"Do you hear the crickets?," asked Ali Jafri, a broker for Prudential Douglas Elliman. We were standing on the ninth-floor balcony of a brand-new three-bedroom condominium for sale at 20 Bayard Street in Williamsburg. "That’s something you won’t get in Manhattan."
These days, Mr. Jafri might hear crickets more often than he’d like. It was the Sunday before the European markets began to tumble, during peak open house hours, and the buyer traffic through Brooklyn’s newer towers was slow. Just a few days earlier, The New York Times had declared that "the credit crisis and the turmoil on Wall Street are bringing New York’s real estate boom to an end."
About 20 people currently live at 20 Bayard, the concierge informed me, and four units are available for purchase: two one-bedrooms in the neighborhood of $600,000 and two larger two- and three-bedrooms for over $1 million each. Royale Concierge offers a variety of amenities for an additional price, including dog grooming, maid services, massage therapy and dry cleaning.
The building overlooks McCarren Park. And the spectacular views of Manhattan, Mr. Jafri assured me, would not disappear behind any new buildings that spring up along the waterfront, which is zoned for a mere six stories.
On my heels was a woman in her 50s, looking to downsize from her three-bedroom apartment nearby because her daughter would soon be off to college. She didn’t wince when Mr. Jafri gave her the price tags on the largest apartments, perhaps because she was looking to rent out her current three-bedroom to pay the mortgage on a new, smaller place.
Impressed by the crickets and the views, she stuck around weighing her options. Mr. Jafri seemed excited that he wasn’t twiddling his thumbs in an empty model apartment without even a real TV to keep him company.
"Today has been slow, I don’t know why," said Rawle Howard, a broker with the Corcoran Group, across town in the living room of a $749,000 three-bedroom at 647 Washington Avenue in Prospect Heights.
I was the only person there and we got to talking about the economy. The former Lehman Brothers employee seemed pretty happy to have made the leap into real estate, even if the boom has come to an end.
"I think that [the recession] is going to be longer than anyone expected and I think people will really start to focus on what they can actually afford," Mr. Howard told me.
At the Modern Post, a new typical glass tower just next door, a young couple were the only potential buyers for a cramped $789,000 duplex penthouse studio loft with an enormous terrace overlooking the surrounding three- and four-story buildings. The young woman quickly noticed the narrow staircase was not high-heel friendly, and her beau remarked that the second terrace, off the lofted bedroom with Manhattan views, was tiny. Even if they could afford it, they didn’t want it.
From the roof deck it was possible to feel like the ruler of an auto repair kingdom, with mechanic shops and junk yards dotting Washington and nearby Atlantic Avenue like plots of farm land. Soon after, we hopped in the elevator, leaving an almost desperate broker behind.
THIS IS BROOKLYN’S REAL estate dilemma. Extra special amenities played an integral role in luring buyers when neighborhood amenities were lacking, but with prices still sky high and memories of the borough’s boom fading fast, it seems the only reasonable options are to start cutting prices or to offer condos as rentals. Both of these things are already happening. A pretty kitchen backsplash and walk-in closets just won’t cut it anymore.