There’s a certain retro chic about shopping for $3.5 million brownstones on a Sunday afternoon in Park Slope. Throw in nine wood-burning fireplaces, five bedrooms, and a fully stocked wet bar, and it’s like it’s 2005 all over again.
But, thankfully, these are kinder, gentler times than when Park Slopers were rumored to fight wars with Bugaboo strollers over organic co-op bananas. On Sunday, the lattes were decaffeinated and a handful of families turned up to leisurely browse the two finest—and priciest—brownstones the neighborhood had to offer.
Average sales prices on Brooklyn brownstones were nearly 30 percent annually in the last quarter of 2009, averaging a little over $1 million, according to a report (PDF) by Miller Samuel and Prudential Douglas Elliman. So who, the question burns, is buying these places at peak prices?
“When you’re showing houses at this end of the market you don’t look for hordes of people,” said Libby Ryan, a top-flight broker at Brown Harris Stevens, who was touring families around the gracious 627 Third Street, just steps from Prospect Park.
Many of the groups in the first hour were young families, ready to give up co-op life in Manhattan or elsewhere in Brooklyn and find a quiet corner of Brooklyn. One family with two children had come all the way from Westchester, looking to escape skyrocketing property taxes.
With four bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms and a generous helping of antique light fixtures and cherry oak shelving, it’s not hard to guess why this brownstone will set you back a few million. But the baby gates and Tiffany vases placed far out of reach suggest it’s the kind of $3.6 million townhouse where your parents might have let you have a play date, under certain conditions.
“It’s great so far,” Francisco Lozano said as he bounced around an 18-month-old baby. Mr. Lozano works in Manhattan, running BabyCenter, an online parenting site. He and his wife, who are renting in Williamsburg, were ready to scoop up a place in Manhattan when the deal fell through. So it was back to Brooklyn, where the market is less “crazy,” he said.
The whole high-end house hunting affair began to feel even more like a grown-up play date, when the same few families reconvened down the street at the nearly $3.8 million, carrot orange brownstone at 946 President Street. There were even homemade cookies and a crackling fire in one of the many fireplaces.
For James Tillman, a 50-something single man who works in Manhattan for the federal government, the 1837 brownstone promised a retreat from the city. “Manhattan loses something after a while,” Mr. Tillman said, with the smile of a blasphemer.
Mr. Tillman, who looked at three houses that day with his assistant, grew up on Second Street and always wanted to live again by the park.
This was a big plus for a lot of people, on a day when the trees were still blanketed in perilously half-melted slush. No one seemed nearly as excited about the piano Rachmaninoff once played. Hard as it is to imagine, the word on everyone’s tongue as they browsed the five-bedroom, six full and half-bathroom townhouse was still “bargain.”
“In the go-go days this would have gone for a bit more, ” Ezra Orchard said. He and his partner, Jayme Gordis, estimate they’ve shown the house to around 20 families in the last couple pf weeks. “Places with woodwork tend to bring people out of the woodwork. You can quote me on that.”