Waiting for prices to drop so you can buy that TriBeCa loft or West Side classic six you’ve always coveted? That sounds like a good idea – about as good as investing in Pets.com in 1999, when the “pets space” was the next big thing. Waiting for prices to drop is the myth of the moment – and while certain bubbles may have burst, New York’s prime-real-estate market isn’t behaving like a bubble at all. But the truth is that with 30-year mortgage rates at a two-and-a-half-year low, and likely to go lower, this could actually be a great buying opportunity – if you broaden your horizons past Manhattan’s blue-chip clichés. On the following pages, you’ll read about six neighborhoods within easy commuting distance of midtown that Barbara Corcoran and Douglas Elliman aren’t yet dueling over. Places that, because of their stability, quality of life, and affordability, are primed to hold their value, and even prosper, no matter what happens to the Dow. We nominate these neighborhoods as the blue chips of the future (and if the Manhattan bubble does burst, at least you’ll be clear of the explosion).
Nineteenth-century Victorian charm in postmillennium Brooklyn.
When Brooklyn Properties broker Hal Lehrman drives clients to the Ditmas Park area, their faces invariably drop as he turns off Prospect Park West and heads down to Coney Island Avenue, a grim commercial street lined with storefronts like Magic Touch Auto and Mr. Tires & Garage. At that moment, Lehrman pops the pre-cued soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey into his cassette deck. With Strauss’s “Thus Spake Zarathustra” blaring, he turns off the avenue into Ditmas Park and watches the prospective house hunters’ eyes light up at the sight of block after leafy block of century-old Victorians with large lots, manicured lawns, and tree-lined streets with pedigreed English names like Argyle, Rugby, and Marlborough.
Thanks to Park Slope’s explosive growth in the past decade, and because of an aging population that is gradually selling out to younger home buyers, the Ditmas Park area is back on the map for bargain-hunting Manhattan exiles. Alison Bagnall, 36, moved to Prospect Park South last year from the East Village. She and her husband split the cost of a $675,000 1910 Victorian with her parents, who live on the first floor but travel frequently. It sounds expensive until you consider the number of bedrooms: nine. The extra rooms double as home offices since she and her husband are freelancers (she co-wrote the 1998 hit indie film Buffalo ‘66). She marvels that their half of the house cost about the same as their one-bedroom condo in the East Village. “All of these houses here were built for wealthy people,” she says, citing former area residents like the Guggenheims. “But now you don’t have to be really wealthy to live in them.”
Meet the neighbors Michelle Benoit, 35, and her husband, Haluk Savci, 36, had rented a two-bedroom apartment on the Lower East Side for years. They needed more space after their second child was born, but they had been priced out of Manhattan and Park Slope. Last year, they bought a massive seven-bedroom 1901 Queen Anne Victorian in Ditmas Park West (a somewhat less expensive sub-neighborhood), replete with original stained-glass windows, for $495,000. “It was the same price as a two-bedroom apartment in Park Slope,” says Benoit, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society. And while she loves the area’s diversity and subway access, the native Kansan in her loves owning an actual house with an old-fashioned front porch.
Once upon a time The area was farmland until just over a century ago, when Brooklyn was incorporated into New York City and the subway arrived. Developers descended, and some of the city’s ruling class (like the Guggenheims and Gillettes) made their homes here. But real-estate values declined along with Flatbush’s reputation in the seventies and eighties.
Prime area The Victorian homes in Prospect Park South are by far the grandest in the area. (Lots can run up to 200 feet deep.) Colonial Revivals, Tudors, Federal-style, Japanese, and even Swiss Chalet-style homes add to the architectural diversity.
The cons What’s missing is desirable restaurants and a wide selection of retail services. Most residents drive into nearby Park Slope to drop off their dry cleaning or get takeout dinners. Some residents are taking matters into their own hands and pooling money (for a loan) to lure an established restaurateur to Ditmas Park.
The commute Thirty to 40 minutes to midtown on the Q line (or, once service is restored, the D line).
Schools P.S. 139 is a highly regarded, highly diverse grammar school. One of the few in the area that is not overcrowded. Nearby Midwood High School is considered one of the city’s best and can be very difficult to get into.
