CreditNicole Bengiveno/The New York Times
Long the Toyota Corolla of New York City real estate — affordable, reliable and unassuming — Queens is finally getting some respect.
The Michelin Guide just anointed four Queens restaurants with the coveted star. Ridgewood is being heralded as the new Bushwick. And the offerings for apartment hunters are growing as developers and landlords rush to capitalize on the increasing buzz about the borough.
In already burgeoning Long Island City, more than 10,000 apartments are planned over the next three years, ranging from amenity-laden rentals to family-size condos, according to aptsandlofts.com, a New York brokerage that specializes in the marketing of developments. Hundreds of new apartments are expected in downtown Flushing over the next several years. Aging apartment buildings in neighborhoods like Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, Rego Park and Elmhurst are being reinvented with updated lobbies, redesigned apartments and amenities from green roofs to children’s play areas.
And major developments will add thousands of residences to industrial areas and reshape the waterfront along the East River from Hunter’s Point South in Long Island City, where the first two towers of a 30-acre complex are rising, to Astoria Cove, a nearly nine-acre site with 1,700 apartments in its future.
CreditJames Estrin/The New York Times
“Within the last two years there’s been huge interest in Queens, unlike anything I’ve ever seen before,” said Eric Benaim, the chief executive of the Modern Spaces brokerage, which has offices in Queens in Long Island City and Astoria. “People are flocking to Queens like they did to Brooklyn as the next frontier.”
All of this is causing people like Corey Anker, a 15-year resident of Manhattan, to change their minds about Queens. “I just didn’t see myself living there,” Mr. Anker said. “To me, it was an old person’s borough.”
But with two children under the age of 5, he and his family began to feel cramped in a Junior Four apartment in the Gramercy area. So after a little prodding by his wife, Joana, he took the subway to Forest Hills to check outParker Towers, a 1950s-era rental complex that was undergoing a makeover by the Jack Parker Corporation, a hotel and real estate company.
While the exterior was unimpressive, his interest was piqued when he entered a hotel-like lobby with retro-chic wall coverings and a convenience store called the Pantry tucked into a corner. Upstairs, roomy apartments were being updated with open kitchens, new flooring and bathrooms. There was a new gym.
A couple of blocks away on Austin Street, he found a mix of cafes, bars, chain stores and small businesses and began to picture a life there. Twenty minutes and four express stops later, he was back in Manhattan planning their move.
“I was vehemently opposed to moving to Queens,” said Mr. Anker, a life coach who arrived with his family to Parker Towers in May, renting a renovated $3,600-a-month three-bedroom, two-bath with a balcony. “Now, I couldn’t love it any more if you paid me.”
While affordability continues to be a major driver of people moving to Queens, prices have been going up. Market-rate rents in Long Island City and Astoria, where much of the new development is concentrated, are no longer a bargain, accounting for the highest prevailing rents in the borough, according to the brokerage firm MNS.
In October, the monthly rent for two-bedrooms in Long Island City was $3,831 and in Astoria, $2,610. But, brokers and developers say, more newcomers are considering those areas as destinations in their own right.
“There is less of a conversation around, ‘I can’t afford anything else,’ ” said Rachel Loeb, a development director for World Wide Group. “It’s now a neighborhood of choice.”
World Wide and its partners, Rabina Properties and Cammeby’s International Group, are behind a 421-unit rental called QLIC with lots of amenities, including an outdoor pool on the 10th floor with Manhattan skyline views.
The vibrant arts scene was what drew Michelle Byrd, who consults on media and social change, to a one-bedroom rental in Long Island City, after she sold her rowhouse duplex in Fort Greene, Brooklyn. Her old home was within a few blocks of the Brooklyn Academy of Music, “so it was really important for me that I lived somewhere that was an international destination for the arts,” Ms. Byrd said.
Into her life came Pearson Court Square, a new 197-unit rental building with prices that range from $2,600 a month for a studio to $5,800 for a two-bedroom penthouse. Now she’s not far from MoMA PS1 and exhibition spaces like the SculptureCenter, Ms. Byrd said. “The number of people jumping off the 7 train,” she said, “asking directions and taking photographs — that makes it feel very cosmopolitan.”
