Harlem Holds On
By JOSH BARBANEL
Published: September 19, 2008
381 Lenox Avenue
IF the New York real estate market totters, the shock waves will most likely be felt first in those newly fashionable neighborhoods like Harlem and the outer reaches of Brooklyn.
In Harlem, condominium and town house prices have already been in something of a pause, with prices off their peaks and a lingering inventory of unsold new condos. But as skeptical buyers become more discerning, well-finished apartments in good locations continue to sell so far, brokers say.
Last month William Rohlfing, who redevelops town houses in Harlem, got $2.33 million for what was once an 18-foot-wide shell, at 737 St. Nicholas Avenue and West 147th Street. He had transformed it into a modern space with bare brick walls and a fish pond framed by a central open staircase. The pond was an amenity for the buyers, Michael Shen and Corrine Abate-Shen, both medical researchers at Columbia University. (Mr. Rohlfing paid $775,000 for the shell in 2005).
But consider two other unfinished town houses. In March 2007, a 19-foot-wide house divided into three units on 158 West 130th Street sold for nearly $1.9 million, with 90 percent covered by two mortgages. Nearly a year later it was back on the market for $2.6 million, according to Streeteasy.com. Since then the asking price has been cut five times; when the house went into contract in July, the price was $1.5 million. At 2107 Fifth Avenue at 129th Street, a brownstone sold for $1.09 million in late 2006, and now, after a price cut, is being offered for $1.05 million. It had $1.3 million in mortgages. The listing, by David Daniels of the Corcoran Group, reads, “The interior of this near shell has already been demo’d for you and prepped for work.”
The Lenox Grand, a new condo development on Lenox Avenue at West 129th Street, is being reintroduced, complete with newly redesigned lobby, hallways and rooftop space, and a new broker, Warburg Realty. Prices have been cut. The sponsor is now providing financing.
The Lenox, a tan brick building with large windows and 19 apartments, was begun in 2005, but was delayed when the developer ran into financing trouble. Initial buyers were given a chance to back out, and many did. In fact, only three hung on, according to Michael Davis, a consultant with the Plymouth Group, which was hired to help rejuvenate the project.
Two new buyers have since signed contracts, and three more units have contracts out, Mr. Davis said.
As Willie Kathryn Suggs, a Harlem broker, put it: “The market didn’t tank, it flattened. The poor brokers are working four times as hard for the same money.”