A New York City Home for Less Than $350,000

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Housing prices in New York are notoriously high, but if you look carefully, especially with an open mind on location, you can find something affordable.

This prewar co-op at 300 Eighth Avenue, in Park Slope, Brooklyn recently posted a listing for No. 3L for $265,000.
Credit...Tom Sibley for The New York Times

C. J. Hughes

July 30, 2021, 5:00 a.m. ET

The pandemic upended New York City’s real estate market, and even as prices and inventory start to normalize, one thing remains clear: You still get a lot less here than you would almost anywhere else.

But your money may go farther than you think. Despite the buzz about big-ticket penthouses owned by billionaires, the city also has hundreds of properties that can be attained without Bezos-level wealth. The available number of these more modestly sized apartments has grown since the pandemic, as demand shifted toward larger units that can more easily accommodate working from home.

To score one, though, you might have to compromise. Lower-cost units are often tiny. New developments are generally off the table, since they tend to be high end. And co-ops, rather than condos, are more likely to have these units, though discounted co-ops can have strings attached like steep fees. Also, boroughs outside Manhattan are more likely to have neighborhoods that are awash in homes within reach.

“There is a mind-set out there that, ‘There’s no way I could buy something in New York,’” said Eirik Gislason, an agent with Brown Harris Stevens who is marketing a studio in Jackson Heights, Queens, for $318,500. “But that’s because there’s not a whole lot of press about these kinds of apartments.”

What’s reasonable in terms of price is, of course, in the eye of the beholder. But assuming a budget of $350,000 — the current national median home price, according to the Federal Reserve — the five boroughs have nearly 2,000 suitable properties, according to a review of listings in July.

The search excluded official “affordable” housing, since those homes are set aside for buyers making certain incomes and are often dispensed by lottery. The search also put more emphasis on listings with pictures of interior rooms as opposed to those that relied on a few generic facade shots. (Skimping on photos can be a tip-off about rundown conditions, if the listing is even active at all.)

But even after paring, the list of low-end homes was long, in part, brokers say, because many buyers are abandoning small apartments for larger ones that can fit a home office, or even two. Studios have also stagnated, because renters who might have sought to buy one have decided to stay in their rentals after being rewarded with free rent by their landlords.

Indeed, this spring, the inventory of studios in Manhattan soared by 39 percent compared to the same time in 2020, the biggest increase of any apartment size, according to Jonathan Miller, the president of the appraisal firm Miller Samuel. One-bedrooms had the next biggest increase, at 29 percent.

At the same time, the price per square foot of studios dropped 25 percent, to $953, said Mr. Miller, while the price per square foot for three-bedrooms was about flat versus a year ago, at $1,743.

Options ran the gamut. They included a three-bedroom with bay views in Corona, Queens, for $235,000; a studio near the Brooklyn Bridge for $330,000; and a gut-renovated one-bedroom in the Fordham section of the Bronx for $230,000.


Credit...Katherine Marks for The New York Times

Homes priced around $350,000 are most likely found in the borough’s northern neighborhoods, like Inwood and Washington Heights. But buyers can also find discounts on the Upper East Side, especially in Yorkville. Despite adding a subway line in 2017, Second Avenue’s Q train, the area still seems to offer savings akin to its pre-mass-transit self. A ground-level prewar studio at 215 East 89th Street, No. A, for instance, is listed at $335,000, down from $340,000 in June.

And Tudor City, the enclave straddling East 42nd Street near Grand Central Terminal, had more than two dozen apartments listed under $350,000 in July. Among them was a studio at 5 Tudor City Place, No. 1103, at $299,000. Located in prewar Windsor Tower, a Tudor-style building with a medieval-themed lobby, the apartment comes with hardwood floors, a beamed ceiling and Murphy bed, plus space for a dining table. “People are always trying to figure out where to put a desk,” said Michael Torsiello, a salesman with Keller Williams NYC. Still, casement windows offer unfettered views of the United Nations Secretariat tower.


