Discovering Ditmas

<i>Victorian nabe gets fresh look from buyers eager for more Brooklyn space</i>

Time seems to have forgotten Ditmas Park, a neighborhood that may not be familiar to even some longtime Brooklynites. With its sprawling Victorian homes, many tree-lined streets in the area, located south of Prospect Park, appear to belong to another era — or at least the suburbs. But many heads snapped to attention recently when a seven-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath Victorian at 484 East 17th Street sold for $1.9 million, a record high for the neighborhood.

The deal was brokered by local agent and longtime resident Mary Kay Gallagher, who said the condition of the house was exceptional for the neighborhood.

“[This house] was in pristine condition, which is not the case with most of the houses we sell,” she said, adding that the owners, who put a lot of work into modernizing the place, had to move unexpectedly for work. The deal closed in one day and was, according to Gallagher, an “all cash” transaction that occurred without an open house.

That record deal is not the only reason buyers are paying attention to Ditmas Park. Although it is a long commute from Manhattan at about 45 minutes, it is appearing on the radar screens of buyers eager for more space that are willing to spend more than $1 million for a “fixer-upper.” It is seen as a bargain for buyers priced out of other Brooklyn neighborhoods and, of course, Manhattan, where the average price for a townhouse is just over $4 million, according to appraisal firm Miller Samuel.

An influx of new restaurants, shops and condos is also encouraging buyers to come to Ditmas Park — bordered by Parkside Avenue to the north, Ditmas Avenue to the south, Ocean Avenue to the east and Coney Island Avenue to the west. Part of Victorian Flatbush, the area was designated a historic district in the 1980s and has one of the highest concentrations of Victorians in the country.

Roslyn Huebener of Brooklyn-based Aguayo & Huebener Realty, a former resident, said most Ditmas Park homes have three floors, yards and garages, and are priced in the $1.2 to $1.5 million range.

Marc Garstein, president of Warren Lewis Realty, said for the space the prices are hard to beat. “Instead of buying a nice brownstone for $2.5 million in Park Slope, you can get a seven- or eight-bedroom house for $1.2 million [in Ditmas Park] with a garden and a porch.”

Although housing prices in Ditmas began rising above the $1 million mark as far back as 2004, cheaper places can still be found. Gallagher is currently advertising a four-bedroom attached brick home on her site that “needs TLC” for $649,000.

Perhaps a bigger problem than the need for TLC for some homes is a lack of inventory. According to the Flatbush Development Corporation, there are 3,500 homes in the neighborhood, and 90 percent of them are owner-occupied. When homes come up for sale, it’s usually because a longtime resident decided to relocate.

Garstein bought a house in the area 16 years ago, which he said has now quadrupled in value. He said some buyers shunned Ditmas Park in the past because it was about 15 minutes farther from Manhattan by subway than parts of Park Slope. Also discouraging to newcomers: Ditmas Park lacks rental apartments, as found in nearby areas like Park Slope.

Sign Up for the undefined Newsletter

“There were fewer low-cost rental units in the desirable areas and less of an urban feel for city dwellers,” Garstein said, adding that population remains largely families that have lived in the area for a long time.

But Garstein sees a shift, with many buildings in the neighborhood going co-op recently, encouraging first-time homeowners. “This bodes well for the future of the neighborhood, as the people in co-ops will [eventually] look to purchase houses in the area,” he said.

New co-ops include 616 East 18th Street, 1710 Avenue H, 415 Argyle Road and 400 East 17th Street, which are selling for $350 to $400 per square foot.

Corcoran, for example, has a listing at 616 East 18th Street for a 746-square-foot co-op for $269,000, and Brooklyn Hearth Realty is advertising a number of co-ops in Ditmas Park priced from $255,000 to $450,000.

“We’ve done recent sales in these [co-op] buildings, which were all built to be rentals,” Garstein said. He explained that when the co-op market became viable, units were offered for sale as rent-stabilized tenants moved out.

Some buyers were also discouraged in the past by the area’s lack of restaurants and local businesses compared to more developed and upscale areas like Park Slope. But that is changing, albeit slowly.

Huebener, who moved out of her Ditmas Park seven-bedroom in 2005, said the Flatbush Development Group has encouraged new businesses to come to the area. When she moved to Ditmas in 1996, there was little in the way of local shopping, aside from a bookstore and the food co-op.

In recent years, new businesses have come to Cortelyou Road, the main shopping street, and Newkirk Plaza, a mall with about 30 retailers near the subway that recently received a major facelift. Newcomers include well-received restaurants like the Farm on Adderley and Picket Fence, and the cafeacute;/bookstore Vox Pop. There’s also a new wine store, T.B. Ackerson; furniture shop Trailer Park Furniture; and Connecticut Muffin.

William O’Brien, president and director of retail and office leasing and sales at the Brooklyn real estate firm M.C. O’Brien, said commercial opportunities in the neighborhood are still “very limited,” with the majority of operations mom-and-pop businesses. While more commercial tenants are coming in, O’Brien said there are still few national tenants interested in taking space.

O’Brien added that Cortelyou and Newkirk Avenue will probably never become destination shopping corridors because neither allows for a continuous block of stores. “You’ve actually got residential houses on some of those commercial streets, so you don’t have the fabric for a real destination retail area.”