There Goes the Sun

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Let there be light. Please.

In the matter of the ideal New York City apartment, many seekers are hot for the sun. Alas, the sun is not always hot for them.

It’s an amenity that many people can’t afford (particularly if, as is sometimes the case, it is tied in with a view and thus commands a premium) or one that expresses itself briefly and rarely, a small square of light in a corner of the living room for seven minutes during the summer months. And sometimes the sun is utterly faithless, here today and gone tomorrow — blotted out by the behemoth going up next door, down the block or across the street. Welcome to New York.

It’s true that plenty of apartment hunters don’t put “light” anywhere near the top of their must-have lists (more about this in a minute), but unless they are descended from a long line of vampires, most people are going to want at least a dappling of sun, if for no other reason than ease of resale.

Then there are those who view light as an elemental need, one that trumps everything else, including location, closets, level floors, an elevator, a doorman and proximity to Trader Joe’s.

They can now turn for guidance to, a website that offers insights — about noise level, speed of snow removal, Citi Bike accessibility, safety for pedestrians, etc., etc. — for every address in New York.

Thanks to a specially created algorithm,, which was introduced in April, can also tell users precisely how much sunlight hits every side of every building in the city, and how the time of year will affect the quantity of light. In addition, there is information about when during the day the light will be at its brightest, the length of time the light will linger and the way different floors are affected by the shadows cast by surrounding structures.

“What’s the most frequent headline in a description of an apartment? It’s something like ‘enjoy the sun-filled living room,’” said Steven Kalifowitz, the president of “That’s a hook in ads, and now people will have somewhere to go and find out if it’s true. Maybe it’s only sunny in the summer, and in the winter it’s dark, and so maybe it isn’t worth the rent. Or maybe people will say, ‘I didn’t realize how nice it would be. This is really a desirable place.’” recently compiled a list of the 10 darkest apartment buildings (with four or more units) in each of the five boroughs. The four-unit condominium at 54 Pine Street, in the admittedly crepuscular financial district, is one of the addresses so designated. (For the record, the average price per square foot in the building is just over $1,000, according to StreetEasy.)

It is a source of little surprise and no distress to David Lamer that threw his residence some shade.

“We don’t get much sunlight here at all, but it doesn’t bother us, ” said David Lamer, with his wife, Kristin Karabees, and their daughter, Devon, 15, in the living room of their apartment.CreditGeorge Etheredge for The New York Times

“The streets are so tight in Lower Manhattan that there isn’t much sunlight down here at all,” said Mr. Lamer, 54, a technology entrepreneur who has lived at 54 Pine Street since 2006. “And now I have bragging rights to be in this building with the least sunlight.”

He and his wife, Kristin Karabees, an executive in the apparel business, wanted a Wall Street-area two-bedroom apartment that exuded character and airiness. The knotty pine paneling, the marble fireplace and the 14-foot ceilings were all they could have asked for.

“I just don’t think you could replicate our space. Ralph Lauren would love it,” said Mr. Lamer, who does have the benefit of a terrace that provides periodic indirect light. “You enjoy the moment when you get it.”

Ronnie Meirov, the owner and a resident of a four-unit building in Rego Park, Queens, that, like 54 Pine Street, was singled out by, is far less sanguine about the distinction than Mr. Lamer. “It feels annoying to know it’s one of the least sunny properties in the city. It’s not something I’d publicize if I ever want to sell,” said Mr. Meirov, 30, an accountant.

“It would make sense because we’re surrounded by tall buildings in the front, in the back, everywhere,” he added. “But we get a decent amount of light. We’re not deprived. And space and location were most important to me.”

In New York City, there is a perceived importance of light and an actual importance of light, said Stuart Moss, an associate broker with Corcoran. “In the last few years, the perceived importance has skyrocketed,” he said. “I see people putting a ridiculously high value on natural light.”

Last year, Mr. Moss took a couple with three children to Greenwich Village to look at a $9 million condo with what he described as perfectly adequate light. The apartment had everything his clients said they wanted: an excellent layout, four bedrooms, a children’s wing and a parking space.

“Too dark,” the wife decreed the minute she walked in.

“Oh, do you work from home?” Mr. Moss asked.

No, she and her husband left early in the morning and didn’t get home until 7:30 or so.

“Oh, so you’ll be spending lots of time here on weekends?

Actually, no, they had a place in the Hamptons.

“You have no idea how often I have a variation on this conversation,” Mr. Moss said. In this particular case, the clients bought the condo.

In the early days of the apartment building, at the end of the 19th century, when the well-off began cautiously abandoning their townhouses to give vertical living a try, “light wasn’t what developers were talking about,” said Elizabeth Hawes, the author of the cultural history “New York, New York: How the Apartment House Transformed the Life of the City.”

“They were talking about space and wainscoting and paneling and the ample size of the rooms and how like a house it was,” Ms. Hawes said. “People would put heavy drapes on the windows because they wanted an aura of privacy and they wanted to wall out noise.”

But “light became a value as buildings got taller and people grew less afraid of the city and their neighbors,” she said. “They began to realize it was nice to be high up and to see further and to have some sun.”

More stories about sunlight and real estate

The significance that modern-day apartment dwellers place on light has as much as to do with life stage as anything else.

