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.
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."
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."
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
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.