a year and a half, he explained. “There is an extraordinary value to be created,” Dankner added, “but it’s not for the faint of heart.”

Similarly, a former factory turned office building at 134 Charles Street is on the market for $45 million. The listing includes renderings that show how the building could be transformed into a 13,000-square-foot single-family.

Prices are stronger here than in comparable neighborhoods. In the first quarter of this year, buyers shelled out $2,634 a square foot for townhouses in the coveted West Village submarket west of Seventh Avenue, according to Leslie J. Garfield & Co., a townhouse-focused brokerage. It was the highest average of the 10 Manhattan submarkets.

In contrast, on the Upper East Side, the next most-expensive enclave, the average townhouse price was a distant $1,871 per square foot, the firm said.

Village townhouses, with widths of up to 20 feet, tend to be tinier than their counterparts near Park Avenue, where they can stretch to 25 feet, said Matthew Pravda, a Garfield senior real estate advisor. But what the Village lacks in size, brokers say, it makes up in charm.

“There’s a real neighborhood feel down there,” said Pravda of the low-slung, restaurant-filled neighborhood to the west of Broadway between 14th and Houston.

The market may have its limits, however. Townhouses priced $20 million and up have slowed a bit in 2016, brokers say. A red brick Greek Revival at 26 Bank Street, which boasts a windowed art studio on the top floor, recently chopped its price to $22 million from $26 million.

Likewise, 278 West 11th Street, an 1853 property with a gym, screening room and terraced garden, has sat on the market since last summer at $29 million. A longtime bed-and-breakfast before reverting to a single-family home, the townhouse was purchased in 2011 by Triton Enterprises, a developer, for about $8 million, remodeled, then sold to Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul, for $25 million in spring 2015. Murdoch re-listed it a few months later.

But the sub-$20 million market is percolating. This spring Pravda sold 41 Charles Street, a five-and-a-half-story Italianate single family, last listed at $15.9 million (the sale hadn’t closed at press time). It has an antique-and-modern mash-up overseen by architect Mark Zeff. The kitchen’s Calacatta marble island and counters are lustrous additions, as is the new elevator, while three original fireplaces were preserved. Everything old is new again.