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The Price Is Right

Affordable neighborhoods? You thought they were mythological, but here they are: six charming, eminently affordable places (with shockingly easy commutes) that you can call home.

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Sunnyside up: Lots of greenery and space, just 15 minutes from midtown.  

Waiting for prices to drop so you can buy that TriBeCa loft or West Side classic six you've always coveted? That sounds like a good idea -- about as good as investing in Pets.com in 1999, when the "pets space" was the next big thing. Waiting for prices to drop is the myth of the moment -- and while certain bubbles may have burst, New York's prime-real-estate market isn't behaving like a bubble at all. But the truth is that with 30-year mortgage rates at a two-and-a-half-year low, and likely to go lower, this could actually be a great buying opportunity -- if you broaden your horizons past Manhattan's blue-chip clichés. On the following pages, you'll read about six neighborhoods within easy commuting distance of midtown that Barbara Corcoran and Douglas Elliman aren't yet dueling over. Places that, because of their stability, quality of life, and affordability, are primed to hold their value, and even prosper, no matter what happens to the Dow. We nominate these neighborhoods as the blue chips of the future (and if the Manhattan bubble does burst, at least you'll be clear of the explosion).

Ditmas Park
Nineteenth-century Victorian charm in postmillennium Brooklyn.

When Brooklyn Properties broker Hal Lehrman drives clients to the Ditmas Park area, their faces invariably drop as he turns off Prospect Park West and heads down to Coney Island Avenue, a grim commercial street lined with storefronts like Magic Touch Auto and Mr. Tires & Garage. At that moment, Lehrman pops the pre-cued soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey into his cassette deck. With Strauss's "Thus Spake Zarathustra" blaring, he turns off the avenue into Ditmas Park and watches the prospective house hunters' eyes light up at the sight of block after leafy block of century-old Victorians with large lots, manicured lawns, and tree-lined streets with pedigreed English names like Argyle, Rugby, and Marlborough.

Thanks to Park Slope's explosive growth in the past decade, and because of an aging population that is gradually selling out to younger home buyers, the Ditmas Park area is back on the map for bargain-hunting Manhattan exiles. Alison Bagnall, 36, moved to Prospect Park South last year from the East Village. She and her husband split the cost of a $675,000 1910 Victorian with her parents, who live on the first floor but travel frequently. It sounds expensive until you consider the number of bedrooms: nine. The extra rooms double as home offices since she and her husband are freelancers (she co-wrote the 1998 hit indie film Buffalo '66). She marvels that their half of the house cost about the same as their one-bedroom condo in the East Village. "All of these houses here were built for wealthy people," she says, citing former area residents like the Guggenheims. "But now you don't have to be really wealthy to live in them."

  • Meet the neighbors Michelle Benoit, 35, and her husband, Haluk Savci, 36, had rented a two-bedroom apartment on the Lower East Side for years. They needed more space after their second child was born, but they had been priced out of Manhattan and Park Slope. Last year, they bought a massive seven-bedroom 1901 Queen Anne Victorian in Ditmas Park West (a somewhat less expensive sub-neighborhood), replete with original stained-glass windows, for $495,000. "It was the same price as a two-bedroom apartment in Park Slope," says Benoit, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society. And while she loves the area's diversity and subway access, the native Kansan in her loves owning an actual house with an old-fashioned front porch.

  • Once upon a time The area was farmland until just over a century ago, when Brooklyn was incorporated into New York City and the subway arrived. Developers descended, and some of the city's ruling class (like the Guggenheims and Gillettes) made their homes here. But real-estate values declined along with Flatbush's reputation in the seventies and eighties.

  • Prime area The Victorian homes in Prospect Park South are by far the grandest in the area. (Lots can run up to 200 feet deep.) Colonial Revivals, Tudors, Federal-style, Japanese, and even Swiss Chalet-style homes add to the architectural diversity.

  • The cons What's missing is desirable restaurants and a wide selection of retail services. Most residents drive into nearby Park Slope to drop off their dry cleaning or get takeout dinners. Some residents are taking matters into their own hands and pooling money (for a loan) to lure an established restaurateur to Ditmas Park.

  • The commute Thirty to 40 minutes to midtown on the Q line (or, once service is restored, the D line).

  • Schools P.S. 139 is a highly regarded, highly diverse grammar school. One of the few in the area that is not overcrowded. Nearby Midwood High School is considered one of the city's best and can be very difficult to get into.

  • Best brokers Hal Lehrman at Brooklyn Properties of 7th Avenue (718-788-3888), and Mary Kay Gallagher and Joanne Oplustil (718-282-3141).

DITMAS PARK
THE NUMBERS

DITMAS PARK
$400K-$650K

DITMAS PARK WEST
$400K-$550K

MIDWOOD TERRACE
$375K-$575K

SAMPLE LISTING
522 RUGBY ROAD

Five-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath Victorian on a spacious 40-by-100-foot lot. Parquet floors and large eat-in kitchen. Sold in August for $562,000.


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