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What's the smarter buy: A studio in Manhattan or a one bedroom in Brooklyn or Queens?

A cozy studio on Bethune Street in the West Village.

CORE

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Buyers weigh all kinds of variables when shopping for apartments, and two of the major factors considered are of course location and size. In New York City, those considerations often boil down to a very specific calculation: What gives you the most for your buck in terms of lifestyle and investment potential: Buying a studio in Manhattan or a one bedroom in Brooklyn or Queens?

It's easy to compare prices and see where the value is: The median price of a studio co-op in Manhattan was $439,000 in the fourth quarter 2018, while the median price of a Manhattan studio condo in the same period was $634,000, according to Douglas Elliman's market report. Your money goes further in the outer boroughs—for example, the median sales price for co-ops of all sizes in Brooklyn is $406,250, while the median sales price for all co-ops in Queens is $300,000. But how do compare less quantifiable factors? What if you work and socialize primarily in Manhattan? How much does a commute from the outer boroughs impact your schedule and social life?

We checked in with brokers around the city for their two cents, and opinions were all over the place—and included lots of good points to help you make a decision. Here’s what they told us.

Status (and simplicity) in the city

“Many still would rather buy a studio in Manhattan over a one bedroom in Brooklyn mainly because of convenience and status. Since most studios are being purchased by millennials with the help of their parents or on their own by gainfully employed young professionals in the finance or tech world, status is still a key factor in their decision where to buy. Young buyers would rather live in the Midtown or Financial District areas in Manhattan rather than Boerum Hill where you get a bigger space. Still, it all depends on what part of Brooklyn you are comparing to Manhattan. For instance, Brooklyn Heights is much more desirable than Murray Hill in Manhattan even though you can get a bigger space in Murray Hill than Brooklyn Heights for the same price.  

"Convenience is also a big consideration. Once you cross that bridge, you don’t want to go back to Manhattan after work so many opt for a smaller space and live closer to where they can meet with their friends for dinner or go for a night out."

—Antonio del Rosario, broker, BHS

She’ll take Manhattan

“Say what you will about opportunities in Brooklyn and Queens—living in the boroughs still entails a commute to Manhattan. Having lived in all three boroughs myself, I can attest to the fact that you’re just not in the heart of the city unless you’re actually in Manhattan. Brooklyn and Queens will always feel a little like the ‘burbs and a hike to go out for dinner or a show. The flavor in Manhattan is unique and evokes the real New York. I would take a studio in the real Big Apple anytime over a larger unit in the boroughs.”

—Dolly Hertz, broker, Engel & Volkers NYC

Too tight for two

“Sometimes life leads you quickly in a different direction and you find there may now be two people living [there] and space can get tight in a studio. This may make the decision much easier to lean towards the one-bedroom option. Thoughts on resale always come to mind and resale tends to be higher when paying for more rooms.”

—Natalie Rabaa, agent, Brown Harris Stevens

Out-of-town buyers want Manhattan

"A Manhattan studio versus a one bedroom in Brooklyn or Queens usually comes down to tolerance for subway commute. The studio I have going into contract at 104 Bedford is located in the West Village, which may be the most desirable neighborhood in NYC. Views, light, features, condition, and location have brought have brought outer borough interest, but pied-à-terre purchasers have been the prime audience, and pied-à-terre buyers want Manhattan for theater and entertainment. Price seems uppermost in the mind of buyers at this time, and in the end, relative value would be measured closely."

—Joan Goldberg, broker, Brown Harris Stevens   

For ROI, Manhattan is the clear choice, right?

“Many buyers of studios in Manhattan are savvy investors. They know that in a continuously softening market like we are in right now, it is better to buy in a prime location because the resale would be faster and the appreciation higher once the market picks back up. The fringes always suffers first in a down market and are the last to recover.”

—del Rosario

Nope. Go big in Brooklyn

“Don’t buy the studio in Manhattan. Go to Brooklyn and buy the biggest apartment you can. You’ll make a lot more money with that. If you’re looking at studios and you can stretch to a one bedroom, you’ll have way better appreciation and resale down the road...Space is what is expensive and hard to get in New York City. If I can get more space for less money I’m doing that.”

—Ben Jacobs, broker, CORE