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Penthouse vs. Townhouse: Inside Manhattan’s Long-Running Real Estate Debate

We pit tower against townhouse to see which abode is better.

Without fail, the dramatic marketing images of New York City’s skyscraper condos are always taken from some irresistibly lofty perch resplendent in natural light with stunning vistas of the Manhattan skyline.

However, there are many wealthy New Yorkers who don’t care for the idea of living in a glass tower high above the clouds. For those folks, being closer to the streets and transportation, where they can step outside and talk to a neighbor, put their hand against a solid brick wall or walk to a store without having to wait for an elevator is what city living is all about.

By the same token, there’s no doubt that when it comes to living in Manhattan, the cost of having a park view, particularly Central Park, comes at a premium. Thus, some of the priciest, most star-studded condos are upper floor penthouses clustered around those 1.3 square miles of verdant calm. Hardly surprising, then, that the most expensive home ever sold in America is the unfathomable $238 million hedge fund tycoon Ken Griffin plunked down for his Manhattan pied à terre in the internationally ballyhooed, Robert A.M. Stern-designed tower known as 220 Central Park South. Griffin’s record-setting purchase proves that in a town where residents crave light, having an unencumbered view is almost priceless.

Central Park Tower

Central Park Tower  Extell Development

One of the downsides, however, of living in a cloud-enshrouded condo is the near-constant wind at higher altitudes. That’s why the windows of high-floor condos rarely open more than a smidgen. The views may weaken knees, but throw open a window and a gale force could blow an unsecured Rothko right off the wall. And, don’t be surprised if a migrating bird, exhausted from a trek back from Africa, finds its way into your living room. Worse, if another mega tower goes up right next door, goodbye natural light and hello darkness my old friend.

Many people appreciate that modern-day luxury towers are typically staffed with a usually uniformed retinue of solicitous staff to accept deliveries, open doors and, sometimes, park cars. But tower living also means there’s a perpetual risk of having to ride the elevator with your nosy or otherwise unpleasant neighbor. Of course, townhouse living also has its advantages and drawbacks, too. While you won’t run into Nosy Neighbor Nancy in the elevator, owning a townhouse means being responsible for everything. From fixing the roof and sewer line to eradicating the rodents intent on burrowing into the basement and cleaning up the deluge of supermarket flyers and junk mail that piles up at the front door.

The luxury market in Manhattan was suffering from plummeting prices long before COVID-19 put the city (and much of the country) on lockdown. Nonetheless, whether living low to the ground in a townhouse or high in the air in an ultra-luxury condo tower is your preference, it still takes considerably deep pockets to acquire either. According to StreetEasy, there are some fixer-upper townhouse in the northern reaches of Manhattan that can be scooped up for under $2 million—the most expensive townhouse on the open market is listed at a head-spinning $79 million, while a two-bedroom condo currently available on the 24th floor of 220 Central Park South will set a well-financed buyer back $15 million.

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