Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Buy Me! Highlights Importance of Agent Trust

Recently, a new program called Buy Me! on HGTV caught my attention. Each episode profiles a person who is selling his property under adverse circumstances. Usually the home has several presentation and/or maintenance problems, and the seller is in a time crunch.

So far, it’s been classic examples of what not to do to sell your home. The issues highlighted in the show happen frequently to me in real life. So far the most common theme is working with the real estate agent.

In one episode, the seller was in the middle of a divorce and wanted the agent to work magic. She took the time to find an experienced agent via referrals, but started second-guessing from the start. She insisted on a higher asking price than the agent suggested because she needed the money. She also ignored the agent’s suggestions to make the house more attractive to buyers, and refused to make structural repairs to the foundation.

The house sat for months as this poor lady worked frantically at two jobs to pay the mortgage. The agent worked the listing but was foiled by the same problems: the asking price was too high and the house needed work. His suggestions fell on deaf ears, and he was put off by the seller's attitude. By the end of the episode, the agent had resigned the listing in frustration, with the seller unrepentantly vowing to “find a better agent”.

There is plenty of fault to go around here. The agent did not obtain the seller’s trust. While he talked quite a bit about his experience, he didn’t take the time to educate the seller by showing her comparable prices. He suggested to her how to stage the house, but didn't provide any solutions for her. Since she was overworked and broke, she needed him to take care of her better. As a result the seller thought she was doing his work for him. In addition, he did not explain to her his marketing program. He apparently did not advertise her house for sale every week, so she felt that it was not getting proper exposure.

The seller’s mistake lay in ignoring the resources of an experienced agent. She knew the house better than her agent; therefore she thought she knew how to sell it. This is a common belief. It’s important to remember that knowledge and experience of previous sales situations is the most important tool a real estate agent brings to the table. It may be intangible, but it’s invaluable, particularly in a buyers’ market.

This year I found myself in a similar situation with a townhouse in Bay Ridge. The sellers were going through a divorce and three agents had attempted to sell the property. Each had overpriced to get the listing. Unfortunately, the house had many small issues that the sellers – in danger of foreclosure – were unable to address.

Finally, the divorce attorneys took over (removing emotions from the process). They turned to me to take on the listing. My first step was to price it correctly. I also moved leftover furniture to storage to focus attention on the house. We found a buyer quickly and successfully closed on the property.

The moral of the story: don’t hire a “yes-man”. Take time to find an agent that you trust. You are paying for his expertise. If you have chosen a good fit, you will be amply rewarded by a quick sale at a good price!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Sell Your Home In Two Years... Tomorrow!

Finally, I read that the first housing futures contracts started trading earlier this year. Robert Schiller (who wrote "Irrational Exuberance" and its successor about the housing markets) began this experiment to see if it was possible to hedge against falling home prices. In otherwords, people are buying and selling the future value of homes. This could have a very interesting effect in the future as (and if) these contracts become more widespread. Less than 100 of these contracts have been written in any one local area - we shall see if they become more popular.
Imagine this: in four years your child is going to leave for college. Due to a runup in real estate prices, you realize that you can sell your home, buy a smaller one with a smaller mortgage, and use the remaining equity to pay for her tuition & board. This sounds great, but how do you know that you are not caught in a housing bubble, the popping of which could seriously jeopardize all your plans? With a housing futures contract, you can protect the price of your home. Here's how it works:
Your home is currently valued at $200,000. You fear that you will not be able to sell your house in one or two years for that much, and you want to find a way to ensure that you can get this price.

The idea behind this future is that you can basically lock in an option to get a certain price at a certain point in time. You are protected, but at the same time you are giving up some possible upside.

According to the press, housing futures were lightly used their first quarter in trading. Most of the contracts written were in Miami, where so many condos are going up. It looks like a good number of them may be sitting on the market, so developers have tried this approach.

Selling a futures contract on a house requires someone else who's willing to gamble that housing futures will go up and the buyer will be sitting on instant profit at the end of the future contract. After all, no one wants to lose money.

