Rhap­sody in Brook­lyn

Man­hat­tan is over­hyped, over­priced, and just plain over. Bo­CoCa is the new place to be — and to buy. Mark Martin re­ports from New York

The Daily Telegraph - Property - - Overseas -

For years, Man­hat­tan has been the place to live in New York. But now it has an up-and-com­ing ri­val: Brook­lyn. Flour­ish­ing across the East River are tempt­ing home­buy­ers — and ex­pats in par­tic­u­lar — away from their for­mer favourite area. And it is not only the prices that are draw­ing them, but a cul­tural vi­brancy that the city’s cen­tral bor­ough has lost.

While the rest of the coun­try has ex­pe­ri­enced a drop in prop­erty prices, the city’s mar­ket has de­fied its many Jeremi­ahs by stay­ing buoy­ant. As re­cently as Au­gust, when the sub-prime mort­gage cri­sis was al­ready mak­ing daily head­lines, the New York Times prop­erty sup­ple­ment ran a ban­ner head­line pro­claim­ing “The Man­hat­tan Real Es­tate Slump that Wasn’t”.

There are var­i­ous rea­sons why New York has been spared a mar­ket slow­down. Hefty Wall Street bonuses is one; an­other is a con­stant in­flux of af­flu­ent im­mi­grants. Both help to keep the de­mand for real es­tate high. The dol­lar’s weak­ness has also en­cour­aged for­eign buy­ers. Prom­i­nent among them are the Bri­tish, who like the look of an ex­change rate that gives them two dol­lars for a pound.

Jonathan Samuel, the pres­i­dent and CEO of Miller Samuel, New York’s largest real es­tate ap­praisal firm, says that the num­ber of for­eign buy­ers has risen sub­stan­tially. Now, he reck­ons that “they prob­a­bly ac­count for be­tween a third and 40 per cent” of all real es­tate trans­ac­tions in the city.

A fre­quent trav­eller to Lon­don, Mr Samuel thinks his home town is es­pe­cially ap­peal­ing to Bri­tish buy­ers. “We come across as a bar­gain rel­a­tive to UK prices,” he says. And it is to Brook­lyn that Bri­tons hop­ing to buy into the most Euro­pean – and by far the safest – big city in Amer­ica should look.

For one thing, the dol­lar goes much fur­ther there. The av­er­age price of a Man­hat­tan apart­ment in the sec­ond quar­ter of 2007 was a mon­strous $1.46 mil­lion, ac­cord­ing to Miller Samuel. It is hard to put a fig­ure on how much cheaper Brook­lyn is, but Mr Samuel es­ti­mates that the av­er­age price of a new de­vel­op­ment per square foot is about 35 per cent lower than in Man­hat­tan. With older Brook­lyn prop­er­ties, the sav­ings are likely to be even larger.

But price con­sid­er­a­tions aside, Man­hat­tan just isn’t the same place any more. The vi­tal­ity and ex­cite­ment as­so­ci­ated with a di­verse pop­u­la­tion and small, char­ac­ter­ful restau­rants and cafés have been go­ing the way of af­ford­able rents and mort­gages. For many well-todo im­mi­grants, find­ing the New York they en­vi­sioned on the plane over here means mov­ing to Brook­lyn.

Among the city’s five bor­oughs, Brook­lyn has been the prin­ci­pal ben­e­fi­ciary of a wave of gen­tri­fi­ca­tion pushed across the East River by buy­ers and de­vel­op­ers priced out of Man­hat­tan. As Mr Samuel puts it: “Euro­pean buy­ers, when they look at New York City, are look­ing at ei­ther Man­hat­tan or Brook­lyn.”

The down­town Brookyn dis­tricts to have blos­somed most im­pres­sively are Boerum Hill, Cob­ble Hill, and Car­roll Gar­dens. Th­ese con­tigu­ous neigh­bour­hoods are sit­u­ated be­tween the longestab­lished re­gions of Brook­lyn Heights and Park Slope. It is an area some­times col­lec­tively re­ferred to by the acro­nym Bo­CoCa, a des­ig­na­tion cre­ated by real­tors ea­ger to ad­ver­tise a prop­erty re­nais­sance.

Terry Naini, a vice-pres­i­dent at New York’s big­gest firm of es­tate agents, Douglas El­li­man, de­scribes the area’s ap­peal as twofold. “Euro­peans are at­tracted by the lowalti­tude ar­chi­tec­ture – you have a lot of sky here – and by the sense of com­mu­nity,” she says. “You have the butcher’s shop down the street, for ex­am­ple, and it feels more familiar than go­ing to a huge mall, which mostly th­ese days is what Man­hat­tan has turned into.”

It was that ur­ban-vil­lage feel which at­tracted Glen Luch­ford, a 38-year-old English pho­tog­ra­pher and film­maker. He moved to Brook­lyn from Lon­don three years ago, first rent­ing in Brookyn Heights and then buy­ing a house in Boerum Hill.

