Friday, March 23, 2007

Real estate here is ... weird!

OK, so we move from one bizarre-o real estate market to probably the only one in the U.S. that's even more bizarre: NYC.

Yesterday, we checked out a couple of neighborhoods in Queens (a fairly short subway commute from midtown Manhattan) and also went back to some properties we visited last summer, in New Rochelle (about a 30-min. train ride north of Grand Central Station).

First, Queens: We started by stopping at LaGuardia Community College, where Mary has applied for a job. The area around the school is really, really busy and fairly industrial, but the school itself is actually pretty cool: lots and lots of students bustling around, chatting, using the Internet, eating, sleeping--the usuall college environment. The building was in very good repair, and the student population seemed diverse and interesting. It was a good start to the afternoon.

Then we traveled a bit further into Queens to look at an area where a new condo complex is going to be built. Long Island City is an interesting place, with quite a few businesses taking root and some rather quaint streets and views of the Empire State Building. The location of the new condo complex (it's still just a hole in the ground with a few structural elements going in) was good in terms of transportation: it's literally a few steps from a subway stop that takes you right into Manhattan. The surrounding neighborhood, while very urban, is clean and offers some nice areas for exploring. So far, so good. Prices are mid-300s for a 1 BR.

So ... we ventured into another part of Queens, a bit further north--Astoria. Now, we're not going to judge all of Astoria by what we saw yesterday. That would be unfair. But "gritty" might be a nice word for it. The condo complex--brand new--was literally the only nice-looking building in the 15 or so blocks we walked from the closest subway stop (the ad said it was 9 blocks away, but it lied!). The rest of the area was ... well, let's just say Mary wouldn't feel comfortable walking there alone even during the daytime. And the condos were relatively expensive--like mid-300s. Nope.

Finally, we went back to a co-op building we saw last summer, in New Rochelle: The Lofts at New Roc ( Last summer, the list prices were very reasonable, but the monthly maintenance fees--which cover maintenance of the building and your portion of the property taxes--were simply outrageous. For example, if a unit cost $250K, the monthly maintenance costs were, like $1,500! Even though about 45 percent is tax-deductible, it's still a lot of cash to put out that's not going toward your mortgage.

In the mail the other day, we received an invitation to an open house there, to see the new-and-improved offerings. Now, the price of the units has gone up, but the monthly maintenance is in the realm of normal. A 1 BR with a den, about 800 square feet, was around $360K, with monthly maintenance around $900. The building does offer some nice views (not as nice as what we have now), but it's still a lot of money for what you get. It's right across the street from a new building (condo? co-op? can't recall) built by Trump, where prices start around $550K for smaller units than these. We ruled out both.

We still have many more places to explore: some other areas of Queens, Riverdale (in the Bronx), and some neighborhoods in Brooklyn. Also want to look around NJ some more. Haven't completely decided that we want to buy yet, either--and of course, we still need jobs!

Speaking of which, Mary scored an interview for this afternoon. We'll keep you posted, of course ...

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