Your Open House: ‘I Have a Good Job, I Went to University, and I Still Can’t Afford It Here’

If you could still find a colorful Irish gentleman in Hell’s Kitchen, he could probably spin a yarn or two about those days when you couldn’t walk down the street without intercepting an ax handle. On Sunday, the biggest sidewalk threat was tourists armed with $5 umbrellas and determined apartment hunters.

The housing market in Hell’s Kitchen is red-hot right now. The weather this weekend unfortunately was not. Lately, brokers say, they’ve seen six to 12 groups at weekend open houses, with more calling to come during the week. But an authentic Irish downpour kept away all but those with real fire in their bellies for real estate deals. 

D.J. Nemcovsky didn’t let the rain stop him from checking out some well-priced one-bedrooms in a pre-war co-op at 457 West 57th Street. He also happens to live across the street. It’s hit or miss looking for good deals in the area right now, he said. “Some [sellers] say, ‘Dammit, I paid Manhattan prices.’ They don’t realize the buyer is in control now.”

Mr. Nemcovsky, 52, and his wife want to stay around here because he likes being able to bike to work at Bank of America in midtown. They started looking for a new place in hopes of scooping up a better price than they got four years ago when they moved to Hell’s Kitchen.

“When you’re a buyer, you’re very clever,” said broker Tracey Hung, of Bellmarc Realty, in a lovely British accent. Prices vary a lot from building to building, even between individual apartments in the same building, she said. Buyers are doing their research, taking advantage of an uneven market.

For $499,000, the apartment she was showing is “not like a bowling alley,” she said. It does have a kitchen big enough to host a reality show.

It may not please everyone that the only way to celebrate St. Patrick’s in Hell’s Kitchen now is with green Christmas lights and an early bird eye-opener special. But the mostly middle-aged buyers looking Sunday were happy to save the drama for seventh-row seats at West Side Story. Many buy studios and one-bedrooms in Hell’s Kitchen as a “little pad in this part of New York,” said Ms. Hung, where they stay on weekends to grab dinner and catch a show.

One South American couple in their early 60s came to New York back when calling the neighborhood Clinton still seemed laughable. They want to move from Greenwich Village closer to midtown “for the nightlife.” Asked what they like about the area: “People don’t ask you too many nosy questions about yourself.” Moving on.

A tiny pre-war co-op at 522 West 50th Street is one of the few remnants of affordable Hell’s Kitchen—in the broadest sense of that term. It still looks like a tenement from the outside, but it’s been renovated with pine flooring and a jacuzzi tub. For $319,000, it’s still a one-bedroom mostly in the sense that one bed fits in the room.

Melonie Frances, a single teacher with a baby strapped to her chest, said the price plus $745 a month maintenance fees are worth it because Hell’s Kitchen is a safe place to raise her daughter—a statement that would send an old-timer into shock.

“It’s more yuppy than it used to be,” said Ms. Frances, who’s been trying for four years to escape from some of Crown Heights’ rougher elements. The prospect of a Manhattan-sized mortgage keeps holding her back. The prices and maintenance fees on co-ops in the area seem to have “no rhyme or reason,” she said. 

“I have a good job. I went to university,” she added. “And I still can’t afford it here.”


Previous Your Open Houses:

Your Open House: Who’s Buying the Priciest Park Slope Brownstones?

Your Open House: ‘Come Home to Harlem’ vs. ‘Don’t Buy Here’

Your Open House: Who’s Shelving the Wine Next To the Windex?

Your Open House: ‘I Have a Good Job, I Went to University, and I Still Can’t Afford It Here’