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More Than Just a Pretty Place: Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Prewar Apartments

February 11, 2020


Renters and buyers in New York City know that prewar apartments are unique. They were constructed between 1900 and 1939 (before World War II) and have distinctive and elegant architectural characteristics that are hard to find in more recently built properties.

“The buildings designed by the most notable architects of the prewar period—Emery Roth and Rosario Candela—remain among the most desirable in the city today,” says Jed Lewin, a broker at Triplemint in New York City.

But as appealing as these classic New York City apartments appear to be, there are also some key drawbacks to living in this kind of place.

Let’s explore some of the reasons people either love or hate prewar apartments.

Pro: Elegant design

Photo by Di Cicco Vinci Architecture + Interiors
There’s no denying it: Prewar apartments are full of elegant architectural details. Crown molding, ceiling medallions, real hardwood floors, spacious living quarters, and high ceilings are common in these types of properties.

“The advantage of living in prewar apartments is that they are full of architectural beauty. They are sturdy, sound, and provide form and function to the homeowner,” says Tami Kurtz, a real estate professional at Triplemint in New York City.

Con: Lack of modern conveniences

According to Daniele Kurzweil, a real estate salesperson with the Friedman Team at Compass in New York City, there’s one major con to living in a prewar apartment.

“During the winter, your heat is either on or off; no climate control, no thermostat, simply steam heat,” she says. If it gets too hot, you’ll need to open a window.

Kobi Lahav, managing director of Mdrn. Residential, a brokerage in New York City, agrees.

“There’s no central AC or HVAC, so you can have a nice, expensive apartment, but you are still using a window-unit AC,” he says. Furthermore, older heating systems are noisy and the windows are usually thin and not energy-efficient.

Another potential issue is that prewar apartments were constructed before the Americans With Disabilities Act became law in 1990. The law established standards for making buildings accessible to people with disabilities.

“So many apartments have narrower doorways and smaller bathrooms,” Kurzweil says. “This can be an issue for people with physical limitations.”

Pro: Sturdy construction

Photo by Raychel Wade Design

Prewar properties were built to last and included hand-finished plaster walls, durable hardwood floors, and solid-wood doors. Many experts say that postwar architecture can’t hold a candle to prewar units when it comes to construction.

“Postwar architecture is typically constructed of red or white bricks and referred to as ‘cookie-cutter,’” says Rachel Ostow Lustbader, a broker at Warburg Realty in New York City. “Postwar apartments have smaller and simpler windows, 8-foot ceilings, unadorned Sheetrock walls, and poorer quality parquet wood floors or, more recently, ‘engineered’ flooring.”

Con: It may need to be updated

Not every prewar apartment looks like a photo op for an interior design magazine. Because of the age of the property, there’s a chance it will need to be fixed up.

“If the prewar building is not as upscale, or has not been well-maintained, you can run into issues you will find in any older building, like leaks, electrical problems, etc.,” explains Jamie Safier, a luxury real estate agent at Douglas Elliman in New York City.

Carole Cusani, a licensed real estate agent at BOND New York Properties, lives in a prewar apartment, and says it was costly to renovate her kitchen.

“It’s common for them to have outmoded electrical outlets, wiring, or plumbing, that a new owner may have to update,” she explains. Also, the typical prewar kitchen is not very big—chef’s kitchens were not a thing back then.

However, buyers may be able to find well-maintained prewar units if they’re located in a co-op.

“The board will usually ensure there is enough in the reserves to make necessary updates and repairs,” says Safier.

Pro: Plenty of space

Photo by Anjali Pollack Design

There’s little reason for you to ever feel cramped in a prewar apartment.

“In prewar buildings, the ceilings are often higher and the layouts are more spacious,” says Chelsea Hale, a real estate professional at Triplemint in New York City.

Postwar apartments, on the other hand, tend to have lower ceiling heights, smaller rooms, and thinner ceilings and walls.

In addition to sprawling interiors, prewar apartments offer another space advantage.

“There are often only one or two apartments per elevator landing in prewar buildings,” says Lustbader. Contrast that with postwar buildings, which tend to have long hallways with 10 to 12 units on each floor.

