With the arrival of American icons like Disney, Gap, Starbucks, and Bill Clinton, it seems that the much-vaunted “renaissance” has finally arrived, raising market values higher than they’ve ever been. Buyers who would never have considered moving to Harlem five years ago are scrambling to pick up new townhouses and restored nineteenth-century brownstones for as little as $200,000 and as much as $1.5 million. Most properties need extensive renovation, and much of the neighborhood remains blighted with poverty, but that hasn’t stopped bargain hunters. “Soon I don’t think you’re going to be able to find an investment anymore,” says Douglas Elliman’s Mickey Garcia. “I think everything’s going to be gone.”
POPULATION SHIFTS: Rising real-estate values have helped whites overcome their reservations about moving to the capital of black America. “You can enjoy a quiet neighborhood, a beautiful backyard, and a lot of square footage for a not-so-exorbitant price,” says Michael Larkin, who just finished a $300,000 renovation of a former SRO. Black professionals who grew up in the neighborhood are moving back. Rhahime Bell, a 31-year-old investment banker, purchased a four-story home on Striver’s Row after his landlord raised the rent on his one-bedroom on 102nd Street and West End two years ago. His 4,500-square-foot carriage house on 138th Street between Adam Clayton Powell Jr. and Frederick Douglass Boulevard, with six working fireplaces, original moldings, and a three-car driveway, cost him about $400,000.
CREATURE COMFORTS: Change in Harlem’s commercial environment “hasn’t kept pace with the changes in the residential demographic,” says Scott Kinder at Prudential MLB Kaye. But maybe not for long: The $58 million Harlem USA shopping mall, with a nine-screen cineplex and an Old Navy, lit up 125th Street last year. And more development is sure to follow. Until Fairway opened on Twelfth Avenue five years ago, Harlem had been without a full-service supermarket for twenty years; now there’s also a giant Pathmark in East Harlem on 125th Street. A slew of new eateries, including Bayou, Sugar Shack, and Jimmy’s Uptown, have opened. But there are virtually no gyms in East Harlem, and “you can’t get stuff delivered at two in the morning like downtown,” says Corcoran’s Spencer Means.
WHAT’S NEW: The Harlem Community Development Corporation recently sold twenty two- and three-family city-owned brownstones between 120th and 123rd Streets near Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, priced at around $350,000. Landlords are carving up buildings to make bigger—and fewer—apartments. “If there are under six units, they don’t have to deal with rent-stabilization guidelines,” says Kinder.
PROGNOSIS: Some wonder if the flip side of diversity is displacement of longtime residents. But further development is perhaps inevitable: “They’ve built most of TriBeCa, Battery Park, and SoHo, but Harlem still has space,” explains Corcoran Group’s Vie Wilson. “The possibilities are still here. There is no more Manhattan.”
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