Buffalo may have the lowest share of million-dollar homes among the nation's largest cities, but don't tell that to the homeowners in Spaulding Lake.
A new study by LendingTree found Buffalo ranked lowest among the top 50 metropolitan areas for its concentration of million-dollar homes, with only one of every 1,000 homes exceeding that mark in value.
That's a far cry from the top three cities on the list – all in California – where more than 10 percent of homes, or one in every 10, are valued at more than $1 million. Indeed, the study reported that West Coast cities had the highest million-dollar home concentrations, and all but one of the top 10 were on one of the coasts.
By contrast, most of those at the lower end of the list are Rust Belt cities and are more affordable, with median values below $200,000.
That certainly describes Buffalo, where the median sale price has only exceeded $150,000 once – last August.
"We don't have lots of million-dollar houses. We're one of the lowest-price communities," said Susan Lenahan, a real estate agent at M.J. Peterson Corp. "We have them. We just don't have as many of them because we didn't have as many people who could afford them or needed to afford them."
That's changing, with home prices rising and more business owners, doctors, lawyers, financial services leaders and other professionals seeking to use their earnings.
And that doesn't include the professional athletes and coaches at the Buffalo Bills and Sabres, who spread their purchases out between the city and suburbs.
"You have the hockey players coming in. They go to Williamsville or Clarence if they have a family, or they rent in the city near the waterfront," said Bonnie Clement, an agent at Hunt Real Estate Corp. "Football players go to Orchard Park."
Still, while high-end sales are still unusual and newsworthy in Buffalo, they are not unheard of.
"There are properties out there," said Lenahan, who is currently listing two homes for more than a million – a 6,450-square-foot home built in 1970 on 25 acres in East Aurora, for $2.3 million, and an 8,058-square-foot home on 90 acres in Orchard Park, for $1.49 million.
"We just didn't have the kind of industry here and people working in industry here to buy million-dollar houses," she added. "They didn't have to."
But they're rare enough that they can be snapped up quickly, especially in certain neighborhoods in Clarence, Williamsville, Orchard Park and East Aurora, or along the lakes.
Streets like Paradise Lane, Muegel Road and Sanctuary Court near Williamsville East High School, or Renaissance Drive and Lebrun Drive in Amherst contain well-known pockets of wealth.
So do certain prominent streets in Buffalo, like Nottingham, although there are fewer million-dollar, single-family homes in the city because they're older. Selective buyers these days are seeking wide-plank hardwood floors, white kitchens, crown molding, 10-foot ceilings and high basements, which older homes tend not to have, Clement noted.
"The million-dollar homes, if they're done right, it's an easy sell," Clement said. "If they're well done and in that price range, they will sell. It depends on how the upkeep is."
Most recently, one week ago, a prominent investment and hedge fund manager whose family used to own the Pepsi-Cola Buffalo Bottling Corp. sold his Spaulding Lake mansion in Clarence to a Buffalo cardiologist and his wife for $1.1 million.
Dr. Ashish Bhatia and his wife, Ashley Bhatia, purchased the home on Rockledge Drive from Darin R. Pastor, a businessman and investor who is chairman and CEO of Capstone Financial Group Inc. in East Amherst.
Built in 2011 on 1.22 acres, the two-story home with a stone facade has six bedrooms and 5.5 bathrooms in 7,653 square feet of space. It includes hardwood floors, custom cabinets, granite counters, a "gourmet kitchen" with an island, a wine chiller, "loads of counter space and high-end appliances," a "soaring ceiling and fireplace" in the family room, a den, a formal dining area and butler's pantry, a mudroom, a patio and a lower level with a bedroom, full bathroom and a theater room.
It's also at the end of a cul de sac, which "was very attractive to us, with lots of land in between the homes," Ashley Bhatia said. All of that, plus the local schools and "the serenity it has to offer," played a role in the price, she added.
"We made the decision to move to Spaulding Lake with our children’s interest in mind," she said. "So we thought the price for our new home was of value in more ways than one."
Pastor's family owned the local Pepsi bottling distribution franchise, which started with a single truck in 1936, grew into a big upstate New York plant by 1954, and remained in their hands until they sold it in 2002. Darin Pastor started working at the family business in 1989, becoming a division manager and owner before leaving in 1996 for the financial services industry.
The Bhatias are currently trying to sell their historic Linwood Avenue home in Buffalo, which had been used as a business and meeting space before the couple bought it and converted it back to a residence. Built in 1910, the 8,845-square-foot home, with a detached four-car garage and a two-bedroom apartment above it, sits on a quarter-acre lot.
It's listed for $1.19 million.