Six FiDi Open Houses, Zero Buyers—Oh, God

On paper, a condo in the Financial District looks attractive. Recently a “desolate town,” as broker and FiDi resident Jackie Chan-Brown described it, the area has apparently been transforming into a “vibrant neighborhood.” That transformation is still very much in progress—vibrancy is hard to find on streets hemmed with concrete monoliths—but developers are compensating by offering so many amenities in new buildings that, except to enter those monoliths, residents may never have to walk outside.

Sellers are optimistic. But on Sunday, The Observer went to six open houses for studios and one-bedrooms at five addresses in the Financial District and encountered not a single buyer. Brokers spent the afternoon rearranging pillows and organizing flyers into neat piles. As desolation crept back over the FiDi, they struggled to stay cheerful.

In a studio at 80 John Street, Ms. Chan-Brown said there have been bumps on the road to vibrancy. “We were an emerging neighborhood before the Wall Street crash got in our way,” she said.

Still, she believes that the last few months have seen an “explosion” in the downtown real estate market. The Financial District in particular can offer “value,” she said, listing the building’s amenities (gym, dry cleaner, garage, doorman), and continually invoking the $625,000 apartment’s 100-square-foot terrace.

Twenty minutes after the start of the open house, no one had shown up, and Ms. Chan-Brown went to the lobby to wait. As she left the apartment, she blew out a scented candle and watched the smoke billow upward. “The owner has a dog,” she said. “So, you know, I gotta get rid of the smell.”

Above the bed at the next open house, a $590,000 one-bedroom at 56 Pine Street, hung two plaster sculptures. A seated figure wearing loafers and a batting helmet gazed at a ballet dancer in mid-jump. It was impossible to tell if the gazer’s attitude was of confident optimism or despondent longing. In any case, broker Michael Young, who was subbing for Doug Eichman, kept his chin up despite the fact that no prospective buyers had arrived 35 minutes into the showing. He still expected guests.

“Take one of these without the sticker,” he said, referring to the stack of flyers, three of which advertised a recent price cut. “I only have three with the sticker.”

The next stop, a $624,995 one-bedroom in 130 Water Street, had seen one buyer. But 40 minutes into the open house, when The Observer arrived, this rare species had departed.

The broker Luis Vazquez apologized for the “clutter,” which included framed Bob Marley posters, Zen kitsch, and a cat named Carl. The bedroom was the condo’s best feature, with large paneled windows spreading across two walls and blinds that, according to Mr. Vazquez, “come with the apartment.” He admitted that there are relatively few amenities in this building, which was one of the first in the area to convert to condos. But a current renovation in the lobby will soon yield, among other features, an irrigation system for a grass planter. “The building is trying to keep up with the Joneses, as it were,” Mr. Vazquez said.

Despite the slow day, Mr. Vazquez remained optimistic for the future of the neighborhood. “It’s arguably the safest area in New York,” he said, adding that there are more families with kids under 18 in the Financial District than anywhere else in the city. “People are investing millions of dollars to make it a 24/7 community.”

And he said he has an interested buyer visiting the apartment on Tuesday for the third time. Sighing, he closed his eyes, crossed his fingers on both hands, and turned his face heavenward. It was a mock-prayerful gesture that betrayed more than a hint of anxiety.

The next condo was a one-bedroom in the same building, whose price had just been lowered to $499,900. Twenty minutes into the open house, no buyers had arrived. But broker Davina Rosenbaum wasn’t worried. She related an anecdote about an open house where a dozen people turned up within the last 10 minutes. “It was like a bus came and dropped them all off,” she said.

In a $745,000 one-bedroom at 71 Nassau Street, an hour and 15 minutes into the open house, broker Arthur Hung said “a few” buyers had come to look. But he said, “It’s a little fewer than I expected.”

Down Broadway near Bowling Green, a man in a blue polo shirt and plaid shorts crouched under the flanks of the bronze bull sculpture as his friend snapped a picture. Grinning, the man grabbed the beast’s metal testicles in both hands and flexed his biceps as if he were doing chin-ups. Tourists, at least, were feeling bullish.

At the last stop on the open house circuit, a $413,000 studio at 20 West Street, The Observer ran into our friend from 130 Water, Mr. Vazquez, who was doing back-to-back showings. Fifty minutes into the open house, with 10 minutes to go, not one buyer had stopped by. The building, which used to be the Downtown Athletic Club, is, according to Mr. Vazquez, “overloaded with amenities.” These include a 12,000-square-foot gym, a sauna and steam room, a massage room, a lounge with a television and a computer, a screening room, a billiards room, a landscaped terrace, laundry service, and valet parking.

“It’s odd to me that there’s not a single person out,” Mr. Vazquez said, speculating that the prediction of rain might have discouraged apartment-hunters. But at that point the rain hadn’t started. And when the open house ended, Mr. Vazquez confirmed it had been a no-show. Once cheerful, he now expressed frustration with the open house process.

“You do it for the owner as much as for the buyer,” he said. “You have to do the open house, even though it’s sometimes useless.”

walden@observer.com

Six FiDi Open Houses, Zero Buyers—Oh, God