It doesn’t matter that basic conveniences like supermarkets or pharmacies can be few and far between. Buildings are filling with young couples and families willing to pay for the proximity to Manhattan and the anticipation of what is to come.
“The price is right, the transportation options are really good, and I see the potential in the neighborhood,” said Amadeo Plaza, 27, an advertising strategist who moved with his wife, Noelia, in January to a rent-stabilized two-bedroom, two-bath at the Linc LIC, a 42-story building by the Rockrose Development Corporation.
The couple pay $3,720 a month, including use of a two-story gym, squash and basketball courts, a coffee lounge, a screening room, a children’s playroom and three roof decks with barbecues, wet bars and misting machines for hot summer days. “If you were to pick up this apartment and drop it into Manhattan,” Mr. Plaza said, “you’d be asking for north of $5,000 a month.”
Less expensive options are also on the way. At Hunter’s Point South, two apartment buildings with more than 900 low- and moderate-income apartments are being developed by the Related Companies with its partners Phipps Houses and Monadnock Construction. These are offered through a lottery that began in mid-October and closes in December.
Monthly payments start as low as $494 a month for studios for one person making $18,618 to $23,520 a year; they go up to $4,346 a month for three-bedrooms for households of three to six people with a combined income of $151,132 to $224,020. The complexes have a communal garden, a fitness center and other amenities.
But you’ll need some luck to land one of the below-market rate apartments. Already tens of thousands of applications have been submitted.
Deeper in the borough, ground-up developments are less common. But older apartment buildings are beginning to be refreshed as landlords realize they can charge a premium for like-new units.
With the help of Ari Silverstein, a Queens native whose company, the Silverstein Collection, specializes in “the luxury outer-boroughs market,” Dawn and Jordan Chapman found a $2,100-a-month one-bedroom with an office and a terrace on the top floor of Court Plaza, a tall doorman building in Kew Gardens. But that was only after an exhaustive search that mostly turned up apartments with old kitchens that lacked dishwashers and buildings that didn’t have gyms.
“We must have looked at 30 apartments,” said Ms. Chapman, a children’s caregiver who had lived on the Upper East Side in a small $1,400 studio and after that in Astoria, sharing an $1,800 one-bedroom walk-up with Mr. Chapman.
“This apartment had everything we were looking for and more,” said Ms. Chapman, noting its stainless-steel kitchen appliances — including a dishwasher. “At night you can watch the planes fly into J.F.K. On the Fourth of July you can see fireworks everywhere.”
While many of the new and refreshed residential offerings opening up in Queens are rentals, industry watchers say condos are next. “It is following the same track that Brooklyn did,” said Michael A. Tortorici, a founder of Ariel Property Advisors, which monitors the market. “First you have rentals, then people see it as a viable destination and people want to buy into that.”
Land prices, which have reached as high as $250 a square foot in Long Island City and $200 a square foot in Astoria, are making rentals harder to justify. “At $250 a foot to buy land and another $250 a foot or more in construction costs,” said Mr. Benaim of Modern Spaces, “it doesn’t work out financially as a rental, so condos are the business plan for a lot of developers right now.”
Modern Spaces plans to begin sales next year on two condo projects in Astoria — the Marx, a 33-unit condo in the new Kaufman Arts District, and the Baron, a 77-unit condo with parking by New York Lions Group near the waterfront.
Meanwhile, some recently opened projects are proving the market by selling out faster and at higher prices than anticipated. In Forest Hills, a 97-unit condominium called the Aston, which is going up near the 71st Avenue subway station, is half sold after opening for sales at the end of September. Apartments, which have walnut floors and Bosch washer/dryers, begin at $580,000 for a one-bedroom, $890,000 for a two-bedroom, and $1.39 million for a three-bedroom, according to the Marketing Directors, which is handling sales.
Amenities at the doorman elevator building include a landscaped terrace with barbecue and wet bar areas, a fitness center and on-site parking.
Astoria Lights, a redevelopment of a prewar co-op, began sales in October 2013 with a goal of selling 23 units in half a year. Demand was so high that all 58 units were spoken for within four months.
