APRIL 30, 2018 – 9:00AM
Embarking on a quest to buy real estate in New York is daunting, to say the least. For first-time buyers, it can be downright terrifying, not to mention confusing and, yes, depressing.
To beat the market blues, it helps to identify neighborhoods where you can actually afford your own little slice of the city. But that can be hard, since the neighborhoods that you read about are often be at the other end of the spectrum. Consider a recent report from PropertyShark on the priciest neighborhoods in the city, which included famous areas such as the West Village, Soho, and Tribeca, the last being the most expensive place to buy, with a median sales price of $3,575,000.
Back here on Earth, the median household income for New Yorkers 25-44 is $66,873 a year, according to census data. New Yorkers typically spend more of their income on their mortgages,(about 40 percent before taxes, compared to 30 percent elsewhere). Even so, New York’s sky-high prices make the initial step of putting down a down payment especially challenging.
With these figures in mind, we asked StreetEasy to compile data on the NYC neighborhoods with the most studio and one-bedroom listings under $400,000. We also checked in with Jonathan Miller, president of the appraisal firm Miller Samuel, and Constantine Valhouli, co-founder of the real estate analytics firm NeighborhoodX, for additional insight.
We based the numbers on StreetEasy’s most current data in late April 2018. One bright spot: median sales prices in some of these areas have actually gone down since last year.
We ultimately settled on eight neighborhoods across the city that fit the bill.
If you’re not seeing enough apartments for sale in your price range or target neighborhood, and/or you’d like to avoid a bidding war, consider expanding your search to “off-market” listings. NYC real estate brokerage and Brick Underground partner Triplemintuses technology to mine public records and identify owners who may be ready to sell, meaning you can meet and deal with owners before their homes hit the market.
1. Forest Hills, Queens
Number of studios and one bedrooms available: 99
Median sales price: $342,500
Occupying roughly two-and-a-half square miles and bordered by Rego Park, Middle Village, Kew Gardens, and the Grand Central Parkway, the neighborhood offers residents access to nearby Forest Park’s 500 acres of trees, hiking trails, and bridle paths, not to mention a 110-acre, par-67 golf course that is one of the city’s most challenging, according to the Parks Department. Forest Hills Stadium, which was home to the U.S. Open before the tournament relocated to another neighboring park, Flushing Meadows Corona Park, hosts other big-ticket concerts and events. Austin Street is a vibrant commercial strip at the center of the neighborhood.
Most in this price range are in large, brick prewar co-op buildings. There are also beautiful, but substantially more expensive Tudor and colonial houses, lending the area a quiet, suburban feel that belies its good express subway service, access to the Long Island Rail Road (17 minutes to Penn Station), and three seven-day express bus options (the QM10, 11, and 12) that reach Midtown in around 45 minutes.
2. Riverdale, the Bronx
Number of studios and one bedrooms available: 88
Median sales price: $202,500
Greater affordability in the outer boroughs is typically the rule for New York City, but Riverdale is an enclave that doesn’t typically bring modest budgets to mind. Better known for pricey suburban-style houses, clustered mostly in a section known as Fieldston, near many private schools, this northwest Bronx enclave also has some of the most studio and one-bedroom availability in our price range in the city. Also, enticingly, this is one of the areas where median sales prices in the studio and one-bedroom pool went down over the last year, from $250,000 to $202,500.
Most of the apartments in the area were built in the 1950s, ’60s, and mid-’70s. 700-square-foot-plus one bedrooms are common, with (relatively) abundant closet space, dining alcoves, galley-style kitchens, elevators, and downstairs laundry, according to James Endress, principal broker at Absolute Properties, who has worked in the area for five years.
“They’re all very well-maintained. They’re not run-down by a long shot,” he says.
It is also possible to find sunken living rooms and prewar detailing in a handful of buildings built in the 1920s and 1930s. The lack of a subway station in the neighborhood means residents rely more on cars and MTA-run shuttles to Metro-North stations, where service is less frequent and more expensive than the subway.
