The Real Deal New York

W’burg condo boom has not gone bust

By Sarah Ryley | May 11, 2010 02:56PM

alternate textFrom left: Christine Blackburn of Prudential Douglas Elliman, the Edge, Highlyann Krasnow of the Developers Group, Northside Piers

For all the flack it gets, Williamsburg is still a hot place to live — at the right price. But even developers and brokers, perennial optimists even during real estate’s darkest hours, seemed a bit surprised by a recent spike in activity at some new buildings.

Northside Piers, the 450-unit waterfront project that has consistently been a top seller citywide since broadcasting aggressive price cuts early last year, just logged its best month since opening during the boom year of 2007, said Scott Avram, senior project manager for Northside Piers developer Toll Brothers City Living.

Forty contracts were signed in the past four weeks. Avram wondered “if everyone was having the same experience.”

So, The Real Deal made some calls around the neighborhood. While nobody quite scored 40 buyers in one month, it does seem like sales and leasing activity has been strong at projects with some combination of the following three winning characteristics: “location, price and the finishes,” as broker Christine Blackburn of Prudential Douglas Elliman put it.

Indeed, the projects that have been popular are all in tight proximity to Williamsburg’s stylishly retailed Bedford Avenue or right on the waterfront. And none have tried to pass off “hollow doors and cheap wood flooring” or “traditional” color palettes as luxury, like other struggling developers in the neighborhood, said Blackburn, whose team has sold or leased dozens of apartments in Northside Piers, 184 Kent and 70 Berry among others.

Warehouse 11 sold around 90 of its 120 apartments since January; the waterfront loft conversion 184 Kent leased 138 apartments in four months, including 38 in the last three weeks; and 70 Berry Street sold all of its 38 apartments in less than five months, according to various real estate sources.

Now even the Edge — the 565-unit waterfront project by Douglaston Development that has withered, sales-wise, in the shadow of its significantly less expensive neighbor, Northside Piers — seems to be catching a break.

Eighteen contracts were signed in April, said Highlyann Krasnow, a partner at brokerage the Developers Group, which is marketing the project.

Krasnow wouldn’t say what percentage of the overall development is spoken for, but she added that two of the sales last month were $2.2 million penthouses, and six were in excess of $1,100 per square foot.

“On Friday, we sold seven units in one day, and today we’ve had three offers,” Krasnow said yesterday.

Nearby, 66 North 1st Street, a 21-unit factory loft conversion by architect Robert Scarano, is nearly half sold.

“We’ve had five accepted offers last week,” said Michael Brooks, senior vice president of the Developers Group. “I don’t know how to explain it. We just caught fire!”

He said deals are being made at $650 per square foot, which Blackburn agreed seems to be Williamsburg buyers’ sweetspot for non-waterfront apartments. (Warehouse 11 is one main exception — most of the apartments sold at around $580 per square foot, said a spokesperson).


(Note: correction appended).

“Other buildings in Williamsburg that have been actively selling are 125 North 10th Street with 19 closings this year, 80 Metropolitan Avenue with 10 closings, and 14 Hope Street with seven closings,” said Sofia Song, vice president of research at Streeteasy.

Avram’s theory on the uptick in activity is that buyers are starting to sense the real estate market may have hit bottom, and want to lock in offers before prices go back up again.

“I think a lot of people have been waiting a long time to buy, and they’re starting to see the incentives developers have been offering are in decline… [Developers] are being a lot more stingy with their negotiating,” Avram said. “The boat is starting to sail.”

Even the notoriously wide price gap between his project and its main competitor, the Edge, has just narrowed by $90 per square foot, according to Streeteasy.com.

Northside Piers’ average listing price jumped from $785 to $875 per square foot, now that nearly all of its discounted apartments have been snapped up, versus the Edge’s $926 per square foot.

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