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Over the past few years, New York City has fared better in this rocky economy than many American cities. A recent report by the Real Estate Board of New York says homes sales are up 6 percent. And NPR's Margot Adler reports that in two boroughs, Brooklyn and Queens, sales are back to pre-recession levels.
MARGOT ADLER, BYLINE: So this house is on the market. It's not - it hasn't been sold yet.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: It hasn't been sold yet.
ADLER: It's completely empty.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Completely empty.
ADLER: It sounds empty, isn't it?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1: Yeah. It sounds empty.
ADLER: We're in Brooklyn Heights, a very desirable neighborhood, in a fairly new four-bedroom house, 3,000 square feet, including a finished basement and a roof terrace. Corcoran real estate agent Leslie Marshall says the price: nearly $3.5 million.
LESLIE MARSHALL: A few years ago, this probably would have been in the high twos maybe.
ADLER: This may not be affordable for most people listening, but it's a sign that Brooklyn is no longer an alternative but a real destination for many New Yorkers. Some of the hottest restaurants are here. There's a new basketball team, waterfront parks, you name it. But it's also a sign that New York City has been doing better than many other parts of the country. The stock market is doing well. New York City tourism just gets bigger and bigger.
MICHAEL SLATTERY: Continued population growth, continued job growth, so I think it shows up in the real estate market as well.
ADLER: That's Michael Slattery, senior vice president of the Real Estate Board of New York, a trade association representing the industry. When asked to be more specific...
SLATTERY: Statistically, Queens and Brooklyn have now - have average sale - home sale prices above where they were in 2007, taking us back to a time when we were in a boom market.
ADLER: The median price for a house or condo in Brooklyn is now $510,000, up 4 percent since last year. In Queens, it's close to $400,000, up 2 percent. It's partly a lack of housing stock that's fueling the higher prices, the lowest inventory in seven years. The credit crunch led to a lack of new housing. Corcoran CEO Pamela Liebman says of the housing shortage.
PAMELA LIEBMAN: When you walk in a store on December 24th, you buy what's ever left on the shelf.
ADLER: It's partly young people who are fueling the New York City market. It's partly a tech boom. And in Manhattan, it's partly foreign investors. It's hard to get real numbers on foreign investment in New York City real estate, but Liebman says she sees investors from South America, the Middle East, China and Russia.
LIEBMAN: Some of the buildings would average about 30 percent to foreigners. Other buildings, which are really ripe as investment properties, can go up to 80 percent to foreign buyers.
ADLER: She points to one of the prime buildings in midtown on 5th Avenue that has about 50 percent foreign investors where two units recently went for $90 million each. Leaving the stratosphere for the merely very well off, I'm taken to a penthouse duplex in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn. It's very modern and industrial-looking with silver ducts that remind me of the film "Brazil": 2.6 million. What struck me was all the amenities most New Yorkers, even those in fabulous apartments don't have. On the terrace, I see a total kitchen as part of the first house. And in the duplex when we go outside - boy, this is - all these terraces have these grills on them now.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I know. This is a new thing.
ADLER: This is something I've never seen.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: And this is hooked up with the gas in the kitchen so you don't have to go buy your propane. You just fire it up when you feel like grilling.
ADLER: Many of us in the city don't have a chance to live like this, but the housing market is booming. And even boroughs with a long history of decline, like the Bronx, are finding sales and prices going up. Margot Adler, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.