The Real Deal New York

Low turnover drives up prices in Cobble Hill

October 15, 2007
By Alison Gregor

 

Cobble Hill has ceased to be a bargain for most New Yorkers, but the quaintest and quietest of Brooklyn neighborhoods continues to see some residential development to meet high demand.

A landmark district of late Federal-era buildings and Victorian homes distinguished by their Italianate detailing, the tiny neighborhood bounded by Atlantic Avenue and Court, DeGraw and Hicks streets, is now an enclave of wealthy families spilling over from Brooklyn Heights and young urban professionals getting established in a picturesque setting.

Prices have risen as Cobble Hill has gentrified, and the area is now known for high prices and low turnover, making it comparable to Brooklyn Heights and even parts of Manhattan. For real estate professionals, Cobble Hill and other neighborhoods in the borough have come a long way.

“Brooklyn is no longer an alternative. It’s now a destination,” said Frank Percesepe, managing director of the Corcoran Group’s Brooklyn Heights office. “From Manhattan prices, you have to figure that maybe you’re down 20 to 25 percent, but it depends on the property.”

When they are available, condominiums go for about $650 a square foot and co-ops go for about $575 a square foot, said Christopher Thomas, executive vice president of Brown Harris Stevens Brooklyn.

Those prices are reflected in the demand for scarce space in and around Cobble Hill. Only a handful of luxury condos remain unsold in the latest large-scale development to go on the market, the 59-unit Arches at Cobble Hill, located at Hicks and Warren streets. The units range in size from 874 to 3,044 square feet.

A few condos are still available at the 21-unit Dean Boerum Condominiums, at Dean and Boerum Streets, and at the 14-unit Warren Street Court, Thomas said.

“Because the neighborhood is so small, that amount of development represents a fair increase in the total number of available units in the neighborhood,” Thomas said.

But the hallmark of Cobble Hill is its antique brownstone townhouses, most of which hover at four stories or less. Part of the neighborhood’s charm is right out on its streets, as wide-open skies peek through oak-lined boulevards, while picturesque stone stoops and tranquil rear courtyards give residents ideal locations from which to survey their domain.

“When they say ‘downtown brownstone Brooklyn,’ Cobble Hill is the epitome of that,” Percesepe said.

In the 19th century, Gowanus Bay lapped at the shore of Cobble Hill at Smith Street, and cheap brown stone from the New Jersey marshlands was shipped into Brooklyn on a network of canals. At the time, Cobble Hill was home to Italian longshoremen and other laborers.

The neighborhood was most likely dubbed “Cobble Hill” by a broker in the early 1970s when she noticed that property values in Brooklyn Heights shot up after its 1965 designation as a landmark district – the first in the country.

The ploy was an evident success. Townhouses in Cobble Hill now range in price from $1.6 to $2.5 million, the latter being a four- or five-story townhouse in mint condition.

Hannah Armer, 29, was born in Cobble Hill. Her parents bought a run-down, three-story townhouse with a garden apartment on Strong Place in 1971 for $60,000, and after a recent renovation, it was valued at more than $1 million.

“Growing up, we spent our lives scraping woodwork and sanding molding,” she said.

Armer loves her old neighborhood, where she grew up playing in pastoral Cobble Hill Park alongside old carriage houses and attended Public School 29, one of the best in New York City. Despite the threat of creeping gentrification and chain stores to the neighborhood’s Italian bakeries and privately owned shops, Armer stayed close to home. Five years ago, she rented a floor-through, one-bedroom apartment on Baltic Street for $1,200 a month, making the most of the differences in Manhattan and Brooklyn townhouse layouts.

She has a spacious living room, dining room and eat-in kitchen, with a bathroom and what she calls a tiny “hall bedroom.”

Armer is far from alone – there is a healthy rental market in Cobble Hill attracting young people from Manhattan and other parts of Brooklyn, said Marko Pankovich, a broker with Cobble Heights Realty. He said rents for a one-bedroom range from $1,400 to $2,300, and that they will increase in the near future.

“Prices came down considerably after Sept. 11, so there probably will be a slight swing back up, especially if interest rates go up,” he said.

And if brokers can come up with creative ways to market the fringes of districts like Cobble Hill – for instance, by calling the area between Hicks and Columbia streets “West Cobble Hill” – they may be able to sustain sales for a while.

The strip between Court Street and the popular restaurant row, Smith Street, is considered to be the less trendy Boerum Hill by old-timers but is being renamed by brokers eager to cash in on the Cobble Hill name. In fact, creating niches appears to be the defining sales principle of what was once the amorphously named South Brooklyn region.

“Two people working in my office live in that strip between Court and Smith, and they refer to it as CoBo” for Cobble and Boerum hills, Thomas chuckled. “That’s half joking – but FYI.”

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