‘Five hundred thousand in my area is no man’s land,” says William B. May vice-president Mary Vetri. She works in the best part of the West Village, and she’s politely telling you to take your half-mil and move along, little fella. “You’re in limbo, because studios may go for $400,000, but one-bedrooms slip up to the seven range.”
Nobody in this price range is exactly shopping for a pristine brownstone on Perry Street, but even in less exalted territory, a $500,000 budget may force you to get creative. On the Upper West Side, for example, you’ll most likely find yourself in what Corcoran’s Lolly Totero describes as “a really nice one-bedroom co-op, or a completely sufficient and doable one-bedroom condo that is not so pretty.” In other words, if you’re not looking to start a family and space isn’t your first priority, then you may be in luck. Someone who wants a “true, gracious one-bedroom with a nice kitchen” shouldn’t be daunted, says Totero. She cites a couple who bought a $515,000 one-bedroom prewar co-op on West 72nd Street, adding that they plan to turn a dining alcove into a child’s bedroom.
But if, in the universal Realtor parlance, you want more bang for your buck, then head for the frontier of your neighborhood of choice. That’s how Kenneth Ruck, a 34-year-old e-commerce entrepreneur, landed his two-bedroom duplex on Pitt Street. Only a couple of blocks from the FDR Drive, the building lies a few blocks east of the more gentrified chunk of the Lower East Side—and thus is a buyer’s dream. “I started looking mainly in Brooklyn, because that’s where I thought the space was,” says Ruck, but after almost two years of on-and-off searching, he found (with the assistance of Elliman broker Dimitrios Skretas) almost 1,200 square feet of it in Manhattan—for $425,000. “The neighborhood is going up,” he says, adding that despite being on “the last frontier street,” he’s only six blocks from the F, J, M, and Z trains.
Youth—or at least a youthful physique—may be handy in finding a good deal. “The more steps you take from the subway, the more square feet you’re going to get,” says Citi Habitats sales manager Kathryn Higgins. “You can get 1,000 square feet for $500,000 on York or East End.” One-bedroom condos on the far Upper East Side, she adds, are also attainable in that price range: At the postwar Continental Towers on Second Avenue, a 580-square-foot one-bedroom recently came on the market for $495,000.
Think also about heading north, to Hudson Heights. This small pocket of upper Manhattan, a few blocks south of Fort Tryon Park and the Cloisters, has, according to William B. May broker Caroline Brown, “lovely space with lovely value.” In Hudson View Gardens—built in 1924, it’s one of the city’s oldest co-ops—$559,000 will get you a two-bedroom with a dining room and river and garden views. During the past few years, Brown says, “loads of young families” and other lower-Manhattan émigrés have made their way up here.
Another increasingly popular option is the formerly wild west of Hell’s Kitchen. There, says Elliman realtor Douglas Heddings, “prices have gone through the roof, but you still get a lot for your money.” He mentions a $479,000, 1,050-square-foot loft in the Armory, a renovated 42nd Street co-op between Tenth and Eleventh Avenues. “It’s a converted one-bedroom with a big, open kitchen and southern exposure,” he says, adding that these kinds of spaces have drawn single professionals.
Then, of course, there’s Brooklyn. Although it may not be the bargain bastion it once was—unless Bed-Stuy appeals to you—it’s still possible, says Jill Braver of William B. May, to find a two-bedroom walk-up at the top of a Brooklyn Heights brownstone for $499,000. “They do exist,” she insists. “It just takes longer to find something.” Similarly, Cobble Hill and Boerum Hill contain some good deals, and if downtown Brooklyn appeals to you, there are new condos under construction where, according to Michael Guerra, another May realtor, “$500,000 will get you a really nice apartment”—a two-bedroom that could, in terms of square footage, become a three. Condos, besides having generally lower monthly expenses, are rarer than co-ops in neighborhoods like Carroll Gardens, where, says Guerra, a two-bedroom, two-bath condo on President Street recently sold in the low fives.
As in Manhattan, the best deals are to be found at the fringes—think the streets around Park Slope’s Fourth Avenue or in Prospect Heights, where a two-bedroom in a doorman building can be found for around $450,000. But whether you’re searching in Brooklyn or Manhattan, be prepared to fight. “In that price range, you’ve got a lot of competition,” says Vetri, adding that it’s crowded with first-time buyers looking to grab a mortgage before the rates go up. As a result, tales of open-house crowd control are rife, as are bidding wars. “I wish I had more inventory,” Kathryn Higgins says almost wistfully. “It’s garage-sale time: Clear out what you’ve got in the back!”
Garden Place near Joralemon Street. Brownstone two-bedroom. $475,000.
It’s more like a one-bedroom with a small spare room, but it has great light, a roomy garden, and “lots of closet space, by New York standards,” says the buyer, an actuary. Besides, notes William B. May’s Jill Braver, it’s a condo—a rarity in Brooklyn Heights.
299 Bedford Avenue. Two-bedroom condo. $449,000.
“The gym is convenient, and the finishes are really nice,” says Amy Lau about the new Bedford Court development, where she and her fiancé just bought in. She’s not alone—Elliman’s Helene Luchnick reports that the development sold out in less than two months.
116 Pinehurst Avenue. Two-bedroom co-op. $537,000.
Natural beauty sold this longtime lower-Manhattan couple on Hudson Heights. (One of the buyers says her windows look out upon “trees, with lots of birds.”) The indoors is nice to look at, too: a comfy kitchen and pantry, a foyer, and a dining room big enough to hold an office.
Avenue C near 11th Street. One-bedroom condo. approx. $425,000.
Wary of “Home Depot renovations,” Todd Holoubek was relieved to see the attention paid to this walk-up. “You could tell he took care of it,” he says of the seller. Adding to the charm was the relief of owning after seventeen years’ renting. “It was time,” he says. “I sleep really well at night now.”
Battery Park City
380 Rector Place. One-bedroom condo. $525,000.
A gym, a redone kitchen and floors, and a saltwater aquarium full of eels (!) were all selling points. Less tangible but no less alluring is the neighborhood itself, which, according to Elliman’s Tim Melzer, “has become a sought-after area because it’s close to the river and the parks.”
333 Park Avenue South. 800-square-foot loft. $475,000.
The layout is a little odd—Corcoran’s Lolly Totero explains that the kitchen and bath were built wherever the plumbing allowed. But the buyers of this loft in the former Tiffany glass factory can console themselves with the light flooding in though the huge windows.