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9 Things to Know Before Buying City Waterfront Property

By Amy Zimmer | August 6, 2014 7:32am | Updated on August 8, 2014 10:33pm
 Experts share tips on what to look for if you want to live on New York City's waterfront.
Waterfront properties
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MANHATTAN — If you've been fantasizing about living in one of the thousands of new apartments expected to rise along New York City's waterfront in the coming years, there's a lot to think about before taking the plunge.

Whether it's an existing property or one of the new units slated to be built at Hudson Yards, the South Street Seaport, Williamsburg's Domino Sugar site or Long Island City's Hunters Point South, Hurricane Sandy showed that waterfront properties can be vulnerable to flooding.

Yet, for many house-hunters, the promise of great views trumps those fears — and people are willing to shell out high prices for that luxury.

"Surprisingly, most people don't bring [Sandy] up," said Highlyann Krasnow, of MNS, which markets such high-profile waterfront projects as One Brooklyn Bridge Park in Brooklyn Heights and Williamsburg's Edge and Northside Piers. "There's just this attraction to the waterfront and the views."

Whether it's being ready for the next storm, or just getting the best view for your money, here's what to know if you're looking to live on the waterfront:

1. Be ready to pay a premium.

It costs more to live on the water.

In the Edge, apartments with East River views are selling for $1,400 to $1,500 a foot, while others in the building are going for roughly $1,100 to $1,200, Krasnow said.

"One of the huge selling points of the Edge is that the amenities are on the waterfront, so even if you're not getting a water view in the unit, you can sit out on the pool all summer staring at the world's best view," she said. "That's been a big draw."

Apartments in waterfront buildings in Williamsburg, Greenpoint and Long Island City — the neighborhoods where Bond New York's David Kazemi specializes — tend to cost nearly 10 percent more than "normal" buildings, he said, especially since many tend to be laden with luxe amenities.

"The buildings are incredible," he said, "but with incredible comes incredible prices."

In Williamsburg, there might also be a stigma against living in a fancy new building, Kazemi added.

"Most of the 'locals' — this terms means nothing in that area now — may have a disdain for your tower lifestyle," he said.

2. Ask about future development that could potentially block your views.

You may have a great view of the waterfront now, but there could be another building planned — even years from now — that could rise in front of your window and ruin it.

"That's definitely a major issue with waterfront development," Krasnow said. "When we were selling the Edge, we knew there was going to be another tower being built [in front of it], so we were very upfront about that."

The "Edge Two" — a 40-story tower with 595 units near North Sixth and Kent streets — is expected to break ground shortly, blocking some of the waterfront views of existing Edge residents, Krasnow said.

These are a few new waterfront residential buildings approved by the Department of Buildings between Jan. 1 and June 31, 2014 between the Columbia Street Waterfront District and Long Island City.

3. Find out if the building is in high-flood zone.

New York City has six hurricane evacuation zones. Residents in Zone 1 — which is considered the most likely to flood — may be ordered to evacuate in the case of a hurricane or tropical storm.

If you're looking at buildings in a flood zone, make sure they're equipped and prepared to manage flooding, advised Nataly Rothschild and Julie Zelman, of the Rothschild Team at the luxury real estate firm Engel & Völkers NYC.

Look into the history of the building to see if there was any damage or evacuations during previous flooding or hurricanes, they suggested.

"A lot of it is about being prepared. It's just good to know if you're in a building that knows what they're doing," Rothschild said.

"It doesn't really prevent people from buying," Zelman added, though one of her clients was turned off when she heard what residents had to say out of a particular Seaport building in the months after Sandy.

4. Find out how the building plans to face the next storm.

In many new buildings, storm mitigation techniques are key. That includes new waterfront properties in Williamsburg like the "Edge Two" and Northside Pier's 40-story rental with 509 units at 1 North Fourth Place, Krasnow said.

Krasnow said the mechanical rooms at those buildings are being built above ground level — rather than in the basements as was the typical practice. Many properties like 1 North Fourth, will use cogeneration facilities to create their own power and be able to run off the grid if there's a blackout.

"We're making sure we can have elevators running and power running in case something happens," Krasnow said.

5. Make sure you understand how far you are from public transit.

Waterfront buildings are sometimes fairly far from subways, brokers noted, but the East River Ferry (which has a stop steps away from the Edge) has helped several neighborhoods, and the Second Avenue subway and 7 train extension will help others that are isolated from the city's main lines. 

"Right now, people buying on the waterfront, specifically the Hudson Yards area, may have to think about living a few years without the convenience of access to public transportation," Zelman said. "But eventually, it will be much better."

6. A higher floor isn't necessarily better.

Many house hunters looking at new developments and buying off of floor-plans opt for higher floors for views, but lower floors can feel more like the "waterfront," Zelman said.

From a lower perch, you might have better views of boats gliding by, she said, as opposed to views of New Jersey (on the West Side of Manhattan) or Queens (on the East Side).

7. Learn about the building's financials.

Making sure the buildings have sound financials is good advice for any purchase, but Kazemi cautioned that it's especially critical in waterfront towers since they are usually full-service buildings packed with high-end amenities.

"You should make sure the building financials are in order and that you will not get hit with some large assessments or a huge increase in carrying costs," he said.

8. Summers may be phenomenal, but find out about winters.

Those cool waterfront breezes in the summer could turn into frigid breezes in the winter, Kazemi said.

"Sometimes," he said, " when you leave your apartment, there are unusually strong winds which make it even colder."

9. Check for nearby helicopter pads.

Since most heliports are located on waterfront piers, some buildings along the water's edge may have to worry about the constant drone of takeoff and landings. If helicopters are buzzing near your building, be prepared for a lot of noise, Rothschild noted.

"It kind of defeats the purpose of a quiet, serene and calming waterfront property," Rothschild said.

Experts suggest checking with your broker about the locations and hours of operation of any nearby heliports, as well as checking for proximity to any flight paths.