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Buy Low(er)

706 Riverside Drive, two-bedroom, one-bath, 860-square-foot condo, $345,000. “I had fifteen couples here on Saturday and another eighteen on Sunday and an offer and a check in my hand that night. It’s all about space for money. We completely renovated these apartments; they have brand-new fixtures. It’s not top-of-the-line–Sub-Zero stuff, but with the price they’re paying and what they’re getting, it’s great value.” —Susan Singer, Corcoran   

If you already own a home, you’ve inevitably wondered whether you should pass it off before it loses even more value. And if you do, what next? “If you bought in the last two years, you might want to hold. You’re not going to make a killing right now,” says Christopher Mathieson, managing partner of JC DeNiro, a brokerage firm. “But if you need to move—you’ve got three kids and you live in a one-bedroom, you’re relocating, or you’ve owned for ten years—why not sell?” Prices may slip further still, but what they do in the immediate future shouldn’t matter much if you’re buying a place you love. And that’s much easier to do now than it’s been in the past three years—if you really know where to look.

Although prime properties— a townhouse in the Village, a condo facing Gramercy Park, a Fifth Avenue co-op—are still precious, opportunities are tucked in pockets you wouldn’t expect: In otherwise white-hot Chelsea, there are many more studios and one-bedrooms than buyers want, so you may find a starter apartment at a steal there. (The two-bedroom market’s as competitive as ever, though.) Appreciation has slowed considerably in the Lower East Side and the East Village compared with the rest of Manhattan, says Miller—prices may be more realistic there than they’ve been in ages.

What prices do in the immediate future shouldn’t matter much if you buy a place you love. And that’s much easier to do now than in the past three years.

The Upper West Side remains fairly punishing to buyers, but the Upper East Side, which saw a steady stream of turncoats who traded it in for downtown, offers some markdowns. Recently, an 1,100-square-foot two-bedroom co-op on East 69th Street that sat on the market for 180 days went into contract; it was a bargain at its final asking price of $539,000. That’s about $30,000 less than what an apartment of a similar size in the same building sold for in 2004.

746 Union Street, Park Slope, four-to-five-bedroom, three-bath, 3,240-square-foot four-story brownstone, $1.875 million. “The market for properties under $2 million is very healthy. My one other listing on Union Street that is two blocks up will be going into contract at the same price, but that house needs a whole lot of renovations and this house is very clean.” —Jeffery Welch, Brown Harris Stevens   

And in an interesting turn of events, west Harlem townhouses, long a barometer of the heated market, are beginning to surface, fully renovated, with price tags of less than $1 million. (In headier days, brokers used to say you couldn’t get a shell for that much anymore.) Across the city, sellers with apartments that aren’t perfect—the bathrooms dated, the windows facing air shafts, the rooms this side of tiny—are realizing they must be flexible. Cookie-cutter condo buildings constructed in the eighties may offer bargains, too, if you don’t care about bells and whistles. Units in these buildings can have a hard time measuring up to apartments in the shinier, sexier tower next door, so their sellers will have to compete on price. “In last year’s world, you were getting very little discount”—maybe 5 percent, if that, says appraiser Jeffrey Jackson. “In today’s market, that discount could be as much as 10 to 20 percent.” And as always, fringe neighborhoods—the first to see reductions when the real-estate climate turns—offer decent finds, even more so than before. (Bushwick, Inwood, East Harlem—here they come.)

And now may be the right time to get a deal on new construction. At the very high end of the market, developments that gilded themselves with name-brand finishes (Valcucine kitchens, Tea for Two tubs) and ostentatious amenities (bowling alley, a cinema room) to justify dizzying asking prices may sit on the market longer and need price cuts before deep-pocketed buyers will be persuaded to commit. Also look for neighborhoods rife with new buildings, like Soho, Chelsea, and Tribeca. The Upper West Side has seen a slew of buildings go up in the far West Sixties and West Nineties, too, boosting inventory by 450 apartments there. (The numbers change every day: Buildings sell in stages, with blocks of units put on the market at a time.) Developers in some areas are giving discounts, offering concessions on finishes or footing transfer taxes (just under 2 percent of the sale price) and closing costs. “It’s not necessarily the price,” says Dolly Lenz, vice chairman of Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate. “Developers don’t want to make it look like they’re negotiating on the price.”

Still, a bargain is a bargain—and that’s a word we haven’t heard in a long time.


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