Blue-collar buyers mean big business in outer boroughs

Oct.October 26, 2007 11:25 AM

Amid the headlines of $1 million apartments as an everyday price, it’s hard to understand how middle-income New Yorkers can afford to own property in the city.

After five-and-a-half years on the job, a New York police officer earns a base salary of $59,588. A public school teacher earns $46,800 after working the same number of years. The city’s median household income was $43,434 in a city rife with millionaires, according to 2005 census data.

The median apartment sales price in Manhattan in the third quarter of 2006 was around $845,000, according to data from appraisal firm Miller Samuel. In Brooklyn, the median sales price for one- and two-family dwellings was $540,000 for the first six months of 2006, and the median sales price for an apartment was $439,000, according to the REBNY Brooklyn Residential Sales Report released in September.

But the city’s middle-income buyers are big business for many real estate firms and developers, almost exclusively in the outer boroughs. At the same time, a number of Bloomberg administration housing initiatives seek to address the chasm between the city’s median income levels and affordability. The New Housing Marketplace Plan is the most prominent of these measures, and it strives to encourage builders to create more than 165,000 units of housing for low-, moderate- and middle-income New Yorkers over the next decade.

At Brooklyn’s Fillmore Real Estate, the borough’s largest real estate firm by number of agents, the majority of its clients are blue-collar, middle-income buyers.

“Blue-collar buyers are the highlight of our market,” said John Reinhardt, Fillmore’s president and CEO. “We’re happy to aid in the sales of affordable houses to buyers who are looking in neighborhoods like Canarsie and Bensonhurst.”

Reinhardt said the average sales price for a single-family house is $450,000 in Canarsie and $500,000 in Bensonhurst, prices that many middle-income earners can afford.

One project Fillmore worked on that targeted middle-income buyers was Canarsie’s Seaview Estates. Between 2003 and 2005, Fillmore sold around 275 apartments at the condominium complex at East 108th Street and Seaview Avenue. The rental property had fallen into disrepair; its owners renovated the grounds and units and started selling apartments in 2003.

Sonia Meggs, a retiree who spent most of her career working for an insurance agency, purchased her two-bedroom, two-bath apartment in 2003 for $187,000.

“When I decided to buy, I knew I couldn’t afford it on a retiree’s salary,” said Meggs, who started teaching at a nearby school to meet her new mortgage payments. “I also cashed out 20 percent of my 401K, and now with common charges and mortgage payments I’m paying $958 a month.”

That’s a significant reduction from the $1,200 a month Meggs paid to rent the same apartment. She said that she “loves” owning and living in the rehabilitated Seaview Estates.

Jean Paul Ho, the Fillmore vice president who led the sales effort at Seaview Estates, said that most of the people he works with are “buying out of necessity.”

“A lot of the people we work with can’t afford to buy in downtown Brooklyn, because prices there have gotten too high,” said Ho. “One worry is that all of Brooklyn is going to become too expensive for the average buyer.”

Fillmore is also the exclusive sales agent for Fairfield Towers, a 19-building complex with almost 1,000 apartments in East New York purchased in September by Taconic Investment Partners and Apollo Real Estate Advisors (see Houses rise in hardscrabble East New York). Ho will once again take the lead for Fillmore on this project, which will involve an overhaul of the apartments and grounds at Fairfield Towers before the towers’ units hit the market.

“What’s happening in East New York is very, very exciting,” he said. “I’m very proud to be part of this project, and as a Brooklynite I’m proud of how neighborhoods are turning around.”

City agencies will offer a substantial amount of financial support for the condominium project at Fairfield Towers. Subsidies from the Housing Partnership Development Corp. bring most unit prices below $300,000.

Middle-income buyers are finding city support at Fairfield and with other housing developments.

In October, the Port Authority sold a 24-acre lot in Long Island City to the city, which plans to build around 5,000 units of affordable housing on the site through its New Housing Marketplace Plan.

In September, the New York City Housing Development Corporation approved over $135 million in construction and financing for buildings in Brooklyn, the Bronx and Queens.

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