Best brokers Hal Lehrman at Brooklyn Properties of 7th Avenue (718-788-3888), and Mary Kay Gallagher and Joanne Oplustil (718-282-3141).
DITMAS PARK WEST
522 RUGBY ROAD
Five-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath Victorian on a spacious 40-by-100-foot lot. Parquet floors and large eat-in kitchen. Sold in August for $562,000.
Across the river and into the trees.
Remember the scene in Big where Tom Hanks morphs back into little Josh Baskin as he walks down the sun-speckled leafy streets on his return to kid-dom? That’s Cliffside. Unlike its bustling neighbor Fort Lee, Cliffside Park is a quiet residential area with a mix of blue-collar workers and professionals, many of whom commute into Manhattan. Large, early-twentieth-century homes dominate the ritzy Bluff area, while smaller, almost midwestern homes fill the streets farther inland. It’s a low-key, small-scale hamlet where you can walk to a corner Häagen-Dazs or blues club, and where you can still land a three-bedroom home with a front porch and spacious backyard for the price of a junior one-bedroom in the Village.
Lay of the land As its name suggests, the town rests atop the cliffs overlooking the Hudson River, facing Harlem. The housing stock falls into three categories. In the Cliff section, many homes have river and city views, and prices start at $400,000. Farther inland, the prices start dropping. The area between the cliffs and Anderson Avenue, the area’s main commercial artery, offers up lots of Colonials on quiet streets for prices ranging from $250,000 to $500,000. Beyond Anderson Avenue, the houses get smaller and prices start at $220,000.
Meet the neighbors In April, Kevin and Jeanne Larkins moved to Cliffside Park from Queens. Kevin, 23, works as an engineer in Rockland County (30 minutes north), and Jeanne, 24, is an assistant editor at Cahners in Chelsea. They rent a one-bedroom apartment – the top floor of a two-story house off Anderson Avenue with walk-in closets – for $850 a month, utilities included.
Creature comforts Cliffside is just northwest of Edgewater, Bergen County’s fastest-growing town, where new apartments and lots of big-box retailers (Target, Barnes & Noble, Staples) are sprouting up at a frantic pace. Anderson Avenue is a crowded street bursting with restaurants (Spanish, Japanese, and Italian are the top three categories here). The Larkinses say there are still some culinary deficiencies. “The pizza is not New York pizza,” says Kevin, “but it’s trying.”
Prime areas The luxurious Winston and Carlyle Towers are just inside the Cliffside border near Fort Lee and offer great river and city views. Some of the nicest houses in town are in East Palisades, along the cliff, where the river views are spectacular.
The cons Bergen County’s blue laws mandate that practically everything is closed on Sunday.
The commute The New Jersey Transit 156 or 159 express bus will get you to Port Authority in about 35 minutes. A new ferry terminal planned for Fort Lee in the next twelve to eighteen months will shave five to ten minutes off the commute.
Schools The area’s four elementary schools have great reputations, but for high school, many parents send their kids to private schools in neighboring Ridgefield and elsewhere.
Best brokers Charles Chichizola at RE/MAX Experts (201-947-8800) and Mimi Messerian at Coldwell Banker (201-592-2389).
Views: $350K-$1 million
No views: $220K-$500K
21 COLUMBIA AVENUE
Six-bedroom, two-bath Victorian with wrap-around porch, partial views of the New York skyline, French doors, fabulous woodwork, detached garage. Sold in August for $365,000.
Just across the harbor, an urban hamlet primed to soar.
In 1958, Angela’s Ashes author Frank McCourt accepted a job at McKee High School in St. George and ended up teaching there for 30 years. He later wrote, “How could I pass up that daily ferry ride, that skyline, that great sweep of harbor, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island – a daily reminder of the thousands who had passed through?” While the ferry ride hasn’t gotten any shorter since 1958, the psychological leap for many Manhattanites is definitely shrinking. This hilly neighborhood at the tip of Staten Island is filled with affordable, beautifully restored Victorians and Colonials, and the ferry is within a three-to-fifteen-minute walk of anywhere in town. And with a host of big projects under way, St. George and neighboring Tompkinsville are finally poised for the renaissance that has been promised for decades.