“In Lon­don,” says Glen, “I went to the same cor­ner shop ev­ery day and never got so much as a hello in five years. In Boerum Hill, the peo­ple at my lo­cal cof­fee shop knew my name by day three. My neigh­bours came over and in­tro­duced them­selves when I moved in.”

Of course, not ev­ery­one who moves to New York wants to know the neigh­bours. But for them there is still the re­served, pa­tri­cian Up­per East Side.

Glen sold his 900 sq ft West Hamp­stead stu­dio for £700,000 in 2005. Last year, he bought a 4,500 sq ft, four-storey town­house with a gar­den in Boerum Hill on a block that is reg­is­tered with New York’s land­marks com­mis­sion. For his Brook­lyn home, he paid $1.95 mil­lion (about £975,000). So for roughly a third more than the price of his Lon­don stu­dio, he got a prop­erty more than four times the size. In his new place, he can also sub­sidise his in­come by rent­ing out the base­ment apart­ment.

In ad­di­tion to its com­mu­nity spirit, Bo­CoCa of­fers ar­chi­tec­ture in tune with Bri­tish taste. The res­i­den­tial build­ings are pre­dom­i­nantly row houses – three- to four­storey brick and brown­stone ter­race homes with a main en­trance reached via a stair­case, called a stoop.

With their or­nate cor­nices and tall sash win­dows, they re­sem­ble the type of pe­riod town­house which Bri­tish buy­ers might covet in Lon­don or Bath. It is easy to see why many an English ex­pat would pre­fer liv­ing here to be­ing filed away in the vast anony­mous zig­gu­rat that is a typ­i­cal Man­hat­tan apart­ment block.

The cen­tral ar­ter­ies of Bo­CoCa are the par­al­lel thor­ough­fares of Smith Street and Court Street. The past few years have seen a dense crop of bou­tiques, cafés, del­i­catessens, and restau­rants sprout along the road­sides here. Smith Street is now known as Restau­rant Row, and in­cludes Saul, one of the city’s few Miche­lin-starred es­tab­lish­ments.Trans­port into Man­hat­tan is con­ve­nient, too. At least, it is by Lon­don stan­dards. The sub­way can get you from Cob­ble Hill to Mid­town Man­hat­tan in 25 min­utes.

“Get­ting away from Lon­don trans­port was a big in­cen­tive for mov­ing here,” says for­mer Lon­don res­i­dent Caro­line Peat­field. A 35-year-old fash­ion de­signer, orig­i­nally from Scun­thorpe, Caro­line used to com­mute from Stoke New­ing­ton to Knights­bridge, where she worked for Ni­cole

Farhi. The jour­ney took 85 min­utes each way, on av­er­age. That was four years ago. She now lives in Boerum Hill, her of­fice is near Union Square in Man­hat­tan, and com­mut­ing rarely takes up more than 45 min­utes of her day.

She bought in Boerum Hill two years ago, pay­ing $670,000 for a two-bed­room, 1,000square foot apart­ment tak­ing up one floor of a row house.

“At first, I felt a twinge of re­gret that I wasn’t go­ing to be in Man­hat­tan. But the streets are quiet, and most of my English friends live nearby.”

In terms of in­vest­ment, prop­er­ties in Bo­CoCa are lowrisk. Even a se­vere mar­ket down­turn is not go­ing to re­verse the gen­tri­fi­ca­tion process. Too many pro­fes­sion­als have bought into the area for that to hap­pen, and the in­fra­struc­ture they need, such as the private schools up the road in Brook­lyn Heights, is well es­tab­lished.

Also bol­ster­ing Bo­CoCa’s hous­ing mar­ket are plans for two enor­mous Brook­lyn de­vel­op­ments that will flank the dis­trict. In the pipe­line is a wa­ter­front de­vel­op­ment which will in­clude a stretch of park­land to ri­val any in the city, while to the east of Boerum Hill a copse of high­rises called At­lantic Yards is go­ing up. Plans for both de­vel­op­ments in­clude ex­ten­sive of­fice and res­i­den­tial con­struc­tion. The scale of th­ese projects is so great that some an­a­lysts pre­dict that this re­gion of Brook­lyn will be­come a sec­ond Man­hat­tan, giv­ing prices a fur­ther boost.

Buy­ing to let, how­ever, is a shakier op­tion. Rents haven’t kept up with the steep in­crease in home val­ues. An­other ob­sta­cle is that most of the apart­ments here tend be run as co­op­er­a­tives. In the United States, a hous­ing co-op is run as a com­pany in which the res­i­dent home own­ers pos­sess shares. The co-op board has to ap­prove the sale of any apart­ment, and most co-ops do not look kindly on buy­ers who in­tend to let the prop­erty.

Still, Brook­lyn is much more than a poor man’s Man­hat­tan. Apart from any­thing else, why would a Brit want to leave one small is­land for an­other?

Arch ri­vals: above, the bridge that links Brook­lyn to Man­hat­tan. Left and right: Bo­CoCa’s char­ac­ter­ful ar­chi­tec­ture and small shops

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.