Out and About: Harlem on my mind

Please note:  This weekly feature will return on Jan. 7, by which time everyone should have recovered from the holidays, including me most of all.

It has been many months since I looked at property in Harlem. However, I showed several apartments to an international buyer there last month and came away impressed.

We concentrated on the area of South Harlem near Morningside Park, and I was swept away by the value, ambiance and even convenience of the area bordered by 110th Street, Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. (Seventh Avenue), Morningside Avenue and around 123rd Street. View Map

As my buyer and I ambled along 125th Street west from Lexington Avenue, even that thoroughfare engaged me.

I marveled again at the energy and vibrancy there. It was a pleasure seeing habitués chat with the sidewalk vendors, noting retailers (H & M, for one) that have planted themselves within sight of the Apollo Theater and of being tempted by restaurants specializing in soul food.

Reluctantly we turned south from 125th Street to our various open house destinations.

Like any transitional neighborhood–and this one has become gentrified to an astonishing degree–prices have plunged more precipitously than in established neighborhoods since the tremors of the Lehman Brothers debacle more than two years ago.  They remain far below the prevailing asking and sold prices farther downtown.

One condo we stumbled upon went on the market last December for $759,000 (more than a year after Lehman Brothers had already savaged developers’ hopes), had a price cut to $749,000 in April, went down to $699,000 in September and now to $689,000.  With 1,184 square feet, the asking price per square foot is less than $600, laughably low in contrast to comparable apartments on, say, the Upper West Side.

Moreover, the sponsor undoubtedly expects to have to negotiate down.  Even better, an abatement limits property taxes to a mere $40.13 a month on top of common charges of $693.

The two-bedroom,seventh-floor apartment, which clears surrounding rooftops and enjoys bright light from the north, has solid oak flooring; a mid-range open kitchen with granite, stainless and a bizarre ventilation system; washer/dryer; recessed lighting in ceilings higher than standard dimensions; two handsome baths; and well-proportioned rooms.  That kitchen, at one end of a living/dining room with oversize windows, cries out for a breakfast bar to prevent the space from seeming like one big place to cook.

I long have preached that transitional neighborhoods anywhere always present more financial risk than other ones, and Harlem represents a prime example.  Still, that risk ought to be acceptable for a risk-taker who proceeds with eyes wide open.

With the city’s housing recovery still fragile, it is hard to say whether buying real estate in South Harlem is still risky or riskier than anywhere else. Yet I found that the prices there were especially attractive.

I also discovered that the neighborhood was more appealing to me than I remembered. The residential boulevard of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. reminds me of West End Avenue, only broader and leafier, lined as it is with stately buildings marching from south to north.  The lower boundary is  Central Park, a block from a subway station, where the Nos. 2 and 3 stop.

On Frederick Douglas Boulevard (or Eighth Avenue), restaurants, coffee shops and retail establishments about which I have read turned into an inviting reality. The buttermilk pancakes I had for a late brunch with my buyer at a new casual dining spot were the best that I ever have ordered.  In addition, there is a subway station there for trains that shoot beside Central Park West toward Columbus Circle and beyond (B and C).

Along Morningside Avenue, the park proved to be a wondrous expanse of green, with the Heights and Columbia University buildings looming way beyond. Just looking at the park can be a sight for sore eyes.

Finally, there were the apartments themselves that held surprising appeal.  Although many of that new developments that have sprung up in sight of each other contain units that tend to look the same, disconcertingly, their design is generally beyond pleasing. Both their finishes and their style often are as captivating as anything you’ll find in the trendiest neighborhoods of Manhattan.

Below are some of the other apartments we looked at in South Harlem (SoHa) and, farther down, other parts of Manhattan:

  • A two- or possibly-three-bedroom penthouse with a private roof deck that has unobstructed views from, get this, its 950 square feet of area.  This sleek, 1,366-sf unit has first-rate finishes, a kitchen with GE Profile appliances, extra-thick stone countertops and laminate cabinetry, glam baths with walls of mosaic tile and dramatic sinks, and plenty of closet space.  In a doorman building with amenities such as a fitness center, this apartment is listed for $1.2 million with monthly common charges of $893, plus real estate taxes of just $45 for years to come.
  • On a side street a couple of blocks from Central Park, a 1,037-sf apartment in a building that was converted from rental.  With layouts restricted by the building’s pre-war origins, there is considerable space wasted on hallways in this three-bedroom, two-bath apartment.  The result is a very small, but attractive, kitchen open to an undersize living room.  Two of the three bedrooms also are unfortunately small.  While the obstructed views north from the master bedroom and living/dining room are acceptable, the two lesser bedrooms face another building across an alley.  Having had a $20,000 price reduction, this place is offered for $599,000 with costs per month totaling $1,285 and competition from new nearby units being stiff indeed.
  • A captivating three-bedroom, two-bath apartment on the second floor of a winning land-lease building still under construction.  This 1,270-sf condo has excellent flow, high-end kitchen, charcoal-stained maple floors, beautifully designed baths, washer/dryer, expansive windows and high ceilings.  The asking price of $775,000 with monthly costs of $1,407 is on the high side, especially for its location, though clearly open to negotiation.
  • On Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. close to Central Park, a 1,722-sf apartment on the second floor of a 1920 building undergoing conversion from rental units, some occupied by tenants hostile to the change.  Now gutted, this condo will be outfitted with high-end appliances, possess impressive finishes, include three bedrooms and two-and-a-half baths, and have unobstructed exposures, albeit from the second floor, from the public rooms.  The listing price of $950,000 with real estate taxes and common charges totaling $850 is high for the location and uncertainties surrounding the pace of the conversion.
  • A 650-sf co-op in a 1925 building on West End Ave. in the high 90s.  With a dated eat-in kitchen, a good number of closets, glowing floors that cannot withstand another round of refinishing, this one-bedroom unit on a lower floor has been on and off the market with different brokers since five days after Lehman Brothers at prices ranging from $879,000 then to $579,000 five days later.  Its price has changed a total of 10 (!) times, now at $489,000 from $475,000–yes, up!–with maintenance of $803 a month.  “The owner wants to sell,” the broker relates, not confessing that the pricing strategy has been wrong-headed all along.
  • In the high 60s, a well-worn one-bedroom co-op that has a vintage bath, merely serviceable 70s kitchen, dressing room that functions as office and an exposure north to the street from the bedroom.  In a 1925 pet-unfriendly building on a Central Park block in Lincoln Square, this 665-sf apartment was listed at $550,000 in September before a reduction in October to $510,000 with maintenance of $1,269 a month.
  • A lovely two-bedroom co-op with open views south despite its location on a lower floor.  This renovated unit has a full bath plus a powder room placed at the far end of the kitchen.  Not only do guests have to pass through the kitchen for access to the half bath, but they have to go through the kitchen to reach the living room from the front door.  Otherwise, this 1,100-sf unit in a 1925 full-service building with exercise and children’s rooms west of Columbus Avenue is nearly well priced at $841,000 (all the way down from $850,000) with monthly maintenance of $1,421.

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Malcolm Carter
Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker
Senior Vice President
Charles Rutenberg Realty
127 E. 56th Street
New York, NY 10022

M: 347-886-0248
F: 347-438-3201

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One thought on “Out and About: Harlem on my mind

  1. I live at the corner of Frederick Douglass & W. 110th Street, and I can vouch for it being a real NEIGHBORHOOD neighborhood. Small business owners know you by face or by name, the longtime residents are friendly and not resentful to newcomers, and there’s a terrific variety of restaurants. I even love the 24-hour gas station across the street, which makes the neighborhood feel lively and alive.


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