Even a hot market has its hot spots, and the $750,000 sector may be the most sizzling. Why? For one thing, that’s about the limit of what a run-of-the-mill middle-class professional couple can budget. For another, those same couples are staying in the city as never before—even after the baby arrives. And for another, they’re smelling an interest-rate rise this year, meaning that they need to buy now. That’s the perfect storm of demand, and as a result, apartments at that price in coveted neighborhoods like the West Village, the Upper East and West sides, and Brooklyn Heights, are being snapped up.
“The single best seller is one-bedrooms,” says Martin Hale, a sales manager in Citi Habitats’ midtown-east office, “because theoretically, anyone in the market to buy can afford one. Developers aren’t even building studios anymore.” Though sales usually take a dip around the holidays, it didn’t really happen this winter. “You cannot believe the number of people looking to buy. I’m hearing stories of 30, 40, 50, even 70 people coming through an open house in a two-hour period. It’s a zoo, a feeding frenzy.”
It’s been much the same for two-bedrooms. “There are very few, and everyone is after the same listings,” says William B. May’s Paula Schott, who claims one broker she knows is booking appointments for walk-throughs more than a week in advance because of the demand. “When we find ones with a reasonably decent maintenance, everyone hops on.”
Of course, we’re not talking walk-ups here—at least not in Manhattan. This is the portion of the market where people start throwing around the word luxury, by which they mean nicely outfitted uptown high-rises. “The vast majority will have a doorman, and a significant number will have amenities like extra storage or a gym,” says Hale. “Obviously, a truly full-service doorman, a concierge, or a really nice lobby will be more expensive.”
That goes for downtown as well. “When you’re talking seven-fifty, I think a prewar, white-glove lower–Fifth Avenue one-bedroom,” says Mary Vetri of William B. May, who’s closed on a few such places recently. “At one time, you could go into the East Village and $750,000 would buy you that much more space, but that I don’t think is the case anymore—although if you’re willing to travel east of Third Avenue, in some of those postwar buildings you could pick up an extra room.”
Keep going east—all the way across the Brooklyn Bridge—and that same price will garner you a bigger two- or even a three-bedroom in more personal quarters, like a brownstone in Brooklyn Heights. “Seven-fifty can buy you a small three-bedroom, but it can certainly buy you a very comfortable two-bedroom since two-bedroom prices start at $500,000 in that neighborhood,” says Bill Sheppard of William B. May’s Brooklyn office. Such an apartment might be 1,200 square feet or more, he adds, and come with outdoor space.
But if you really want to stretch your dollar, it helps if you don’t mind rolling up your sleeves. In a still-emerging market like Washington Heights, for example, where many properties need renovation, $750,000 will net you a three-bedroom (or even larger) fixer-upper. (Two-bedrooms in good condition top out around $650,000.) “We have a classic six in contract now that went for just under seven-twenty-five, but it’s not in the best condition,” says broker Karen Sanford of Klara Madlin Real Estate, which specializes in the upper regions of uptown.
And think hard about Harlem. “We have a brownstone on St. Nicholas and 152nd Street for that price. Which is a disaster area, but you’re getting a five-story Victorian townhouse,” says Sanford. And as Corcoran broker Vie Wilson, who recently closed on two four-story townhouses in the area for under $750,000, points out, “you get income-producing equity that would offset your mortgage.”
And yet for a buyer like Louis Stamm, who recently traded in a 1,250-square-foot two-bedroom in a Murray Hill high-rise for a 1,450-square-foot two-bedroom in a Brooklyn Heights brownstone with huge basement storage, his purchase all came down to plain old market economics. “The interest rates were looking so good, we realized we could make a horizontal move and actually lower our payments and double our space,” he says about his family’s new $750,000 apartment, which has a 250-square-foot garden and 950 square feet of private storage. “The only thing I miss about living in Manhattan is that I can’t just walk out to Guy & Gallard for coffee anymore.”
Fifth Avenue near 11th Street. One-bedroom co-op. $785,000.
A fireplace and a foyer “make it more gracious and intimate,” says William B. May’s Mary Vetri. The building has four units per floor, with a doorman who also runs the elevator.
Upper East Side
401 East 84th Street. Two-bedroom condo. $725,000.
This bright high-floor apartment is typical of the area—doorman, concierge, roof deck—but what isn’t typical is the expansive balcony. “Not huge, but it’s really charming and cheerful,” says Citi Habitats’ Candace Medina, who sold it to a doctor-lawyer couple with a teenage daughter.
119 State Street. Brownstone two-bedroom. $750,000.
This 1,400-square-foot apartment has a private garden and a huge basement storeroom. “If you can imagine Moonstruck, when Cher is coming home after the opera—that’s what it looks like,” says the happy new owner.
Riverside Drive at 157th Street. Three-bedroom co-op. $760,000.
The floors need sanding and the kitchen and bath need TLC, but where else can you get 1,800 prewar square feet with river views? Says Klara Madlin’s Karen Sanford, “There’s not a lot of services yet, but they’re coming.”
West 123rd Street. Four-story brownstone. $675,000.
Typical of lots of Harlem real estate, this brownstone needs some work but has “marble-and-wood mantels and beautiful floor-to-ceiling mirrors,” says Vie Wilson of Corcoran.
401 Caton Avenue. Three-story house. $695,000.
The solid neighborhood next door to the Slope has more for less. Split into a four-bedroom duplex and a two-bedroom, this circa-1910 limestone “needs freshening-up,” says Frank Freitag of Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy and Garfield, “but it has original woodwork, wainscoting, and embossed wallpaper.”