Sixty-five years ago, ground was broken on what would become one of the most significant housing projects in U.S. history -- Levittown. Swept forward by a tsunami of house-hungry G.I.s returning from World War II, the development became famous both as the nation's first suburban housing development and as an affordable ticket to the American dream.
But times are different.
"Things have changed tremendously," says Polly Dwyer, president of the Levittown Historical Society and a resident there for 57 years. "There is a large gap between older and younger residents, fewer children, not as many block parties."
One of the primary changes has been the transformation of the houses. Originally, the homes were only rented. They started being sold two years later with the introduction of a larger ranch house. Initially, the Capes were sold for $7,500 and the ranches for $7,990. Applicants put down $100, which they got back at closing. During the housing boom, some renovated homes were selling for $500,000, Dwyer says.
Most of the 17,447 Capes and ranches built there from 1947 to 1951 have been changed so much that they hardly resemble the original models. Realtors who work in the area estimate that from 85 to 90 percent have undergone some form of renovation, either by increasing the home's original footprint with additions or by expanding them upward with a second or even third floor. "Some of the renovations are spectacular," says Kathleen Bruno, an associate broker with Century 21 American Homes. "They're like little McMansions."
Much of this work was done in recent years before the housing bubble that burst in 2007, explains James Himonidis, an associate broker with RE/MAX Central Properties. Although the market has struggled in recent years, sales are picking up now, with renovated homes leading the way and commanding higher prices, he says.
"With your normal expanded ranch or Cape, you're looking at a price range in the mid- $300,000s," he says. "If they really blow them out, you're getting up into the $400,000 range."
That's appealing in today's market, says Tom Nails, an agent with Century 21 American Homes.
"Mortgages are less expensive right now, so if you can get something already fixed up, it's less expensive than paying a contractor to come in and change things later," he says.
Here are three renovated Levittown homes:
38 SPARROW LANE, $349,900
LISTING AGENT. James Himonidis, RE/MAX Central Properties, 516-567-9275
When Tom Della Ratta and Marianne Orobello paid $23,500 for their home 43 years ago, it was a single-story ranch with an unfinished attic.
"It was small, but it was fine at the time," says Orobello, 65, an administrative assistant in the school of business at SUNY Old Westbury whose husband, 62, works in security and information operations at LIU Post. "We had a son who was 21/2 back then, but a few years later there was another baby on the way, and we had to build the dormer."
The couple had three children in all. To make room, they added three bedrooms and a bathroom in the dormer, expanded the downstairs living area and added a garage. The home is now classified as a Colonial, with an eat-in kitchen, formal dining room, fireplace and a rear patio with an overhang.
That's not an unusual progression, Orobello says.
"Pretty much everyone on this block has done something to their home. They've built up or out. It's a beautiful neighborhood, and people keep their houses nice."
110 STONECUTTER RD., $359,999
LISTING AGENT. Kathleen Bruno, Century 21 American Homes, 516-698-1761
Sharon Ozturk, a 37-year-old marketing coordinator, knows about Levittown homes. She grew up in the one she is selling. Her mother has lived there 37 years -- and still does -- and paid $32,000 for the property.
"I never wished I lived anywhere else," Ozturk says. "I knew everyone on the block. Nobody moved, so we always had the same people. It was stable. It was safe. We never had any major issues. My brother would play hockey in the street, and I would ride my bike. We were comfortable in that neighborhood."
Originally a ranch with a living room and two bedrooms downstairs, the home was renovated five years ago to update it, Ozturk says. It now has five bedrooms, two baths, an eat-in kitchen, formal dining room, a fireplace, skylight and a small garage.
35 TANAGER LANE, $434,999
LISTING AGENT. Thomas Nails, Century 21 American Homes, 516-770-1091
Andrew and Lisa Nocera actually lived in a Levittown ranch in Westbury before they decided to move 21/2 years ago. There was nothing wrong with the home they were leaving.
"It was just too small, and there wasn't enough closet space," says Andrew, 46, who is in security. Lisa, 39, is a homemaker.
The ranch they chose in Levittown fit their needs since it already had been expanded with a double dormer. The couple added new Sheetrock, paint, carpeting and removed the central fireplace to open up the dining room. "We just did cosmetics, primarily," he says.
The home has five bedrooms and two baths, an eat-in kitchen, formal dining room with vaulted ceilings and a home office. Still, they spend almost all their time downstairs, says Lisa.
"Our neighborhood is one of the nicest I've ever seen," says Lisa. "We have a block party every year. Everybody looks out for everybody else. In fact, when we first moved in, we had eight neighbors come over to welcome us. One of them even brought brownies."
THE ORIGINAL HOMES
Although Levittown homes sometimes have been criticized for their cookie-cutter uniformity, everyone conceded they were well made. For example, inspectors made sure every board had at least four nails in it, says real estate agent Polly Dwyer. "If an inspector found a board with only two in it, they made the workmen go back to the house and find it," she says. "And they wouldn't tell them where it was."
People who visit the Levittown History Museum, located in the Levittown Memorial Education Center at 150 Abbey Lane, often ask if there are any original Levittown homes left, Dwyer says. Fortunately, she can point them to two close by.
"They usually want to take a picture so they can see the changes," she says.
"They're great little starter homes," says Marie Asher, an associate broker with Stephen Joseph Properties, who is selling a home at 225 Center Lane. "Sometimes, people start making a little more money and they think about moving to a bigger house. Then, they look around Levittown and see all the renovated homes, and they end up expanding their own. People love it here."
Here are three Levittown Capes that are close to the way they were built:
22 Flamingo Rd. This is a four-bedroom, one-bath ranch built in 1948. It has an eat-in kitchen, living room, dining room and a fireplace. It is listed at $229,000, with taxes of $8,874. Listing Agent. Amparo Amaya, Century 21 American Homes, 516-476-0360.
88 Hickory Lane. This three-bedroom, one-bath Cape at was built in 1948. It is listed at $299,990 with taxes of $9,318. The home has a large master bedroom, an eat-in kitchen, a formal dining room, living room, home office and a covered patio. Listing agent. Ralph Polumbo, Polumbo Realty Group Inc., 516-605-0991.
225 Center Lane. This is a three-bedroom, 1½-bath Cape was also built in 1948. It has an eat-in kitchen and a formal dining room. It is priced at $269,990, with taxes of $9,926. Listing agent. Marie Asher, Stephen Joseph Properties, 516-353-2177.