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Valley of the Deals

Why has Manhattan Valley been so slow to gentrify? Maybe because buyers aren’t quite sure where it is.

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Photo Credit: Donald Bowers for New York Magazine

Corcoran broker Lynn Spanich says she’s often amazed when she encounters Upper West Side clients who announce that they’ll have to move way uptown or to the outer boroughs to find an apartment. That’s because Spanich often works in Manhattan Valley, the neighborhood between Central Park West and Amsterdam Avenue in the West 100s, barely a ten-minute walk from where many of her shoppers already live. It’s a “last bastion of affordability,” she tells them—all the while noting that many brokers and buyers couldn’t find it on a map.

Right now, the Upper West Side is the city’s most frenzied real-estate market, with prices per square foot surpassing even those of the East Side. Nevertheless, Manhattan Valley is a curiously ungentrified pocket, where apartments are roughly 30 percent cheaper than those just to the south. Bracketed by the blue and red subway lines and very close to Central Park, “it’s definitely undervalued,” says James Perez of Brown Harris Stevens. A four-story townhouse on Manhattan Avenue is listed at $1.95 million, half that of similar structures off West End Avenue; a two-bedroom on West 109th Street costs $515,000, a fraction of what one-bedrooms cost twenty blocks down. (Rents here are fairly forgiving, too; a renovated two-bedroom duplex with a garden was recently advertised on Corcoran’s Website at $2,599 a month.) So what gives? For starters, the area’s an architectural mixed bag. Brownstone blocks give way to housing projects and senior centers; boarded-up buildings contribute to a dodgy vibe, lingering from the area’s days as Crack Central. “Some blocks between Columbus and Manhattan Avenue can look menacing to outsiders,” admits Perez. (Crime statistics show, however, that the area is no grittier than the West Eighties.) Although Broadway is only a few minutes’ walk, immediate-gratification types find the area short on restaurants, fancy groceries, and cafés. “People like their creature comforts,” says Spanich. “But if they wait for Starbucks to build there, it’ll be too late to get a deal.”

That’s encouraging news for Alison Rini and her husband, Joe, who paid less than $400,000 for their two-bedroom co-op on West 106th Street a year and a half ago. They weren’t discovering the area, though; they’d lived there for years. “We liked it so much we invested in it,” she says. “We didn’t consider anywhere else.” Brokers say deals are still to be had, but like everywhere else in Manhattan, probably not for long. With condos in 455 Central Park West—the former Towers Nursing Home at 106th Street—commanding millions of dollars, says Perez, prices are most definitely on their way up.


Movers
Fashionable Living
Townhouse living apparently agrees with fashion designer Shoshanna Gruss—formerly Shoshanna Lonstein—and her husband, financier Josh Gruss. The couple, who bought a townhouse on East 61st Street last fall, just completed the sale of their previous home, a North Moore Street loft, for $1.8 million. According to Mr. Gruss, they’re in the new house for the long haul (unlike its previous owners, who did a spectacular renovation from the ground up, then decamped after just a year, deciding they preferred co-op living): “This is probably where we’re going to live forever,” he says.

Another style guru’s townhouse renovation is still in the works. Cynthia Rowley is refurbishing the Perry Street townhouse she bought last summer for $2.495 million, in order to better display her modern-art collection. Expect the final product to be rather more minimal than it was a half-century ago, when Mayor Fiorello La Guardia lived there, says David Nesmith, director of public relations for Rowley’s company.
—Deborah Schoeneman and S. Jhoanna Robledo


Photo Courtesy of Metro Spire

Triple Assessment
45 West 70th Street
Three-bedroom, three-bathroom, 2,500-square-foot townhouse co-op.
Asking price: $3.195 million.
Maintenance: $3,190.
Brokers: Biana Strutin and Joseph Benz, Metro Spire.

This triplex co-op in a West Side brownstone is charming in many ways: It’s fully restored, with twelve-foot ceilings and three working fireplaces. But although it’s spacious, our panelists note that its odd layout makes it a tough sell.

Wolf Jakubowski, Brown Harris Stevens: “It really is a one-and-a-half-floor with a rec room,” says Jakubowski. Though it now houses a family of five, the layout is a better fit for a couple, he says, or a “single investment banker who runs in the park and goes to the Reebok Club,” which is just around the corner.
His assessment: $2.6 million.

Elese Reid, Edward Lee Cave: “It looks magnificent,” says Reid. But walking through the kitchen to get to the dining room is a drawback: “It’s a quirky version of a great room.” Besides, she points out, “they’ve created bedrooms out of found spaces and there are no closets.”
Her assessment: $2.25 million.

Patrick Lilly, Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy: Lilly says the apartment’s “killer location” is an asset, as is the well-appointed kitchen. But “the master bedroom has no windows, and lets light in only through the sliding doors” nearby that lead to the backyard. “Only one of the bedrooms feels like a real bedroom,” he adds.
His assessment:$2.1 million.
—S.J.R.


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