Only 10 contracts were written in New York City in the first three months. This isn't surprising, as publicly traded housing derivatives are pretty new. But derivatives have existed for a long time on the down low. People can sign options on individual properties, allowing them time to shop around the contract to someone who is willing to pay $10,000 - $50,000 more. Though some states have tried to restrict this, it is still possible to be done, anywhere, following the appropriate procedures.

So will housing futures take off?? Well, I think that hedge funds and developers will be the first in. As with most futures markets, a mix of professional traders and end users (ie, developers and property investors) will be the first people to actually buy and sell futures contracts. But I do see money to be made there, and as soon as someone figures out a "system", this will become a pretty big market.

Lazy Days, but It's Not My Fault!!!

Apologies for the near six-week hiatus. Shortly after my last post, I came down with an illness that could only be diagnosed as "not strep" and "not mono". The doctor's advice? Take ibuprofen for the fever and come back if I don't feel better in a week. Well, the fever did subside within a week (over 103 degrees at its worst), the throat eventually went back to normal (I could swallow, but I really didn't want to), but I am still sleeping nine hours a day. Have recently started a vitamin regimen to try to feel better, and also back to regular workouts - hopefully will FINALLY be back to normal in a couple weeks.

So this two-week illness necessitated my taking it easy for all of July. I did manage to close a sale and find some very lovely ladies apartments, but it was more luck than anything else - I lacked the energy to keep up the marketing, but I'm back on it now.

Of course, the first thing I came back to was the tightest market since 1999, which was the height of the dot-bomb bubble. I (blissfully shielded from the mania by living in a three-way share in a gorgeous Brooklyn Heights apartment building that I still covet today) remember those few of my friends who could afford to live in Manhattan (we were after all in our early 20s) scrambling to find guarantors. How I ever managed to live for only $540/month in rent is beyond me, but even today I find plenty of people who manage to find such situations. So, if you are planning to move to New York, go roommate first - it will save you a bundle and a headache. Besides craigslist, I recommend Roomster.net.

In other news, home sales have basically been flat for the summer. What does this mean? It means that prices are not going up right now. Sellers hoping to make the big bucks are going to be disappointed. Picking the right asking price is crucial to a quick sale. Picking the wrong asking price can mean months of sitting on the market and stalled plans for the future.

Buyers have more leverage than they have the past two years. This means that they have more to choose from and more ability to negotiate price. However, waiting for "the bottom to drop out" is unadvisable for the following reasons.

  • Interest rates are going up. Rates are tied to the 10-year bond issue, not the overnight funds rate that we hear so much about. On a $100,000 mortagage, you will pay $600 with a 6% interest rate but $665 with a 7% interest rate. Rates are already above 7% for a 30 year fixed mortgage for all but the highest credit scores. Keeping in mind that the average mortgage on a New York City home is far more than $100,000, and you would do well to get moving if you are serious.
  • Time is the greatest appreciator. In otherwords, even the worst investment can make money in the long run (although, considering that time is money, not a good idea to deliberately make a bad investment!). If you have a long time horizon - at least five to seven years - and you want to buy a home, chances are good that you will experience appreciation. If you find a property that you are willing to fix up and plan to live in for several years, then you can get even more appreciation.
  • Don't put the cart before the horse. If buying a home is important to you, then do it.

On the investment side, I have been learning quite a lot. It's no secret that the best investments never actually go on the market. Those sellers of investment properties who choose to go through a broker seem to have very inflated ideas of their property values, or they are looking for a very specific type of buyer. Most listings that I see are priced to need a minimum of 50% down to cover the necessary debt service, operating costs and allow for even minimal cashflow. On the other hand, many people are out there looking for land that they can develop into other types of property, most often condominiums. The enormous amount of money that they can achieve from the individual unit sales pushes up the property value (ie, the current owners know that developers will make more money so they try to get a larger piece of the pie).

