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Kim McKeller

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Mentioned in this Article:
Wall Street Journal

Harlem Attracts Post-Slump Buyers


Yan Feng, a pediatrician from Beijing, just paid $2.3 million for a townhouse on Convent Avenue in the Hamilton Heights neighborhood in Harlem, bidding $100,000 more than the asking price after losing out on another deal for a house down the street.

Now Ms. Feng and her husband, Stanley Cha, a securities lawyer, have an eye out for other townhouses in the neighborhood as second homes for friends from Beijing, and they are looking for commercial investments in the neighborhood as well.

Their purchase of the 20-foot-wide house with an unusual stepped brick gable is part of a recent renaissance of the Harlem real-estate market that is bringing in new buyers for both century-old townhouses and new condominiums across Harlem following the worst of the financial crisis.

After a long chill in the market, there has been a resurgence of the sales of townhouses, with three townhouses closing between $2.3 million and $2.85 million, the highest prices since the spring of 2009.

The most expensive single townhouse sale since 2007—a meticulously renovated loft-like house on West 122nd Street—closed on Sept. 30.

Another top sale was the $2.5 million sale of a townhouse at 30 W. 120th St. owned through a limited liability company by basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. It was listed for $3.45 million in April 2010, with the asking price then cut.

During the third quarter, the number of Harlem apartment sales rose to the highest level since September 2008, according to analysis of city records. But they were only slightly above sales reported in the same quarter in 2010.

Stephen Kliegerman, president of Halstead Development Marketing, said that in the last few months, the backlog of unsold new condominiums in Harlem has fallen.

Real estate in less-established neighborhoods usually is hurt more than that in prime locations during downturns. But brokers say that new restaurants and stores are getting the attention of new buyers.

"It is an easier sell and the new commercial development has also opened people's eyes up to see the neighborhood in a different light," he said.

Mr. Kliegerman said sales were particularly strong a 88 Morningside a 12-story building at West 122nd Street and Morningside Avenue, with a rooftop deck facing Morningside Park. He said the building attracted a mix of buyers, including several from mainland China.

Sales were also strong, he said, at the Gateway Tower on Frederick Douglass Boulevard, he said where 55 condos in a seven-story addition went on the market in April.

At 88 Morningside, larger two- and three-bedroom apartments have now sold out and only one-bedroom apartments are left. In all more than 60% of the 73 condos in the building have been sold.

The brownstone on West 120th Street that set a post-financial-crisis high in Harlem was an easy sale, according to Jane Wilson, a Corcoran broker who handled the listing.

The sellers, Ruedi Hofman and his wife, Ann Stratton, were both photographers who lived and worked in a loft building in the Meatpacking district until they were priced out of that area.

After renting for a while in Harlem, they bought a 19-foot-wide townhouse on West 122th Street for $1.35 million in 2007. They converted the property from an single-room occupancy hotel to a one family residence.

The couple created a loft-like space, tearing down some interior walls to open up the parlor floor.

"Openness was important and so was light, light is very important to a photographer," said Mr. Hofman, a fashion and commercial photographer who worked with Richard Avedon.

On Convent Avenue, Rhahime Bell, a son of Aaron Bell, the jazz bass player who worked with Duke Ellington, paid $775,000 for the house in 2001, as the neighborhood was undergoing a wave of gentrification.

He restored the house and in 2006 during the housing boom, put it on the market for a while at $4.35 million. In June he listed it with Brian Phillips, a broker with Prudential Douglas Elliman, for only $2.2 million.

Ms. Feng and her husband were in the market for a second home, looking at new glass condo towers in Manhattan. Both went to school in the U.S. and hold dual Chinese and American citizenship, she said.

They were about to sign a contract for the purchase of a condominium at the Aldyn, a new condominium on Riverside Boulevard on the Upper West Side, when Ms. Feng asked her broker, Jing Chen of Corcoran. where she lived.

They soon visited Ms. Feng at her home in Hamilton Heights. "I said, 'Jing, can you find us a house like that,'" Ms. Feng said. They lost the first house and decided to "bid high" on the second one.

Mr. Phillips said that each of his four listings in Central Harlem and Hamilton Heights have sold in the last few months or have deals in place.

Friday, October 14, 2011