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Real Estate Comparison: What Can You Buy in New York City?

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I’ve lived in New York City for ten years- that’s right, it’s official. Having earned my true New Yorker “badge” my mantra to everyone, from skeptics to new transplants, has become, “New York is as expensive as you want it to be.” The caveat… you have to be willing to make certain lifestyle trade offs.

One of those trade offs is home ownership. That’s right, if your “American Dream” consists of that seemingly most basic, independent right of passage, (and you’re not a high earner), do yourself a favor and look to fulfill the dream of home ownership elsewhere. Unless you’re operating with big bucks or savvy investing skills, Manhattan in 2014 is one place where renting often makes more sense. (I know you non-Manhattanites are shaking your heads at me, but consider this; I pay significantly less in rent each month than home apartment owners do on maintenance charges alone.)

What Can You Buy In New York City vs. …..

I’ve teamed up with some fellow bloggers to share exactly how much house you can expect to get at varying price points in each of our cities. While I look forward to seeing the numbers revealed in their research, I have a point of comparison of my own I’d like to share.

Last month I visited San Antonio, Texas with my boyfriend for a family reunion of sorts. Amid the festivities and catching up, the possibility of purchasing the former home of his great grandparents became a topic of discussion. This two-bedroom, stand-alone home, 15 minutes outside of downtown San Antonio, was available for purchase for just $60,000.

Now with that in mind, here are the New York City numbers.

*For the sake of this post (and to avoid falling down the rabbit hole of real estate research all weekend) I limited my search to Manhattan specifically. Though the outer boroughs (ehem, Brooklyn), absolutely provide some equally outrageous sticker shock. 

What Can You Buy in New York City Between $0-$250,000?

I can honestly say I didn’t expect to find any listings in this price range. I know $250,000 can buy you a substantial amount of house elsewhere, but in Manhattan, you’re lucky if it buys you more than a closet.

Suffice it to say, I was shocked when Street Easy gave me 54 listings within this price range filter. Just as I thought there might be a glimmer of possibility for my own NYC home ownership dreams, reality came crashing down…“Income restricted housing”. It kept showing up on listing after listing. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, income restricted apartments are for people who make below a certain threshold of income. In the case of one apartment it was $59,550 for a household size of one and $68,050 for a household size of two.  (While these are great options for those who fit in those income ranges, the balance between making little enough to qualify and enough to pay the mortgage is quite delicate).

I went back into my search and filtered out the income restricted listings. This time I only got 28 results.

The Cheapest: $150,000.00 @ 431 West 121st Street, #GF

Monthly maintenance: $253

Total estimated monthly payment: $957

Location is pretty sweet on this one. While the apartment is a bit further uptown than I’d like, it’s quite close to Columbia University and Central Park West. But wait for it… Basement apartment, 390 square foot studio, cash deal only. Ouch!

As if that weren’t bad enough, take a read through this listing… 

This basement apartment on Amsterdam and 121st Street is a diamond in the VERY rough. THIS IS RAW SPACE. Although currently a studio apartment, it can be made into a small one-bedroom apartment (with board approval). Currently, there are only hookups for the kitchen; no kitchen exists at this time. With nearly nine-foot ceilings, this little space can be made into an amazing home for a student, a first-time homebuyer, or for a pied-a-terre buyer. Maintenance is only $253.01 plus an ongoing assessment of $125/month.

In addition to all of that awfulness, they don’t even show pictures on the website. So basically, all $150,000 is gonna buy you in Manhattan is a whole lot of shadiness in some basement somewhere. No thank you.

$250,000 @ 457 West 57th St, #508

            Monthly maintenance: $721

Estimated monthly payment: $1,764

Again, location is looking pretty sweet here, right in the Hell’s Kitchen/ Upper West Side area, a short walk from Columbus Circle and Central Park. But what’s that outside the window? A brick wall. And up against the wall? A Murphy bed. Yep, it’s a studio sized 16×10 (not including the kitchen and closet, total square footage is noticeably absent from the listing).

What Can You Buy In New York City for $250,000?

I need to get out of this price range…

What Can You Buy in New York City for $500,000? 

620 listings. Okay, not bad, let’s take a closer look…

$500,000 @ 124 Thompson Street, #19

            Monthly maintenance: $1,070

Estimated monthly payment: $3,157. 

Great location in the heart of SoHo, but as we’ve seen with these prime locales, the apartments generally leave a little something to be desired- in this case we’re talking 1bed, 1 bath, and 522 square feet.

While there are, once again, no pictures to accompany this listing, this 62-word description is worth a thousand.

Opportunity knocks. Back on the market. New price, no offers below asking will be considered. SOLD AS IS. There is no working bathroom or kitchen and the apartment is in WRECK condition, located in the 5th floor of a non-elevator building. Sublet Policy: not in 1st 3 yrs of ownership; then for only 2 yrs out of 5 if approved after application. 

What Can You Buy in New York City for $750,000?

