QUEENS — Mike Kung decided to buy a three-bedroom apartment when his wife became pregnant last year.
At the time, the couple was renting a two-bedroom home on the Lower East Side.
With Manhattan co-op prices being too high for their budget — the median sales price is $2.65 million for a three-bedroom, according to a recent report — Kung, 35, said Queens seemed to be a better option.
“We fell in love with the Forest Hills and Rego Park area,” Kung said, with its easy access to subways, good schools and low crime rates providing the main attraction.
The Kungs are among a growing number of young families looking for large co-ops in central Queens because they can't afford to buy an apartment in Manhattan and Brooklyn, where prices “are substantially higher," said Jacques Ambron of Madeleine Realty.
“Queens is really the only alternative,” he said. “Then you have Staten Island and the Bronx, which for most people is less of an option.”
The area also offers a "more family-oriented, more stable environment” than “trendy Brooklyn” or Manhattan, Ambron said.
But three-bedroom apartments in the area are extremely rare, experts say, as many co-ops and condos feature only one- and two-bedroom units.
The demand is so great that the developers of a new luxury condo that is currently being built in Forest Hills decided to modify their original plans, delaying the construction by several months to include about half a dozen three-bedroom units, the developers said.
As of last Friday, there were only seven available three-bedroom apartments on the market in Forest Hills, ranging in price from $450,000 to $1,200,000, according to Deborah Berman, a real estate agent from Exit Kingdom Realty who cited data from a real estate listing service.
There are only three such apartments in Rego Park at the moment, ranging in price from $369,000 to $628,000, Berman said.
The prices, experts say, have been increasing and are approximately 10 to 15 percent higher than they were a year-and-a-half ago.
Apartments that are in the lower price range are snatched up almost instantly and often sell for the list price.
"Sometimes they are gone in hours," Berman said.
Kung, who works for a manufacturing firm, said they were very lucky. Soon after the family started their search, a three-bedroom duplex became available in Rego Park, near Queens Boulevard and 99th Street.
They had seen several other apartments in the area, but the duplex seemed most functional, Kung said.
After the sellers said they had another buyer, the Kungs offered to pay the full price — a little more than $300,000.
“We closed in August last year,” about a month before their baby was born, Kung said.
According to Vincent Koo of Exit Kingdom Realty, from January this year 28 three-bedroom apartments have been listed in Forest Hills. The average selling price for such apartments is currently $605,000.
For comparison, in the same period of time, 202 two-bedroom have been listed in the area with the average selling price of $390,578.
Three-bedroom apartments are still more affordable than homes in the area which, experts say, may be equally scarce and range from $630,000 to $2.5 million in Forest Hills and from $660,000 to $1.15 million in Rego Park, Berman said.
Experts say that some families who hunt for three-bedroom units in the area but can't find anything that fits their needs, decide to buy two smaller apartments and convert them into a single three-bedroom unit.
Others take a different approach — they convert a large two-bedroom apartment into a three-bedroom unit, Ambron said.
“If there is an L-shaped living room, that can sometimes be closed off to create another bedroom,” he said. “People who have kids sometimes sacrifice the dining area and convert it into the bedroom.”
Some prospective buyers often decide to rent first and wait until something comes up on the market, experts said.
One family, with a budget of $500,000, saw only two places that were within their price range. But the units would require a lot of remodeling and the family was not interested in buying them, Berman said.
“The rest is above their budget and there is nothing else for me to show them at this moment,” she said. "So now they just wait."