The primary draw of Williamsburg used to be its one-stop ride to the East Village. “They used to all go into Manhattan,” says broker Bill Kirrane. “Now they’ve set up their own little colonies—opening bars, art galleries. It’s sort of fed on itself. It’s like Greenwich Village 35 years ago.” But the pleasingly bleak landscape of tenements, garages, and factories is cheaper and definitely cooler than the Village. So it should be prime time to settle down, right? Not quite. Problem No. 1 is availability, as there’s a limited stock of things for sale. Then there’s the stock itself. “Mostly they were built for people who were not of the upper social stratosphere,” says one broker.
MIGRATIONS: “Williamsburg has the biggest artist community per capita in the U.S.,” says broker Kenn Firpo. The area’s also taken off in the past two years as a housing destination for the newly graduated (often employed by a dot-com). It’s so young there’s a Logan’s Run feel to Bedford Avenue sometimes. Meanwhile, “They’re spreading east and south, but you can only go so far south before you bump into the Hasidic neighborhood. We’re now renting around the fourth stop on the L,” Firpo says. That’s Bushwick. Others are moving north to the Polish blocks of Greenpoint, even though it’s on the G train and is slathered in aluminum siding.
CREATURE COMFORTS: Even if the only local ATM is in the bodega, things have sped up: Most of the restaurants, boutiques, and bars that have opened target the newcomers. It’s gotten so developed that locals have even banded together to revoke the liquor license of Sin-e, a 360-capacity club near the L stop. “Over the past two years, it’s definitely gone over the top,” says author Phil Dray, who’s lived there since the eighties. “People late at night yelling, cars honking. I don’t think anybody minded the neighborhood itself perking up a bit, but we don’t want it to become another Ludlow Street.”
WHAT’S NEW: “People who are buying are doing gut renovations,” says William B. May broker Penny Pear. And even if a number of people are still living illegally in converted lofts—a whole group was kicked out recently due to fire concerns—increasingly there are market-rate conversions of factories. There’s a twenty-story building planned for the south side, near Peter Luger. The condo apartments will start at $150,000 for a one-bedroom.
PROGNOSIS: Look for things to slow down a bit. Not that the landlords are worried. “As far as landlords go,” Firpo says, “if it drops 10 percent, big deal—we’re so far ahead.”
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