The Real Deal

Inside the Open Houses of Harlem:
Big Apartments in Short Supply

This month, Tracy McNamara drops in on open houses in Harlem Developers are responding to buyers who want to live large and spend their Harlem nights– or days – in properties with bigger units.

Apartments in Harlem are typically small, with two-bedrooms rarely more than 800 square feet. To draw buyers with families, developers of the Lenox, the Normandie and Casa Loma are offering larger units.

The Lenox, a new 77-unit condominium at 380 Lenox Avenue and 129th Street developed by Uptown Partners, has two-bedroom apartments that range from 1,174 to 1,868 square feet and start at $501 per square foot. The Normandie, a conversion at 100 West 119th Street and Lenox Avenue, represented by Halstead, features three- and four bedroom pre-war residences in a 24-hour doorman building. Penthouse and sixth-floor units are priced over $1 million.

Since many of these new large apartments cost more than the average apartment in Harlem, the question is: Will buyers spend more to live in the neighborhood, which extends from 110th Street to 155th Street, from the East River to Manhattan and St. Nicholas avenues?

The average price per square foot for co-ops and condos in Harlem is $647, compared to $618 last year, according to appraiser Miller Samuel. The average sales price is $698,078, compared to $687,243 last year.

"There are big spaces to find in Harlem, but they are very expensive for the Harlem apartment buyer – well over $1 million," said Sid Whelan, lead sales agent for the Langston, a 180-unit luxury building at 68 Bradhurst Avenue between West 145th and 146th streets.

Developers are hoping buyers will feel more comfortable investing millions in Harlem now that Columbia University plans to extend its boundaries from 129th to 133rd streets and from Broadway to 12th Avenue. It would also add three new properties from 131st to 134th streets on the east side of Broadway. The expansion is expected to spur further residential development and encourage new businesses to open, changes brokers say are needed. Last month, Elizabeth Steele, associate broker at Warburg Realty, told The Real Deal that the expansion is "bringing life to a lot of dead areas and giving new businesses reason to open and create spaces."

At Casa Loma, a condominium conversion at 229 West 116th Street and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard, 10 units out of 15 are scheduled to close this month, and two other apartments are in contract. In the immediate neighborhood, there is a C-Mart grocery store, a post office and a tae kwon do gym directly across the street, as well as a few lowrise residential buildings.

Warburg Realty sales associate Ellen Shandalow said the building is popular because the apartments are large. A 1,007-square-foot two-bedroom, 1.5-bathroom apartment is listed at $789,000, and the 885-square-foot one-bedroom is listed at $650,000.

The building's amenities are comparable to those at many new developments in Harlem, such as storage units for tenants and a common roof garden. There is a video intercom rather than a doorman.

Apartments there are notably stylish; however, two recent open houses for a two-bedroom and a one-bedroom attracted only a few potential buyers. Those buyers spent some time admiring the exposed brick walls, oak floors and open kitchens with stainless steel appliances.

A married couple in their 30s, Jeff and Rebecca, who did not want to give their last name because Jeff's family is in the real estate industry, bicycled to the open house. They said they have been looking in Harlem because they want more space. Currently, the couple lives in a one-bedroom on the Upper West Side. They also crave outdoor space so are only interested in unit 6A, which has a small private balcony with French doors that open into the living room.