A 13th-Floor Condo? No Such Luck

Wall Street Journal

by Sanette Tanaka 

Although most people don’t believe the myth of unlucky 13, less than 5% of residential condo buildings in Manhattan and Brooklyn have a designated 13th floor.

When construction is complete on 56 Leonard Street, a 60-story skyscraper in Manhattan’s TriBeCa neighborhood, amenities will include an indoor/outdoor theater, 75-foot lap pool, library lounge and private dining salon. What it won’t have: a 13th floor.

“I’m not particularly superstitious myself, but not having a 13th floor is a no-brainer,” says Izak Senbahar, the building’s developer and president of Alexico Group. “You don’t want to preclude anyone, a buyer who happens to be superstitious. It boils down to that.”

Lucky 13


Dorothy Hong for The Wall Street JournalThe Studio Building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, shown here, is one of the few residential buildings in New York City with a designated 13th floor.

Although academic research shows the vast majority of people don’t buy into the idea of unlucky 13, less than 5% of mid- and high-rise residential condo buildings in Manhattan and Brooklyn have a designated 13th floor, according to an analysis of roughly 1,500 condo declarations by real-estate listings website CityRealty. In the rest, the 13th floor is labeled as the 14th, so no one in the building is saddled with the 13th-floor address.

Although most people don’t believe the myth of unlucky 13, less than 5% of residential condo buildings in Manhattan and Brooklyn have a designated 13th floor. Sanette Tanaka and Pete Culliney, City Realty Director of Research and Analytics, join Lunch Break. Photo: Getty Images.

Extell Development Co. left floor 13 out of the Aldyn and the Rushmore, both high-end, glassy condos completed in the past decade. Related Companies plans to omit the 13th floor in the residential towers of its Hudson Yards complex. A number of other high-profile projects, such as 432 Park Avenue and One57, both in Midtown, bypass the issue, because the residential floors will begin higher than the 13th floor; the lower floors will be occupied by commercial spaces.

The decision to omit the 13th floor occurs well before ground is broken. Both developers and marketers discuss floor layouts in initial planning meetings, but the developer has the final say. Then, if the 13th floor is omitted, developers work off two sets of plans—technical plans that show a 13th floor and marketing plans that don’t.

“If there’s even a 1% risk that someone won’t like it, then why would you do it? It’s a simple change to the numbers,” says Kevin Maloney, principal at Property Markets Group, a New York City-based real-estate acquisition and development firm. “It also makes a building seem a little bit taller, which is important in New York. You get an extra floor.”

Older buildings and co-ops are more likely to feature a designated 13th floor, though the exact number is hard to calculate, since co-op information isn’t made public, says Pete Culliney, director of research and analytics at CityRealty.

“Most new buildings don’t have a 13th. It goes from 12 to 14,” says Lisa Lippman, associate real-estate broker at Brown Harris Stevens.

Still, when they do come on the market, 13th-floor units aren’t particularly difficult to sell, Ms. Lippman says. She recently sold a two-bedroom apartment in an Upper West Side co-op for roughly $4.2 million, just under the asking price. Kelly Robinson of Town Residential, who represented the buyers of the apartment, said her clients saw it as a nonissue. Throughout the process, Ms. Lippman says no one even mentioned the 13th floor.

Units on floor 13 seem to do just as well as ones on neighboring floors, says Jonathan Miller, a New York City-based appraiser and president of Miller Samuel Inc. “I’ve done lots of floor-level studies, and I haven’t seen anything that suggests it sways consumer behavior or impacts value or marketability,” he says.

Still, Mr. Miller says he believes it is prudent to omit the 13th floor. “Why take a chance if maybe that one buyer has a problem with it?” he asks.

Frederico Sève, an art dealer, is trying to sell a three-bedroom penthouse on the 13th floor on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. Listed for $15.5 million, the unit is in a co-op building with a full-time doorman, playroom and central laundry room, and has been on the market for about a year. The listing agent, Monica Luque of Douglas Elliman, says one feature has been mentioned by every potential buyer: It’s on the 13th floor.

The myth of unlucky 13 has multiple origins. In the Christian tradition, some people trace it back to the Last Supper, where Jesus shared the table with his 12 disciples. Judas, the disciple who betrayed Jesus before his crucifixion, is considered the 13th guest. The superstition spread to Christian areas as well as non-Christian areas, says Phil Stevens, associate professor of anthropology at the University of Buffalo who studies superstitions.

In real estate, marketers and residents have their own 13th-floor horror stories. Philip Spiegelman, co-founder and principal of International Sales Group, a sales and marketing firm for developers, recalls a Miami residential building in the early 1970s where none of the 13th-floor units sold until he finally renumbered it six months later. Jennifer Dorfmann, executive vice president and managing director of sales at residential brokerage Modern Spaces, spoke of a high-profile Manhattan building where the units on the 13th floor were the last to sell.

Former New York resident Carole Shanis believes omitting the 13th floor creates more trouble than not. During the city’s blackout of 1977, Ms. Shanis got confused in the stairwells as she tried to find her 14th-floor unit. “I got off at the floor I thought I lived on, and I couldn’t find my apartment,” she says. “Then I realized I was on the wrong floor. I got off at 14, but it wasn’t really 14. I actually lived on 13.”

Now Ms. Shanis, a former interior designer, lives in a 6,000-square-foot duplex in Philadelphia that spans both the 13th and 14th floors. On floor 13, she and her husband knocked down walls to create a large living and entertaining space. “I’ve never really thought about it in terms of being unlucky. Great things have happened on that 13th floor,” she says.

Toll Brothers‘ TOL +3.78% One Ten Third, a 21-story luxury condo in Manhattan’s East Village, was built six years ago and includes a designated floor 13. And Toll Brothers’ two newest planned buildings, in Midtown East and SoHo, will also have a 13th floor. “I think it’s a silly thing to be afraid of,” says David Von Spreckelsen, division president of Toll Brothers City Living in New York.

In Chicago, real-estate agent Jenna Smith of Redfin says 13th floors are fairly common. A few years ago, she sold a 13th-floor apartment in the Fulton River District to Tony Guth, a manager at an audit, tax and advisory firm. He says he didn’t really register the floor number until moving in. Then every few weeks, a neighbor or stranger would comment—” ‘Ooh, number 13,’ or something like that,” Mr. Guth says. What’s worse, the 13 button in the elevator is backlit in green, while every other number is backlit in red. (His wife says it’s coincidental.)

Mr. Guth says he’s not superstitious. “I don’t have any lucky numbers. I was born on April 13. I have had birthdays on Friday the 13th. I’ve taken flights on Friday the 13th,” he says. Still, he was a little concerned when he put his unit on the market in July, also with Ms. Smith.

Luckily, it went under contract days later for $465,000, pretty much in line with the asking price. “That kind of alleviated our concerns about any negative stigmas of being on the 13th floor,” he says.

Mr. Miller, the appraiser, says New Yorkers are unlikely to see a change in their building specs anytime soon. The superstition has “taken on a life of its own,” prompting some developers to even drop the fourth floor, which is unlucky in Chinese culture. Scheduled for completion in October, the 15-story Vista in Long Island City, Queens, for instance, omits both the 13th and fourth floors.

Still, some developers, including Mr. Senbahar of 56 Leonard, say they draw the line at omitting the fourth: “That’s going a little overboard for me,” he says.

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