$750,000 @ 245 East 72nd Street #2B

            Monthly maintenance: $1,412

Estimated monthly payment: $4,52 

Good news! For just three quarters of a million dollars you can actually purchase some place remotely livable in NYC! Sure it might only be a one bedroom, but at least you’ll have an updated kitchen and a building with a doorman, elevator, and laundry (that’s A LOT of amenities by New York City standards- hence the major monthly maintenance fees).

What Can You Buy in New York City for $750,000?

Totally doable living space.  Price point?  Not so much.

What Can You Buy in New York City for $1 Million?

Even going up to the million-dollar mark, you can’t seem to get more than a one bedroom in Manhattan (mega millionaires only I guess).

$1,000,000 @ 635 w 42nd, #12F

            Monthly maintenance: $1,1000

Estimated monthly payment: $5,795

While this apartment seems to have a central address, it’s actually located all the way over by the west side highway, which means it’s a bit of a hike to the nearest subway line at 8th avenue (though if you live in a million dollar home, maybe you’re not too concerned about the subway). The building looks beautiful, modern, and full of amenities- including a shuttle to get across town (even they know they’re out of the way). Still only one bedroom though and just 800 square feet, but it does look pretty…

What Can You Buy in New York City for $1 Million?

What Can You Buy in OTHER Cities?

Check out the posts of my fellow bloggers to see how much home you can get for your buck in other cities…





How much home can you buy in YOUR city?


Can I Afford to Live in New York City?

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65 responses to “Real Estate Comparison: What Can You Buy in New York City?

  1. Ha!! I saw some of the other posts, and I was like “I can’t wait to see what Stefanie finds” and you did not disappoint. Seriously, home ownership is not a reality for A LOT of people living in New York. Between the amount you need to actually close, monthly maintenance fees and taxes, it is just not a good investment, or at least it’s not one I would advise. I always say, rent in the city, buy in the burbs.

  2. Very interesting, though not really surprising. I know this may be somewhat of a stupid question…but what exactly is all included in that monthly maintenance cost? The mortgage alone is a killer, but that maintenance charge seems whacky as well. Anyway, I know real estate can be highly relative and is much of the reason why we moved from San Diego as prices were high. We bought our house in Omaha for $125k, though admittedly things are pretty cheap here. But, this again just goes to show you that houses aren’t always a good investment in many circumstances.

    1. The monthly maintenance charges are for all the building amenities- staff salaries (super,doorman, etc.), management fees, heat, water and sewer charges, and any amenities (gym, elevator, flower in the lobby, etc.) What gets me are the buildings with zero amenities and monthly maintenance charges over $500 a month!

      1. Does the maintenance include property taxes Stef? If not, these fees are outrageous! But, we already knew NYC was an outrageous place to live.

        I think I might have to do one for SF. So cheap in comparison! Stay tuned lol

        1. That’s why I rent.

          Co-op maintenance charges include property taxes and insurance in addition to common charges. Condo common charges are separate from real estate taxes, so condo owners have two bills to write every month.

  3. THIS IS RAW SPACE is all caps is kinda scary, haha. Not exactly sure what that means! =) Our house is a 2,000 s.f. 4 bed/2.5 bath home on .33 of an acre and it was $188,500. We spent 12K remodeling it when we bought it though, so we have about 200K in it. The only fees are property taxes (about $1,800 per year) and $360 per year for the neighborhood association and pool/tennis court pass.

  4. LA is REALLY bad but no doubt I think NY is way worse! I just watched a house hunters yesterday where this couple bought a 2-bed 1-bath in a “decent” neighborhood for I think $383k. Doable, especially if you have two incomes. But as a single person on a freelance income, I feel like I’ll be renting forever!

  5. I’ll take the 2nd apt, please.

    Thank you.

    But for real, I live in a $170,000 in my city of Lincoln, Nebraska and it’s considered a pretty darn size single-family home by city standards. $500,000 buys you tennis court, 4-car garage type living.

    1. It’s all about the trade offs I guess. I don’t know if I could handle being so far from the ocean and major cities (other than Omaha). The fact that I can get from NYC to Boston or DC or the country or the ocean or the mountains in a matter of a few hours, pretty much rocks my world.

  6. WOW.. Yeah mostly what I can say is these prices are ridiculous. Now I really know why I prefer my home in the Midwest. 2,500 sq ft 2 story, 4 bed, 2 bath… in a great neighborhood with some of the world best neighbors. All for a grand total of $155k. My 2 car garage is bigger than most of these apartments.

    To each their own, but living here easily paves the way to that first million a lot faster.

    1. Oh yeah, keeping the cost of living low definitely helps build your nest egg WAY faster. I do wonder though how much pay around the country is correlated with cost of living.

  7. Wow that is insane! I live in St. Louis and $250,000 can buy you a brand new 3,000 square foot home on half an acre. You can get a lot more if you go about an hour away too.