Debra Hoffman, an associate broker at Halstead, has found that younger clients with budgets under $1 million don’t tend to make light a priority. “They know they’re going to be out and about, and they don’t care that much,” Ms. Hoffman said. “But then they’ll bring their parents to see the space, and the parents will say, ‘Oh no, you have to have more light.’”

“I’ll walk by a really fancy building in Lenox Hill, and I’ll think, ‘You may be beautiful, but you don’t have the light I have,’” said Gail Eisen, who lives in a sun-filled apartment on Sutton Place.CreditGeorge Etheredge for The New York Times

Marital status is another factor.

“For a lot of people who live by themselves, having a sun-filled apartment might take precedence over something like a bigger bathroom or an extra bedroom,” said Grant Long, the chief economist at StreetEasy. “That’s not necessarily going to be the same trade-off for a family that may really need an additional bedroom.”

And for others, light is just not part of their lifestyle — or perhaps more to the point, not part of their budget.

“I’ll occasionally get a savvy buyer who says, ‘You know what? I’m a lawyer. I work 70 hours a week. If I want to see daylight I run down to Starbucks to get a cup of coffee, and that’s pretty much the extent of it,’” said Mr. Moss, of Corcoran. “‘I don’t want to spend an extra penny for daylight in my apartment, because I’ll never see it.’”

Fifteen years ago, Ms. Hoffman of Halstead worked with a couple who were looking for a starter apartment on the Upper West Side. “They both got up before sunrise and went to bed before sunset,” she recalled. “And they had a country house where they got their sun, so they didn’t care if their apartment was dark all the time.”

Ms. Hoffman showed the couple everything on the Upper West Side that fit their criteria. But one day, she said, she decided to show them “the worst apartment — the space was of a gloominess not seen outside Gothic novels, it was on the lobby level, faced an air shaft and sported bar-covered windows.

“They looked at each other when they walked into the entry and said, ‘It’s a keeper,’ and I almost died,” Ms. Hoffman said. “I was standing behind them, which was good because they couldn’t see my shocked reaction.”

But the buyers were looking on, well, the bright side: The ceilings were high, and while other similarly sized one-bedroom units in the neighborhood were then going for about $390,000, theirs was priced at $300,000.

Ms. Hoffman checked recently, and apparently the apartment really was a keeper. “My clients still live there,” she said.

Perhaps they have the right idea. In addition to commanding a premium, the sun’s steady presence makes it more expensive to cool a space, fades textiles and damages wood floors. “I’ve had prospective buyers walk away from apartments because there were too many windows,” said Amanda Hudson, an agent at Dallien Realty.

While blinds would presumably solve the problem, “they can be unimaginably expensive and don’t they kind of defeat the purpose of ‘great light’?” asked Emile L’Eplattenier, the managing editor of The Close, a real estate strategy website.

Of course, some buyers, and certainly some developers, seem to think there is no such thing as too many windows. Witness the towers of glass gleaming along the East River.

“Glass as a building material has gotten very sophisticated and useful. That’s my positive architectural spin,” said Howard L. Zimmerman, the owner of an architecture firm that bears his name. “But the fact is that some of the sites are small and so is the square footage of the apartments. That’s why you see so many of them with floor-to-ceiling glass. The rooms are getting smaller and smaller, and the developers want them to seem bigger and bigger.”

The compensation is light — at least until another building springs up nearby to cast sun-stealing shadows.

Marcus Leslie and his husband, Craig Thomas, grew up in the southern hemisphere, Mr. Leslie in New Zealand and Mr. Thomas in South Africa. “I grew up with a lot of sunshine. It was an integral part of my life,” said Mr. Thomas, 40, the head of sales for an airline.

“We’re on the top floor of a walk-up with excruciatingly steep steps,” said Marcus Leslie, right, with his husband, Craig Thomas. “But we wanted to be in the sun, and we have a private rooftop.”CreditGeorge Etheredge for The New York Times

When Mr. Thomas’s job necessitated a move from Toronto to New York several months ago, the couple quickly narrowed their search for a rental to Greenwich Village, then narrowed it further to apartments with light.

They considered many possibilities, finally settling on the very smallest of the lot, a one-bedroom on the fifth floor of a walk-up with “excruciatingly steep stairs,” said Mr. Leslie, 41, an elementary schoolteacher. “But we do have three exposures and a private roof deck, so we were happy to trade space for sun.” They intend to buy a place next year; their focus will be the same.

For 27 years, Gail Eisen lived on the fifth floor of a co-op on the Upper East Side. Direct light streamed into her Classic Six every morning, but by 11 a.m., it was gone — a situation that didn’t trouble her until she began easing up on her workload as a television news producer and spending more time at home.

“I became increasingly aware of how dark the apartment was, and I said to my husband, ‘I don’t want to die here,’” recalled Ms. Eisen, who is now in her 70s.

They began looking and found the ideal place — seven rooms they turned into six — on the west side of Sutton Place, with a 60-foot terrace and so much light it was necessary to put film on the windows to protect the furniture. “It was a very happy place. I equate sunlight with happiness,” Ms. Eisen said.

But perhaps more happiness was possible. Six years ago, she moved to a penthouse apartment on the east side of Sutton Place, where she has northern light, reflected light from the East River and skylights to bring the sun in all day long.

“Sometimes there’s so much light I have to close the blinds when I’m watching television,” she said. “That’s a real First World problem.”

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