For every New Yorker happy to embrace high-rise living, there's more than one who longs for the pleasures of a house—multiple floors, spacious layouts, and your very own front door—without being forced to decamp for the suburbs.
Easier said than paid for. Even in Brooklyn, typically the cheaper alternative to Manhattan, the price of a house—a term we use to refer to brownstones, row houses, detached single-family homes, and homes with one or two rental units—is steadily going up, hitting record highs in some neighborhoods. That's especially true of brownstones: “If you had to pick a housing stock that was hottest right now, it’d be the brownstone market,” says Jonathan Miller of real estate appraisal firm Miller Samuel. Overall, the average price of a Brooklyn house is almost $883,000, up 22 percent from the year before, reports brokerage Douglas Elliman.
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We spoke to several of Brooklyn's real estate experts; looked at the prices of houses on the market, using data from StreetEasy; and scoped out the average sale prices from the first seven months of this year, with numbers from Miller, all to find five neighborhoods where you can still get a bona fide house for six figures. Here's what we found:
Borders: Flushing Avenue to the north, Classon Avenue to the west, Broadway to the east and Atlantic Avenue to the south
Median asking price: just over $1 million (i.e. half the houses asking less than that)
Number of houses listed: 34
Average sale price as of July 2014: $591,328
Number of houses sold as of July 2014: 195
Average size of houses sold: 2,775 square feet
The birthplace of Chris Rock and Norman Mailer, Bedford-Stuyvesant (a.k.a. Bed-Stuy) is made up of what long ago was Bedford, Stuyvesant Heights, part of what used to be called the Eastern District, and part of Ocean Hill.
New clothing stores, bakeries and restaurants have opened in recent years, especially on Fulton Street, Bed-Stuy’s main shopping thoroughfare. Offerings include Tony’s Health Food Supermarket, contemporary southern restaurant Peaches, and Saraghina, known for its wood-fired pizzas. Fresh Direct even started delivering to the area in the last couple of years.
With prices going up rapidly in the area, there's not yet a clear consensus on prices among the many local brokers who work the neighborhood, so it's still possible to find a good deal on a place. “There can be a home that I’d price at $800,000 and they’d price at $650,000," says Aleksandra Scepanovic, managing director of Brooklyn-based brokerage Ideal Properties Group, referring to local mom-and-pop brokerages.
If your budget tops out at $1 million, expect to look east of Stuyvesant Heights, and to compromise on a house that's less than 20 feet wide and potentially in need of upgrades like a new kitchen or bathroom, says Ban Leow, a broker at Halstead Property who works in the area. "You can get a nice three-story, two-family for under $1 million, but if [you] score a four-story, three-family, probably more work will be needed," he says.
Many of the multi-family homes (that is, those with rental units on a floor or two) offer rear yards, as well as the promise of additional rental income. While some come with tenants already in place, most are sold with at least one or all apartments empty.
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Borders: Williamsburg to the north; Ridgewood, Queens to the northeast; East New York to the southeast; Brownsville to the south; and Bed-Stuy to the southwest.
Median asking price: $850,000
Number of houses listed: 34
Average sale price as of July 2014: $537,334
Number of houses sold as of July 2014: 149
Average size of houses sold: 2,927 square feet
“We’re seeing a quick change here from a formerly industrial neighborhood to a really funky, happening place,” says Scepanovic. “Bushwick today is what Williamsburg was 10 years ago.”
Indeed, the Bushwick story is familiar to anyone with a passing interest in NYC real estate: In the wake of reduced crime rates and rising prices in Manhattan and nearby Williamsburg and Park Slope, many young professionals have started moving into the neighborhood’s converted warehouses and lofts.
“There are some really nice positives to living in Bushwick. Density is lower, parking is easier and you have a higher probability of getting a place with a garage. Plus, the buildings aren’t as tall so you’ll get a lot more light," says Donald Brennan of Brooklyn brokerage Brennan Realty Services.
The area is also home to multi-family apartment buildings and two- and three-family townhouses, which can be snagged for under seven figures. But they'll likely need complete or partial renovations, says Scepanovic, noting that the phrase "upside potential" is often shorthand for places that will jump in value with some work.
