Sunday, April 27, 2008

For some, balconies and terraces are storage spaces in the sky

This article gave me a few ideas. First, don't let your building's balconies/terraces get as ugly as the one pictured in Queens. They make your building look horrible. Do whatever you can to enforce your building's rules about outdoor aesthetics. If your building doesn't have these rules, create them. Beauty will increase everyone's property value. Second, if your building doesn't have these outdoor spaces, consider adding them. This could be as complex as adding balconies where there weren't any before, or as easy as converting existing roof setback spaces into terraces. Finally, though the article didn't touch on it, roof space is also valuable outdoor space. Consider converting your roof into a community space. Remove useless penetrations to create a wider open space with less objects for people to dodge, put a roof deck down (typically wood planks or paver stones), build a garden or other green space, or even sell portions of the spaces as private roof cabanas.


The New York Times
April 27, 2008
The High Life
By SARAH KERSHAW
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/04/27/realestate/27cov.html

IN the real estate market, outdoor space is gold. It’s expensive, it’s rare, and it can add enormous value to a home.

You would think then that people would not only want it, they would love it, use it, even flaunt it.

But New Yorkers have complex relationships with their outdoor spaces. At this time of year, as the weather grows warmer, their true feelings about those spaces are particularly manifest. Some residents are readying their flower boxes and painting their trellises, while other are doing what they always do — turning their backs on their balconies, which have become storage areas for things like rusty bikes and old doghouses.

It is difficult to give an average dollar value of outdoor space, because if it is a terrace, which is open to the sky and occupies a building’s setback, it’s worth more than a balcony, which is typically smaller and projects outward from the facade. But outdoor space is generally agreed to be worth about half as much per square foot as the square footage inside an apartment.

The yin and yang of emotions regarding outdoor space are on stark display at Penn South, a 10-building apartment complex in Chelsea, where Rick Strausser, a retired building maintenance manager, said the terrace off his apartment on 24th Street leaves him feeling like a millionaire.

“It makes you feel free,” he said recently, after he had pulled a small wooden table onto the modest terrace for his first outdoor breakfast of the spring season — Grape-Nuts cereal. “There’s a sense of letting go. I walk out on here and something is released.”

But in the same complex, his neighbor Vera Sampson has absolutely no desire for a terrace because she sees it as a magnet for dust and dirt. Although she initially had fierce terrace envy when she moved into the building 30 years ago and could not get an apartment with one, she quickly realized that they were places that not only need constant cleaning but are also potentially hazardous to the pets who shared her two-bedroom apartment.

“I didn’t want my cats to commit suicide,” said Ms. Sampson, a retired teacher who also has a service dog, Skippy, because of nerve damage that makes her prone to falling. For a dose of the outdoors, she spends time in the courtyard of the complex.

She’s not as unusual as one might think. A tour around the city shows some balconies and terraces piled with junk, an outdoor spare room in a city where every inch of space counts. Others are completely empty or perhaps hold only an ashtray. Some terraces and balconies are in places that are too windy, too hot, too noisy or too dirty.

The prospect of fixing up and maintaining a terrace or balcony, for some people, is just too time-consuming or expensive. As coveted as they are, these gateways to the outside world sometimes take their place alongside other things that seem desperately needed but are then taken for granted or ignored, like a fabulous bicycle or an expensive gym membership.

This can lead to what Karen DeMasco, who has a 250-square-foot terrace off her apartment in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, calls “terrace guilt.” During the first few years she lived in her building, she never used the terrace. But once her daughter was old enough to play out there, she set out a playhouse and other toys. Now her neighbors without terraces stop by to enjoy hers.

Sherry Matays, a senior vice president at the Corcoran Group, has a terrace in her apartment on the Upper West Side but has not used it in 30 years — ever since her infant twins were out there in a playpen and dropped a toy onto the street. She was terrified that they could fall or that someone could get hurt from something they dropped.“I bolted it closed and that was it,” she said. “It’s never been part of our lives.”

And yet being a sales agent, she knows that a terrace adds value and helps an apartment keep its value, because of the scarcity of outdoor space.

Location is critical in real estate value, she said, but so are “features that you can’t put in — a terrace, a fireplace, protected views,” she said. “It’s not like spending more money for a chinchilla or a mink; they both lose their value when you walk out the door.”

Ms. Matays says that many buyers will begin their searches saying outdoor space is a must. “But people start to realize their expectations aren’t necessarily realistic,” she said. “Terraces are very expensive.”

But for those who can find and afford outdoor space, and who truly embrace it, terraces are a necessary and delicious escape from the urban landscape.

When Ray Bengen, a software engineer, was looking for an apartment to buy in 1988, he saw 407 lofts before he settled on his three-bedroom penthouse on 23rd Street between Eighth and Ninth Avenues. When he walked through the place and saw the 600-square-foot terrace, he said, “That’s it.”

He is now redoing the terrace, which looks more like a deck, with a wooden floor and a tool shed at one end. Even in the winter, he is out there. And at this time of year, he said, he hears singing in the morning from songbirds that nest in one of his trees. “It makes all the difference,” he said.

Ronald E. Goldberger, an executive vice president and principal of the brokerage firm Newmark Knight Frank, whose apartment on the Upper East Side has four terraces and sweeping views both north and south, finds poetry in watching the morning light and the sunsets.

“There’s a magic in it,” he said. “It’s spectacular, it’s relaxing and it’s invigorating at the same time.”

Having a terrace has kept the Sharp family from moving out of the city. When they wanted greater contact with nature, they decided that rather than moving — they had decided on Montclair, N.J. — they would create an elaborate backyard for their three young children on their 300-square-foot terrace on Dean Street in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn.

At first, Jonathan Sharp, a graphic designer and former art teacher, and his wife, Shannon, a senior vice president at Lehman Brothers, liked the idea of having a terrace in the apartment, which they bought five years ago. But because of its southern exposure and intense light, along with street noise and dust, being outside was not always comfortable. The couple would use camping chairs in the southwest corner of the deck to position themselves to see the sky and minimize the noise, and they would avoid being out there during the middle of the day.

But to get more use out of it, they bought an awning last year, put up mesh screens around the deck to block light and dust and decided to plant a garden of fruits, vegetables and herbs.

They grew corn that stood six feet tall, peppers, eggplant, strawberries, okra, pumpkins, beans and two varieties of tomato — beefsteak and cherry. On one of the first warm spring days this year, Mr. Sharp and his two older children, Julian, 5, and Naomi, 3, began pulling the dead plants out of their pots, sweeping the terrace and preparing to plant again.

He recently bought a microscope so he and the children can do science experiments with the soil and insects.

“It’s kept us in the city,” Mr. Sharp said.

“This is where gardening became essential,” he added, describing that fact as surprising, considering he spent part of his childhood in rural Ohio. “It’s kind of funny that I learned to garden in New York.”

Michael Falco for The New York Times

Rick Strausser and his grandson, Cole Zamora, plant flowers on the terrace of his Chelsea apartment.

Michael Falco for The New York Times

Amy Goldberger on her Upper East Side terrace.

Michael Falco for The New York Times

Ray Bengen,top, uses his terrace on 23rd Street all the time. But balconies along Roosevelt Avenue in Queens, above, appear to be used for storage.

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