The post More Than Just a Pretty Place: Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Prewar Apartments appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.

What Is a Mansion? The Luxury Home Next Door Might Not Qualify

October 19, 2019

What is a mansion

EricVega/iStock; Stavklem/iStock

What is a mansion? Do visions of stately residences with acres of lush landscaping, sweeping staircases, and grand ballrooms dance through your head? Perhaps you think of the most luxurious house in the neighborhood complete with lavish amenities like a koi pond, wine cellar, and four-car garage. Or it could be a sprawling New York City apartment in a landmark pre-war building with Old French masters on the walls and miles of marble.

So what is a mansion anyway? Let’s explore what qualifies a property as a mansion.

If your word definition is based strictly on size, you’ll find that there is no general consensus among experts. According to, a good rule of thumb is 5,000 square feet.

Charlie Cheever of writes, “Technically, realtors term mansions as houses that have at least 8,000 square feet of floor space.” Merriam-Webster‘s dictionary definition is less definitive, simply stating that a mansion is “a large and impressive house: the large house of a wealthy person.”

With so many diverse answers to the question out there, we decided to consult luxury real estate expert Jade Mills, a leading agent with Coldwell Banker Previews International, for the final word on “what is a mansion?”

No one knows mansions more than Mills. She recently sold the Playboy mansion, complete with playboy in chief Hugh Hefner in residence, for $100 million. She currently represents the Warner estate, which includes an eight-bedroom, 11-bathroom, 12,254-square-foot manor house, listed for $40 million.

What is a mansion?

According to Mills, real estate agents don’t often use the word “mansion” in listings unless, of course, it’s a part of an iconic house’s title, like the various Wrigley Mansions or Gracie Mansion, the New York City mayor’s residence.

“‘Mansion’ is a very subjective word,” Mills says. “I grew up in a house in Northern California that was about 900 square feet. One year, when we were driving down to Southern California to go to Disneyland, some friends told us they were staying in a mansion on Sunset Boulevard, and that we could come visit them. When we got there, I thought it was a mansion and more. But looking back, it was only about 5,000 square feet, and wouldn’t be considered a mansion by today’s standards.”

Mills notes that in the red-hot Los Angeles luxury market, some buyers don’t think of a house of less than 20,000 square feet as a true mansion.

Luxe amenities are a must

Although size and the number of rooms play a part, other features define what a mansion is as well. Almost every resource agrees that in addition to a greater-than-average number of bedrooms, bathrooms, and square feet, a true mansion will have the following features:

  • Entertainment facilities: Mansions built in the 20th century weren’t complete without ballrooms, salons, billiard rooms, and lounges. Modern mansion must-haves for entertaining guests include elaborate game rooms, massive great rooms, specialty bars, and often a pool with a pool house or cabana. These houses also include one, two, or three kitchens to cater to guests.
  • Leisure space: A century ago, greenhouses, conservatories, or libraries were important for chill time. Today, large spa facilities, home theaters, gyms, and high-tech media rooms—maybe even a high-tech safe room—would be at the top of most mansion dwellers’ lists. And let’s not forget massive closets, some of which have become mini man caves for the rich and well-dressed.
  • Lavish grounds: Formal or Zen gardens, sports facilities, water features, motor courts, extensive garages, fire pits, hiking trails, and guesthouses are common in lavish properties today.
  • Superlative building materials and finishes: We’re all too familiar with McMansions—those huge but tacky homes that are often built hastily, with an eye to the bottom line. We can definitively say those are not mansions. Mansions must be made of materials that are a cut above: the finest woods and most luxurious stonework and fabrics, all customized, of course. Top-of the-line appliances are expected and, lately, sustainable materials, smart home features, and elaborate security systems make the list of desirable amenities in mansions.

Bottom line: There is neither a legal dictionary definition nor a checklist of characteristics that defines what is a mansion.

“It’s all about the homeowner’s perspective,” says Mills. So if you want to call your charming three-bedroom a mansion, go for it.

The post What Is a Mansion? The Luxury Home Next Door Might Not Qualify appeared first on Real Estate News & Insights |®.