Manhattan residences are full of incredible architectural details, with some buildings boasting flourishes that date as far back as the 1700s.
Brokers who know what to look for have an advantage in the culturally rich market of New York, where discerning buyers and sellers are willing to embrace aesthetics. A broker who knows architecture and interior design, either through a formal degree or a passion for the subject can get better deals for clients – and larger commissions for his or her firm.
Architecturally conversant brokers can detect structural elements in properties, develop alternate floor plans or tell a prospective buyer the kind of care and attention that has gone into a renovation. This kind of expertise can be very helpful to buyers, whether they are looking at townhouses in the Village, a reinvented office building or a new high-rise development.
Tatiana Cames, a Corcoran vice president based in Soho, began her real estate career with the purchase and renovation of her own Italianate townhouse in the West Village in the early 1990s, expanding her experiences and writing about New York townhouses in general. Since renovations are common when a new owner moves into a single-family Manhattan townhouse, Cames can bring her expertise to bear during the buying process.
“You need to know the period and the details, especially in the Village, from Transitional Federal to Greek Revival, early Greek Revival to Italianate and so on,” she said. “There are a lot of transitional periods and if things are missing in the home the owner needs to know how they should restore it.”
“You have to help them understand which area is sagging, what details are in better shape and what will survive a gut renovation,” she added.
Nancy Herzfeld of Brown Harris Stevens, who previously worked for Skidmore Owings and Merrill Architects and I. M. Pei & Partners in New York, said clients need “someone with a sharp eye, who knows how renovation can still keep intact the charm of the original.”
“This is especially true of older estate sales where people haven’t upgraded the electric and plumbing for years, and keeping in mind city codes and maintaining the integrity of the original space,” she said.
Of course, there will always be an engineer to report on things like the foundation, the structure and the termites before the buyer ever signs a contract, she said.
Herzfeld, who also had her own interior design and architectural firm, draws from that background to recommend contractors or architects her clients can choose from.
“I have lots of resources that are very hard to find now, such as skim coating, recreating molding and even good carpenters that can repair stairways and banisters without having to replace the whole thing,” she said.
Craftsmen like these are hard to find in an age of mass manufacturing and few are capable of doing that sort of work by hand, she added.
“Back then it was labor intensive, it was an art,” Herzfeld said. “Now it’s just part of the construction process. I know of a few cases where people have brought over old carpenters from Italy because there are so few that can work with wood in that fashion even in Europe.”
In addition to advising on restoration, a background in architecture comes in handy when dealing with new, unfinished developments.
Wayne Burkey of Sotheby’s has an architectural background that includes working for Giuseppe Zambonini in the Open Atelier of Design. He said “often times it’s the architecture of the building, not the details as much, that buyers are looking at.”
He points to the example of the towers at 173-176 Perry Street and another planned tower on Charles Street designed by architect Richard Meier.
“When you can’t see these things physically it helps to have someone explain the ceiling heights, window sizes, building systems, the location of the elevator and length of corridors,” Burkey said. “It’s a big leap from two to three dimensions.”
Overall, Burkey said he does not tailor his marketing to center on the architectural offerings of a listing. “But I’m so keenly aware of it when I’m working with people that I sort of bring that out,” he said.
Herzfeld said her background inspires confidence, always an important aspect of the broker-client relationship “I think it inspires the customer to appreciate my judgment,” she said.