Gregory J. Heym
Executive Vice President, Chief Economist
Amelia S. Gewirtz
By LISA KEYS
If you were a millionaire, you'd be rich, right? In "If I Had a Million Dollars," the now-classic song from the Barenaked Ladies, we're told that with a million dollars, one could buy fur coats, limousines, a lifetime supply of Kraft dinners - even a house.
But how true is that today in New York City? After all, recent statistics from real-estate appraisal firm Miller Samuel put the average Manhattan apartment at $1.15 million - meaning $1 million is below average - and that's even after a dip of nearly 13 percent from the prior quarter.
While a cooling market spells some relief for those with the smallest of seven-figure numbers to spend, a million doesn't mean a mansion - but it ain't bad, either.
"A million can offer a wide range of buying opportunities," says Pamela Liebman, president and CEO of the Corcoran Group. " Options range from a one-bedroom in a glamorous building to a three-bedroom in a more up-and-coming neighborhood."
But, despite the bubble talk, "It's not that different than it was six months ago," Liebman says. "Even with a million, which sounds like an exorbitant amount of money, there are plenty of things a million can't buy you."
We scoured the five boroughs in search of the finest examples of what $1 million can buy. Options range from brand-new one-bedrooms to spacious spreads in the outskirts of the outer boroughs (see our shopping guide on this page and the next).
Reality check: Though it's possible to find space for a family, the million-dollar middle-class home is increasingly the norm.
"There's been a shift in how people perceive $1 million apartments," says Gregory Heym, the chief economist for Halstead Property. "A couple of years ago, people saw that as out of reach for an average person. Clearly, conditions have changed." n Manhattan this year, 7.6 percent of the apartments sold through September cost between $900,000 and $1.1 million, according to Heym's research. That's up slightly from 7 percent in 2004 and more than double the number of million-dollar sales 10 years ago, 3.1 percent.
But these numbers only tell part of the story. So far this year, 35.9 percent of Manhattan deals were priced at $1 million and up - and that's up from 25.5 percent in 2004 and 8.7 percent in 1995. In other words, those looking for digs should be prepared to pony up. On the flip side, however, those looking to sell may find themselves in modest homes that are million-dollar treasures.
Ten years ago, Theresa Harpster bought a two-bedroom Upper West Side brownstone condo for about $385,000. "I didn't sleep for a few days beforehand," says the manager of systems development at a financial firm. "I thought I was mortgaging my future." Harpster, 40, borrowed money from her grandmother and mother to seal the deal. She rented her second bedroom for many years to make a few payments. And now her place is on the market for $999,000.
Of course, Harpster won't be stuffing her purse with that money; she expects roughly an even trade for a larger condo in Edgewater, N.J. (one with enough room for her daughter Mackenzie, 2, and another child who's on the way). Still, there was an element of shock about what she'd be able to afford. "I thought, 'Oh my god, I can look at a million-dollar home,'" she says. "My parents don't live in a million-dollar home."
"Everything is relative," says Dottie Herman, president and CEO of Douglas Elliman. "I'd say half the world would say, 'Gee, that's rich.' But a million today doesn't make you rich if you live in Manhattan." Or any of the other five boroughs, really. Out in Staten Island, for example, "A million is still a million - but there's a narrower market for prices that high," says real-estate agent Sari Kingsley.
In The Bronx, Joan James' asking price for her Kingsbridge two-family is $950,000. Though the renovated brick Victorian is more than 3,000 square feet, she's not convinced that it will sell that high; not that she cares terribly much. She and her husband bought the place in 1994 for $185,000. James, 57, laughs when she thinks about a possible seven-figure deal. "What if someone offers me a million dollars for this house? I'd be a millionaire without playing the lotto," she says. One thing in James' favor: "Younger people are getting used to these prices and are getting creative on how to afford them," Herman says.
Which is not to say that the buyers are getting richer (or younger).
"Home prices have outstripped increases in earnings," says Paul A. Levine, COO of Homebridge Mortgage Bankers. "In an effort to respond to that, both with altruistic and profit motives in mind, the mortgage industry has come out with products that have brought more affordability - but not more peace of mind."
Indeed, most experts noted the increasing popularity of "creative" financing, like interest-only mortgages or piggyback loans that allow for no-money-down purchases. Tax abatements on new construction sweeten the deal, too.
"The old rule of thumb used to be you could afford approximately 3.5 to 4 times your income," says Levine.
Traditionally, he says, a person earning $250,000 would qualify for a $750,000 to $1 million house; today they could qualify for a $1.5 million loan. "Someone making $150,000 to $175,000 a year can conceivably get into a $1 million property," he says. "The question is, when that teaser rate ends, can they still afford it?"
In other words, don't reach too far beyond your means. "Someone should not be devoting more than 50 percent of their gross annual income toward housing expenses," Levine advises. "Also, consider whether or not that 50 percent left over is enough to cover your other expenses so that you're able to enjoy this wonderful property."
And perhaps the best advice is to get in the game as soon as you can, no matter what your price point - and one day a million-dollar pad will be yours, too. "Buying my apartment was the smartest thing I ever did," Harpster says.
In the borough of Brooklyn...
A house - or a fraction of one
Marine park 1- family, $990K: Left. 3-BR home with 2-car driveway, patio and garden. Tapu Naik, Halstead Property, (718) 613-2033.
Park Slope 2-br, $995K: Above. Garden-level brownstone co-op features den and private yard. Jessica Buchman, the Corcoran Group, (718) 832-4193.
In Staten Island... Suburban-style spaciousness
tottenville 2-family, $949,900: Above. 4-BR, 21/2-bath home plus studio features central air conditioning. Built in 2003, tax abated. Scott Dobrin, Exit Home Realty, (718) 370-2266.
Tottenville 1-family $949,900: Right. Side-hall 4-BR Colonial with in-ground pool, 21/2 baths, granite countertops and stainless- steel appliances. Scott Dobrin, Exit Home Realty, (718) 370-2266.
In The Bronx...
Fixer-uppers or move-ins
City island 1-family, $999k: Right. Needs work. Sherry Wiggs, Prudential Rand Realty, (914) 693-2224. Kingsbridge 2-family, $950k: Above. Lisa Yearwood, Century 21 Future Homes Realty, (718) 931-5353.
In Queens... Homes big
and small; waterfront condos
Flushing 3-Br house, $979k: Above. House features marble fireplace, 21/2 baths, formal dining room, eat-in kitchen and attached 2-car garage. Peter Hart and Kathy Eng-Hart, Prudential Douglas Elliman, (718) 288-7076 and (718) 631-8900.
Beechhurst condo, $999k: Right. 3-BR, 11/2-bath corner unit overlooking Long Island Sound. Brand-new kitchen, patio, plus 2 parking spaces. Anthony Carollo, Carollo Real Estate, (718) 224-3083.
Luxury 1-BRs and more
tribeca 1-br, $1M: Above. 776-square-foot unit in a luxury condo, currently under construction. www.255hudson.com. uws 2-br, $999k: Right. Brownstone condo with 2 baths, working fireplace and private garden. Amelia Gerwitz and Andrew Phillips, Halstead Property, (212) 381-2219 and (212) 381-2227.
West village 1-br, $950k: Below. Loft-like co-op with private patio, renovated kitchen, claw-foot tub. Karen Skurka and Dennis Riccio, Prudential Douglas Elliman, (212) 727-6116 and (212) 727-6182.
Saturday, October 29, 2005