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'Penthouse' Doesn't Just Refer to the Top Floor Anymore

By Janet Upadhye | September 23, 2014 8:06pm | Updated on September 26, 2014 1:22pm
 In many of New York City's latest real estate developments, the definition of "penthouse" has expanded to several floors.
Penthouses on Multiple Floors
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DOWNTOWN BROOKLYN — The exclusivity of the fabled New York City penthouse — a luxurious top-floor apartment adorned with green terraces that provide spectacular views — might soon be a thing of the past.

Developers have been expanding the definition of what a penthouse is in recent years, increasingly using the name to describe large groups of units on upper floors, not just the highest, in order to get top dollar.

The trend is most notable in the recent launch of the “Penthouse Collection” at Brooklyn’s tallest tower, 388 Bridge Street. The collection is made up of 40 units spanning eight floors.

Several other buildings in Long Island City, Queens, Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan have seen a similar trend. But some have been hard to sell because they don't have panoramic views.

The residences at 338 Bridge St., located on floors 45 to 53, have been designated “penthouses” because they have higher ceilings, better appliances and upgraded heat and A/C systems than lower-floor apartments, according to a building sales representative.

Penthouse dwellers also have exclusive access to the “Sky Lounge,” boasting grand views, a fireplace, televisions and a kitchenette. Units in the collection carry a price tag of $1.7 to $6 million while lower-level apartments cost from $700,000 to $1.7 million.

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Real estate broker Jay Glazer, who works for Urban Compass, said that the penthouses at 388 Bridge signify a shift in real estate marketing where developers make more casual use of the word “penthouse” to make their units seem more desirable. 

“There is nothing sexier than advertising a penthouse,” he said. “But it’s really just a byproduct of developers trying to maximize their dollars.”

Glazer went on to say that sometimes all it takes is the illusion of exclusivity to close a deal.

“The allure of a penthouse is sometimes as simple as a bigger button in the elevator with the letters 'PH' before the floor number," he said. "It doesn’t matter if it’s actually on the top floor or not.”

The director of research and communications at CityRealty, Gabby Warshawer, agreed and said the trend is most notable in very tall buildings.

“In a building like 388 Bridge Street, the penthouse apartments span several floors but those floors are so high they start well above where other buildings in the neighborhoods leave off,” she said. “People have always wanted to be at the top in New York City and now with these super-tall towers more people can be.”

But 388 Bridge Street is far from the exception.

Warshawer said One Hanson Place, Brooklyn's clocktower building, was the first building she remembers designating more than one unit a "penthouse." In 2008, six penthouses, located on floors 33 to 36, hit the market and sold for a combined price tag of upwards of $10 million.

Numerous building owners have given their upper-floor units the distinction. TriBeCa's 56 Leonard has 10 penthouses on multiple floors, The Avalon Riverview North in Long Island City has five floors of penthouse apartments and Lower Manhattan's 30 Park Place has three floors of penthouses.

There is also 10 Madison Square West, which recently added a new floor of penthouses and the landmarked Puck Building in Nolita will have six penthouses.

Warshawer said her research indicates that giving a unit the name “penthouse" allows building owners to fetch top dollar for their upper-floor units.

The 56-floor high-rise at 56 Leonard St. in TriBeCa has 10 penthouse units on multiple floors and, although construction on the building is not yet complete, eight of them have already sold for an average of $5,535 per square foot — more than double the average listing price in the neighborhood.

The remaining two — PH52B and PH58 — are still on the market for $17.75 and $34.5 million respectively, she said.

Those prices are nearly double the average listing price for non-penthouse units in the building — around $3,330 per square foot. They're also priced significantly higher than the average listing price in the neighborhood — $2,546 per square foot, according to CityRealty.

But the penthouse designation isn’t always as alluring as some developers might hope — especially if the units don’t have the views to back up the price tag.

Owners of the Chelsea Modern, located at 447 W. 18th St., named units on floors nine through 12 “penthouses,” but their lack of sweeping views made them difficult to sell, according to a previous report from DNAinfo New York.

After three years on the market developers started a renewed marketing push to sell out the building and the units were marked down several times.

“It is hard to convince someone that they are even in a penthouse without panoramic view,” Glazer said.

And although Warshawer believes that “this is the moment for penthouses" she doesn't think the definition will become too watered down.

“Most developers do not want to dilute the profit that can be made from having one actual penthouse," she said. "And after all, buyers still want something special."