  8. Yes it is pretty crazy how out of range home buying is for the average person in NYC. Back in 1980 you could buy a building for 500K in many areas of manhattan. I guess many non-investors didnt have that long term thinking. Find an up and coming area, and buy something in 20 years it will hopefully appreciate.

    1. I’m Ukrainian and I live in the “Ukrainian” village of NYC (in the East Village). My mother and her whole family immigrated and grew up here in the 50s and 60s when it wasn’t a great area. A lot of her contemporaries wound up buying property, now it’s worth a fortune. She always kicks herself for not having gotten in on that opportunity.

  9. Fascinating, Stefanie. I knew it would be interesting but I am always surprised by how little a million buys in NYC. And honestly I am surprised there was even a $150K option, although the one you found sounds a bit scary! Prices are high here too, although I think you tend to get more space for you buck in LA than in New York. There are lots of people who rent here as well because it is so cost prohibitive to own a home.

  10. Wow, thats really interesting and eye opening. I live in Dallas, one of the more expense cities in TX, and to get into a 3 bedroom 1,500ish square feet in the suburbs, starts out at about 200,000. We live in the burbs, and its about 13 miles from downtown, and it takes an hour by train to get downtown.
    If we were to buy within 2 miles of the city core, we could get a 1 bedroom for 150,000, at around 600 sq. feet.

  11. Haha, this is great – Silicon Valley is also pretty rough, but it looks like you can still get something in an up and coming neighborhood for around $6 bills. New York is truly on its own in North America – maybe parts of DC, Vancouver and SF can compete, but this comparison is truly amazing.

    Thanks for sharing! (My master bedroom is much larger than the $250,000 entry…)

  12. I think it goes without saying you definitely get a better deal by renting! A few of those listings are just scary. I’m really surprised Brian was able to get a house on LI for $160k, too. When I left, what you could get there for $500k is about $250k here. It’s a nice change!

  13. Yikes! My boyfriend is from San Antonio too, btw. It’s incredible how cheap the housing is down there. I was able to purchase my house in East Nashville (the Brooklyn of Nashville) for $167K five years ago. It’s a 1,400 sq. ft. ranch house with a detached garage. As Nashville’s gotten more popular, my neighborhood has gotten more expensive. It would be really tough to find a house around here for under $200K. It’s just a few miles from downtown, so it’s gotten desirable pretty quickly.

  14. New York City housing is no joke and ridiculously complicated: coops, income restrictions, and high maintenance fees. It’s difficult to justify purchasing with all of those issues. I totally see why people would prefer to rent given these constraints.

  15. We moved to AZ in 2007, selling our 1100 sq ft condo in LIC for a princely sum (we thought) of $790k . After paying off the loan, brokerage, transfer fees, closing costs, etc., we still had over $400k in our checking account! Not bad for a condo I bought for $329K a couple of years earlier and thought it was a massive rip off but we were desperate and I grabbed it. After all, it did sit behind the Pepsi Sign on the LI side of the river and look across at the UN among other landmarks in Manhattan. And the skyline views were amazing at night, rain, snow, sleet, or burning summer temps. Still amazing. So we bought in Scottsdale AZ. Out in the desert. Beautiful but hot. New house. Foreclosure. The poor bastard had paid $910k for it as a spec/flip, and he could not pass the old maid any further and lost it. I offered the bank $290k and then upped the ante to $340k and got it. Paid less than 100/sq foot. 3700 sq ft, 4br/5ba on an acre of land. The first summer our AC bills ran over $800/mo for three months! Then I replaced both units and it dropped down the next year to under $500/mo for those same three months. SEER ratings are a major deal in AZ! Problem is we are 30 minutes to the nearest freeway, and then another 20 min into central Scottsdale. 45 min to a decent restaurant and further to any real nightlife (what little there is in Phoenix.) In short, we goofed. Hate it here and want to move back to NYC. Our sold condo is back on the market – this time for 1.7 million. And it’s about average for the building. I rather like LIC when it was newly trendy. Now with fine dining, a Trader Joes and a Whole Foods, plus Fresh-direct and two local deli’s/groceries in walking distance, it’s lost some of it’s once bohemian charm. But it’s certainly gained in desirability. After all, one stop on the J train to Grand Central (takes about 6 minutes) is nothing to sneeze at. Our AZ house is now going for somewhere north of $700k. Maybe 800 if I’m lucky. Putting all the money back into a NYC condo (I won’t buy a coop for obvious reasons) it’s going to mean mortgage and maintenance fees of 7000 per month and we cannot afford it. Bye Bye Manhattan (or anyplace close) and maybe hello Riverdale if I’m fortunate enough to find something decent under a million.

    If you’re in the NY market and own RE there that you can possibly hold onto, do not get foolish and sell it. The grass is NOT always greener on the other side of the “it’s a dry heat” kind-a fence! In fact the grass here is brown most of the year except where the AC dumps it’s condensate water and about 100 feet around it… but only for 3 months a year. The rest of the time you’re paying for the water you’’re dumping into the plants/yard/etc. Paying dearly.

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