Some of the most alluring things about Long Island belong to the public -- sought-after schools, excellent libraries, fascinating museums, beautiful parks and exceptional beaches. This lifestyle, of course, comes at a price: These public perks must be paid for, at least in part, with taxes.
Property taxes are a big part of the affordability puzzle for Long Island home buyers, says Anthony Atkinson, president of the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island and broker and owner of Weichert Realtors. "Most buyers, especially first-time buyers, are looking for areas where there are relatively lower taxes so they can actually carry their mortgage confidently," Atkinson says. By the same token, "the taxes are important in terms of looking to resell," he adds.
Home buyers who want to strike the right balance between affordable taxes and desirable public amenities should look not only at the tax bill but at where those public funds are spent, Atkinson says. "Look at the lifestyle of the community, and the additional value and all the benefits that come along with the taxes," he says. That can mean different things to different people. For instance, parents of students may place a premium on a high-scoring school district, while retirees might care more about having access to beaches and golf courses.
When determining how much of your overall budget should go toward taxes, "you look for that sweet spot between what you can afford and what you want, and hopefully you'll find what you need," says Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University.
So Newsday set out to find the sweet spots -- those neighborhoods where homes for sale have low tax bills compared to those in neighboring communities but where residents still enjoy some of the best public amenities Long Island has to offer.
In a snapshot of the market taken in the fourth quarter of 2013, we compared the tax bills of homes on the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island that were listed at or close to Long Island's median sales price of $372,000. Seven regions were considered: Nassau North Shore, Nassau South Shore, Nassau mid-Island, Suffolk North Shore, Suffolk South Shore, Suffolk mid-Island and East End.
Find out the public perks and potential trade-offs of buying in seven communities where homes at about Long Island's median price had below-average taxes for their regions.
SUFFOLK South Shore
Out of 44 communities on Suffolk's South Shore, including Fire Island, 25 had homes listed at or close to Long Island's median price of $372,000. Of the 109 homes in that price range, six of those, or 5.5 percent, were in Sayville. The average tax bill for homes in that price range was $9,985 in Sayville, compared to $10,375 for the region.
Residents attend the Sayville school district, where 66 percent of graduates earned a Regents diploma with Advanced Designation in 2012, compared to 37 percent for New York State, and 65 percent planned to go on to a four-year college, compared to 47 percent statewide in 2012.
The Town of Islip and Suffolk County offer a number of public recreational amenities in Sayville and nearby West Sayville, including public beaches, parks and a golf course.
Sayville residents have easy access to Suffolk County's Long Island Maritime Museum in West Sayville, a year-round attraction offering permanent displays and featured exhibits as well as seasonal festivities. "They have a seafood festival every summer there," says Mary Olsen of Century 21 Bay's Edge Realty Inc.
Sayville is inconvenient for commuters -- morning peak train rides to Penn Station on the Long Island Rail Road can take up to 92 minutes, often with transfers at Babylon, Jamaica or both.
Out of 27 communities in Suffolk County's mid-Island, 24 had homes listed at or close to Long Island's median price of $372,000. Of the 98 homes in the median range, 11 were in Holbrook, or 11 percent. The average tax bill for homes in the median price range was $8,477 in Holbrook, compared to $9,891 for the region.
"The school district is excellent," says Donna Worsell of Coldwell Banker Shaefer & Tafuro. In 2012, 58 percent of Sachem Central School District graduates earned a Regents diploma with Advanced Designation, compared to 37 percent of New York State graduates, and 48 percent planned to attend four-year college compared to 47 percent statewide.
The Town of Islip's Holbrook Country Club has a public 18-hole golf course, 16-stall driving range and 3,500-square-foot practice putting green with regulation golf holes. There also is a playground, athletic fields, sports courts and catering hall.
Sachem Public Library offers indoor entertainment and enrichment for kids, teens and adults, including concerts, scrapbooking, yoga, chess instruction and open mic nights. When the weather is nice, the library's Inside/Out garden is a perfect setting for strolling, reading and taking photos.
Although there is quick access to the Long Island Expressway, Sunrise Highway and the Ronkonkoma Long Island Rail Road station, peak morning train rides from Holbrook to midtown Manhattan can take up to an hour and 25 minutes.
Out of Nassau mid-Island's 34 communities, 22 had homes listed at or close to Long Island's median price of $372,000. Of the 118 homes in the median range, 13 were in Hicksville, or 11 percent. The average tax bill for homes in that price range was $7,693 for Hicksville, compared to $9,380 for the region.
Public transportation is a major draw to Hicksville. Most morning peak train rides on the Long Island Rail Road take between 39 minutes and 48 minutes to Penn Station. "It's one of the poster children for transit-oriented development," says Hofstra's Lawrence Levy. "It allows people who live there to commute on one of the best suburban train lines anywhere." He lauds the community's new ethnic restaurants and businesses. "It is definitely a place on the upswing," he says.
Hicksville is home to the 127-acre Cantiague Park, a Nassau County facility that boasts an indoor ice rink fit for the nation's top skaters: Olympic gold medalist Nancy Kerrigan has performed there, and the New York Islanders practiced there for more than a decade. Hicksville residents get free admission to The Hicksville Gregory Museum, which offers hands-on activities, educational programs and science exhibits.
In 2012, 42 percent of graduates earned Regents diplomas with Advanced Designation compared to 37 percent of graduates statewide. Some 53 percent planned to go on to a four-year college, compared to 47 percent for the state.
The commercial property in Hicksville eases the residential tax burden, but it also leads to congestion and traffic.
