Out and About: East Harlem offers housing value

One of the smaller kitchens in the new East Harlem buildings that I visited.  Most are both attractive and serviceable.

Call it East Harlem, Spanish Harlem, SpaHa or El Barrio.

What ever you call it, the neighborhood’s boundaries lie between First and Fifth avenues and East 96th to East 125th streets in northeast Manhattan.

It is enjoying a raft of new developments, the thrum of gentrification and the throb of racial and economic diversity that is at least as robust as some other popular parts of Manhattan.

Just a couple or few blocks from the five buildings that I visited on a brokers’ tour recently are the new Costco, Target and other useful stores as well as an upscale mom-and-pop bakery called Savoy.  Yet old-time restaurants such as Rao’s are nearby as well, along with casual restaurants where a cafe con leche makes for a delightful afternoon pick-me-up.

There is plenty of bus transportation, but perhaps the area’s biggest drawback is the distance from many of the buildings from the Lexington Avenue subway line.

That’s one of the most obvious tradeoffs for living in East Harlem, the other being an urban grit for which many Manhattanites may not be ready.  One example is a raft of buildings, the upper floors of which owners have failed to improve; their façades present bleak, boarded up windows to the world.

At the same time, I am reminded of the East Village before it transitioned into its pricey renaissance.

In exchange for any of those and other tradeoffs, I was struck by how much value exists in terms of the amount of space, light, amenities and finishes that are available for a fraction of the cost elsewhere in the borough, even in parts of Brooklyn and Queens.

I’m constrained from identifying specific apartments, but here is what I discovered with prices and availabilities at time I saw them:

  • At the southern edge of East Harlem within earshot of FDR Drive, a building with a gym, basketball court and giant whirlpool bathin its rear garden.  The handsome condos have ceilings nine and a half feet high, kitchen with Cesarstone countertops, dishwasher and nearly top-end appliances, Bosch washer/dryers, white-oak floors and through-wall air conditioners.  Prices of the dozen available apartments range from $399,000 for a 625-sf one-bedroom unit to $580,000 for a two-bedroom, two-bath of 905 square feet plus a balcony.  Monthly costs amount to as little as $307 to $435, thanks to a tax abatement that doesn’t expire for years.  Issue: Car wash next door and distance from the subway.

    In East Harlem, views often are compromised one way or another. This one is marred by the Con Ed parking lot directly across the street.

  • Two blocks north in the same block, a similarly appealing condominium with amenities such as a garden and a modest gym.  As for the units, their stylish features include bamboo floors, stainless-steel GE Profile appliances, Bosch washer/dryer and granite countertops in pass-through kitchens.  Prices are negotiable, especially the transfer taxes normally paid by buyers.  The range for five available apartments is $252,319 for a 490-sf studio on the first floor to $595,000 for a two-bedroom condo of 1,110 square feet plus an 87.5-sf balcony.  Monthly costs go from $400 to $1,000.  Issues: Large Con Ed parking lot across the street (photo above left) and also distance from Lexington Avenue.
  • The northernmost of the new developments that I saw features the kitchen pictured at the top.  Among its selling points are private elevator entry, bamboo flooring, outdoor space (mostly minimal, slightly bigger than juliet balconies), marble baths with heated floors and good-size rooms.  Though compact, the kitchens have Bosch appliances, including five-burner stove, high-end cabinets, stone countertops and excellent design.  The building itself provides a modest gym and ample bicycle storage.  Prices of available units range from $385,000 for a 730-sf one-bedroom apartment with monthly costs of $419 to $420,000 with $429 per month for one that has a full balcony.  Issue: Location.
  • The least impressive of the buildings, a condo just a block east of the building above. The apartments are on the ordinary side, with entry to the one-bedrooms directly into an open kitchen of basic quality. The oak floors do not appear to be of the highest grade, or at least finish, dishwashers are half-size and the washer/dryers are combo units. Only the rear condos have decent exposures, those into the pleasant enough interior of the block. A garden (below) is still being installed, and amenities are limited to extra storage and a minimal fitness room. A 610-sf one-bedroom apartment runs $382,000 with monthly costs of $300, the two-bedroom, two-bath plus a deck and terrace is listed at $805,000 with $453 per month, and first-floor unit that has a subterranean second floor and an expansive private garden is offered for $595,000 with $371 monthly. Issue: Quality.

    Decent view from a rear apartment of the least appealing of five buildings.

  • Perhaps the best situated of the five buildings is a co-op two short blocks from the subway, the only one with a doorman and inviting lobby, and the only one that contains sponsor apartments both for buyers of limited income and assets starting at $199,000 for a 470-sf studio as well as open-market unit starting at $350,000 for 691-sf one-bedroom unit that has a 525-sf terrace.  Kitchens are high end with Cesarstone countertops, stainless-steel appliances and nice cabinets.  Floors are oak, and there is a washer/dryer hookup.  Issues: Washer/dryer is not included and maintenance (which the sponsor will pay for six months) is generally higher than elsewhere in the neighborhood (but not many other parts of Manhattan), from a low of $775 monthly for an open market 578-sf one-bedroom unit with 487-sf terrace to $1,330 for a 1,041 two-bedroom, two-bath apartment that has a 646-sf deck and an asking price of $599,000.

Nice features of the buildings are that they enjoy tax abatements and the possibility of quick closings.

Although transitional neighborhoods, of which East Harlem undeniably is one, are the ones to lose their value first, they also are where buyers can grasp opportunity by the horns today.

Does it take a soupçon of pioneering spirit to make the leap?

Of course, it does — just like those lucky souls who purchased apartments in the East Village years ago and those who did likewise in SoHo decades ago.  The list goes on, but I’m obviously impressed with the potential, some of it already realized, that East Harlem offers.

Tomorrow afternoon: Queens auction results

To take a bite out of the Big Apple, start your search for a new home here.

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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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