Yes, You Can Afford to Live in NYC: How to Buy a House in the Bronx
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For Bronx residents, the glitter of Manhattan is less than 30 minutes away at a fraction of the price. The Bronx offers some of the most affordable neighborhoods in New York City’s five boroughs, and a large variety of housing choices. In fact, a single-family home in the Bronx may sell for $200,000 to $300,000 less than a comparable dwelling in Brooklyn or Queens.
About 1.4 million people call the Bronx home, and it’s one of the most diverse areas in the country, with more than one-third of its residents born in other countries. Businesses and cultural events honoring the heritages of those living in the Bronx abound. That means lots of street fairs and parades, and celebrations like Bronx Puerto Rican Day and the Bronx Native American Festival.
It’s also a commuter’s dream. Real estate agent and Bronx native Bryan Dale notes that the borough is centrally located. “If you’re someone with a job where you may have to be in Westchester County, New Jersey, or Long Island, you’re pretty much centered in the Bronx,” he says. “For commuting, I think it’s probably one of the best places.”
We’ve spoken to real estate experts and pored through pages of research to put together this homebuyer’s guide to help you buy a house in the Bronx. If all you knew about the borough beforehand is that New York is a helluva town, and the Bronx is up and the Battery’s down, we’re here to teach you about the latest in housing trends, transportation, and the abundance of recreational opportunities available.
Your budget in the Bronx
When you buy a house in the Bronx, public transportation is key, and neighborhood desirability and home prices depend on proximity to mass transit.
Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily need a car in New York City. Depending on the Bronx locale, a trip into Manhattan takes between 22 and 30 minutes via subway. The NYC Ferry (with fares the same price as a subway ride — just $2.75!) carries workers back and forth from Wall Street and other locations in 30 to 40 minutes.
Many residents rely on public transportation, as well as taxis or ride-share services. Without paying for a car and the necessary insurance — and New York is a no-fault state, making car insurance rates higher — you might not need as large of an annual budget. On the plus side, if you do have a car, it’s easier to find parking spaces in the Bronx compared to Manhattan and other boroughs.
Bronx properties run the gamut, from apartments to condos to single-family homes — and even mansions. Compared to the nearby Westchester, Long Island, or New Jersey suburbs, Bronx property taxes are relatively low. As of February 2021, the median property tax in the Bronx is $3,752 annually for a house worth the median value of $382,900. The average effective property tax rate is 0.98%, which is lower than the statewide average of 1.69%.
Keep in mind that you will need an attorney for the closing, so add that cost to your budget. “Navigating the contract process in New York is more complex than in most other states, so 99.9% of buyers and sellers use an attorney,” Dale says.
Tips for buying a house in the Bronx
The seasonal pattern for home sales in the Bronx tends to follow the school cycle. The highest amount of inventory generally available in May and June, and continuing into the summer. Dale advises his clients to start looking in March and April and catch some of that early inventory without having to contend with too much competition.
And once you find the house you want to buy in the Bronx, concessions are often part of the conversation. First-time home buyers may have enough money for a down payment, but not enough to pay their closing costs and have money left over. In the Bronx, it is common for the seller to pay the buyer’s closing costs in exchange for a higher purchase price, says Dale. A concession on the seller side might involve a post-closing occupancy, in which the seller continues to live in the house for a specified period after the closing and pays rent until they are able to move to their new home.
Know the housing stock in the Bronx
Multi-family homes have traditionally driven the market in the Bronx. Many homebuyers opted to purchase a two-family house and rent out half of the property to tenants. In 2020, the pandemic changed that trend, with more people who buy a house in the Bronx wanting their own single-family home. Dale says one factor contributing to this shift is an increasing number of tenants unable to pay their rent due to the pandemic. Additionally, more people are working from home now and want extra space for a home office.
Single-family homes consist primarily of attached brick dwellings or detached frame construction, often with vinyl or aluminum siding. As noted, the median single-family home price is nearly $400,000, but there are smaller dwellings available in the $300,000 range.
While new construction is booming in the Bronx, much of the housing stock dates back to the 1920s,’30s, and ’40s.
Get the lay of the land in the Bronx
The Piano District
Four decades ago, movies like Fort Apache, the Bronx, portrayed the South Bronx as dangerous and decaying. Today, it’s been dubbed the Piano District and features luxury condos along the Harlem River, overlooking Manhattan. Most of the area is zoned for mid-rise and high-rise buildings, making it very attractive to developers. It is so close to public transit that an express train can get you to midtown Manhattan in 20 minutes.
