2Posted by Leonard Steinberg, president of COMPASS, on March 14th, 2015

Traditionally, couples who lived in New York City migrated to the suburbs, or at least to the Upper East Side, to raise a family. This has changed drastically over the past decade. With the gentrification of Downtown neighborhoods, schools, parks, services, amenities and property have adjusted to the demands of raising a family.

Avenue’s School, the private international school located in West Chelsea, has heightened the real estate industry’s need to build larger apartments that can accommodate a growing family. Three and four-bedroom apartments that were virtually non-existsent 5 years ago, are common place in most new buildings. Townhouse pricing in the area has soared. Schools alone are not enough of a draw: having great parks, play areas, sporting facilities, restaurants that accommodate strollers and noisier, messier kids, sidewalks that allow for easy walking, etc all play into the picture. The appeal of the suburbs has always been about quality of life… this quality of life continues to improve in New york, the more families are staying and moving to the City. The costs are still enormous, and unfortunately our governments make virtually no acknowledgement of cost-of-living in their tax structures. Someone earning $300,000 in Manhattan is considered equal to someone making the identical income in Memphis. Its quite insane. People who live in a  $2 million apartment in New York are termed rich, yet for what their dollar buys on big-city standards, this is truly middle class, as crazy as that may sound to those who live outside of a large city.

While the media focusses its attention on mega-deal, ultra-priced properties, the reality is there are some properties for sale in-between that are actually attainable. Not AFFORDABLE necessarily, but attainable. If $ 2,500/sf is the new benchmark for a new building apartment, a 3,000sf apartment should cost upwards of $7.5 million. With some compromise, there are alternatives: We are listing a 4,100sf+ apartment in Greenwich Village at 345 West 13th Street, a top quality, doorman, condominium building for under $1,400/sf. Granted, a chunk of the space is below grade, but its completely usable with natural daylight and an additional full bathroom and separate entrance…..very usable space and perfect for that need to stretch out: a games room, hang-out area, etc. For the more monied buyer, we have four bedroom, full floor apartments at 560 West 24th Street that are the equivalent of a 4-story townhouse, but on one floor….with services….for under $8 million. You cannot find a fully renovated townhouse that size anymore for under $10 million. There are also very good buys in the co-op arena: I know of a 4,000sf loft coming to market in the heart of Chelsea that hovers around $1,250/sf: no-one in the press is talking about these great buys, but they should. All around town there are some great buys in the re-sale arena, that with some compromise and a little TLC, can provide great housing at a fraction of the price of the much touted more glamorous new buildings.

These prices are still well beyond most buyers, yet when you compare the cost of a large house in the suburbs along with the cost of time for commuting….for some that cost is priceless (time is the last real luxury)….combined with the escalation potential only a big city with higher inflation guarantees, the big city alternative becomes more enticing.

As real estate professionals, the New York Department of State prevents us from discussing schools or using terms such as ‘family sized’ as they are deemed potentially offensive or discriminatory against those who do not have a family. I think this is bureaucratic insanity. If a buyer were to ask me if other families live in the building, we are not allowed to refer to ‘familial status’ at all. Surely as a buyer it would be nice to know who your neighbors may be? It is left to the buyer then to do their own research and fact-finding. Is this another excess of ultra-liberal-thinking that serves no-one?  I don’t have a family and would have absolutely no problem with discussing families, their needs, schools, whether there are potential play-mates in the building, etc. I simply don’t see the insult or any form of discrimination in doing so……maybe I am deluded?

The absolute suburbanization of the city is somewhat exaggerated: Too many gripe about how the city has lost its gritty edge. To those I say evolve. Would the original American Indians prefer this whole island returned to farmland?  Manhattan will never ever remotely resemble a traditional suburb and will always contain the elements of an urban environment with great museums, public transportation, in-your-face diversity, taller building, greater density, etc. However, we all benefit by improving the quality of life for all in all large cities, and New York has done an exceptional job in re-shaping the quality and future of neighborhoods, especially Downtown, for those seeking the attributes of a suburban life mixed with the delights only a large city can deliver.