Southern Brooklyn sees eye-popping sales

By Amy Miller | December 21, 2007 09:19AM

If you thought the most expensive area of Brooklyn
was Brooklyn Heights, think again. While Brooklyn Heights has had some
eye-popping sales — a townhouse at 140 Columbia Heights sold last year
for $10.75 million — Southern Brooklyn, home to some very quiet and
moneyed enclaves, may beat it in terms of super-luxury sales. In 2003,
a mansion on Avenue S in Gravesend went for $11 million. And in
October, Midtown Equities founder and Sears Tower co-owner Joseph Cayre
sold his house in nearby Midwood for $10 million, according to public
records.

That latest sale, at 3542 Bedford Avenue, is for a 7,526-square-foot
home that takes up multiple lots and is deceptively larger than its
frontage.

Avenues S, T and U, and Ocean Parkway in Gravesend, meanwhile, are
lined with modern estates; five of Brooklyn’s top sales have taken
place in the area.

This Beverly Hills-in-Brooklyn phenomenon had been quiet until
recently, when the New York Times and the New York Times magazine began
writing about the wealth of the Syrian Jews in the area. The sale of
the Cayre house — from a family Forbes has dubbed one of world’s
richest — only adds to the limelight.

Joseph Cayre, part of the World Trade Center equity investors team that
purchased the Sears Tower for $835 million in 2004, owns more than 100
Manhattan properties, many with his brothers Ken and Stan. The trio got
rich by producing Latin music in the 1970s and distributing videos to
Wal-Mart.

Joseph and his wife Trina had bought the Bedford Avenue property in 1974.

(Cayre is the “C” in CORE Group Marketing, a Manhattan-based, full-service resale and new development brokerage.)

A little farther southwest lies the neighborhood of Gravesend. Between
August and October of this year, the average sales price in Gravesend
was $692,486, nearly twice as much as buyers paid for homes on Coney
Island, and slightly more than owners paid in neighboring Bensonhurst.
Prices fell from this period last year, when the average sales price
was $770,625, according to public records.

In volume terms, about 85 homes sold between August and October, down
from 100 last year. In comparison, 16 homes sold on nearby Coney
Island, and 60 in nearby Bensonhurst.

But Gravesend’s draw is its core, and the mansions within it.

“Ocean Parkway is the Fifth Avenue of Brooklyn,” said Charlie Attias, a
vice president with the Corcoran Group who specializes in high-end
residential sales. “It’s the most desirable area. Everyone wants to be
there, and prices are through the roof.”

Attias is currently selling a home on a 62-by-130-foot lot on the
northeast corner of Avenue X and Crawford Avenue for $2.9 million. The
owner lives in France and decided to sell the property this summer,
originally for $3.1 million, Attias said.

There has been a lot of interest from families and developers who want
to tear down the old white wood-frame house to make way for a larger
building. It would cost between $1 and $2 million to refurbish the
house as it is now, “and buyers have to take that into consideration,”
Attias said.

While Jewish buyers want to be able to walk to nearby synagogues, Syrian Jews are just the latest group to call the area home.

Gravesend was founded in 1654 by Lady Deborah Moody, a wealthy
Protestant widow who left England for America seeking religious
freedom. She was the first woman in the New World to receive a land
patent, and she wrote the first town charter in English. In addition,
Moody founded the town hall government, started a school and
established a church, but Gravesend’s policy of religious freedom set
it apart from other settlements.

Also, Gravesend — where McDonald Avenue and Gravesend Neck Road formed
the crossroads of the old 16-acre town — was one of the earliest towns
in the New World to use a block grid system.

In 1894, Gravesend was incorporated into the City of Brooklyn.

For many decades, the neighborhood was home primarily to Italian
families, and many still remain, along with long-time Italian
restaurants such as Fiorentino’s, said Jeff Grandis, a Brooklyn native
and broker and owner of Accord Real Estate Group in Brooklyn.

Today, Gravesend is home to families from many different cultures and
income levels, Grandis is quick to point out. Asian, Pakistani,
Hispanic and Russian families have all bought homes in the area and
have helped the neighborhood prosper. Families come because the
neighborhood has solid schools and many different houses of worship,
Grandis said. It’s conveniently located near the F train that runs
Along Mcdonald Avenue And The Q Train Along East 15th Street. Also,
many shops and restaurants line Avenue U and Avenue X.

“It’s just been a very solid neighborhood for families for many, many
years,” Grandis said. “The name is certainly not that wonderful. But
it’s a wonderful place for families.”

“Gravesend is a very strong, vibrant market,” added Grandis. “While the
area has been somewhat affected by the recent downturn in the market,
prices have still remained at a high level, and the area will continue
to be strong.”

Neighborhoods such as Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights have been
hit by foreclosures, and Grandis says he’s given talks at several
community meetings there to help residents understand their options and
save their homes. But families in Gravesend have not suffered the same
fate, he said.