The Not-So-Eternal Footman

Times are tough: Manhattanites are ditching doorman buildings.

That’s what new numbers suggest: Rents dropped from January through February in doorman buildings throughout Manhattan, according to a report from the Real Estate Group New York. The drops—which hit neighborhoods from hip (SoHo and Harlem) to not-so-much (Battery Park City and the Upper East Side)—imply a scramble by doorman-building landlords to entice tenants to fill more vacancies through cheaper rents.

In some neighborhoods, doorman rents fell steeply. In Battery Park City, doorman rents were down in every apartment size surveyed, including over 5.6 percent for two-bedrooms. In SoHo, the average rent for doorman one-bedrooms dropped 6.1 percent; in Tribeca, doorman studio rents fell 6.3 percent. And, in Harlem, the least expensive neighborhood polled by the report, doorman rents for two-bedrooms dropped over 7.1 percent to $2,804 monthly.

At the same time, non-doorman rents in many neighborhoods rose in February. In Chelsea, in non-doorman studios, rents increased 7.5 percent on average; and, in two-bedrooms, 6.2 percent. In Gramercy, the two-bedroom doorman average dipped 1.2 percent, and the non-doorman one jumped over 5 percent.

The differences between doorman and non-doorman rents remain stark, and the doorman drops don’t necessarily portend a tumble in the nation’s most viciously competitive apartment market (the rental vacancy rate was well under 3 percent by the end of 2007).

On the Upper West Side, over $1,000 separates the two monthly averages for doorman and non-doorman one-bedrooms: $2,563 for non-doorman versus $3,567 for doorman. On the Upper East Side in February, the difference was similarly sharp: $2,448 versus $3,516, according to the preliminary Real Estate Group report.

Long term, these differences could start to matter a great deal more to even affluent Manhattan tenants. Although the local economy, buoyed perennially by the mighty financial services industry, remains strong, New Yorkers can’t help but see and feel the signs of change for the worse: profit write-downs at major investment banks; layoffs by the thousands; dips in demand for even luxury retail; and a lending industry in shambles.

The financial uncertainties spawned by these recent developments appear to have forced the issue for the typically harried Manhattan renter, who might need to start squirreling away several hundred extra dollars a month: Can’t I open my own front door?

The Not-So-Eternal Footman