I Got It, Thanks: Leases in Manhattan’s Doorman Buildings Plunge

New rent stats suggest that doorman buildings are starting to go out of fashion for the masses as Manhattanites seek to cut back on expenses—even if it means having to hoof their own packages upstairs.

The number of new leases for apartments in doorman buildings dropped 63.2 percent annually in the second quarter of 2009, while apartments not armed with service teams saw a less marked year-over-year drop (47.7 percent) and a 58.2 percent increase in new leases from the first quarter. The stats come from Miller Samuel and Douglas Elliman’s inaugural Manhattan rental market report (PDF), released Thursday. The number of new leases for non-doorman apartments jumped to 943 from 596 in the first quarter.

This is bad news for doormen, who have already seen their tips dwindle and jobs disappear. They provide a number of amenities: taking care of the laundry, bringing tenants’ packages upstairs, helping carry tenants’ bags, and often walking tenants’ dogs and keeping an eye on the kids—and getting all up in the business of some tenants as well. Your friend with a drinking problem is sleeping on the futon? Girlfriend isn’t coming around anymore? Big party last night? They know.

While doorman apartments currently cost $50.36 per square foot, non-doorman apartments cost $34.59, according to Mr. Miller, a 45 percent differential.

But, apparently, the renters of 3,820 apartments in the second quarter of 2008 embraced the intrusion, when the economy was faring better. Now that it’s become clear this is not your uncle’s recession, there were only 1,406 new leases in doorman apartments in the same period in 2009, down also from 1,674 in the first three months of the year.

Each doorman costs around $80,000 ($37,315 in salary, plus overtime, benefits, training and other expenses), according to a 2006 Times article. That means higher rents in apartments that are already likely to be pricier for related reasons—like a better location, taller building, and larger density of three- and four-room lofts, according to Jonathan Miller, president and CEO of Miller Samuel and the rental report’s author.

While doorman apartments currently cost $50.36 per square foot, non-doorman apartments cost $34.59, according to Mr. Miller, a 45 percent differential.
 

OVERALL LEASING WAS DOWN 58.3 percent from 2008, and rents per square foot were down 17.5 percent—in large part because new renters aren’t entering the market (since they can’t find jobs), and also because laid-off workers are leaving the market, Mr. Miller said.

But all is not lost: Leases actually increased over the first quarter by 2.4 percent, and leasing activity even picked up in June: 46.3 percent of all second-quarter leasing activity happened in June, a steady rise from 20.4 percent in April and 33.3 percent in May. Usually, according to Mr. Miller, such leasing activity is more evenly distributed over the spring months.

Meanwhile, non-doorman apartments may become the new trend in a recession that Mr. Miller said is not ending anytime soon—though he stopped short of saying non-doorman apartments are the new thing. “We had a significant surge in non-doorman rental activity,” he said. “I’m not sure that that will be sustained, given one quarter is not a trend.”

Still, we’ll take it.

Mr. Miller added, “You might continue to see less of a decline in rents or the demand for rents at the lower end of the market as the economy remains weak.” And most non-doorman apartments, Mr. Miller granted, are at the lower end of the market. 

bkavoussi@observer.com