“We had over 3,800 people come through the development,” said Tom Le, the associate broker at the Corcoran Group who handled the sales of the building. “Every single unit went substantially over the asking price,” he said, noting starting prices began at $199,000 for studios, $299,000 for one-bedrooms and $399,000 for two-bedrooms. Some people combined units to create three-bedroom, two-baths that sold for $650,000 and up.
“For $650,000 you can barely buy a one-bedroom in Williamsburg and Downtown Brooklyn,” Mr. Le said.
Mr. Le is working on another co-op redevelopment expected to open for sales next year at the border of Jackson Heights and Elmhurst. Plans call for larger apartments, a community garden and possibly a green roof.
Similarly, the Continental Park, a 153-unit co-op in Elmhurst, where 79 sponsor units are being renovated and resold, drew 1,000 people and 14 offers during its opening weekend last month.
“So many people showed up, we were overwhelmed,” said Myles Horn, the developer with partners ABC Properties and Fisher Associates. Now, the sales team offers tours by appointment only, and prices have been increased slightly to $197,000 for studios, $310,500 for one-bedrooms, $447,900 for two-bedrooms with two baths and $530,000 for three-bedrooms.
“It exceeded anything I could have predicted,” Mr. Horn said. “My faith in Queens, which has always been there, has just been amplified.”
Allison Shack and her boyfriend, Vladimir Golanov, were among the crowd on opening weekend. The couple, who work in Midtown and live in Astoria, had been looking for nearly a year, but the apartments in their price range either needed major renovations or were far from a subway.
“In Astoria, we’re in a luxury rental right now, and that kind of spoiled us,” Ms. Shack said. “We really wanted something newly renovated. I wanted it to feel like we were the first ones to be living there.”
So the couple quickly put in an offer when they saw the open floor plans, Caesarstone countertops, stainless-steel appliances and Kohler and Grohe bath fixtures of the model apartment at the Continental Park. They are now in contract for $353,300 for a two-bedroom, one-bath, with a terrace and a washer/dryer hookup.
With their rent going up by about $200 each lease renewal, Ms. Shack said that their monthly outlay “will be less when we move.”
As older apartment buildings modernize and new buyers move in, prices are going up. Overall, the median sales price in Queens rose 6 percent to $402,000 in the third quarter of 2014, up from $380,000 during the same quarter last year, according to the Real Estate Board of New York.
In the northwest region, which includes Long Island City, Astoria, Sunnyside and Woodside, the median sales price jumped 22 percent to $461,800 in the third quarter compared with the same time last year, according to a Douglas Elliman report prepared by the appraisal firm Miller Samuel.
But even at the higher prices, Queens still offers savings. Last year, Aravind Rajasekharan, a vice president of operations of an investment firm who had been commuting from Turtle Bay to Greenwich Conn., decided he wanted to move out of the rental studio he was sharing with a 23-pound cat named Kramer and buy a place. When his $750,000 budget didn’t go very far in Manhattan and Long Island City, he turned to Flushing.
In August 2013 he moved to a two-bedroom with a terrace and a view of Manhattan at Sky View Parc, the condos above the Shops at SkyView Center. Now, he does something he never could in his tiny Manhattan studio — entertain. “I can have 20 people over and have a good party,” he said.
Kramer also purrs about Queens. “He’s got a few beds around the apartment,” said Mr. Rajasekharan, who paid about $610 a square foot for the apartment. “He’s living large.”
Beyond affordability, Queens converts say it can have a neighborly quality that Manhattan and increasingly, Brooklyn, have all but lost.
Mr. Anker, the ex-Manhattanite, was sold on Forest Hills by a visit to a hardware store. When he discovered he didn’t have the cash to pay for the keys he had ordered, he dashed out to an ATM, returning with $20 for the $17 purchase.
The store’s owner charged Mr. Anker only $15 because he had been inconvenienced. “Much more significant than the discount was the sense of caring and community,” Mr. Anker said. “That mom and pop feel — Manhattan doesn’t have that anymore. But Forest Hills does.”