New additions Look no farther than right next to the ferry terminal, where a $79 million stadium opened in June to house the Staten Island Yankees. New, higher-end commercial development has also crept in, but the biggest boon to the area is the $84 million ferry-terminal project, which will open in stages over the next three years.
Meet the neighbors St. George resident Elizabeth MacDonald, a senior editor at Forbes, moved in three years ago. “I thought, well, they’re going to be closing the Fresh Kills dump, which they have,” she says. “And they’re going to be building a baseball stadium, which they did, and so I was just betting that real-estate prices were going to pop.” Her monthly housing costs (about $1,400) for her three-bedroom home with a garage and a backyard are about the same as the rent she paid in Stuyvesant Town. “I’m sort of still not used to it,” she says. “I’ve lived in apartments all my life, so I feel like I’m coming home to my own bed-and-breakfast.”
Viewing pleasure Hard-core urbanites who couldn’t care less about having a yard or a finished basement might be more at home in nearby Bay Street Landing, two former warehouses that were converted to luxury apartments. They offer unobstructed harbor and Manhattan views. While one-bedrooms start at around $150,000, larger units with wide balconies now go for as much as $540,000.
Prime areas For those looking for historic, landmark-status homes, the area around St. Mark’s Place and Westervelt Avenue is highly coveted.
The cons While the town is lined with beautiful turn-of-the-last-century homes, some have fallen into serious disrepair, marring otherwise bucolic neighborhoods. And though retail development is on the rise, you’ll need a car.
Schools Curtis High School has made huge strides in recent years, and it currently has the lowest drop-out rate of any zoned public high school in New York City, but it operates at 156 percent of capacity. Many residents pass on the local elementary school, P.S. 16, and opt for one of several private schools, including Trinity Lutheran in Tompkinsville.
The commute The ferry is a 25-minute free ride that runs 24 hours a day. Total commute time from St. George to midtown runs 45 minutes to an hour.
Best brokers Norma Sue Wolfe at Gateway Arms Realty (718-273-3800) and Charles Auer at Vitale Sunshine Realty (718-979-3333).
131 ST. PAUL’S AVENUE
Five-bedroom, two-bath side-hall Colonial, circa 1899, in Tompkinsville. New hardwood floors, three fireplaces, new skylights in top-floor bedroom, refurbished eat-in kitchen. Partial views of New York Harbor and Brooklyn. Fifteen-minute walk to Staten Island Ferry. In contract. $264,400.
A leafy middle-class enclave only fifteen minutes from midtown.
If local lore is to be believed, back in the twenties, Sunnyside, Queens, gave new meaning to the term bedroom community. High-flying, pre-Depression executives needed a neighborhood to house their young mistresses that was cheap, nice, and, above all else, quickly accessible to midtown. Sunnyside fit the bill. And for young commuters today who have been priced off the island, it still does. After hearing one of her co-workers rave about it, Kym Gordon, a 29-year-old administrative assistant at Zelnick Media, relocated from Jersey to Sunnyside just last week. She found a comfortable studio a short walk from the subway for only $825 a month, utilities included.
Lay of the land Gordon lives in a six-story brick apartment building typical of Sunnyside proper. From nearly every avenue, you can look west to the New York skyline – close enough to see camera flashes at the top of the Empire State building. “It feels like a real neighborhood,” she says, “with grass and trees and strollers. I just love it.”
The world at your doorstep “It’s probably the most polyglot neighborhood in all of New York City,” says native son and poet Saul Bennett, who conducts walking tours for the 92nd Street Y called “Sunnyside: Hometown, USA.” The neighborhood has always been predominantly blue-collar Irish Catholic (it’s been called the Irish East Bank), but today there are also large numbers of Turks, Indians, Pakistanis, and Koreans. The mix was part of the appeal for 26-year-old actor Ron DeStefano, who found the ethnic groups in neighboring Astoria to be a little too segregated.
Garden variety Since 1998, DeStefano has lived in Sunnyside Gardens – a planned community of brick homes and small apartment buildings built in the twenties. It was one of the country’s first major “urban garden” projects and features courtyards, tree-lined pathways, and private and communal flower beds. DeStefano rents the top floor of a two-family house. His two-bedroom, 800-square-foot apartment is only $950, but brokers say that if the apartment went on the market today, it could easily rent for $1,400.
