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Size Matters: Fishy Ways of Measuring of Co-ops and Condos

Tribeca, Manhattan

Size Matters

The former bookbindery at 443 Greenwich Street is now a magnet for celebrities (image via Google Maps).

June 18, 2018

Size matters, hugely, for buyers of co-op and condo apartments in New York City. But an apartment’s size, it turns out, is not a simple matter of square feet. Case in point: the sprawling penthouse atop Tribeca’s 443 Greenwich Street, a 19th-century bookbindery that has been converted to a luxury condominium that’s become a magnet for celebrities. 

According to an analysis by The Real Deal and CityRealty, the penthouse was advertised at 8,569 square feet in the offering plan, and the developer, Nathan Berman, priced it at $58 million, which would have been a downtown sales record. But city tax records say the pad is actually 7,232 square feet – 15 percent less than advertised. It sold for $43.8 million. 

The discrepancy in apartment sizes is consistent throughout the building, which Berman’s Metro Loft Management converted into 53 luxury condos in 2014. On average, the usable space in each apartment is 13 percent less than the offering plan states, according to The Real Deal and CityRealty. 

The discrepancy results from what is being measured – either “usable” square footage, the space between the interior walls; or “gross” square footage, the distance between the outside walls of the building. The former is frequently used to measure co-ops, since the buyer is a shareholder in a corporation who in effect pays rent on living space; the latter is used for condos, where the unit-owner owns the real property. 

Calls for uniform standards have grown louder as the market has softened and price-conscious shoppers have increasingly put stock in value, or price per square foot. Overstating the size of new condos is just one way developers and marketers may try to tip the scales in their favor. 

Attorney Erica Buckley of Nixon Peabody, a former head of the state Attorney General’s Real Estate Finance Bureau, says developers are obligated only to disclose their method of measuring units. How they choose to do so is up to them. “Since there’s no law that says condos shouldn’t include non-usable square footage,” she says, “it’s absolutely permissible.”

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