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Where to Buy (or Rent) Now


Luca Marcato, chef-owner of Luca, a Northern Italian restaurant near Gracie Mansion, purchased an 1,100-square-foot condo for the asking price, $665,000, at the Chartwell House, on Second Avenue near 91st Street. "I couldn't find anything at a reasonable price," says Marcato. But the condo has lots of light -- a real plus for Marcato, his wife, and his 6-year-old son, who had lived in a dim rental for the past eight years. Its new construction, ten-year tax abatement, and proximity to the restaurant persuaded Marcato to sign fast, closing two years ago, before the building was complete. They moved in last November.

Farther afield: You can still find a reasonable two-bedroom in Hell's Kitchen -- or Clinton, as brokers now like to call it. Apartments in 24-hour-security buildings range from $625,000 to $800,000 but can almost certainly run about 25 percent less in older, non-doorman properties. "If you're talking about one of the converted co-op buildings or some of those residential hotels for actors, the price is probably a third less than that," says William B. May's Robert Clepper. Many displaced Battery Park City residents have relocated here recently. "It's a great location because it's still easy for them to get to work," says Clepper.

Over the ask: Upper West Side brokers have only one thing to say: Don't even ask about discounts. "There is no best bet. There are no deals here," says MLBKaye International's Warren Pearl. "A slightly weaker neighborhood would be below 14th Street, maybe a 5 percent decrease. But people who are looking for bargains aren't looking for 5 percent; they're looking for 20 and 25 percent, and those are not available," says Pearl. Prices for prewar 1,400-square-foot co-ops that range from $800,000 to $1.3 million on avenues excluding Central Park West and Riverside Drive (where the numbers climb into the $4 million range) haven't budged since last year.

Downtown: Traditionally, two-bedrooms are smaller, scarcer, and more expensive in lower Manhattan. If you're lucky enough to find a 1,000-square-foot two-bedroom in, say, Chelsea or the Village, be prepared to pay top dollar. "If there's a reduction in price at all, it's not a reduction but people desperate to sell," says Charles H. Greenthal's Lew Lydiard.

Classic Sixes
The basic family apartment isn't so basic these days: Especially on the West Side, they're tougher to get than a private-school spot. And a whole lot more expensive.

Your first obstacle to buying a classic six or seven may be finding one; your second is sure to be sticker shock. Classic sixes (traditional prewar arrangements of two bedrooms, a kitchen, a living room, a formal dining room, and the now archaic "maid's room") and sevens (the same, plus a third bedroom) are among the most coveted, least available properties in New York. "There's basically nothing out there," Corcoran's Deanna Kory says with a sigh. "Nothing good, anyway."

One beleaguered Upper West Sider who's been searching since early fall notes, "I'm just not seeing much, and everything I do see seems to have something seriously wrong with it." Wendy J. Sarasohn, also of Corcoran, has heard it all before: "We've got 31 prewar sevens on the Upper East Side for under $3 million. Out of these, maybe two are decent." Plus, there's plenty of competition for what is available. Stribling's Marcy Grau reports, "Our brokers have been swamped. At one open house, they couldn't fit all the people into the apartment."

Free-market blues: "Many buyers are under the impression that prices are a good 10 percent lower across the board. On a sought-after apartment, they're not," says Richard Ferrari, a broker at Douglas Elliman. Most Realtors say, however, that the recession has taken the edge off the rampant overpricing and competitive overbidding that defined the boom. "You don't feel the compulsion to stand in the apartment while you put in your offer for over the asking price," says Ashforth Warburg's Harriet Kaufman. But other brokers insist that the market for these apartments hasn't changed a bit. "Prices are way up," says Sarasohn. "It's back to what it was like two years ago, at the top. And it's even more frenzied, because we have more people competing for apartments."

The price is right: If you're determined to live on the Upper West or Upper East Side, stay away from the avenues. "Maybe in a non-doorman building on not a great side street, you could get something for $995,000," Grau acknowledges. Ferrari estimates that a 1,500-square-foot apartment on a side street might be had for $1.1 million -- "if there was one available." British couple Sarah Barratt Ball and Christopher Ball, working with Corcoran's Sarasohn, found the holy grail of classic sixes -- a condo -- in the low Eighties between Amsterdam and Broadway, for an unheard-of $890,000. The price was partly a reflection of the post-attack market softening (the owners dropped their price $100,000 in September), but even the original asking price of $1 million was pretty low. "It's wonderful, really high up, so there's plenty of light, and there's lots of space," raves the delighted Sarah. The place did need some TLC -- "It was in a state of benign neglect," Sarah says -- and that, many brokers say, can be a deal-breaker these days. Christopher is taking time off to do much of the renovation work himself.

Farther afield: The picture improves dramatically if you look in Brooklyn: Corcoran's Patricia A. Neinast estimates that a good classic six in Park Slope can be had for $650,000 to $700,000; a seven will put you in the $800,000 range, and even those in the best white-glove parkside buildings top out at $1.3 million. In Prospect Heights, prices are even better: Neinast recently sold a 1,900-square-foot classic seven with views of Grand Army Plaza for $659,000. Like most of Neinast's clients, the buyers were from Manhattan. "In a lot of ways, Park Slope is very similar to the Upper West Side," she notes. "It's very family-friendly." The catch? Inventory is at least as low in Park Slope as it is on the Upper West Side. "It can take months for a new classic six or seven to come on the market," she reports.

