In the past four years, the middle-class home buyer in New York has gone through something like the five stages of grief. First there was denial ($300,000 for a Hell's Kitchen studio? You must be joking), then anger (only people from Iowa pay those kinds of prices!). Then we tried bargaining (and learned that in this market, negotiations are a one-way street). Finally, there was depression, the sinking realization that finding an affordable home in Manhattan big enough to raise a family was out of reach forever.
Now it's time to move on to the fifth and final stage: acceptance and resolution. The fact is that there are still plenty of neighborhoods left that haven't been "discovered." You just have to free yourself from the notion that living in New York means living on the island of Manhattan. This is not the same old list of "alternative" neighborhoods. Nothing against Cobble Hill or Long Island City or Greenpoint, but their secret has long since gotten out. Prices have already climbed out of the bargain basement and are now happily ensconced in the second-floor guest bedroom. No, we're talking here about some lovely beneath-the-radar spots where you can buy an entire house for less than you might spend on a "cozy" alcove studio in Manhattan.
And price is not the only attraction. You'll also discover that giving up on Manhattan means gaining other things. Like a backyard, a tree-lined street, a basement, even a dining room. But let's be clear, these aren't bland suburbs. Bellerose, Ward Hill, Kingsbridge, College Point, Jersey City, and Stuyvesant Heights are lively, walkable urban hamlets within easy commuting distance of midtown. Of course, prices won't stay low forever. If you don't act now, you risk experiencing the sixth and most agonizing stage of real-estate grief: the why-didn't-we-buy-something-back-when-it-was-affordable stage.
This sleepy Queens neighborhood at the edge of the city, where children play catch on quiet streets, hasn't changed much since it was first developed in 1906. Thanks to strict zoning laws, Cape Cods and English Tudors on tree-lined blocks still make up most of Bellerose's housing stock. Many of the area's single-family homes were built a half-century ago and have nice-size yards and small garages and are modestly priced. Recent immigrants from India and Pakistan have begun to bid up the housing market. Their influence has helped infuse some life into bland commercial streets like Hillside and Jamaica Avenues, where the action has been mostly limited to a few Irish bars and the occasional mom-and-pop grocery. A few blocks east on Hillside Avenue, in Floral Park, street life gets a little more interesting, with great Indian markets and takeout joints like the hugely popular Usha Foods. The petting zoo at the Queens County Farm Museum is kid heaven. And the ponies can be played in person at Belmont Park.
Prime areas: The blocks north of Hillside Avenue offer solid Cape Cods on large lots. South of Hillside to 88th Avenue are graceful brick Tudors, some small and affordable.
Wrong side of the tracks: South of 89th Avenue, the housing stock goes downhill, with muttlike Colonial-ranch-Tudor modern hybrids on small lots creating a looser, less orderly feel to the blocks.
Commute to midtown: From the Bellerose L.I.R.R. station, it's 30 minutes to Penn Station; about an hour on the X68 express bus that stops at 268th Street and Hillside Avenue. Local buses can be taken to the F train at Hillside Avenue and 179th Street in Jamaica; from there it's about 30 minutes to Manhattan.
Hot-button issue: Plans to build three new public schools on vacant land at the Creedmoor Psychiatric Center are pitting residents worried about increased traffic against school officials desperate for more classrooms.
Public schools: Bellerose is in District 26, the best school district in Queens, where no elementary school had fewer than 62 percent of students scoring above state proficiency standards in reading. Overall, 76.3 percent of this district's students met or exceeded reading standards, and 71.6 percent met or exceeded grade level in math. District 26 is struggling with overcrowding. At the beginning of the school year, it was at 101 percent of capacity.
Hotshot brokers: Vinod Patel of Century 21 Laffey (718-347-3202), and Frank Rocchio of U.S. 1 Adams (718-343-4404).