Hawking the Low End

Houses on the low end of the market, like this one in Southampton offered for $289,000, can be found but usually need a lot of work.

      I was at a dinner party Friday night with several bigwig real estate brokers in attendance, which is a good thing, as I’ve just started writing the weekly real estate column you now find yourself reading. Last week I featured the most expensive property on the market in the Hamptons, Courtney Sale Ross’s $75 million estate in East Hampton.

     So, this week, I told the gathering, I’m focusing on the least expensive Hamptons houses. There was a lull in the conversation and I noted that not one of the agents, a breed prone to thrusting their cards at unsuspecting prospects, had reached into his pocket. None of these seasoned pros really wanted to help find the least expensive properties in the Hamptons, and who could blame them?

     Then, one of the non-brokers took me aside and told me about his nephew, Sam Friedfeld, who is 23 and specializes in the low end of the market. It turned out to be not exactly true. Mr. Friedfeld’s expertise in houses under $500,000 is a default position. No one else wants them.

     “Just today,” Mr. Friedfeld told me Sunday, “a customer called my office looking for a property under a million.” The agent on call couldn’t be bothered and gave the client to Mr. Friedfeld. “Even people looking under $2 million can’t get a date with an experienced broker,” said Mr. Friedfeld, who has been in the business only four months. He works out of the Douglas Elliman office in Southampton. “That’s okay with me,” he said, stressing that he is happy to deal with what he calls “neglected customers.”

    So Mr. Friedfeld went to work to dig the bottom of the barrel for the least expensive properties between Southampton Village in the west and Springs in the east. He found 21 listings under $250,000, but they were all condos. (Apparently, none were the condos at the Watchcase Factory in Sag Harbor where a one-bedroom starts at just under $1 million.) There were two houses under $300,000, one for $290,000 (listed by John Brady of Nest Seekers) on Fort Pond Boulevard in Springs, the other for $289,000 (listed by John Gurwicz of Beau Hulse Realty Group) on Fords Lane, off North MageeStreet in Southampton. Both are ranches with three bedrooms, two baths, full basements, oil heat, and are on roughly quarter-acre lots. The main difference appears to be in square footage, with the one in Springs nearly double the size (1,500 square feet) of the Southampton house (894 square feet). There are also a few houses in the low 300s.  

    “None of these homes appear to be in ‘good’ condition,” Mr. Friedfeld wrote in an e-mail, an understatement to be sure. “But they could definitely become ‘Hamptons’ homes with some work.” Mr. Friedfeld is definitely on track to becoming the next big agent.

    The East Hampton house is actually kind of cute, with multiple roof gables (odd on a ranch, but undoubtedly meant to give it a cottage-y, storybook feel, which it sort of has). The rooms are light and the lot is woodsy. I would be rushing to place a bid on it, but just discovered that it’s in contract. The Southampton house is, well, small. But it is on a quiet, dead-end street.

    Location, as they say, is everything in real estate, maybe no more so than in the Hamptons. Naturally, anything south of the highway automatically is priced to reflect the exclusivity of the concept. “You can take the same house and move it a couple of hundred meters above, and it’s twice the price,” said Mr. Friedfeld. Ditto for houses in the villages. Because of the limited supply of houses in East Hampton Village, “there are small ones that would be $300,000 or $400,000 on the rest of the Island, that are a million here.”

    What allows a house in the Hamptons to go for a price reminiscent of Levittown is mostly an undesirable location: on or near a main road, in a flight path, near power lines, or next to something ugly, or as Mr. Friedfeld says, “visually unappealing.”

    Not wanting to rely on only one source, I also called the office of Simon Harrison real estate in Sag Harbor because I suspected that a broker with an eponymous firm might be more willing to talk about cheap housing than one attached to a snooty agency.

    “I think we have the last surf shack,” Mr. Harrison told me. It’s a ranch within walking distance of Long Beach, with a “daylight basement” in which you can store fishing rods, bikes, and, of course, surfboards “without tracking sand through the house.” That entitles it to a price tag of $460,000, which according to the broker is “considered cheap.” What condition is it in? “You can move in in two weeks; it just needs a little paint,” he said. Then, why, I wanted to know, is it priced so low? The answer was electric heat, a fix that Mr. Harrison estimated would cost around $7,000.

    “I think it’s safe to say that the parting line is $500,000,” Mr. Harrison continued. “Any house that you buy under that price needs that much money to bring it up to ‘see level.’ ” By which he means, if you buy a house for $425,000 you’ll need to spend $75,000 to bring it up to par. His best-valued property, however, is a house near the village of Sag Harbor on two acres near a pond. At $799,000 it doesn’t seem like such a bargain. But when he explains that he has a half-acre of land for sale at $585,000 it begins to compute. Even though the house on the two-acre lot is by no means a teardown, according to Mr. Harrison it becomes “irrelevant” when dealing with a lot of this size.