Over the ask: Inventory's low and prices are highest on Central Park West. "The sky's the limit there," says Grau. "Many buyers don't even want to look there once they see the prices. It's a whole different market." And that's if you can find one at all.

The outlook: Most brokers don't expect the market for family-size apartments to improve anytime soon. "I'm hoping for changes," says Ferrari. "I'm hoping more inventory will come on the market this spring and summer. But I'm not counting on it."

Raw space is out; warm, bright homes are in; and the flower district is blossoming. But if you think you'll catch a recession special downtown, you've already been outbid.

"My living room is 60 feet by 40 feet. Once I get in there, I can't wait to put on my Rollerblades," says a delighted Paul Gregrey of the 3,000-square-foot North Chelsea loft he bought this fall for $1.1 million. A 42-year-old sales exec for Westwood One, he's a far cry from the pioneering artists who turned loft living into a fantasy lifestyle two decades ago, but now he's living that dream -- and it took a disaster to get him there. "A lot of young people made an awful lot of money in the late nineties and spent freely on housing," says Judith Thorn of Ashforth Warburg. "They found the glamour of lofts appealing." But as the recession settled in last year, "anything over $2 million suffered," Tricia Hayes Cole of Corcoran says. "Everyone was scaling back. They didn't need the luxury of a huge loft -- it was about practicality instead of extravagance." And then came September 11.

Temporary setback: When the downtown market seized up in the wake of the attack, a handful of loft shoppers -- like Gregrey -- dived in and came up with pearls. But those deals are disappearing fast. Prices are rising for lofts everywhere, even within breathing distance of ground zero. The rewards went to those who moved fast, like clothing designer Dina Zavalia. A week after the September attacks, Zavalia and her husband stumbled upon their dream home after two years of touring crummy, dark spaces. William B. May's Margery Hadar showed them the 3,000-square-foot loft in TriBeCa while it was still smoky from the disaster. "I felt asthmatic," Zavalia says. "Every time I would see it, I would get a migraine that night. But it was so pretty!" She snagged the apartment for $1.5 million ($508 per square foot).

The price is right: North Chelsea (the flower district, newly renamed Chelsea Heights) has for decades been the place for wholesale foliage; now it's becoming a place to put down roots. "Some people think I'm crazy moving into this neighborhood because they don't see what it's going to be in three years," Gregrey says. Gourmet groceries and pharmacies and laundromats are popping up between old factories -- it's like SoHo in 1979, or the Flatiron district in 1989. "This area represents the value that NoHo did ten years ago, when SoHo was trendy," William B. May's Edward Ferris says. Average prices in the area are as low as you can go in the Manhattan loft market: $400 to $550 per square foot, compared with TriBeCa's $600 to $750. But there are trade-offs -- notably, a shortage of good public schools. "TriBeCa's had more young people coming in, more families, more children's clothing stores, more nursery schools," says Susan Penzner of Susan Penzner Real Estate. Kids in the flower district attend the less desirable P.S. 33, which scores below the state average on standardized tests. The area also has more traffic than TriBeCa and SoHo, and lacks landmark-district status.

Farther afield: Next up in the development pipeline is North Brooklyn. Amid the artists and musicians renting in the industrial sprawl, condos are sprouting. Williamsburg Mews was the first of two developments on the market (with three more to come), and is selling out loftlike apartments at $400 per square foot. "Brokers thought people would only move here to rent," says Helene Luchnick of Insignia Douglas Elliman, which represents the development. "We're proving them wrong." Ditto for dumbo's fledgling sales market, where the success of David Walentas's Clock Tower lofts have inspired plans for copycat condos.

It's a mall world after all: SoHo may have originated the loft trend, but in the minds of many buyers, its glory days are over. "On weekends, it's mobbed -- it's like an outdoor mall," complains Noel Kirnon, who scoured downtown for three years before he found a penthouse on Duane Park in November. The West Village matches TriBeCa's quieter, neighborhood feel, but it has fewer old-style conversions. New developments -- usually luxury buildings -- are more expensive: The Village's new Richard Meier -- designed glass towers sold nearly all of their loftlike raw space for $1,000 to $1,800 per square foot. And that was before the building went up.

Think outside the white box: Meier's towers notwithstanding, buyers have been much less willing to renovate than they were in 2000, when finding a contractor was like getting a seat on the 6 train at rush hour. "The tide has turned from the last two years, when developers would get equal prices for unfinished space," Luchnick says. "People don't want to deal with that anymore."

Luxury Apartments
Park and Fifth may be attracting a new generation of buyers, but downtown neighborhoods like TriBeCa and Chelsea still offer a wider range of posh choices.

Miramax co-chairman Bob Weinstein first put his 3,000-square-foot condo on the thirty-ninth floor of the Bristol Plaza for sale at the end of 1999, asking $4.24 million. Last month, after more than two years on the market, the three-bedroom with floor-to-ceiling windows and a library finally went to contract for $4.2 million. That same week, another unit in the building, which had been on the market for months, sold for $3.85 million. After languishing for over a year, the luxury market is beginning to show signs of life.

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