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Rent Asunder

What do downtown brokers have to be thankful for? As New York turns chilly, rents are down, but not out.

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You've got to wonder who's going to rent an apartment at 88 Greenwich Street. The front door of the building faces ground zero, and even a 4,000-square-foot gym, high-speed Internet access, and DirecTV service aren't enough to keep the area from feeling like a frontier. The nearest subway stop is closed, as are many shops nearby, and tenants are reminded of the tragedy literally every time they step outside. National Guardsmen patrol the end of the block.

Even real-estate brokers -- experts in the fine art of the euphemism -- have to admit there's a problem here. "Nobody knows where prices will settle," says David Lowenfeld, executive vice-president of the World-Wide Group, which developed 88 Greenwich. "It's early to judge."

Yes it is, at least in the sales market. But when it comes to rentals, the numbers are already showing the effects of the recession, expectations of skimpy year-end bonuses, and the fear factor -- especially, as one might expect, in apartments close to Chambers Street. At 88 Greenwich, rents have been dropped nearly 20 percent for the next six months, and new tenants are receiving comparable discounts. Studios that were $2,000 have been marked down to $1,700; one-bedrooms that were $2,500 are now $2,125, and a two-bedroom that rented for $4,000 is now being offered at $3,300. Prospective-tenant traffic, brokers say, has picked up in the past two weeks. At the Saranac, on lower Broadway, a $3,000 one-bedroom unit now rents for $2,500. Corcoran's Charles Laboz has seen $2,600 one-bedrooms on Greenwich Street begin to dip below the $2,000 mark.

But brokers are still brokers. Says Laboz, "I don't think the bottom is going to fall out -- in a little while, people will start forgetting, and places will start getting taken up again. It may take six months, but it will happen." Is this just spin? "My livelihood depends on it," he says, laughing. Lowenfeld, too, waxes hopeful. "Every day gets a little better," he says. "There is more traffic, especially east of Broadway, where buildings are more insulated. And if things improve in six months, we'll raise rents again."


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