“The main concern I hear from Manhattanites discovering Riverdale is that it is too far and inaccessible,” Endress says. “I live in Harlem right now and my partner and I are looking in Riverdale, but we also have a car, so it’s easy for us to get around.”
The express Bx1 and Bx2 buses also provide service to the east and west sides of Manhattan.
3. Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
Number of studios and one bedrooms available: 56
Median sales price: $325,000
Many of Brooklyn’s most popular neighborhoods for first-time home buyers have gotten pricey in recent years and risen above our price range. Not Bay Ridge. The southern Brooklyn neighborhood may be far from Manhattan, but there are more options for first-time buyers here—and more, for less, than there were last year. Our 2017 list included 22 studios and one bedrooms on the market and a median sales price of $417,500. This year, there are 56 for sale, most of them co-ops, and the median sales price is $325,000.
Bordered by the harbor to the west and Gowanus Expressway to the east, Bay Ridge offers low-rise (with the exception of the postwar Bay Ridge Towers, rising 28 stories over the northern end of the neighborhood) condo and co-op buildings, parks, tree-lined streets, and ample restaurants and bars, as well as pricier one- and two-family houses.
Part of the reason for the neighborhood’s relatively lower prices is its distance from Manhattan, and even Downtown Brooklyn. The local R train along Fourth Avenue can be a slog, easily taking an hour Midtown, but the area also has two express buses—the X27 and X37—that can reach lower Manhattan in 40 minutes, and Midtown in about an hour.
4. Murray Hill/Midtown East
Number of studios and one bedrooms available: 38
Median sales price: $649,000
Perhaps best known for the bar scene along Third Avenue, Murray Hill has long drawn young families to its 19th century brownstones and row houses, as well as its towering condos, and its co-ops. The neighborhood runs from roughly 40th Street down to 27th, east of Fifth Avenue. New construction is driving prices higher and the neighborhood median is well above the $400,000 limit we set out as a parameter for this story. Still, if you’re willing to live small, there are a handful of (relative) deals on apartments with less square footage.
“There are enclaves in every neighborhood where affordability is greatest, generally where the concentration of smaller apartments is,” Miller says. “In Midtown East [Murray Hill, specifically], you could say there are a lot of starter apartments in Tudor City that are affordable in relation to Manhattan prices.”
As of this writing, there was a Tudor City studio listed (after two price reductions) for $299,000. Turtle Bay is another far-east area where value can be found.
“Midtown East is more affordable in part because there’s slightly less [going on] there,” Valhouli says.
Citi Habitats’ Kevin Wong cites the recent arrival of a Trader Joe’s as an added attraction.
In terms of accessibility, Murray Hill is hard to top. The neighborhood is within walking distance of much of Midtown, and connected by the 6 train at 33rd and 28th streets. The 4, 5, 6, and 7 stop at Grand Central Terminal, just to the north. And of course, the Second Avenue subway will someday, maybe, extend south through the neighborhood to Houston Street.
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5. Upper East Side
Number of studios and one bedrooms available: 40
Median sales price: $687,750
Manhattan’s Upper East Side may also seem an unlikely budget destination, but for those willing to do a bit of digging in the neighborhood’s northern- and easternmost reaches, there are starter apartments to be found, in part because there are a lot of apartments for sale there in general.
“The Upper East Side has the highest number of properties for sale, and more affordable properties as well,” Valhouli says.
And, he points out, if you’re buying with an eye to investment, this area is one of the safer bets.
“We haven’t seen major price increases in all of those places [on the list] equally,” he says. “You want to make sure the trend is in your favor.”
In addition to looking north and east, consider prewar co-ops. The board may be tough and require a larger down payment, but if your finances check out, these can offer the best values per square foot. Well connected via the 4, 5, 6, and the newly extended Q along Second Avenue, the Upper East Side is good for commuters to Midtown and the Financial District.
6. Jackson Heights, Queens
Number of studios and one bedrooms available: 32
Median sales price: $349,000
Jackson Heights in north-central Queens is one of the borough’s most diverse neighborhoods, no small feat in one of the most diverse counties in the country. Almost 60 percent of the area’s residents identify as Latino, according to census data, and about 20 percent Asian (Indian, Pakistani, and Bangladeshi, Nepalese among them), bringing the area a wealth of great restaurants, shops, and cultural happenings.
