Penthouse A/B at 129 West 20th Street appears to be a place where nearly anyone would want to live. Flicking through the multitude of listing photos from the many brokerages and brokers who have tried to sell the 4,500-square foot Chelsea loft, one sees an apartment that seems to embody the dream of downtown luxury living: five bedrooms, four mosaic-tiled baths and two expansive terraces pinwheeling off the home’s showy heart: a sun-flooded double-height living room/dining room with 22-foot-high ceilings, two wood-burning fireplaces and an open staircase of wood and steel. The only problem is that it’s a dream no one wants to buy.
The home, which made its market debut at $8 million in April 2006, in the midst of massive renovation intended to set buyers’ hearts aflutter, has lingered there ever since. A handful of renters have come and gone, but none have wanted to sign the deed. Not for $8.5 million (the highest ask), not for $6.45 million (the lowest and most recent ask) and not for anything in between. It’s now listed for rent at $25,000 a month.
When The Observer visited 129 West 20th Street on a recent afternoon, we found an apartment that was many of the things it has claimed to be over the years: “glamorous, dramatic and refined,” just as the first Corcoran listing had promised, as well as “cinematic in scale and scope” like the Prudential Douglas Elliman listing bragged a few years later. (It had, in fact, starred alongside Keira Knightly and Eva Mendes in Last Night and Mariah Carey in an AT&T commercial.)
We couldn’t argue with the first Brown Harris Stevens listing that pronounced it “modern yet ultra-chic, exceptionally spacious and yet welcoming,” or with the second, which declared the condo “a singular home with dramatic potential.”
But after six years of showings and rentals, the celebrated design was starting to show its age: the floors were scuffed, the dust bunnies were reproducing like, well, bunnies, and the handle of a glass door to the terrace came off in our hand. A broker there to scope out the apartment before showing it to her clients—a family with three small children relocating from Canada—wondered why no one had bothered to paint, repair a warped piece of kitchen cabinetry, or sweep.
The owners were probably exhausted by their ongoing stewardship of a property that they’d expected to offload years ago, a place where they’d never lived and upon which they continued to spend $9,000 a month in maintenance and taxes.
Properties between $4 million and $9 million that sold in the third quarter of 2012 spent an average of 161 days on the market, or about five and a half months, according to Streeteasy data, to the Chelsea penthouse’s six and a half years. Was it simply asking too much, or was there something more? How else to explain a highly desirable space that no one seemed to desire, in a city where real estate is an obsession, vacancy rates hover near zero and battles over square footage are fought by the inch?
The penthouse of 129 West 20th Street numbers among a handful of Manhattan luxury properties that aren’t just slow-sellers, they are no-sellers. Not just for sale, but forever for sale.