But to say that condos are brand new to the East End would be like calling the Fab Four an overnight success after their appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” The fact of the matter is, like the Beatles, Hamptons condos have been around a long time. It just took until now to get their day in the sun.
Most real estate aficionados cite Watchcase Factory on Division Street in Sag Harbor as the pioneering condominium property on the East End. The luxuriously restored former industrial relic that once housed the Bulova Watchcase Factory, which went condo in 2014, was certainly a game changer, but it wasn’t the first by a long stretch.
Condominiums have been part of the Hamptons real estate landscape for decades, says Simon Harrison, Principal Broker at Simon Harrison Real Estate. He should know: he was the go-to agent for condos in the Sag Harbor area for more than fifteen years. Generally priced on the lower end of the market, the individual units in places like Harbor Close on Bridge Street, built in the early 1970s, and at Waterside Condos on Noyac Road at Long Beach, built in 2004, offered an often less expensive alternative to single-family residences decades before this current housing crop was brought to the fore.
“They might not be for everybody, but they were, and still are, another housing choice,” says Mr. Harrison, who adds that while condos have never soared in value – which made them less attractive in years past – they have offered stability and haven’t, typically, faced the price drops that houses might during hard times.
What Watchcase has done, Mr. Harrison adds, is bring a whole new level of attention and attractiveness to condo living here in the Hamptons. And ultimately, the development has ushered in renewed interest to all sorts of housing possibilities here.
“People come to look at the condos and sometimes they also discover adorable little houses and the big new construction that they find compelling instead. It’s a good thing for Sag Harbor in general,” he says.
Montauk and Amagansett have had dozens of available condo options for decades, including the Montauk Shores Condominium Park off Ditch Plains Beach, the Ocean Colony Beach and Tennis Club on Montauk Highway in Amagansett, and perhaps what is the best-known condo antecedent: Montauk Manor.
Built on Edgemere Street in the 1920s by industrialist Carl Fisher, the former 200-room English Tudor hotel resort went condo in 1984. It now houses 140 apartments, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, private health club and spa, tennis courts, recreation areas and even a restaurant.
What makes properties such as these so attractive, says Ed Bruehl, an Associate Broker with Saunders with more than a decade of extensive condo and co-op experience, is the idea of turnkey resort living without the hassles of home ownership.
“Everything is taken care of for you, and you don’t have to pay the gardener and the pool guy separately for turn on/turn off and maintenance,” he says. “Sometimes it just might be easier than owning a house.”
Plus, there’s the location. A preponderance of East End units—from Montauk to Westhampton Beach—are literally right next to the water, he reports.
“Oceanfront, and for a fraction of the cost most of the time. Who doesn’t love that?” he adds.
In Southampton, the Village Latch Inn on Hill Street just sold in February for $23 million to the developers behind Bishops Pond. The entire 5-acre former lodging is rumored to be the next big property to get new blood as a condo project.
There are plenty of others. Practically right next door, also on Hill Street, sits the Whitefield Condominiums, which were originally designed as a summer house by Stanford White of McKim, Mead & White for his friend James Lawrence Breese back in 1898. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places back in 1980, these outlier condos—one of several developments that have thrived in the village for decades—call to mind the exact opposite of the lower-end of the real estate spectrum.
Living in Whitefield definitely has its advantages, says Sotheby’s International Realty agent Bruce Grant, who owns a unit in the prestigious complex. The community pool and tennis is ideal for the summer season and the central location makes it easy to walk into town, he says, adding that the top-shelf maintenance means that one never has to worry about upkeep.
“In the future, I see condos being a hot commodity,” says Mr. Grant. “Especially for a weekend crash pad … and for people down-sizing from major estates.”
Douglas Elliman Associate Broker Enzo Morabito, who has been around long enough to see the market move dramatically away from “cheap hotel room-sized” units – such as the ones that still dot the waterside on Dune Road in Westhampton Beach to a growing number of luxury projects that are altering the East End landscape – also predicts that condos are here to stay.
“The main thing that everybody wants is convenience,” he says, reporting that aging Baby Boomers are really driving the market because they are looking for ease and also want to downsize from the huge mansions they once rattled around in. “Your house gets to be a pain in the ass,” he laughs.
“Once you get to a certain age, your needs change and your concept of home ownership changes too,” he continues. “As long as you have the money, you’re traveling more and you’re looking for your third or fourth place. You want convenience and you want the luxury lifestyle.”
What that means for the East End, says Mr. Morabito, is we anticipate seeing a lot more condo projects out here. He predicts a spate of rehabbed older units due to their existing zoning and density allowances, and a continuing boom in new construction as well. The continuing demand, he says, shows that the old way of thinking about condos has been turned on its head.
“Historically, the thought was that they weren’t wanted. But that is proven to be totally wrong,” says Mr. Morabito. “This is a market that is going to explode.”