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NYC dream homes aren't so 'classic'

Colleen Hess bought her 1,850-sqaure-foot loft on West

Colleen Hess bought her 1,850-sqaure-foot loft on West Street in June. Photo Credit: Colleen Hess bought her 1,850-sqaure-foot loft on West Street in June.

When it comes to Manhattan real estate, the "classic six" apartment - a rare two-bedroom prewar pad with a living room, formal dining room, maid's room and one or two bathrooms - is usually considered the pinnacle. But when Colleen Hess was ready to buy her dream home, she had "loftier" ideas.

"I really wasn't sure what I was looking for," said Hess, 56. "I just knew that it would be visceral, and I would know when I found it."

In June, she found it: a sprawling 1,850-square-foot loft on West Street with 12-foot ceilings and palatial windows looking out to the Hudson River. She blew her budget to buy the place.

More and more New Yorkers may be embracing a similar style of real estate as loft- and brownstone-heavy lower Manhattan continues to explode. The area's population has more than doubled since 9/11, making it one of the city's fastest- growing neighborhoods, according to the Downtown Alliance.

That has translated into an increase in demand for downtown's unique housing stock, sending prices up to levels that classic sixes used to own. ("There is a surprising number of townhouses on the market right now in the $3.5 million to $15 million range in the West and Greenwich villages," said Tracie Hamersley, an agent with Citi Habitats.) It may just mean that the classic six is being dethroned as NYC's hottest piece of property.

Gary Malin, president of Citi Habitats, suggested that lofts are gaining in popularity for their openness, which reflects an urban style of living.

"Open spaces are at a premium in New York," Malin said. "The openness of a loft is very in line with our modern lifestyle, and makes it easy to entertain and interact."

Such nontraditional spaces are all you're going to find downtown because of its differently configured landscape, said Sherry Matays, senior vice president of the Corcoran Group. A lack of classic-six inventory is helping to fuel demand for other types of homes.

"The classic six is typically located in very established, traditionally residential neighborhoods," Matays said. "That type of home is much harder to find downtown. In many of the newer residential areas, such as [the Financial District], the developers are not dealing with traditional spaces."

Many people may also shun classic sixes for economic reasons.

"Since most of them are in co-ops with potentially daunting financial requirements, they may become unaffordable to many current buyers," Matays said.

But don't be fooled: "A true prewar six is a rare gem. It cannot be created - only imitated," she said.

The kinds of homes that buyers favor differ by neighborhood, Hamersley said. If you're talking about traditional nabes such as the UES or UWS, the classic six is still king. But the UES saw a 26% rise in vacancies from 2000 to 2010, according to Census data, along with a 3.9% drop in population. And as lower Manhattan becomes the rising star of the real estate market, less and less attention is being paid to the UES's classic sixes.

"More single people and couples are considering [the Financial District], but the majority of the apartments in this area aren't classic-six size," Hamersley said. "For downtown buyers - many of whom are interested in Williamsburg and Park Slope as well - definitely lofts are more of what I'm working."

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Different spaces for different dreamers

Lofts, townhouses and modern high-rise apartments are all considered dream apartments, Malin said. "What one prefers just depends on their personal taste."
Here's why these types of homes are giving the classic six a run for its money:

The Loft

Don't want a traditional place? The loft is the furthest thing from it. These industrial-style spaces keep you feeling modern to the minute.

"Lofts are highly desired because of their high ceilings, minimal walls and industrial-age detailing, like exposed ductwork and cast-iron columns," Malin said.

And if you like to throw parties, lofts provide the room to fill with a host of family and friends.

The Penthouse

"High-rise apartments have an appeal all their own," Malin said. "These homes offer the latest and greatest in terms of interior materials and finishes, and ultra-modern kitchens and baths are par for the course."

And don't you just adore a penthouse view?

"Often the walls are floor-to-ceiling glass and have sweeping skyline or water views, giving the resident the sense of being 'above it all,'" Malin added.

The Townhouse

This is the closest to the white picket fence in a city of concrete.

"The multi-floor layout of a townhome offers a true house feeling," Malin said. "Plus, townhomes tend to have beautiful, historic facades and interiors filled with prewar detail."

And in a townhouse, you're not living below or on top of anyone.

"Townhouses offer a feeling of privacy and individuality when compared to other housing types in New York City," Malin added.

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