It’s all a matter of priorities. “Certain people want something that no one else has lived in,” said Frances Katzen, an associate broker at Douglas Elliman. “They want cutting edge.” And they are willing to pay a premium for it. According to Jonathan Miller, president of the real estate appraisal firm Miller Samuel, the median sale price of a Manhattan prewar apartment was $3.1 million in the second quarter of the year, while a new construction condo of similar size went for $3.3 million.
But more than getting, say, wide-plank, oak floors that no one else has trodden and a stainless steel cooktop that no one else has boiled water on, residents of new buildings may be gazing on sights that no one else has seen.
“Developers are getting air rights and bundling them more strategically,” Ms. Katzen said, “so a lot of projects that are going up now have extraordinary views.”
Josh Rubin, an associate broker at Douglas Elliman, said people who seek out new buildings may do so because of the architects involved or because of the appreciation potential. “They think the quality makes it a better investment,” he said.
But sometimes it’s hard to tease out whether a preference for new construction is rooted in aesthetics or in economics. Renters may be motivated in part by concessions offered by developers, like a month (or two) of free rent. And buyers, who might otherwise consider a prewar, often rethink the matter after factoring in the time and money required for renovations “that will bring the apartment up to the standard of new,” said Stuart Moss, an associate broker at the Corcoran Group. “So that makes the turnkey quality of new construction highly desirable.”
New construction appealed to Brian M. Pasalich, who owns a century-old house in Seattle that he calls inviting but dusty “no matter how much you clean it.” He moved to New York seven years ago and has rented in a succession of new buildings, including one near the Pepsi-Cola sign in Long Island City. “There’s just something about being the first person in a residence. It’s pristine,” said Mr. Pasalich, 43, who works in financial services.
“Over the past few years,” he continued, “new construction has gone from basic and boring to having a nice flow and to being a place where everything you want is within the facility.” This is as much as anything about supply and demand. “New construction rental has become a crowded field,” said Mr. Miller, of Miller Samuel. “So there’s this emergence of rental design being more condo-like in terms of layout, finishes and variety of amenities.”
One QPS Tower, a high-rise rental in Long Island City, opened in February. Mr. Pasalich and his fiancé, Dustin Latham, 30, who works in human resources at Columbia University, were in residence the next month. Their one-bedroom apartment has floor-to-ceiling windows, granite countertops and central air conditioning. A gym, a rock-climbing wall, a rooftop pool and a library are all part of the package. “Some people make the choice of a new building because it’s about germs,” Mr. Pasalich said. “But,” he added, “that’s not the case for me. It’s a childlike feeling of being somewhere where no one has been before.”
Of course, “new” cuts two ways. Yes, you’re getting a space that’s never been occupied. But, oh yes, you’re getting a space that’s never been occupied. “Many buildings have growing pains,” said Mr. Rubin, of Douglas Elliman. “For example, “there could be waterproofing issues that people wouldn’t know about until buildings have been around for a year or two.” And, as Mr. Pasalich observed, new construction often comes with a new management team: “And they have to get used to the building, too.”
Residents of new buildings make other trade-offs, Ms. Katzen said. “Unfortunately, new developments tend to be more cookie-cutter in their floor plans. There are less formulaic layouts in prewars. You also give up closet space in new buildings,” she said.
Mr. Moss, of Corcoran, tells of clients who cheerfully dismiss a well-situated apartment for the sake of what they call “nice and fresh,” he said. “They’ll tell me they’re giving up on the great location of the Grand Millennium,” a 21-year-old condo on Broadway between 66th and 67th Street. “And then they’ll go to a new building on Riverside Boulevard, which is a lot more inconvenient, because no one has sullied the bathroom.”
Shaun Barker-Oswald, an associate broker at Douglas Elliman isn’t categorically opposed to an older building. Still, his last three apartments have been brand new, each a step up from its predecessor in the way of amenities, appliances and finishes. “Every new one has just felt more luxurious,” said Mr. Barker-Oswald, who, in October will be moving to the new One Hudson Yards.
For their part, Mr. Pasalich and Mr. Latham plan to stay at 1 QPS Tower for two years. Still, they are taking due note of the buildings going up around them and contemplating their next move because, after all, how long can a new building be considered new?
“Generally a building is new for five years,” Mr. Moss said. “It used to be a 7-to-10-year window, but with the rapid pace of condo development the time frame has gotten shorter.
“Buildings have a life cycle,” he continued. “They go from being brand spanking new to reasonably new to dated. And then maybe the lobby gets redone and amenities are added. And suddenly, they’re reborn.”