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Real Estate

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."

The Numbers  
Classic Sixes  
Upper East/West $1.3M-$1.8M
CPW/Fifth Avenue $2M-$5M
Park Slope $600K-$700K
Classic Sevens  
Upper East/West $1.7M-$2.5M
CPW/Fifth Avenue $3M-$5M
Park Slope $700K-$1.3M

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." — EMILY GITTER



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