Meet the Agent: Julia Boland, Harlem’s Tireless Champion

The longtime Harlem resident talks about her affection for the neighborhood — and offers some sage advice for real estate shoppers.

Growing up in Connecticut, Julia Boland was the first in her family to grab the newspaper on Sunday mornings. It wasn’t local news or comics that piqued her interest; instead, a young Boland pored over the featured floor plans in the real estate section. “In retrospect, it makes sense I ended up in real estate,” says Boland, a Corcoran associate broker.

When she moved to New York City in the ’90s, she had a brief stint in the fashion industry before pivoting to real estate in 2001. In the years since, Boland has built up an expansive repertoire — developing high-end new builds and selling historic brownstones; assisting nervous new buyers, major investors and life-long renters. She’s established herself as an expert in Northern Manhattan real estate and a philanthropic force in her Central Harlem neighborhood.

Boland discloses which amenity is most over-rated in a building, shares some of her favorite things about Harlem and offers advice for buyers considering the neighborhood.

Inhabit: You’ve had a lifelong interest in real estate. Did things click into place when you became a broker?

Boland: It actually took me a bit to find my footing in the industry. I definitely wasn’t “Rookie of the Year” or anything like that. But as I built up a body of knowledge, I began to take on more of an advisory role. Being able to offer clients a rich, complex understanding of the industry is more crucial than ever.

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Inhabit: How has technology changed the industry, and what does it mean for buyers?

Boland: Technology is profoundly disrupting the profession of the real estate broker. I’m afraid consumers misunderstand the role and are subsequently getting the short shrift here. Yes, you can go online and find a property yourself. But you can never replace that in-depth local and historical knowledge a seasoned broker has.

A good one will be able to answer key questions: How does this building fit within the neighborhood? What are the trends coming up, and where will this building sit in the next five to 10 years? That’s really critical. The best advice I can give is get a good broker. The second-best piece of advice is that it doesn’t matter how much money you have, you’re not going to get everything you want. Come up with a top three.

Inhabit: When it comes to priorities, which features or amenities are most overrated?

Boland: Private outdoor space! If you’re buying a trophy property, you’re going to want that outdoor space because that’s part of the glam factor. But for most people, I’d suggest looking for a building that has well-done communal outdoor space. That way, you don’t have to handle maintenance, but it’s there when you need it.

Inhabit: In 2004, you moved to Harlem from the Upper West Side. What’s one of your favorite Harlem traditions?

Boland: Every summer, the city allows blocks to apply for a permit to shut down to traffic for a day. Up here, neighbors come tumbling out onto the street with grills, music, lawn chairs, and umbrellas. The fire department opens a hydrant. My son grew up with these warm, openhearted celebrations.

Inhabit: You recently founded and now serve as the president of the Morningside Park Conservancy. How did that come about?

Boland: Since moving here, I’ve been involved in a number of different philanthropic organizations, including The Reading Team, which helps foster literacy in Harlem. Two years ago, The City Gardens Club of New York City raised $150,000 to refurbish the six southern acres of Morningside Park. The president of that club mentioned the need for a local group to carry on the good work. I said, “I’ll introduce you to everyone I know, but I’m a single mom and I run my own business. I’m not the woman.” Still, I went to a few more meetings and realized that I could really help. We just organized a series of junior naturalist walks for kids. They’ll be led by Ken Chaya, an amazing urban naturalist who mapped every tree in Central Park.
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Inhabit: What advice do you have for buyers considering Central Harlem?

Boland: This part of town was built for the merchant classes back in the 1800s, so you get beautiful pre-war architecture, wide streets, and a much more human scale. It’s also way less crowded than downtown. For investors, I think the real key is that there are so many buildings with tax abatements, which keeps your monthly carry low. First time buyers will find what I call “bare-bones luxuries,” things like 24-hour doormen, but not the amenities that really drive up common charges, like pools. Interest rates continue to be incredibly low, and buyers up here are negotiable. There are a lot of good deals to be had.

Inhabit: What’s been your approach to decorating your own home?

Boland: I’m more of a curator than a collector. I don’t have a lot, but I have exactly what I like. Instead of a regular flatware, I have silver. I don’t have glasses, I have Waterford crystal. The stuff I surround myself with has to be beautiful and it has to make me happy. I was a “spark joy” gal long before Marie Kondo.

Inhabit: Your home wouldn’t be home without…

Boland: My son and our dog Rufus.