In the shadow of fabled Yankee Stadium, Concourse is another affordable area close to public transit. “The area is zoned for large buildings, and developers are buying several houses on a block, offering the owners far more than the properties are worth because once they buy the whole block they can put up something very large,” Dale says. Both affordable and high-end developments are under construction.
If you want the feel of a village within the big city, Morris Park may fill the bill. The population density of Morris Park is roughly half that of the Bronx as a whole, at 18,400 per square mile vs. 32,500. Long an Italian-American stronghold, the demographics are changing, but great pizzerias and Italian restaurants — such as Emilio’s of Morris Park — remain. The area is among the safest in all of New York City. While all sorts of housing choices are available, from single-family homes to multi-family units, Morris Park features a low skyscape.
Long one of the most exclusive areas of New York City and its northernmost point, Riverdale is more reminiscent of upscale Westchester County suburban towns than an urban environment. Most of Fieldston, its estate area, is part of a historic district. Many of the multi-million dollar homes — constructed during the First World War and the 1920s, and designed by top architects — are examples of popular “revival styles,” including Colonial, Tudor, Norman, Medieval, and Mediterranean.
Much of City Island looks like a New England fishing village. It’s full of seafood restaurants, such as the famed City Island Lobster House, and patrons can gaze out upon the Long Island Sound. Dale says the island is currently transitioning from single-family homes to condos. Many of these condos are advertised as having “resort-style amenities,” and docking for boats is a possibility. Some of the marinas have sold to developers and condos should boom on the sites in the coming years. Because it is an island, commuting can take longer than living on the mainland.
Steve Mirsky, former Scientific American columnist and a lifelong Bronx resident, says his Pelham Gardens neighborhood, full of row houses, is great for families and quite diverse. Just a few blocks away on Astor Avenue are unattached estate-type homes selling for $1 million and up. This neighborhood, already well-served by public transportation, has a Metro-North station under construction. Grand Central Station is a quick 20-minute train ride.
Green space in the Bronx
Although you’re in the midst of one of the world’s great cities, escaping to a more natural world is easy. The Bronx boasts some of New York City’s biggest and ecologically diverse parks. The eponymous 718-acre Bronx Park is home to the Bronx Zoo and the world-class New York Botanical Garden.
The 1,146-acre Van Cortlandt Park is New York City’s third-largest park. It features all sorts of recreational opportunities, including basketball courts, athletics fields, and playgrounds, along with hiking trails and a freshwater lake for fishing.
Pelham Bay Park, the largest park in New York City at nearly 2,800 acres (more than three times the size of Manhattan’s Central Park), includes walking trails and a large stable where riders can hack along the bridle paths. There’s also a golf course and a beach along the Long Island Sound.
Buyers beware: Common problems in Bronx homes
Your home inspection should cover the bases on major issues, but there are some additional concerns houses in the Bronx are known for. Abe Kurek, owner of Abe the Inspector, says when you buy an older house in the Bronx, it may come with a variety of environmental issues, such as leaking oil tanks, radon, mold, asbestos, termites, and, in houses constructed before 1978, lead paint.
Additionally, he warns: “Many single-family Bronx homes have flat roofs, which means they may hold water and snow and leak unless well-maintained.” Since parts of the Bronx are no-drone zones, inspectors must have the right technology to inspect such roofs.
Kurek also recommends the use of infrared technology to “see” inside walls for structural issues that may cause drafts or leaks. A thorough inspection of a 2,500-square-foot home should take at least three hours, he says.
If you want to buy a house in the Bronx, Dale cautions that there are instances when properties have violations from the New York City Department of Buildings. If the buyer has locked in an interest rate and doesn’t want to prolong the closing, rather than have the seller fix the violation they may receive a credit from the seller. The buyer also may opt to have money held in escrow so the seller can remedy the problems after the closing.
If the homeowner made a modification to the home without filing the proper permits and someone reports it to the city, the city could get involved in the inspection process. While a city inspection is not a normal part of the inspection process, Dale says it is something that can come up, especially with older properties.
If a city inspector finds the modification has been done incorrectly, a violation is issued and the owner now has to remove whatever was done. The solution generally depends on the extent of what was done improperly. For instance, it is one thing if someone added an entire story without permits — and that happens — but if they put in a deck with no permit it takes just a day to disassemble. The seller will either have to remedy it or give the buyer a credit.
Find a top buyer’s agent in the Bronx
Working with a buyer’s agent will help you navigate the rapidly changing housing landscape of the Bronx with ease. Top agents in the Bronx average 1.8 times the number of transactions as average agents in the borough, and can help buyers save $67,713 — that’s a lot of ferry rides! Connect with an agent today to buy a house in the Bronx, and learn firsthand all this amazing city has to offer.
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