In each issue of NYO, The Observer’s new real estate and lifestyle supplement, we will spotlight a different neighborhood. And what better neighborhood to start with than the venerable, diverse, complicated, constantly evolving Upper East Side, where The Observer was born and first trained its sights. The Upper East Side encompasses a large swath of Manhattan—stretching from 59th Street to 96th, Central Park to the East River, an area that is hard to sum up in one simple piece. It is home to the world’s most prestigious addresses, with Fifth Avenue, Park Avenue, Gracie Mansion, numerous celebrities, many of New York’s world-class museums on Museum Mile, and the finest, most high-end retail, with designer flagships lining Madison Avenue, high-end galleries and incomparable dining sprinkled about.
It is also home to one of the city’s longest-running construction projects, the Second Avenue Subway, which has disrupted residents, merchants and traffic farther to the east for the last seven years. But the end is in sight. The project is slated for completion in 2016. And the removal of those barricades and final silence of the jackhammers will just be harbingers of the renaissance of a transportation corridor, and the neighborhood surrounding it. The advice of many a real estate professional: Buy soon if you can, rather than kick yourself later with 20-20 hindsight when the subway is done.
In recent years, the Upper East Side has, according to some experts, lost some of its luster as the magnet for the young, the hip and the cool arriving in New York to make their mark. But with its great schools, parks and amenities, it remains a draw for families, and others looking for a good value in a city that, even through a severe downturn, remains strong, vibrant and safe, and where owning even a tiny piece of the pie is an investment that seldom goes sour.
Robert Schulman, associate broker and executive managing director at Warburg Realty, says that now is a great time to buy on the Upper East Side, because the neighborhood is where you can get the best value. “In the past few years, it wasn’t appreciating as fast as other neighborhoods, so you get the most for your money,” he says. At the same time, he cautions that the opportunity to get great value won’t last long. “Prices on condos, co-ops and townhouses are steadily increasing.”
Even in this past winter, the season when the market typically slows, Jacky Teplitzky, managing director, Douglas Elliman, and leader of the Jacky Teplitzky team, says open houses have attracted steady traffic, and sales have been strong. She only expects those numbers to improve with spring. “In relative terms, there is more to choose from in terms of housing as there is more inventory, unlike most of Manhattan,” she says, explaining why the Upper East Side will always be popular. “The options are diverse and there is a range of price points.”
Today’s buyer wants everything in mint condition. “They don’t want to do any remodeling,” Ms. Teplitzky says. “The ideal properties are move-in-ready. Buyers are specific in what they want regarding amenities as well, such as a doorman building, gym, storage and bike room. Buyers also want views and plenty of natural light.”
And they want condos. While 75 percent of the housing on the Upper East Side is co-op, luxury condo developments are what are really on the rise, so to speak, and large apartments in these brand new structures are selling out at the highest numbers. Among those buildings and developments are: The Skyline Development at 200 East 79th Street, The Lucida at 151 East 85th Street, The Brompton at 205 East 85th Street, the Georgica at 305 East 85th Street, 135 East 79th Street, and The Chatham, new luxury townhomes on East 65th Street, and The Helmsley Carlton House at 21 East 61st Street, formerly a hotel, now a condo building offering the luxury amenities of a hotel.
“In the case of The Lucida, The Brompton, Georgica, and 170 East End Avenue, we see that luxury condominium offerings are moving north and east,” say Adrienne Albert and Jacqueline Urgo of The Marketing Directors, a development advisory and master property marketing and sales force that works on behalf of owners and builders of new homes. “Expanded retail offerings and higher demand from a greater number of market segments means that the coming years will be good ones for residential real estate on the Upper East Side.”
Among the developments moving north and east, the Azure at 333 East 91st Street is a sort of hybrid co-op/condo (it’s legally a co-op but has condo rules). With its far east address, on First and 91st, the building might be seen as off the beaten track, but that is not what its co-developers, The DeMatteis Organizations and The Mattone Group, are finding. For one thing, several private schools in the area, Spence, Sacred Heart and Trevor Day, are all building athletic facilities nearby, which will further enhance the neighborhood. And the building is already 75 percent sold, with two-, three- and four-bedroom units on the 21st through 34th floors remaining. The developers built the building so that two two-bedroom apartments can be combined for larger family apartments, and the developer offers to do the combining itself, saving potential buyers many contracting headaches. The building also offers some 6,000 square feet of amenities, including a large dining room with catering facilities that residents can reserve and use for entertaining.
“The area is very popular among families because the neighborhood has the best public and private schools in the city,” says Douglas MacLaury of the Mattone Group, “and because it is near both Carl Schurz and Central Park.” The development even included the building of a public school, M.S. 114, a middle school with 530 seats, and a totally separate entrance, under a program which helps the city to get new and needed schools, and developers to get certain tax breaks.
The completion of the Second Avenue Subway will benefit those who buy into the Azure, and many others. “We predict that by the time the construction is complete, the face of Second Avenue retail will have changed completely, making way for high-end stores, markets and restaurants,” say Albert and Urgo of The Marketing Directors. “This will cause property values on Second Avenue and the nearby streets on the Upper East Side to rise. Plus, the new subway line will create easier access from the Upper East Side to other neighborhoods in the city, making it a great place to live.”