Credit...Katherine Marks for The New York Times

Even a berth on Billionaires’ Row can be had, courtesy of Carnegie Tower, a 317-unit postwar co-op at 100 West 57th Street. In mid-July, there were 13 apartments for sale for less than $350,000, including No. 11F, a 650-square-foot studio with a walled-off sleeping alcove for $150,000. The price is so low because Carnegie Tower sits on leased land, with shareholders on the hook for that land’s rent, which translates into monthly bills that are relatively steep. The studio has monthly maintenance of $1,600 and lists a monthly assessment of $250 that runs into 2022.

“I get calls all the time about apartments here,” said Joelle Pergolotti, an agent who has worked in the building for four decades. But once she explains the land lease, “most buyers don’t even respond.” Still, for a doorman building that allows pieds-à-terre near Central Park, Broadway theaters and the Museum of Modern Art, some buyers may be able to overlook the hefty maintenance charges. Of the 13 apartments for sale in late July, eight were already in contract.


Credit...Tom Sibley for The New York Times

An apartment for $235,000 that has not one, not two, but three bedrooms? It exists, in the neighborhood of Corona, on the top floor of the six-story co-op at 112-30 Northern Boulevard, No. 6D.

Cars whoosh down Northern Boulevard, and stores are a bit of a walk. But gleaming wood floors, a sunny windowed kitchen and sweeping views of Flushing Bay and La Guardia Airport add a sense of respite from the surroundings.

The non-doorman elevator building is part of the Dorie Miller Cooperative — named for an African-American hero of the 1941 Pearl Harbor attack. The red brick six-building complex made history by being racially integrated when it opened in 1953, but it attracted some unwanted attention in recent years when the co-op nearly defaulted on its mortgage over financial mismanagement. Since then, the complex has hired a new operator, elected a new board and raised maintenance fees.

“The building is really keeping on top of things now,” said Abigail Herrera, the Keller Williams agent who is listing No. 6D, which comes with a monthly maintenance bill of $1,267.


Credit...Tom Sibley for The New York Times

In the Ditmars-Steinway neighborhood, money woes have also plagued Acropolis Gardens, a full-block complex featuring 16 buildings around a long courtyard. In 2018, shareholders, facing foreclosure after checks bounced, revolted and sued their manager, Metropolitan Pacific Properties, alleging tens of millions in missing funds, in a case still winding its way through the courts. “But things are trying to get back in order,” said Iryna Ferenets, an associate broker with Compass who is listing 21-58 35th Street, No. 1C, a one-bedroom, for $260,000.

When the unit, which has exposed brick walls, granite counters and a breakfast bar, first hit the market in 2017, before the shareholder suit, the seller was asking $335,000, or 29 percent more.

Even though the building, located between Ditmars Avenue and 21st Boulevard, is now under different management, banks are still skittish about lending there, which is why buyers need to bring cash, Ms. Ferenets said.

A more universal challenge may be convincing renters to become buyers. “The first-time home buyer demographic is waiting on the sidelines,” said Mr. Gislason, the broker with the Jackson Heights studio, who also works as a leasing agent. “The rental market is just so competitive right now,” with multiple months of free rent on top of double-digit discounts, he said.

That softness has forced him to lower the price of his alcove studio, 37-31 73rd Street, No. 4H, twice since March, from $349,000 to $318,500. “But I think the value will come back in a year,” he said.


Credit...Katherine Marks for The New York Times

While new condos may be out of reach for bargain hunters, recently refurbished co-ops can be a viable alternative.

The Origin North portfolio, located across nine co-ops in the Bronx and Upper Manhattan offers gut-rehabbed apartments that could be mistaken for new development. No. 3I at 2420 Morris Avenue, a one-bedroom unit in a yellow-brick 1950s building in the Fordham section, for instance, features baseboard molding, quartz counters and stainless-steel appliances for $230,000.

Origin North, which offers financing programs that let buyers put down as little as three percent of the purchase price, is from Glacier Equities, a firm that has specialized in co-ops since the 1980s. Last fall, Glacier bought unsold sponsor units in nine co-op buildings, which was the equivalent of 255 apartments, 218 of which were not rent-regulated. Tenants were not evicted but left as their leases expired, said Myles Horn, Glacier’s managing member, and some tenants bought their apartments at a special discount of 40 percent.


