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    Growing New Haven's Economy | New Haven News

    Bucking a Trend in New Haven

    (6/23/2010) Bucking a Trend in New Haven

    By LISA PREVOST (New York Times)


    JIM LEVINSOHN and his wife, Kirsten, made their first offer on a house near the Yale University campus here without ever having visited it. This was last year, and they were living temporarily in Cape Town, South Africa. They sized up the spacious colonial via a virtual tour recorded by friends. Their resulting offer was generous enough that they figured a deal was in the offing.

    They were wrong.

    “We were kind of amazed to put an offer in a little bit above asking price and not get it,” said Mr. Levinsohn, a professor of economics who recently left the University of Michigan to become director of the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs at Yale. “In the market I was coming from — Ann Arbor — that was unheard of.”

    The house had been thoroughly updated, and its location a few blocks from downtown, in the leafy East Rock neighborhood, heightened its appeal. Within seven days of coming on the market, it drew three cash offers, none of which had any contingencies, according to Mary Jane Burt, the listing agent, of H. Pearce Real Estate Company. Listed for $890,000, it sold for $945,000.

    Last year was one of the worst of the decade for high-end home sales in surrounding communities. Nevertheless, the market in New Haven’s most expensive neighborhoods — the East Rock/St. Ronan sections north of downtown — has remained remarkably stable. Buyers are putting up with the city’s property tax rate of $42 per $1,000 of assessed value in order to live close to both work and play.

    “When the shoreline market fell off, and the suburban market fell off, our New Haven office kept chugging along,” said Barbara L. Pearce, the president of the Pearce agency, which also operates offices in several shoreline towns. “There’s heavy demand for properties that are expensive.”

    Betsy Grauer, the owner of Betsy Grauer Realty in New Haven, also said she had done well with higher-end New Haven. “Prices have held beautifully,” she said. “There’s still very limited inventory, and that helps keep things consistent."

    From 2005 to 2007, the median sale price for East Rock-area homes priced above $500,000 was $730,000; from 2009 to June 16 of this year, the median was $749,000, according to data compiled by Wojtek Borowski, a Pearce agent.

    Houses priced from $300,000 to $500,000 in the East Rock area have fared less well. The median price in this category has fallen by about 9 percent since 2007, to $376,000.

    East Rock is known for its rich variety of late 19th- and early 20th-century houses, some quite modest in size and others built to impress. Styles run the gamut: brick Georgians, compact Federal-style colonials, grand Victorians, stucco Mediterraneans. Prices top out at about $2 million.

    These areas, within walking or biking distance of the campus and downtown, have long been populated by Yale faculty members and administrators, as well as other professionals. But an additional factor in their favor is the city’s emerging reputation as a cultural center, a lure to empty-nesters and families from outside the Yale community, said David I. Newton, a real estate management consultant who has lived in several different parts of New Haven since 1973.

    “The restaurants, culture, the arts have really become a force drawing people back into town,” Mr. Newton said. “There are signs of confidence all around the city.”

    Since Richard Levin took over as president of Yale in 1993, the university has worked closely with the city to shore up residential neighborhoods and redevelop the once-dying downtown. The university, the city’s largest employer, has also expanded its facilities. The $467 million Smilow Cancer Center, an affiliate of Yale-New Haven Hospital, opened this year. The university is now pursuing approvals for a new School of Management facility on Whitney Avenue.

    Off campus, highly visible redevelopment projects, including the new Gateway Community College campus and a 500-unit green apartment tower, have enhanced the city’s reputation for vibrancy while improving its image for safety.

    Natalie Adsuar, an obstetrician-gynecologist in private practice who has owned a two-bedroom condo in downtown New Haven for four years, describes the city as “safe, vivacious and intellectually stimulating.” She is now looking for a house in East Rock — a plan that won out over the briefly considered idea of moving to the shoreline and commuting to work.

    “New Haven keeps drawing me back,” she said. “It really does have a community feel.” And the arts offerings are so numerous, she added, “I don’t think I’ve been home a single night in two weeks.”

    The Levinsohns felt similarly. They considered suburban options, but liked the idea of being able to walk or bike to work and restaurants. After their offer on the first house fell through, and once they had returned from Cape Town, they found a house they liked even better. They closed in January.

    Their agent, Mr. Borowski, extols the brick colonial’s high-ceilinged interiors and its elegant porte-cochère. Mr. Levinsohn, less schooled in architecture than global economics, goes in for simpler language: “It’s 100 years old, and we’re quite fond of it.”

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