Back-to-School Sales on the Upper East Side

This Sunday on the Upper East Side was filled with sweaty palms, newly ironed shirts and a few jitters about the year to come.

It was the unofficial beginning of open house season, and for brokers who have sat out an unbearably lonely summer, it was time to see if the housing market’s rumored rebound may indeed be coming true.

At 161 East 88th Street, it’s been a slow summer. “People are back,” said broker Robin Gutterman. “An apartment with no view and little light is tougher to sell,” she said of the $739,000 two-bedroom co-op, which has been on the market for six months. But a couple of times they’ve been close to a deal on the apartment, which also features a newly renovated kitchen and a glimpse of greenery through the windows.

There had been four groups during the open house, including a couple in their late 30s. “It’s a bit depressing,” said the wife, an attorney. The kind of place, she said, where you’d want to “have the curtains down.”

But they love Carnegie Hill, where the crowd is “not as low as in the 60s,” she said. Plus, “you get more space than the same location on the Upper West Side.”

Indeed, two-bedroom co-ops on the Upper East Side are supposed to be “so desirable they practically sell themselves.” Or so said a recent New York mag article, which looked at 2010 sales data, and declared the classic UES family pad one of the winners.

If only it were so easy, sighed several brokers. “Don’t tell my seller that,” said one broker. “She’ll ask why this one has been on the market for so long.”

Down the street, at 170 East 90th Street, even a beautifully renovated two-bedroom co-op in a 1884 townhouse, with a newly reduced $799,000 price tag, was quiet.

Rumor has it the building was built as offices for the management of the nearby Rupert Brewery, with exposed brick and a gas-burning fireplace. “It has wide-open spaces. It feels like the kind of loft you’d see downtown,” said one prospective buyer, a single man who works in finance, who said he’s bullish on the real estate market.

“The only issue is it’s a walk-up,” he added. 

Perhaps it was the downpour, but a two-bedroom co-op at 221 East 78th Street, newly listed for $850,000, was suddenly flooded with buyers in the late afternoon. And at least it seemed as if they’d heard the rumor that UES co-ops are hot, hot, hot right now.

“I still think, per square foot, this neighborhood is undervalued,” said Evan Goldfine, a trader. “This neighborhood is unfairly stereotyped as stodgy,” said Mr. Goldfine, who lives with his wife, Lisa, a psychologist, just down the block.

They live in a one-bedroom now, and are contemplating a jump to the quintessential Carnegie Hill two-bedroom, especially now that prices in the neighborhood are low. “There’s a tremendous amount of supply,” said Mr. Goldfine. The couple has seen prices on a one-bedroom in their building go from $500,000 to $650,000 and back down again to the original price.

“If we’re going to stay in the city,” said Mr. Goldfine added, with a thrust of his finger, “we’re going to stay here.”

lkusisto@observer.com

Back-to-School Sales on the Upper East Side