Indeed, the area has remained comparatively affordable partly because it lacks the new, amenity-packed condos of Williamsburg or the restored townhouses of Brooklyn Heights, and it's several subway stops farther from Manhattan. Also, like Bed-Stuy, Bushwick has a number of mom-and-pop brokerages, says Scepanovic, and their presence can lead to a large variation in prices, potentially providing bargains for buyers.
Borders: Prospect Expressway to the north, Gowanus Canal to the west, Eighth Avenue to the east and 39th Street to the south.
Median asking price: $1.275 million (i.e. half the houses asking less than that)
Number of houses listed: 5
Average sale price as of July 2014: $740,111
Number of houses sold as of July 2014: 19
Average size of houses sold: 1,916 square feet
Taking its name from its proximity to Green-Wood Cemetery, this neighborhood is filled with a mix of wood-frame, vinyl-sided and brick one- and two-family homes. The area has long boasted a diverse population of Hispanic, Polish-American and Italian-American families, but with real estate getting pricier, Brooklynites have been arriving from less affordable parts of the borough, as well.
A recent check showed only five single-family homes on the market in Greenwood Heights—with a median price tag of $1.275 million—meaning you’d be hard-pressed to find a bargain under a million. A newly renovated home will set you back upwards of $1.5 million, Brennan says.
But it's still possible to find something for less, though it'll likely need upgrades or rehabilitation. Many of those homes are also "underbuilt," he says, meaning the zoning would allow a buyer to build something a lot bigger on the lot. "There is a pretty good value play there for doing that, but they're projects," he explains. "They're going to take time and energy and capital and cash, usually."
And unlike the boutique-laden avenues of Park Slope farther south, you won't find a ton of cute stores or restaurant options here. Instead, you may share the block with businesses like car repairs or light manufacturing, Brennan notes.
Borders: Prospect Park on the east, Green-Wood Cemetery on the west, Caton Avenue on the south and 8th Avenue on the north.
Median asking price: $999,000
Number of houses listed: 3
Average sale price as of July 2014: $667,767
Number of houses sold as of July 2014: 10
Average size of houses sold: 1,918 square feet
Windsor Terrace—located between Park Slope and Kensington—is still flying somewhat under the radar.
The area, which is 35 minutes from Midtown on the F train, is somewhat limited when it comes to restaurants and nightlife. There also aren’t a lot of large grocery stores here, so anyone looking to move here should be prepared to travel to the Whole Foods in Gowanus or the Fairway in Red Hook for groceries. On the other hand, Prospect Park and Park Slope are a short walk away, and there’s farm-to-table restaurant Krupa Grocery, a Dub Pies storefront, and the Double Windsor, a neighborhood bar.
“The neighborhood is full of older housing stock,” Scepanovic says, noting that the residential area has both limestone and brick row houses, as well as a few co-op buildings near the park. Vinyl-clad wood construction houses are a much more common sight here than in brownstone-heavy Park Slope or Brooklyn Heights, “and these are where many of the bargains are to be found,” she says. For under $1 million, you’ll probably get outdoor space “in the form of a yard or, depending on the property, a roof deck.”
Borders: Washington Avenue to the west, Atlantic Avenue to the north, Ralph Avenue to the east and East New York Avenue to the south
Median asking price: $987,000
Number of houses listed: 40
Average sale price as of July 2014: $460,271
Number of houses sold as of July 2014: 200
Average size of houses sold: 2,666 square feet
Properties for less than $1 million are increasingly rare in Crown Heights, but they are there, “especially if you head towards Kensington or Prospect Lefferts Gardens,” Scepanovic says. "The further you get from the neighborhood’s border with Prospect Heights, the higher the likelihood of finding a bargain under $1 million gets.”
The area’s houses consist of brownstone and limestone townhouses—most of which offer rear yards. However, says Brennan, “more likely you won’t be able to afford a traditional brownstone here under $1 million. You’ll probably find something either made of all brick or that’s very dated.” And you'll likely have to put a lot of elbow grease into anything available for under a mil.
The neighborhood has a large Caribbean population, as well as a smaller Hasidic Jewish population, and is home to such landmarks as the Brooklyn Botanic Garden and the Brooklyn Museum. More upscale dining options have also opened up. Eateries include the Cajun-themed Catfish Bar & Restaurant, and Bar Corvo, a Northern Italian restaurant.