“Most significantly, people are drawn to the cultural diversity of Jackson Heights,” says broker Francine Albert of Citi Habitats, who recently sold a one bedroom in a prewar building in the Jackson Heights Historic District for $290,000.
“A stroll down 37th Avenue is a mix of old and new, families, and couples,” she says. “It’s a real neighborhood.”
Having so far avoided the glass-and-steel construction frenzy that has gripped Long Island City and Astoria to the west, Jackson Heights does have brick condo buildings. Of the neighborhood overall Albert says it has apartments with “functional layouts for $100,000 less than areas in Brooklyn,”
Part of the neighborhood is a designated historic district with tri-level semi-detached homes and prewar co-ops, many spanning full blocks and outfitted with details such as crown molding and glass doorknobs. Jackson Heights is well-served by transit, especially around the Roosevelt Avenue and Broadway intersection, with express E and F trains and local M, R and 7 trains. Further east, the 7 train runs express from Junction Boulevard.
7. Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn
Number of studios and one bedrooms available: 38
Median sales price: $415,942
Sheepshead Bay, a neighborhood on Brooklyn’s southern edge, is home to many immigrants from the former Soviet Union and a growing numbers of new arrivals from China, Turkey, and Pakistan. This mix is reflected in the variety of restaurants and shops. The ocean is easily accessible, from boats docked on the area’s namesake bay, as well as via a pedestrian bridge to Manhattan Beach, and the Q train to Brighton Beach and Coney Island, just one or a few stops away. The lush, 530-acre Marine Park is also nearby.
There are more studios and one bedrooms available than last year at this time—38 rather than 16. Still, the majority of the neighborhood’s listings are houses, which have seen prices escalate to $800,000 and up according to Albert Wilk, whose Wilk Real Estate agency has been serving the area since 1987. The handful of cheaper listings is likely to be found in the eastern reaches of the neighborhood, past Nostrand Avenue, he says, and one-bedrooms way outnumber studios in the area.
“The properties in Sheepshead Bay are mostly one-family houses, triplexes and duplexes,” Wilk explains. “They are mostly attached or semi-detached, such as three-bedroom duplexes with a garage, found from Bedford Avenue down to Nostrand Avenue. Down to Coney Island Avenue, or 16th Street and down to Bedford Avenue, it’s a lot of one-family houses, some detached frame, some brick three-bedroom duplexes. They are very typically Brooklyn construction, by one or two builders who made lines and lines of similar homes.”
That homogeneity is starting to change, with the neighborhood’s low-slung brick-and-mortar buildings being joined by pricey new condo towers such as The Vue, where the lowest-priced one-bedroom is $535,000.
The schlep to Manhattan is not a short one, as the Sheepshead Bay stop is near the end of the B and Q line. The express BM3 bus is an alternative into Manhattan.
8. Rego Park, Queens
Number of studios & one bedrooms available: 38
Median sales price: $261,250
Located just to the north west of Forest Hills, Rego Park is another diverse neighborhood, with Russian imports and Uzbek fare lining market shelves and filling local menus. Green space in the neighborhood is limited. There is quite a bit of big-box retail (Costco, Century 21, Marshalls) mixed in with smaller food stores. The latter are mostly found around 63rd Drive.
Studios and one bedrooms are most likely to be found in the dominant prewar brick apartment buildings. In our price range, that type of building also yields a handful of two bedrooms. With investment dollars coming in, it also looks like the neighborhood has new condo offerings in its future. Single-family colonials, multi-family houses, and townhouses also abound. House prices now start around $900,000 and go up from there. Many of the sought-after Crescents, Tudor-style housesso named because of their location on six crescent-shaped streets, have small front yards that give the neighborhood a suburban flavor.
The neighborhood has easy highway access, is close to both New York airports, and is served by the R train The QM10 express bus also carries riders to Midtown on weekdays.