BY MICHAEL STAHL
Over the past half-decade or so, New Yorkers have been inundated with stories about which neighborhood in Queens will be “the next Williamsburg.”
Property values have drastically increased in Long Island City over that time span, and with a number of new high-rise residential developments either under construction or in their planning phases there – not to mention the area possesses a waterfront and skyline views – one can argue that we already have the answer to that question. Still, ink has dried on declarations that Astoria is in the running, and several published reports have anointed Ridgewood as such. But a buzz has been brimming among real estate brokers and speculators alike that an unlikely hot spot for investors is emerging a bit further east.
“We are seeing buyers who are priced out of Brooklyn exploring different parts of Jamaica,” said Susanne Gutermuth, a broker with seven years of experience who works out of Douglas Elliman’s office on Northern Boulevard in Bayside, in an email. She added that investors are especially looking “for two-family houses where the owner can occupy one floor and rent out the other apartment.” Along with the area’s affordability, Gutermuth points to several prime selling points Jamaica offers, including its many parks, restaurants and the transportation hub at Sutphin Boulevard and Archer Avenue, where the Long Island Railroad Jamaica transfer hub is located, along with the E, J, and Z train stops. A handful of buses and the JFK Airport AirTrain run there as well. All told, a commuter can easily travel to Midtown Manhattan from the area in under 40 minutes.
Nelson Leon, a broker at Citi Habitats, concurs with the notion that Jamaica is undoubtedly an “up-and-coming neighborhood” where hopeful tenants are virtually assured of a great deal. He wrote in an email that building owners in Jamaica “have been converting old buildings into desirable … residential rental units. Most apartments in Jamaica are huge compared to other areas where space has been shrinking.” He indicated that there are spacious one-bedroom apartments listed for less than $1,400 per month in rental costs and two-bedroom flats running less than $1,700, whereas most other parts of Queens will see comparable apartments go for three to five hundred dollars more. Leon also pointed out that, in an effort to attract renters, Jamaica building owners are offering sizable incentives, including no broker’s fee agreements and one month of free rent.
LaToya Reina, another Douglas Elliman broker with strong ties to the local community, said that once the luxury rental building Moda opened its doors in 2012 just off Parsons Boulevard on 89th Avenue, the real estate world truly began to take Jamaica seriously. “We’ve never seen anything like that in the area,” she said.
An eye-pleasing construct with a brick and stone façade, Moda contains 346 units – studios and one- and two-bedrooms – throughout its eight stories. It boasts LEED
certification and features a Manhattan-like list of amenities: 24-hour doorman and concierge service, two entertainment rooms, a fitness center, indoor parking and on-site laundry. A studio rental apartment is listed for nearly $1,700 a month, while a two-bedroom costs $2,350 a month in rent.
Borough President Melinda Katz, along with Mayor de Blasio’s office announced a “Neighborhood Action Plan” for Jamaica this past April. Aimed at revitalizing the region and transforming it into a “thriving residential and commercial neighborhood,” the plan and its $153 million in public funding will begin its initial implementation over the course of the next three years. According to the plan’s outline, it will provide jobs and small business support in Jamaica, along with a stronger focus on developing cultural houses and events, increase transportation options, helping expand opportunities for affordable home ownership, among other benefits. Surely, these actions will only boost property values that are already on an upswing.
According to a streeteasy.com report obtained by the Queens Tribune on Jamaica real estate trends, the median recorded sales price for all homes sold there so far in 2015 is more than 45 percent higher than it was last year, and that figure comes after the same statistic more than doubled between 2013 and 2014. What’s more, the median recorded sales price in 2015 stands at $380,000, which is, rather astonishingly, more than $120,000 higher than the median asking price. Inventory is down more than 28 percent this year when compared to 2014 and, thus, the property sample size is rather small. But this discrepancy between sales and asking prices points to an amazingly heightened interest in local real estate investments.
Gutermuth noted in her email that there have historically been a number of foreclosures in the area, which has kept real estate figures depressed. However, she predicts first-time home buyers will soon discover the area, helping to swell the already rising prices. She added: “With downtown Jamaica seeing a great upswing with new developments and hotels being built, it will have an impact on the surrounding area.”
One prevailing problem in Jamaica is crime. The neighborhood frequently shows up on crime studies as one of the worst areas in the entire borough. Still, crime rates are arguably equal to or lower than those found in Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights in Brooklyn, two neighborhoods that have seen its fair share of development and rising real estate prices in recent years. Fortunately for Jamaica, efforts to minimize crime were also outlined in Katz’s Action Plan.
“If you look at the trends starting in Western Queens on into Corona and even Queens Village,” Reina said, “you have to think Jamaica’s next.”