Credit...Katherine Marks for The New York Times

Riverdale, among the Bronx’s most coveted addresses, had about 150 eligible listings, including dozens in Spuyten Duyvil, which nuzzles Manhattan’s northern tip.

Certain buildings there seem to be full of them, like River Point Towers, at 555 Kappock Street, a 412-unit tower, which, along with several mid-20th-century co-ops in the area, is perched on a cliff. Of the 33 apartments on the market in late July, according to StreetEasy.com, 23 were for $350,000 or less.

No. 20U, a one-bedroom with marble counters in its galley kitchen, a distinct dining area and wide views of city blocks to the east, was $239,000, down from a price of $259,000 last fall. And its monthly maintenance bill of $1,002 comes with use of one of River Point’s most popular amenities: a heated outdoor pool.


Credit...Tom Sibley for The New York Times

Many of the architecturally rich, near-to-Manhattan Brooklyn neighborhoods have prices competitive with Manhattan neighborhoods.

But there may be workarounds, like Concord Village, a seven-building complex along Adams Street, near the Brooklyn Bridge and close to Brooklyn Heights. The monolithic red brick co-op, which began life in the urban renewal era as a rental, offers apartments like 225 Adams Street, No. 10B, a studio with a windowed kitchen and a walled-in sleeping area for $330,000.

Far more options, though, exist in neighborhoods further south, like Sheepshead Bay, where subway access is limited and cars are common. A one-bedroom prewar co-op at 2241 Plumb First Street, No. 5K, on the border with Gerristen Beach, was listed for $199,000 in July, with sofas, wardrobes and tables included.

When an apartment in this price range pops up in a premier neighborhood, it may be wise to look the gift listing in the mouth. Consider 300 Eighth Avenue, in Park Slope, a co-op comprised totally of studios where units routinely trade for around $250,000. The reason? Three decades after the building converted from a rental into a co-op, fewer than half of its 94 units, or 45, have sold, brokers say, which means it still has not hit the key 50 percent threshold preferred by lenders. Buildings below that threshold, with many occupants who are renters, are too transient, the thinking goes, putting the building’s upkeep at risk.

Among the apartments in the Gothic-accented 1920 building for sale last month was a sponsor unit with inlaid floors and original molding, No. 2L, asking $265,000.

“It would be cheaper to buy this and pay the maintenance than it would be to rent it,” said Hal Lehrman, the principal broker of Brooklyn Properties who has sold sponsor units in the building since the 1990s. “And there is nothing else available in the neighborhood like this. Period.”

Besides, Mr. Lehrman added, with the sale of just three more sponsor units — which is expected to happen this year — the co-op will finally cross the halfway mark, likely sending values skyward.


Credit...Tom Sibley for The New York Times

For single-family houses, the more suburban streets of Staten Island offer options under $350,000 that are attached on one side, or both, though some can seem more like a tear-down than a place to live.

To wit: 166 Roma Avenue, a three-bedroom in New Dorp Beach that was slammed by Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and does not appear to have been inhabited since then, was on the market in July for $229,000.

Staten Island does also offer scattered condos and co-ops with prices far lower than their Manhattan counterparts. For example, a one-bedroom condo in a postwar red brick building at 830 Howard Avenue, No. 2A, in the Grymes Hill neighborhood, was listed at $339,900. Its 830 square feet include a dining area, white appliances and wall-to-wall carpeting. The unit, which also comes with a deeded parking space, is near the leafy campus of Wagner College and express buses to Brooklyn.

In comparison, the median sales price of a condo in Manhattan this spring, according to the firm Douglas Elliman, was $995,000.

“We’re the ‘Borough of Parks,’ and you’re going to get much more of a non-city-type life here,” said Christopher Long, an associate broker with Gateway Arms Realty. Staten Island is also an area that has seen its small apartments lag at the expense of single-family homes, Mr. Long added.

“Houses here have been selling in a week, just like anywhere else,” Mr. Long said. “But the condos have been a soft spot. No doubt about it.”

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