The commute Being an actor, DeStefano also liked the straight shot to the theater district. From the 40th Street station on Queens Boulevard, it’s fifteen minutes to Times Square via the 7 line. The F and R lines are also within walking distance. LaGuardia is ten minutes by car.
The cons Being so close to the city but not being able to hail a cab loses its charm quickly.
Creature comforts Queens Boulevard, the area’s transportation and retail spine, is lined with delis, bakeries, a trendy bar or two, fast food, and lots of ethnic restaurants. Hemsin, a Turkish bakery and restaurant, has bagels that some say rival H&H’s. There’s also a Best Buy and a 24-hour Home Depot. Nightlife is mostly of the Irish-pub variety.
Coming soon MoMA Queens will open early next year in the old Swingline Staple factory on 33rd Street and Queens Boulevard, near the border of Sunnyside and Long Island City, not far from P.S. 1.
Schools P.S. 150, which houses 1,200 students, is Sunnyside’s elementary school. Sixty-eight percent of students meet the city’s education standards, compared with an average of 42 percent for all city schools. P.S. 11 in Woodside and P.S. 199 in Long Island City also serve the Sunnyside area.
Best brokers Carmela Massimo of Welcome Home Real Estate (718-706-0957) and Nilo DelaTorre of Century 21 Sunny Gardens (718-507-9502).
42-20 50TH AVENUE
Four-bedroom, three-bath, two-family brick home. Hardwood floors, high ceilings, one-car garage, low taxes, only four blocks from the subway. Sold in May for $330,000.
A new rail link is about to boost this ‘burb into the big time.
No doubt you’ve heard of Montclair, the liberal New Jersey town often called the Upper West Side of the suburbs, famous for its diversity, its celebrated residents (Bill Bradley, Ian Frazier, and Yogi Berra), and its spectacular estates that resemble small national parks. Chances are you haven’t heard of Montclair’s often overlooked stepchild, Bloomfield, a neighboring town that’s home to Frankie’s Futurmatic Car Wash and the official Joe Pesci fan club. But with affordable homes and a commute to midtown that’s about to be cut in half, Bloomfield won’t stay sleepy for long. For now, it’s still possible to find a comfortable three-bedroom home in this charming hamlet for $200,000 and live close enough to Montclair to take advantage of its shopping and restaurants.
Meet the neighbors That’s a big part of the appeal for Kelly Smith Killian, a 31-year-old freelance journalist in Bloomfield. “I can do all the stuff that I really need to do in Bloomfield,” she says of things like getting groceries. “But if I want to go to a nice dinner or go antique shopping, I’ll go into Montclair.” Kelly and her husband, Keith, rent a one-bedroom apartment near the lower-priced south end of town for $855 a month but are looking to buy a three-bedroom home under $200,000.
Small is beautiful Remarkably, there are actually plenty of options. The streets here are lined with Cape Cod- and Victorian-style homes in the $175,000 to $350,000 range. And, for Smith Killian, the setting is hard to beat. She describes the time a red fire truck pulled up to the Magic Fountain homemade-ice-cream shop, and school children swarmed the truck as firemen showed them the hoses and sirens. “It was such a cute little Norman Rockwell picture that I haven’t seen anywhere else I’ve lived,” she says.
Sights to behold Bloomfield’s town center extends the Rockwell imagery. The stately buildings of Bloomfield College surround a grassy quad (where scenes from the upcoming Drew Barrymore movie, Riding in Cars With Boys, were filmed earlier this year), and church steeples puncture the skyline all around. The town also has several lush parks, with ponds and park benches, where families gather for picnics and duck crossing signs are a common sight.
Manhattan transfer When Dominique Brunet, 36, who is a buyer for Saks Fifth Avenue, and his wife, Kristin Brunet, 32, an assistant curator at moma, started looking for a home to buy last year, they insisted on a maximum commute of one hour, door to door, to their jobs in Manhattan. And after looking everywhere from Bergen County, New Jersey, to Connecticut, the Brunets, who are expecting their first child in November, left their $1,250-a-month two-bedroom apartment in Cobble Hill and bought a 1928 three-bedroom colonial with hardwood floors and “a beautiful fireplace” in the Oakview section of Bloomfield for less than $250,000.
