The North Fork, a 40-mile-long peninsula stretching across the northeast tip of New York’s Long Island, has long been in the shadow of the Hamptons, its more upmarket neighbour on the other side of Peconic Bay. The rustic seaside villages and centuries-old whaling ports that dot the area have a much lower profile than the celebrity-owned gated estates and sprawling beachfront properties that populate the South Fork, home to most of the Hamptons.
Yet amid the scenic collage of the North Fork’s laid-back farms and vineyards, a real estate boom is quietly taking hold as property prices climb steadily. The rise is particularly noticeable at the upper end of the market, as wealthy second-home buyers increasingly shun the extravagance of the Hamptons in favour of a more modest home across the bay.
“It’s now a destination for a lot of people rather than just an afterthought,” says Sheri Winter Clarry, an estate agent with Corcoran Group who has been selling homes on the North Fork for more than a decade. “We’ve watched interest steadily grow and now there’s people who want to own property here without even considering the Hamptons first.”
The price of property on the North Fork isn’t yet on par with the Hamptons but values are rising fast. In the first quarter of 2014 the average price of a home was $812,331, according to a report by brokerage Douglas Elliman. In contrast, the average price of a single-family property in the towns that make up the Hamptons stood at $1.7m in the first quarter.
In addition, the number of first-quarter home sales on the North Fork rose 39.7 per cent to 109, marking the highest total for the period since 2007. Homes are also selling faster. Properties spent on average 28.8 per cent fewer days on the market in the first quarter compared with the same period in 2013, the Douglas Elliman data shows.
“The good news is that despite the rise in sales, the area has changed very little,” says Karla Dennehy, an estate agent with Douglas Elliman. “People come out here for a relaxed atmosphere and not congestion and overcrowding you get elsewhere.”
Bordered on one side by Long Island Sound and on the other by Peconic Bay, for the past few decades the North Fork has played second fiddle to the Hamptons, where multimillion-dollar homes fight for beach frontage along the coastline from Southampton to Montauk. (The North and South Forks are linked by car ferries.)
In recent years, however, a flourishing winery and vineyard industry, along with a burgeoning fine-dining scene, has helped to establish the North Fork far beyond its farming and sailing roots.
And as house prices in the Hamptons soar – an 18-acre beachfront property in East Hampton sold for a record $147m in April – increasing numbers of people looking for a summer home to buy now regard the North Fork as a relative bargain.
“The prices have risen here but they’re still lower than the Hamptons and you get a lot more property for your money,” says Alexander Aquino, an estate agent at Brown Harris Stevens, an affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate.
The North Fork has 11 small towns and villages, but the vast majority of second-home buyers flock to the towns of Cutchogue, Mattituck and Laurel, which stretch from the bay to Long Island Sound and occupy much of the prime waterfront area. Greenport, the North Fork’s only incorporated village, with about 2,200 year-round residents, serves as a town centre for the area.
Corcoran Group is marketing a five-bedroom estate in the town of Peconic for $7.5m. The two-storey, shingle-style home comes with 12.7 acres and 368ft of private beach on Long Island Sound. The main house measures 4,500 sq ft and has three bathrooms, a pool and a four-car garage. Built in 2002, the property has a gourmet kitchen, three fireplaces, and two master-bedroom suites. A wraparound mahogany deck has unobstructed water views.
A 6.1-acre estate in Southold is on sale with Douglas Elliman for $8.9m. The home was built in 1912 and has six bedrooms, three full-bathrooms and two half-bathrooms. The property comes with 305ft of water frontage and a private beach. A separate guest cottage is also included.
As real estate values rise, property owners on the North Fork are also tapping into an increasingly lucrative summer rental market, according to Aquino. He estimates that rental prices in the area typically range from $3,500 to $4,000 per week during the summer season. “Rental values have essentially risen right along with property prices,” says Aquino.
For July and August, the agency Brown Harris Stevens is renting a four-bedroom waterfront home in East Marion, near Greenport, for $55,000. The property includes an outdoor kitchen and dining area. As Aquino says: “Vacationers realise that, whether buying or renting, the North Fork has now arrived as a real summertime destination of choice.”
● The North Fork is about 80 miles east of Midtown Manhattan
● The closest international airports are JFK and LaGuardia in New York
● Real estate commission in Long Island is typically 6 per cent of the sale price
● Average summertime temperatures range between 20C and 30C
What you can buy for …
$3m A four-bedroom, three-bathroom home measuring about 3,000 sq ft in Southold
$5m A five-bedroom home on about 15 acres in Cutchogue
$8m A six-bedroom waterfront estate on about 8 acres in Peconic