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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Pricey Neighborhoods

Long Island is home to 25 of the nation’s 50 ‘most expensive’ small towns, with 15 of them in Nassau County, and the balance in Suffolk County, according to a recent Bloomberg Business Week magazine analysis.

The benchmarks for reaching the Top 50 were communities where the median home sales prices were highest, based on a search, and populations fell below 10,000 residents. Sagaponack, situated south of Sag Harbor, topped the magazine’s list with a median home sales price of $4.4 million in 2009, down 4.3 percent from 2008.

The Nassau neighborhoods named in Bloomberg Business Week online included Centre Island (ranked 14th most expensive), Brookville (15), Matinecock (16), Sands Point (19), Old Brookville (22), Old Westbury (23), Upper Brookville (25), Oyster Bay Cove (28), Hewlett Bay Park (31), Plandome (33), Muttontown (34), Laurel Hollow (37), Plandome Manor (43), Saddle Rock (48), and Kensington (49).

The Suffolk communities besides Sagaponack cited for their high residential real estate prices and small town feel were Water Mill (6), Wainscott (13), Lloyd Harbor (20), Fisher’s Island, which is north of Montauk and closer to Connecticut than New York (24), Quogue (30), Northwest Harbor (32), located east of Sag Harbor; Old Field, situated north of Stony Brook (35), East Hampton North (42), and North Haven, tucked between Shelter Island and Sag Harbor (48).

The magazine found, however, that only three of these 25 neighborhoods saw their median home sales price figure rise year-over-year between 2008 and 2009: Wainscott (up 9.7 percent), Northwest Harbor (up 6.9 percent), and East Hampton North (up 14.3 percent).

The other 22 got caught up in the economic downturn, with the five hardest hit within this same time frame being Plandome Manor (median home sales prices were down 18.1 percent), North Haven (down 16.9 percent), Sands Point (minus 16.8 percent), Old Field (down 12.2 percent) and Plandome (minus 11.8 percent). Still, even factoring in these price drops, the entry fee for buying into these neighborhoods hovers around $1.5 million.

Bloomberg Business Week offers numerous disclaimers on how to interpret the data, noting correctly that many of the East End properties are second homes. As such, the homeowners may file their tax returns from another address. This explains in part how Quogue’s median home sale price in 2009 was $1.5 million but Quogue’s median household income was a little over $72,000.

Moreover, someone unfamiliar with Long Island has no sense from the magazine’s story that Nassau and Suffolk counties are home to 2.7 million New Yorkers, although readers are told that these pricey neighborhoods generally have hundreds, not thousands, of residents. Yet the casual observer would also never know that 95-plus percent of Long Islanders are residing somewhere other than a waterfront community on Nassau’s Gold Coast or in Suffolk’s Hamptons.

“Across the states, expensive towns generally shared access to both urban centers and outdoor areas, such as beaches, parks, and mountains, and emphasized preserving the residential character of the area,” the magazine states. “What is most revealing is that with few exceptions, the most expensive small towns are clustered along the coastline. If you’re looking for lower prices, move inland.” Most Long Islanders have already acted on that advice.

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: