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Bottom's Up

Recession? What recession? For average-Joe buyers and sellers, things are just fine, thanks.

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Proof that we're living through a time of upheaval: Right now, middle-class New Yorkers are doing better than the superrich. Driven by bargain mortgage rates and a general sense that prices have finally topped out, small apartments -- even as the luxury market stays bleak -- are selling fast.

These buyers -- often first-timers -- are driven less by architectural lust or conspicuous consumption than by plain old frugality. Dominic Carrozza, who had been living in Westchester with his parents and brothers, just bought a one-bedroom on 93rd Street near Central Park West for $220,000, down from a list price of $289,000. "When we looked at renting versus purchasing, he needed a tax deduction," says Penny Pear, his broker at William B. May. His maintenance and mortgage total less than $1,500 a month.

Those small sales may be propping up the whole real-estate business. The Corcoran Group, William B. May, and Charles H. Greenthal all sold more small apartments this November than they did last November -- yet in Corcoran's case, the total dollar volume of sales fell 2 percent. Prices, brokers estimate, are down about 15 percent overall. More than half of Corcoran's November sales were for less than $500,000.

For some, the favorable financial picture overrides jitters about the future. Meg Cabot, who wrote The Princess Diaries, and her husband, Benjamin Egnatz, just ditched their one-bedroom East Village rental for a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment in the East Eighties. They paid $520,000, down from $539,000. "It may be a trepidatious time to buy, but we're increasing our living space and the cost to us is not that much greater than what we're paying," says Egnatz.

For these buyers, it seems, life during wartime has fueled uncertainty, but it has also spurred a nesting instinct. "People are really pulling back and taking more comfort in their home," says Peter R. Marra, president of William B. May. Agrees Cabot, "After September 11, we just got this feeling like we wanted to be settled."

The couple considered moving back to their home state, Indiana. Then they started thinking: "There's nothing to do," says Cabot. "I'd rather be here evenfor a short time than somewhere I'd be bored. And there wouldn't be good bagels."

Click here to read about Kellyanne Conway's new digs
Click here for Big Deals


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