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Getting big and sexy

About five years ago, real estate broker Enzo Morabito

recounts, he took Richard Gere to look at the North Fork, only to have the

actor reconsider after realizing exactly how low-key the lifestyle was. He

wasn't the only one.

"They'd ask," Morabito said of prospective clients at the time, "'What do

you do here? Where can you go and eat? Are there any good restaurants?' Now you

can say, 'Yes, yes there is.'"

Is the North Fork getting sexy?

It's certainly getting a thorough looking over by increasing numbers of

second-home buyers put off by the traffic and high prices in the Hamptons, and

drawn by the cachet of the North Fork's vineyards, its new restaurants with

Manhattan sensibilities and its comparatively reasonable prices.

"I would say maybe 10, 15 percent of my clients are coming from the

Hamptons and taking a real good look," as opposed to a minimal number even a

few years ago, said Morabito, of Prudential Douglas Elliman.

And home buyers are doing more than looking. "The vineyards make this side

more sexy, more appealing," says Fred Seifert, who, with his brother, John,

owns Seifert Construction, a top local builder of high-end homes. "What I see

are a lot of younger people, mid-40s to 50s, who are building weekend homes.

... I think five years ago, it was rare to find a home on the North Fork over a

million dollars. While it's not the norm, there's quite a few now."

There's a 13,000-square-foot home nearing completion in Mattituck, lots of

homes between 3,000 and 5,000 square feet, and a small but growing number up to

10,000 square feet. That means fancier amenities, luxury bathrooms and

kitchens, wine cellars, gunite pools, media rooms, libraries, at least five

bedrooms each with en suite bathrooms, three- or four-car garages, and clients

with decorators who stipulate higher-end detailing such as moldings and fine

hardware, wiring for audio and computer systems.

Low-key aesthetic

The North Fork aesthetic, however, is low-key, traditional and much less

flashy than on the South Fork, he says, so he hasn't seen "silly upscale homes.

Racquetball courts in the house, eight-car garages: You don't see what I call

silliness. Maybe that's coming, I don't know."

Certainly, the North Fork retains much of its laid-back rural charm with

working farms, and fire department barbecues that are the hot tickets of the

summer season. The unpretentious ranches, historic village homes, summer

cottages and larger faux Victorians around golf courses leave plenty of

landscape, while woods and long driveways shield much of the waterfront


Development is a hot issue, as local towns use proceeds of a tax on

property sales to finance purchases of open space. A new subdivision law is

seen as onerous enough to discourage full buildout in subdivisions, where

there's a 2-acre minimum on lot sizes.

But as less land is available for development, prices for remaining lots

go up. In the past five years, land prices doubled, then doubled again, said

John de Reeter of Prudential Douglas Elliman's Mattituck office, so that most

people "coming now are very much upper-middle class." "If you look at houses

built 10 years ago, 40 to 50 percent were ranches under 2,200 square feet," he

said. "The amazing thing is this has happened in a blink of an eye."

A harbinger of the new wave can be seen in an 8,000-square-foot,

seven-bedroom shingled house overlooking the Sound that was completed two years

ago as a second home for an Upper East Side Manhattan family, who asked to

not be identified. This couple - both 43, with four young sons - never

considered buying in the Hamptons; the wife had been summering on the North

Fork since childhood.

But friends of theirs, also Manhattanites with Wall Street jobs, are now

looking at the North Fork, too, "as a viable alternative to the South Fork,"

says the husband, a lawyer who works in finance. "They are people who would

otherwise be looking in Litchfield County in Connecticut, or the Hudson Valley,

or the Hamptons."

"A lot of the new restaurants are great to have," he says, noting that

while the vineyards "are not an ever-present part of our lives ... there is a

focus on food in the North Fork increasingly, both in terms of the wine and the

fresh produce, that if you enjoy cooking and eating, is nice to have."

Farmhouse styling

His Cutchogue house was designed by a leading North Fork architectural

firm, Samuels and Steelman, and decorated by his Manhattan interior designer,

Joel Woodard of Lichten Craig Architects LLP. "We wanted it to be comfortable

and spacious and really fit in on the North Fork in a farmhouse-y way,

particularly in the farm neighborhood we're in," the owner said.

He is not happy, however, that the Town of Southold is permitting four new

houses to go up next door, where the regulations under which they were were

approved should, he asserts, have allowed only three.

"There's a fear that it will become like Bridgehampton, and all the open

fields will be covered with housing. Most of us on the North Fork are looking

to avoid that."

Realtor Tom McCarthy, born and raised on the North Fork, says there should

be a balance between the desire to preserve open space and the right to develop

one's property. "You can either sit back and watch the change happen or be an

active participant and drive it in a certain way that is positive for the


He represents developers of two speculative subdivisions, Bayview Gardens

and the Preserve Estates at Bayview in Southold, offering shingle-style houses

from 4,400 square feet to 6,600 square feet on 2-acre lots, for more than $2

million. Several already have sold, he says. "We had an open house this past

weekend and had folks from Bridgehampton, Southampton and Water Mill, all

looking for an option on the North Fork."

He says some are willing to buy a property off the waterfront, where they

get more land and house for the money. "We're breaking new ground with

properties sold for several million dollars off the water."

Architect Tom Samuels says he and his partner, wife Nancy Steelman, are

designing more large homes than ever before. But they encourage their clients

to build in the 2,500- to 3,000- square-foot range, which they consider a

manageable size for a normal family who might want a guest room. "People think

if they spend $1 million for a waterfront property they should build a big

house, that it's a good investment. But the question is, do they need it?

Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't."

"But even the large ones, we do try to fit in with the North Fork

character. On the South Fork, you're trying to stand out. If you come here,

you're trying to blend in."

Ironically, as newcomers try to "blend in," those who live and work on the

North Fork, and their children, are finding it increasingly difficult to afford.

"The dynamic is very serious in that people who are born and raised here

and work here cannot afford to buy in their towns," said Bernard Mollahan, an

associate broker with Allan Schneider Associates, who has been selling real

estate on the North Fork for 12 years. "They've been here 20, 30, 40 years, and

if they were starting over, they couldn't afford it."

North Fork


South Fork

If you're looking for waterfront lots with a dock:

In the South Fork's Water Mill, the asking price for a half-acre with

permission to build a 3,600-square-foot house with pool and a dock on Mecox Bay

is $2,795,000.

In the North Fork's Greenport, the asking price for an acre with

180-square-foot waterfrontage on Gulf Pond, a deep-water inlet to Peconic Bay,

with permission to build a 5,600-square-foot house, is $1,490,000.

If you want a bayfront home:

In the South Fork's West Hampton Dunes, the asking price for a custom-built

home with five bedrooms, four baths and a state-of-the-art kitchen is $2.6


In the North Fork's Cutchogue, the asking price for a private family colony

with sandy beaches and boat moorage, four bedrooms, three baths and a gourmet

kitchen is $2.85 million.


Summer homes on the North Fork waterfront first became popular in the 1880s

among wealthy professionals from Brooklyn and Queens.

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