Little Village That Could

A large house on Sunset Beach Road typical of the new North Haven is on the market for $5 million. Debra Scott Photos

       When Ira Kornbluth, an attorney, first moved to Southampton in 1981, a Manhattan friend of his was offered a huge parcel of land “that was almost all of North Haven,” said Mr. Kornbluth. But the wannabe investor turned it down. “He said, ‘No one will ever go there.’ That was when you could only be south of the highway. He thought it was too far.”

       Over the years things did not change all that much. When real estate in Sag Harbor began to dry up, Lori Barbaria, an agent with Douglas Elliman, was among those who started to suggest to customers that they look on North Haven. “Nine out of 10 would say no,” she said. “They had a concept that it was too far away.”

      “Too far away from what?” was her retort. Ms. Barbaria, who has lived on North Haven for 15 years, likes to point out that “Sag Harbor is a minute away, Bridgehampton is five minutes away,” the ocean is 10 minutes away, “and Southampton is accessible by Noyac Road. . . . You never have to go on Montauk Highway.”

      In today’s market, agents don’t have to give North Haven the hard sell. “North Haven waterfront homes are being deluged with unsolicited offers,” said Gioia DiPaolo, also with Douglas Elliman. Inventory in the village “is lower than I’ve seen it in a long time.” She points out that a two-acre lot at 20 On the Bluff has “two offers on the table” and that number 40 on the same street is going into contract. Across Route 114 a parcel of two lots totaling about two acres on Cedar Avenue on what is being called the “gold coast” went into contract this week in the $9 million range, she reported. 

       This is near Actor’s Colony Road, a street that began life hosting such luminaries of their day as Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Mary Pickford, and Irving Berlin. These days Jimmy Buffett and Richard Gere live there. Mr. Gere’s 6.3-acre estate, Strongheart Manor, was built in 1902 and boasts panoramic water views, rolling lawns, and a “teahouse.” Those fortunate enough to have seen it describe it as one of the most splendid properties in the Hamptons. It went on the market a few months ago at $65 million, and its listing agent, tional Realty, said this week that there is serious interest in it.

       When it sells it will most likely top last week’s record sale price for a single-family house in the village. The nearly six-acre property of Richard Demato, a Sag Harbor gallery owner, and his wife, Harriet Sawyer, an artist, closed for just over $31.7 million. Though the deal does not set a record for the most spent on a North Haven property — that honor goes to Tyndall Point, a 55-acre subdividable parcel with a main house built in the 1950s that sold for $36 million in 2011.

       “People looking for fantastic real estate in the Hamptons are always looking for the next great thing,” said Ms. Barbaria. “North Haven happens to be it right now.”

       Of course the cognoscenti have known about North Haven for a while, many moving from Sag Harbor into bigger houses in what Mr. Harrison calls a “suburb” of the bustling village. A crowd that is known for their accomplishments as well their money, such as Julie Andrews, Tommy Mottola, Carl Bernstein, and Nicole Miller, have made their homes there. The estate of Dallas Ernst, the widow of the artist Jimmy Ernst, sold her house there a couple of months ago for $8.2 million.

       On a tour of the area, Simon Harrison, of his eponymous real estate agency, pointed out the many recent sales. The broker, who has specialized in Sag Harbor and surrounding areas for 25 years, started on Long Wharf where he pointed to two properties across the water that each sold for just shy of $20 million. A nearby house that sold for $8.8 million was “shredded,” he said, and a modern structure designed by Blaze Makoid Architecture in Bridgehampton will take its place.

       What is the appeal of the area that was so long ignored?

       “It’s one of the rare areas out here with a lot of tidal wetlands . . . and they’re protected forever,” said Mr. Harrison, referring to the fact that much of the land has been preserved. “A tremendous amount of acreage is reserved for wildlife. That, in turn, is protective of real estate values.”

       Though it is a peninsula attached to the mainland by a small spit of land leading to Long Beach, North Haven has “the dynamics of an island,” he said. And there’s no commercial zoning save the ferry structures and a boat repair and storage facility on Ferry Road.

       He drove to the gate of the former Maycroft estate, a 44-acre property that once housed the Tuller School and sold in 2004 for $20 million. “They supposedly put in another $20 million” toward renovating the house, relocating it to another spot on the property, and rotating it to achieve better views. “That set the pace,” he said.

       Mr. Harrison drove down Robertson Drive on the northeast side of the peninsula where properties spread down to Noyac Bay. “North Haven has just enacted new rules,” he said, forbidding new docks on large stretches of shoreline. “It’s no coincidence that two recent sales,” including Dallas Ernst’s property, “had pre-existing docks.” He passed a builder’s spec house, not on the water, which he said is on the market for $2.5 million. Nearby was a sweet traditional cottage on two-thirds of an acre, which he just sold for slightly under $1 million. “When renovated and a pool added, it will be worth closer to two,” he said. “There’s still a fair amount of character left, and North Haven will do a lot to protect it.”

       Near Actor’s Colony he gestured to a new house replacing a 1940s cottage on an acre. “I sold it to the builder for $636,000,” he said. “I have it on the market now for $2 million.” He drove through two upscale subdivisions (possibly the tract of land that Mr. Kornbluth’s pal could have purchased) — North Haven Point, with its 133 lots (most populated with houses), and West Banks with 33, each with 1.5 to 4-acre lots. “North Haven is tightly zoned so as to keep density low,” said Mr. Harrison. He kept pointing — a duo of waterfront houses on West Drive just went for $6 million, another for $4.5 million. “Even when it’s 12 degrees, sales are brisk,” he said.

       He passed a traditional white clapboard on Sunset Beach Road built sometime in the middle of the last century that looked nostalgically magical yet odd situated as it was next to a gigantic $5 million mansion on three acres.

       One of the nice things about the community, said Ms. Barbaria, is that the demographics are varied. Yet, the little peninsula that was a “total sleeper” for so long has undergone a seismic shift, which she estimates happened about six months ago, and now “everything is going, going, gone.”

This North Haven cottage just sold for nearly $1 million. It will be worth double that when updated, said Simon Harrison, who brokered the sale.