Long before their offspring receive Kindergarten acceptance letters, some Manhattan apartment hunters put proximity to a particular school — whether the Blue Man Group’s nearly $32,000-a-year private academy near the South Street Seaport or a desirable public school like P.S. 234 — at the top of their checklists.
Lauren Rosenthal, a broker at Citi Habitats, often works with families that insist on living in popular school zones on the Upper West Side.
Last weekend, she got a panicked call from a parent in the P.S. 87 district, which is bounded roughly by Amsterdam Avenue to the west, 70th street to the south, and 82nd Street to the north.
“Her landlord asked them to move; he was selling the apartment,” Rosenthal said. “She needs an apartment this week, and wanted P.S. 199.”
Desperate to enroll her child in the highly-regarded school on 70th Street near West End Avenue, and faced with a shortage of family-sized apartments in the neighborhood, the client increased her budget to $6,000 a month.
“There’s not a lot of inventory of three-bedrooms,” Rosenthal explained. A handful of new condo developments do cater to buyers with young children, but many are outside coveted school zones. “There are buildings built for families, like the Ariel on Broadway, but I’m not getting any requests for that building,” Rosenthal said.
When family-friendly developments do fall within a popular school zone, demand for apartments often exceeds supply.
Carol Friedman, a broker at Nest Seekers, said there was a wait list for large units at 36 Gramercy Park (pictured above), a condo conversion she was tasked with marketing near the acclaimed elementary school P.S. 40. Prestigious in its own right, the pre-war building offers keys to Gramercy Park, and is known for its gas lanterns and ornate, gothic exterior.
According to Insideschools.org, a website that reviews public schools across the city, “family-size apartments within the P.S. 40 zone cost far more than identical units outside the zone, largely because parents are willing to pay extra to send their children to this high-performing elementary school. Several parents said they moved in order to live in the P.S. 40 zone.”
In Lower Manhattan, some of Friedman’s clients have purchased condos at 101 Warren, a 35-story development perched above the Whole Foods in TriBeCa, and 200 Chambers Street, the Costas Kondylis-designed tower near Hudson River Park, in order to send their kids to P.S. 234, where students consistently score well on standardized tests.
Family-friendly developments with schools on the ground floor, such as the Azure on the Upper East Side and Waterside Plaza, the Kips Bay rental complex that is home to the British International School, have a built-in marketing tool.
“The school seems to be the focal point of where people will live,” Friedman said.
At Citi Habitats, Rosenthal has heard of apartment hunters who get so fixated on a public school that they make drastic compromises when it comes to housing.
“I know [a couple] with two children living in a studio in a P.S. 9 zone,” said Rosenthal, who sent her own children to the well-ranked school on 84th Street near Columbus Avenue, and was active in its Parent Teacher Association.
She’s also heard of families squeezing into rent-stabilized one-bedrooms on the Upper West Side in order to enroll their children in a desirable school. For the most part, Rosenthal manages to convince clients like these to look into zones where their house-hunting criteria can be better met.
“We look at what’s available in their price range,” she said. “They’re often disappointed by the size of the apartment or the light. I say, ‘go to a school zone north of here or on the East Side, you’ll find cheaper or better apartments.’”
One of her clients relocated from Silicon Valley and planned to settle in a three-bedroom on the Upper West Side. When the search turned up fruitless, the family wound up in a school zone on the opposite side of Central Park.
“I have to, by law, have people tell me what school they want to go to,” Rosenthal said. “I send them to insideschools.org or even Robin Aronow, a public schools consultant.”
With school-related websites, books, and consulting firms proliferating in response to Manhattan’s toddler boom (the latest census data puts the borough’s under-five population at six percent), brokers can point clients to a wide range of resources.
As Brokers Weekly reported last year, Eric Grannis, a lawyer and husband of charter school founder Eva Moskowitz, launched the site Schoolfisher.com, which ranks schools and features listings in the neighborhood.
As a general rule, Rosenthal has found that parents can get more space for their money — and good schools to choose from — east of Lexington Avenue.
The neighborhood is home to new condo buildings like the Isis, a 32-unit Alchemy Properties development on 77th Street and Second Avenue that has been selling quickly.
“We’re offering a three-bedroom home for the price of a beautiful two-bedroom at a time when the demand for larger residences is stronger than ever. It’s only a matter of time before the last 11 homes at Isis are snapped up,” said Ken Horn, president of Alchemy Properties.
The building’s remaining three- and four-bedroom apartments range in size from 1,621 s/f to 3,312 s/f, and are priced from $2,570,500 million to $5,966,250.
When it comes to private schools, Rosenthal’s clients rarely get hung up on location. Among a number of independent academies, “the Hill Schools have buses that bring kids to school,” she said, referring to the prestigious Fieldston, Riverdale Country, and Horace Mann schools in Riverdale.
But in recent months, parents have been flocking to West Chelsea to live near Avenues, a new private school on 10th Avenue near 26th Street opening this fall with an annual tuition of $40,000.
Friedman, the Nest Seekers broker, is helping a couple from Connecticut relocate to Manhattan in order to send their children to the academy, which will offer a study-abroad program on campuses around the globe, a bilingual curriculum in either Spanish or Mandarin, and classroom skype sessions with children overseas.
The city’s real estate scene has been something of a culture shock for the couple, who own a spacious single-family home. “It’s challenging,” said Friedman, who has also helped families find apartments in the East 60s, near prestigious public and private schools alike. “They have huge square footage and they’re coming here and looking for a three-bedroom apartment with 2,000 s/f.”
Unlike parents focused on zoned public schools, the couple has some leeway when it comes to location. But they still wanted to live within a convenient distance of Avenues. Friedman helped them narrow their focus to the west side, as far south as TriBeCa and no higher than 26th Street. Midtown West didn’t seem child-friendly enough for the couple, Friedman explained, but they are considering condo buildings a bit east of Avenues, in the Flatiron District.
With the boundaries set, she said, “it’s just about finding the right space.”