The commute Because of its proximity to the Garden State Parkway and Newark International Airport, Bloomfield is already conveniently situated, but this spring, the New Jersey Transit System will launch direct train service on the Montclair Connection – a long-awaited 1,500-foot sliver of rail that will cut the commute to New York Penn Station from a half hour or more (including a change of trains in Hoboken) to a mere fifteen minutes.
Prime areas Generally speaking, the northern part of Bloomfield is more desirable (and farther from Newark). The Brookdale area is coveted for its proximity to Brookdale Park, and the Oakview area has gorgeous homes that are among the closest to Montclair.
The cons While Bloomfield has all the basic retail a town needs (a bank, a garden nursery, bakeries, grocery stores), it doesn’t offer the kinds of trendy cafés or boutiques found in Montclair.
Schools While the elementary schools in Oakview and Brookdale have solid reputations, only 49 percent of students of Bloomfield High’s class of 2000 planned to go to college, down from 55 percent for the class of ‘96.
Best brokers Joyce Palm at Weichert Realtors (973-220-7424); Denise Riordan, Schweppe & Co. (973-744-4701).
98 SYLVAN ROAD
Three-bedroom, one-bath, 1938 side-hall Colonial with natural woodwork, refinished hardwood floors in the living room, a formal dining room, den, laundry room, basement, one-car garage, and a large deck. On the market for $257,000.
Manhattan apartments at a discount.
For some Manhattanites, separation anxiety is a major obstacle to relocation. For these people, there is Hudson Heights. Jim Nyberg and his wife, Alice, needed to upgrade from their $1,450 a month one-bedroom pad in the West Village. But with a ceiling of $2,000, finding a two-bedroom in the Village proved impossible. So after reluctantly scouting out Brooklyn, the Nybergs took a look at Hudson Heights on the recommendation of a co-worker. “It was a different world,” says Nyberg, who fell in love with the hill-top enclave just south of Fort Tryon Park. Last month, they moved into a spacious two-bedroom apartment for $2,000 a month on West 181st street, with a view of the Hudson and the George Washington Bridge.
Lay of the land Hudson Heights, which stretches roughly from 181st to 193rd Street between Broadway and the river, is a manufactured name – created by brokers and co-op owners in the mid-nineties to psychologically distance the area from the rest of Washington Heights. While prices have gone up in recent years, the cost of a one-bedroom co-op ($130,000-$275,000) is still about half that of one on the Upper West Side.
Prime areas Among the gems are the Hudson View Gardens on West 183rd, fifteen Tudor-style buildings situated in front of a block-long community park; and Castle Village, five high-rises complete with doormen and sunken living rooms, atop a broad expanse of grass and trees on Cabrini Boulevard, overlooking the river.
Creature comforts The southern area, near 181st Street, has loads of ethnic restaurants and little bodegas. This fall, a Starbucks, the first in Manhattan north of Harlem, will open on West 181st Street. The northern end offers fewer retail services but there is a large grocery store, a cute café, a popular Indian restaurant, a pet store, and a handful of other little shops.
The cons The streetscape of Hudson Heights is somewhat uninspired, with mostly unremarkable six- to ten-story apartment buildings. And there aren’t many entertainment or nightlife options, so get used to the subway.
The commute There are only five stops between West 181st Street and Port Authority on the A line. It takes about 20 minutes during rush hour. But if you get stuck on a local, you’re in for a long ride.
Schools P.S. 187 runs from kindergarten through eighth grade and is well regarded. Less desirable is George Washington High School: The alma mater of Henry Kissinger and Jacob Javits, its reputation has suffered in recent years from overenrollment, a high drop-out rate, and a jaded faculty.
Best broker Gus Perry at Stein-Perry Real Estate (212-928-3805).
447 FT. WASHINGTON AVENUE
Two-bedroom, one-bath co-op in a prewar building. Lots of light, hardwood floors, 1,100 square feet. Formal dining room. Steps from A train. On the market for $229,000.