In the East End's 33 communities (including 18 in the Hamptons and 15 on the North Fork), 10 had homes listed at or close to Long Island's median price of $372,000. Of the 26 homes in the median range, five were in Flanders, or about 19 percent. The average tax bill for homes in that price range was $5,294 in Flanders, compared to $5,555 for the region.
"There's a lot of nature, hiking trails and such in Flanders," says Aaron Sacks of Town & Country Real Estate. There's the 1,815-acre Hubbard County Park, where visitors can enjoy sights such as woodlands, prairie grass and salt marsh and pursuits such as canoeing, kayaking, hunting and freshwater fishing.
"It's an easy drive to get to Riverhead," says Sacks. "That's where all of us out here do all our shopping." County officials say $3 million has been spent to revitalize downtown Riverhead in recent years. "As downtown Riverhead continues its comeback, Flanders will benefit and become a more appealing place to live," Hofstra's Lawrence Levy says.
Flanders is a hamlet in the Town of Southampton, which operates several major East End beaches. "You're getting some of the best beaches on Long Island in Southampton, and you get access to all of them," says Sacks.
Flanders residents attend the Riverhead School District. Some 41 percent of graduates earned a Regents diploma with Advanced Designation, compared to 37 percent for New York State. Some 32 percent planned to go on to a four-year college, compared to 47 percent statewide.
Buyers in the Flanders price range may suffer from Hamptons envy.
NASSAU North Shore
If you want to live near Long Island Sound on a $372,000 budget, your options are few: Out of 47 communities on Nassau's North Shore, only four had homes listed close to the Island's median price of $372,000. Of the 11 homes in the median range, seven, 64 percent, were in Glen Cove. The average tax bill for homes in that range was $7,893 in Glen Cove, compared to $8,365 for the region.
Residents can enjoy the beach, playground and views of Hempstead Harbor and the Long Island Sound at the City of Glen Cove's Morgan Memorial Park. The park has long been the site of a free summer concert series as well as a fireworks display on the Fourth of July. Pryibil Beach and Crescent Beach are open to residents as well.
At Nassau County's 62-acre Garvies Point Museum & Preserve, on Hempstead Harbor, visitors can learn about Long Island's geological history and view American Indian archaeological artifacts.
Revitalization plans, including a ferry terminal and downtown redevelopment, are underway. "They're working on turning it back into a hub," says Damian Ross of Daniel Gale Sotheby's International Realty. For instance, after closing when the building went into foreclosure last March, downtown anchor tenant Glen Cove Cinemas is set to reopen, which some say will increase foot traffic and give other businesses a boost.
Residents attend the Glen Cove school district. In 2012, 36 percent of graduates earned Regents diplomas with Advanced Designation, compared to 37 percent of graduates statewide. Forty-six percent planned to go on to a four-year college, compared to 47 percent for the state.
Glen Cove lacks commuter convenience -- it's miles from major roadways, and the Long Island Rail Road ride to Manhattan takes more than an hour, often requiring a transfer. While student outcome indicators such as college readiness and postsecondary plans are about on par with statewide statistics, the school district doesn't share the lofty status that nearby North Shore districts are known for.
NASSAU South Shore
Out of 34 communities on Nassau's South Shore, 18 had homes listed at or close to Long Island's median price of $372,000. Of the 100 homes in the median range, only four were in Inwood, making up 4 percent. However, even when the sample was expanded to include all 12 Inwood listings priced from $362,000 to $529,000, the average tax bill was still relatively low. For homes in the median price range, Inwood's average tax bill was $7,170, compared to $10,061 for the region. For all 12 homes in Inwood above $362,000, the average was $7,357 -- still well below average for the region, which was $9,771 when including the expanded Inwood sample.
The 16-acre Inwood Park is a Nassau County park on Inwood's waterfront. The park features a lighted roller rink, new playground, lighted athletic field, basketball courts, tennis courts and a jogging path around the perimeter of the park with views of the water. There's a launch ramp for boaters who are Nassau County residents.
Lauren Biron of Laffey Fine Homes says Inwood residents have easy access to public transportation, including the under-an-hour commute to Manhattan from the Inwood Long Island Rail Road station and proximity to John F. Kennedy Airport. "It's a great location. You're in the Five Towns, so there's a lot of shopping nearby and public transportation.," says Biron.
Inwood residents attend the Lawrence Union Free School District. In 2012, 37 percent of graduates earned a Regents diploma with Advanced Designation, compared to New York States 37 percent, and 47 percent planned to go on to a four-year college, compared to 47 percent for the state.
Kennedy Airport, a convenience for some, is a noisy nuisance for others.
SUFFOLK North Shore
Out of 46 communities on Suffolk's North Shore, 24 had homes listed at or close to Long Island's median price of $372,000. Of the 99 homes in the median range, six were in East Northport, or 6 percent. The average tax bill for homes in that price range was $8,255 for East Northport, compared to $9,629 for the region.
Residents attend the Northport-East Northport School District, where 63 percent of graduates in 2012 earned a Regents diploma with Advanced Designation and 73 percent planned to go on to a four-year college, both well above New York States overall performance in the same areas.
Residential taxes are offset by the Long Island Power Authority because of its use of a nearby Northport power plant. The tax amount is currently in dispute. For now, East Northport residents enjoy the tax advantage, says Rebecca Byrne of Douglas Elliman Real Estate.
Byrne says Veterans Memorial Park is great for families with its playground, lighted playing fields and sports courts and concrete skate park featuring street and vertical bowl areas. The East Northport public library's offerings include film screenings, author visits, musical performances, fitness activities, computer classes, workshops and children's programs.
"East Northport has a lot of commercial property that keeps the residential tax burden relatively lower," says Hofstra's Lawrence Levy. The compromise is that "it lacks the charm that people are willing to pay for in Northport and Centerport."