With millions in Lower Manhattan swept by Hurricane Sandy’s blanket of darkness, could this light up a trend to move uptown?
Floating cars and blacked-out streets demonstrated downtown Manhattan’s susceptibility to what could be a frequent tryst with natural disasters. With two unwelcome visits by hurricanes Irene and Sandy in a little over a year, New Yorkers grapple with the reality of climate change.
“Anyone who says there’s not a dramatic change in weather patterns, I think, is denying reality,” said Governor Cuomo at a media briefing on Oct. 25.
Jennifer Jones, from the Harlem branch of CB Richard Ellis Inc., said people are increasingly moving from Lower to Upper Manhattan, where residents remained dry and with power after Hurricane Sandy.
Jones said the hurricane “could be used as a selling point. Anything is open and fair game when you’re trying to sell your neighborhood versus another.”
While median listing prices in January 2012 for downtown property decreased 5.8 percent, listing prices uptown increased 0.6 percent, according to Streeteasy.com. The Center for Urban Research noted significant changes in population in Upper Manhattan, particularly in Central Harlem, where population increased by 9 percent between 2000 and 2010.
Washington Heights residential real estate agent Alex Luis Castex-Porter said long-term trends seem intangible for the moment, though he refrained from ruling out a short-term one.
“People start falling in love with this neighborhood,” Castex-Porter said. “It’s affordable, especially for people buying property for the first time.”
Castex-Porter said he sees Upper Manhattan as a buyer’s market, with more space for less money.
For Terence Geoghan, that’s exactly what brought him to Inwood from the Upper East Side. Geoghan moved into Inwood a year ago, and extended his one-year lease this past January. For the price he pays, he not only gets double the size but also a scenic view of Isham Park from his window.
“I could’ve moved downtown, but chose to stay up here,” said Geoghan, who said he would “feel safer in Upper Manhattan” if he had lived downtown during the hurricane. Having fallen in love with the neighborhood, he chose to stay put despite the area’s transportation problems.
Upper Manhattan resident Zaida Grunes said she “would not be surprised if more New Yorkers considered living above 157th Street, just based on word of mouth after Sandy alone.”
But not everyone is writing off Lower Manhattan. Gary Seiden, partner at Regatta New York Realty, said, “It’s a ripe opportunity to buy right now” in Lower Manhattan because of low interest and sales prices, and the World Trade Center complex opening, which Seiden said will bring jobs and investors to the neighborhood.
Geoghan also believes the downtown dream is still alive. Referring to the effects of 9/11 on real-estate trends, he said the there were those that “lived right by the World Trade Center and that didn’t change anything.”
Skyscrapers continue to creep higher and higher, and property values continue to raise eyebrows, but Geoghan admits he’d “feel safer in Upper Manhattan” if he lived downtown during the hurricane.
Upper Manhattan avoided much of the hurricane damage because the area towers up to 265 feet above sea level, while some parts of Lower Manhattan lie as low as 5 feet above sea level.
So, does downtown still offer stiff competition? Many say it’s too early to tell, but Kevin Klepper, owner and CEO of A-1 Home Improver Construction Co., begs to differ.
“I’m not a rocket scientist, but I’m a constructor,” Klepper said. “I know the conditions, the whole environment.”
Klepper, who’s been in the construction business for 32 years said Lower Manhattan’s infrastructure is just not equipped to handle disasters and climate change. After seeing the problems of development downtown, Klepper decided to move to Inwood 12 years ago. He questioned the viability of living downtown, when “people fear going into million-dollar apartments in Battery Park.”
Governor Andrew Cuomo echoed Klepper’s thoughts on infrastructure. He said: “We have an old infrastructure and we have old systems. And that is not a good combination.”
Castex-Porter, who works at Prudential Douglas Elliman, recently closed a deal with an investor who zeroed in on property on 187th Street and Cabrini Boulevard. The investor ruled out Battery Park City after Hurricane Sandy’s trail of destruction down there.
Castex-Porter lives in Upper Manhattan himself. While acknowledging the advantages of elevation, he said, “In retrospect, many of us are grateful that we got through this one, Superstorm Sandy, without seeing the levels of damage we are seeing in the news.”