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Why Is “Penthouse” Synonymous with “Luxury Apartment”?

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Similar to housing markets in other urban centers, the market for residential real estate in downtown San Diego primarily offers three types of properties: condominium units, lofts, and penthouses. These are all classified as attached properties, which means they share walls with other units in multifamily residential structures. Lofts are usually converted properties, and they may have once been warehouses or commercial buildings. Condo units are like apartments, but they can be individually purchased and owned under a homeowners association regime. Penthouses are at the top of the housing market hierarchy. While they’re technically condo units, there are many features that set them apart.

Etymology of the Word “Penthouse

“Penthouse” as a real estate term seems to have originated in France at some point during the 14th century. A pentiz (Anglo-Norman French for “penthouse”) was any type of attached residential structure, and it could have referred to a small enclosed bedroom built on one side of a château in the French countryside. In the city, residential expansion tends to be vertical, so penthouses in Paris were the highest attached living spaces, and they were rented out by families that wished to squeeze as much profit as possible from their urban dwellings. British visitors to Paris were known to rent these pentiz houses, and they brought the idea back home when they returned from their travels.

Penthouses in North America

Prior to the 1920s, penthouses in the United States were either very modest spaces or commercial structures. For example, a hotel in New York City would rent penthouse space to a radio station because it provided a good spot for the antennas. The incredible prosperity and economic expansion in the United States during the 1920s resulted in high demand for penthouses as residential units, and wealthy tenants were known to spend a lot of cash on interior design.

The Penthouse as a Status Symbol

In 1925, legendary actress Gloria Swanson rented out the entire top floor of a swanky hotel in Manhattan, spending thousands of dollars on renovations, artwork, and amenities. She insisted on panoramic views of the city’s skyline, which was changing on an almost daily basis. This was the origin of the penthouse as the ultimate status symbol.

The Penthouse Today

A modern penthouse doesn’t have to be located on the topmost floor, but it does have to possess an air of sophistication. There needs to be a sense of exclusivity—for example, having a private lobby just outside the elevator. Ideally, the living space in a downtown San Diego penthouse will be the largest in its condominium tower, and the unit needs to be high enough to provide sweeping views of the city skyline, urban districts, or San Diego Bay. If the penthouse commands the highest property value in the condominium, it needs to justify its price with style and extras such as panoramic balconies.

Whether you’re looking for a penthouse, loft, or condo for sale in downtown San Diego, make sure to work with seasoned professionals who know how to maximize value for both buyers and sellers. The real estate experts at 92101 Urban Living have years of experience with all types of real estate markets. Call one of our friendly agents today at 619-649-0368.