South of Houston Street, buyers of luxury real estate have a host of great options: the lofts in landmark cast-iron SoHo buildings; brand new luxury apartments and converted office spaces in the Financial District; converted factories and warehouses in Tribeca, etc. The list goes on and on. These neighborhoods are the most popular neighborhoods in Manhattan, and the prices reflect that; SoHo and Tribeca are the most expensive places to live in the borough. One thing that you won’t often find downtown, however, is the “Classic Six,” the moniker for pre-war 2-bedrooms with a formal dining room, maid’s room, and 1 or 2 bathrooms. Long considered the height of luxury living in Manhattan, the Classic Six is struggling to maintain its status as the best that Manhattan has to offer. Judging by the prices, lofts are now equally as popular, because both sell for the same price range. Many factors have contributed to this shift, but the primary one is that Manhattan’s most popular neighborhoods simply don’t have any Classic Sixes to offer, and buyers don’t seem to have a problem with that.
From a historical perspective, this lack of Classic Six inventory should be obvious: Tribeca, SoHo, the Financial District, Battery Park City; all of these neighborhoods have industrial or business backgrounds, in stark contrast to neighborhoods like the Upper East and West Side, places that were built specifically as residential areas for Manhattan’s middle and upper classes. Hence, the UES and UWS are filled with pre-war buildings that contain Classic Sixes. The thing is, fewer people seem to want to live in them. According to recent Census reports, vacancies on the UES rose 28% from 2000 to 2010, and overall population dropped by 3.9% during that same time. Conversely, Lower Manhattan has doubled in population over the past decade.
One significant factor is that the idea of luxury living in Manhattan is being redefined by modern tastes. Brokers say that people value the openness that lofts provide because they allow them to entertain and interact easily. Also, the Old New York style is being supplanted by a chic modern aesthetic that has achieved a similar prestige among young professionals; there’s no need to live in a Classic Six to prove your status anymore. More verifiable economic reasons are at play too: Most Classic Sixes are co-ops with very lofty financial requirements that effectively shut out or deter many younger buyers, many of whom are happy to take their money to the lofts of Lower Manhattan, most of which are easier to purchase
Nonetheless, there’s nothing like a Classic Six in Manhattan. The level of craftsmanship and detailed design is still unique in the Manhattan luxury condo listings. Hypothetically, if Lower Manhattan were filled with pre-war buildings and the Classic Sixes they contain, they would likely be much more popular than industrial lofts and other forms of luxury real estate. However, they’re not, and location is everything. The allure of hot downtown neighborhoods has pulled many potential buyers away from traditional luxury, and this real estate trend shows no sign of abating anytime soon.