Jewish ritual with real estate results

Push for an eruv on East End of Long Island could increase property values

Jun.June 02, 2008 05:10 PM

The recent news that the town of Westhampton Beach is considering allowing the first-ever East End “eruv” to be installed for the Orthodox and observant Jewish community already has real estate experts predicting a change in demographics there — and a possible increase in property values.

Eruvs —a demarcation made by thin, nearly invisible wires that are strung high above the ground between utility poles to create a symbolic boundary of private space around a neighborhood — are in high demand among Orthodox and some other observant Jews because they authorize certain privileges, like carrying personal belongings and pushing a baby carriage, that are otherwise banned in public areas on the Sabbath.

In the past, the existence of an eruv in certain neighborhoods has translated into more desire for homes within the zone.

In Sunnyside, Queens, when a shrinking congregation wanted to attract younger members, its rabbi suggested — and happily discovered — that an eruv would do the trick because Jews would move to the area to be within walking distance of their synagogue. In Manhattan, real estate brokers have speculated that an eruv that was extended southward in June 2007, to Houston Street, could shift populations.

“For a portion of the Orthodox community, an eruv is a necessity; many won’t live in an area without one,” said Greg Corbin, a commercial sales director at Massey Knakal who is observant. “So, like anything else, it is a case of supply and demand. Eruv area equals more demand, which obviously increases property values [and] raises the price of all real estate, commercial and residential.”

Discussion of an eruv in Westhampton Beach has incited some controversy. According to several published reports, some Westhampton residents have expressed concern that it will attract too many Orthodox Jews; others have taken issue with it because they regard it as a religious symbol.

Westhampton Beach’s mayor, Conrad Teller, has rebutted the latter concern on the town’s Web site, writing: “It is a religious accommodation, not a religious symbol, protected by the Constitution.”

Judging by the eruvs in the five boroughs, a symbolic boundary in Westhampton could play an important role in marketing an area even if it doesn’t translate into higher property prices overnight.

Since 1994, the Upper West Side has had an eruv extending from 57th Street to 112th Street. In 2004, the eruv was extended east to the FDR. And last summer, upon the request of a group of rabbis and congregations, it was extended again, this time southward to Houston Street between First and Sixth avenues. In Brooklyn, eruvs surround Borough Park, Flatbush, Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope.

Julie Friedman, an executive vice president with Bellmarc Realty who is observant and lives in the Gramercy-Murray Hill neighborhood, was part of her synagogue’s effort to extend the eruv and said it may reshape the Jewish community in the area.

“People were being stymied by the lack of an eruv, and living in the community was a deficit and a hardship for those who follow eruv laws,” Friedman said. “The inverse relationship would be: So now that the eruv is here, it would naturally inflate the price since there’s no longer that obstacle of hardship?”

Five years ago, Friedman moved her family — she has three boys under age 10 — to the Murray Hill area from East 75th Street, attracted by the more affordable and spacious neighborhood. “I try, when I sell, to let people know that I am the profile buyer,” she said.

It is still too premature to evaluate how property values in Gramercy-Murray Hill have been affected by the eruv in the last 10 months, especially since the area is a prime destination without the eruv, Friedman said. She added that now when a listing comes on the market in her neighborhood and she has a family to show it to, she’ll include that it’s located in an eruv zone.

Rabbi Gideon Shloush of Temple Adereth El on East 29th Street said brokers generally take note. “It’s really something for people in the real estate field to pay attention to as they’re speaking to religious Jewish families,” Shloush said. “What do families look for? Religious families are going to look for nice apartments, a good neighborhood, an eruv, a community synagogue, kosher restaurants — all the stuff we have.”

Shloush said getting permission from the city’s Department of Transportation for the eruv’s two-year installation process “was a natural development, because our numbers are increasing.”

The Department of Transportation posts a series of rules for eruv installation on its Web site. The applicant is responsible for the installation and maintenance and must cover all associated costs.

Betty-Ann Weiner, the executive director of the Young Israel of Sunnyside, said the eruv has changed the face of its congregation. In the last four years, it has grown to nearly 70 people from about half that. And, after the eruv was installed last August, Weiner said she’s seen five families move to the neighborhood.

Weiner said two houses recently sold for thousands over their asking prices — one went for $650,000, up from $585,000, and the other for $950,000, up from $875,000 — with observant Jewish families in the bidding.

Felice Gross, a vice president at Brown Harris Stevens who is observant, said an eruv can impact suburban or outer borough property values far more than those on the Upper West Side and Upper East Side, where real estate is already at maximum demand.

“There’s just such a tremendous need [for an eruv] in suburban areas,” Gross said. “There’s more sprawl. People really want to live within walking distance of a certain area, and that combined with an eruv completes the picture.”

Corbin, the broker from Massey Knakal, pointed to Waterbury, Conn., a town where a rabbi began an Orthodox Jewish community in 2001 by building a synagogue
and eruv.

“In the beginning, five- and six-bedroom [homes] could be bought for $150,000. Last year, they came close to doubling — property values were up nearly 100 percent,” Corbin said. The local 7-Eleven convenience store now serves kosher Slurpees, and the ShopRite grocery store recently expanded its kosher section.

“People are speculating that years down the road, many new businesses will open [and] eventually, people might be priced out of [the] neighborhood,” he added.

What an eruv will mean to property values in Westhampton Beach if it comes in remains to be seen, but for Friedman, the idea is a no-brainer.

“Having [an eruv] in the Hamptons is a natural outgrowth to where many members [of New York
synagogues] summer,” she said. “It will definitely be a boost to the community.”

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