BY MICHAEL STAHL
Everybody loves a bargain, and though Queens real estate market reports indicate consistent rising prices – much to the chagrin of gentrification protestors – the Borough remains a place where housing costs are relatively low, even in some unexpected areas.
Long Island City and Astoria real estate prices continue to surge. On Trulia, the current median home listing price in the Long Island City zip code 11101 is nearing $800,000, while neighboring Astoria’s 11106 is approaching $600,000. Both figures surpass 2008 pre-recession numbers and indicate hikes exceeding 300 percent in Astoria and 400 percent percent in Long Island City when compared to prices in the year 2000. With luxury residential high-rises like 42-12 28th Street and others going up in Long Island City, and the Astoria Cove project getting a green light, there’s no telling how much costs in Western Queens will climb in the coming years.
Still, if one travels a little further away from Manhattan and takes the N or Q trains to their last stops at Ditmars Boulevard and 31st Street, there are bargains to be had – and residents can still proudly say they live in Astoria.
Michael Schulte, a leading Queens broker at City Habitats, said he recently rented a one-bedroom, 750-square-foot apartment in an updated elevator building with on-site laundry, sitting just a couple blocks from the Ditmars stop, for less than $1,500. Similar listings found in Hunter’s Point are going for more than double that price.
“Sunnyside and Forest Hills are about on a par with Astoria in terms of cost,” Schulte said. “But Jackson Heights is a little cheaper with great-looking, pre-war style apartments with high ceilings and big windows that were built in the late ’40s and early ’50s.” He added that Jackson Heights features an abundance of schools, diverse restaurants and plenty of affordable housing for middle-income families.
“Apartments there are selling in the $300,000 range, which is still double what they were just a few years ago, but a steal nonetheless.”
It’s a neighborhood located close to express trains, making for a swift commute to Manhattan, rivaling any trip into the city from expensive Brooklyn locales.
“In terms of price, it still hasn’t been Long-Island-City’d,” Schulte said, perhaps coining a new Queens real estate term. “But that will probably happen at some point.”
Regina Santoro Schaefer, a broker with 18 years of experience whose home base is Parkside Realty in Richmond Hill, said her office just enjoyed the busiest year in its near two-decade history, and that their town along with nearby Woodhaven are ripe with great deals.
“There’s been a huge increase in younger buyers to the area who want to start a family in a home with plenty of space, and don’t mind relying on public transportation or even bicycles,” she said. Schaefer points out that there is copious local inventory, which hasn’t been the case in Manhattan over the past two years, leading to astronomical price hikes on the mighty isle.
In Woodhaven, co-ops represent a tremendous portion of the marketplace, partially because first-time buyers tend to be cautious, though they recognize the potential returns in purchasing rather than renting. Schaefer reports that a nice, two-bedroom apartment with low maintenance costs can be bought for about $225,000. Some of those units have Manhattan views and they’re just off Woodhaven Boulevard, close to train stations. There are low taxes in the area, good schools and residents can virtually claim Forest Park as their backyard.
“They’re the best deal in Queens,” Schaefer declared, “why would anyone want to live anywhere else?”
A handful of blocks up Woodhaven Boulevard, across the Jackie Robinson Parkway, lies the border between Forest Hills and Rego Park – an area located just a few blocks west of some of the most upscale, sought-after homes in the entire Borough. But Jacques Ambron, a representative of Madeleine Realty with 31 years of experience, insists there are homes available at an incredible value.
“Houses in that area stay on the market for no more than three weeks, which is unheard of – and that’s not because I’m a good broker,” Ambron said. “A reasonably priced coop can be sold in days over there.”
Trulia’s median listing prices for homes on blocks off Ascan Avenue top $1.8 million. Travel five avenues west and the figures nosedive to under $600,000.
“They’re townhouses, single-family and two-family detached houses, close to transportation,” Ambrose summarizes, and then contrasts those prices to Long Island City, saying poignantly: “Add 10 or 15 minutes to your commute and you knock 10 or 15 percent off the price.”
Similar stories are being told by brokers across the Borough, even those working out of Whitestone and Bayside – two neighborhoods where the notion of bargain-priced homes might cripple most Queens residents with cackling laughter.
“People are still a little hesitant because of the economy,” says Anthony Carollo of Carollo Real Estate in Whitestone. “It’s been busy, don’t get me wrong,” he adds, “but we’re selling a lot of properties in the $600,000 to $700,000 range, and the would-be-record-breaking $1.3 million-plus homes are sitting on the market waiting.”
Of course, the longer a house stays on the market, the more likely a buyer can swoop in and purchase it at below asking price. However, in Carollo’s mind, there are more important factors to be considered when buying into the northeastern section of the Borough.
“There is so much character and charm in these homes,” he said. “You’re surrounded by water, between two bridges; there are private beaches.”
Public transportation to Whitestone has improved over the last decade and Bayside has its own stop on the Long Island Railroad. Carollo also pointed out that nearby Nassau County has much higher property taxes than Queens does and upstart families are already getting priced out of the western neighborhoods – both statements echo those from brokers Schaefer and Ambron as well. In short, the value of homes in Whitestone and Bayside are a lot better than one might guess, and Carollo says inventory is expected to become scarce, at which point those $1.3 million-plus homes are sure to be reconsidered.
Even if – or when – that number becomes the going rate for a typical Queens home, chances are it will still be a relatively manageable price. When compared to the values of Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Nassau County, the borough of Queens – including the more upscale-minded neighborhoods like Forest Hills, Whitestone, Bayside, and, yes, Long Island City and Astoria – still present affordable opportunities for a variety of home buyers.