According to The Real Deal , at least one high profile condo project has been cancelled due to increases in construction costs (the SUndari Lofts, unfortunately; they truly looked beautiful). Such developments lead me to urge caustion: investment purchases are best made with more than the minimum down payment, with adequate reserves and for cashflow purposes only - it is dangerous for all but the most experienced developers to be in the game for the next months.

The next few months find me and my partner in search of our next investment - likely to be another house in Philadelphia. We are not totally out of the woods on it yet, but light is at the end of the tunnel. Our tenant is happy and hopefully paying on time. Our second tenant has just chosen to renew his lease. It's not easy to practice what I preach. being a landlord is a harrowing experience. Even if you have many units (I know someone who has 63 units and still is worried about his building making cashflow), it is truly a business, and you have to run it thus.

As such, my goal for this month is to complete my tax return and implement my accounting system.This may take some doing but it's the right way to do things. A reorganization of my living room may help my organization problems, so that is possible as well. My partner is off on vacation for a week - that is always when most changes occur. We'll see if he recognizes his home upon his return :)

This computer is so slow, it's driving me crazy. I have more to say but it will just have to wait for tomorrow.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Heating Up In More Ways Than One...

Summer is right around the corner and things are heating up here in the Big Apple.

As predicted, the rental vacancy rate sank to under .5% for May 2006, meaning that fewer than 5 apartments per 1000 were vacant and available for rent. We rental agents are facing a lot of situations where there are perhaps three apartments that might fit our client's needs, if we're lucky. Alas, we are facing a lot of shell-shocked individuals out there... people who are realizing too late that there just aren't that many places to see.

One interesting highlight of the week is that Craigslist finally started charging 10$ a listing for rental listings. There are a lot of mixed feelings about this. The main idea is that consumers would not be bombarded every day by the same listings - agents would post several times a day just to stay near the top of the listings. With the new charge, that will not happen nearly as often. Second, smaller outfits may be hurt by the fact that Craigslist is no longer free.

I'm pretty philosophical about this. While I certainly did manage to get some clients from Craigslist, I welcome the idea that I don't have to post incessantly - a task that can take several hours out of a day depending on how I do it. I plan to post my own listings on Craigslist, and not the same ones that everyone else is.

Second, most small brokerages started because the principal(s) had a small base of loyal landlords and/or owners who promised to stick with them. These people will have exclusive listings and they will advertise them on Craigslist and pay the 10$ charge - it's not that excessive. For those people who don't, it's time to hustle.

Third, I'm hoping that Craig will institute a similar (though possibly lesser) charge for the "rent by owner" listings. Within eight hours of Craig beginning to charge, several brokers had started posting on the "by owner" portion of the site. Naturally, I find this very distasteful, and probably so do many of the consumers who answered the ads. Other brokers started flagging these fake listings immediately and I'm glad to say that Craig has worked with them. But I think that Craig has better things to do with his time and should consider charging up to $5 per listing. It won't be too much to deter serious owners and just enough to deter brokers who must be desperate to resort to shady dealings such as these.

I personally intend to continue using Craigslist and am happy that I no longer have to pay so much attention to it.

Things are moving along here as the summer goes. I will have several new exciting listings in Chinatown, Gramercy, and down home in Windsor Terrace... Stay Tuned!

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Observations as We Head Into Summer

Summer 2006 is fast approaching. In the past two days we've had some pretty scorching weather, and something tells me that this summer is going to be a hot one.

Sales prices in New York City may not be screaming up like they were, but they aren't stopping either. I've been trying to help three different couples find their new homes in Park Slope, with less than encouraging results. There are two reasons for this:

1) They want to live in the hottest part of the neighborhood and are unwilling to consider the next neighborhood over

2) They think that prices are coming down or should be softer than they are.

Unfortunately for them, even with the market cooling down to normal (from superheated), a well-priced, well-appointed property is still recognized as such and it usually has accepted offers within two weeks of going on the market.

The Wall Street Journal Weekend edition had an interesting article about the fabulous broker parties that are thrown for the new luxury loft condo developments. Hugh Jackman recently appeared at one of these. Do I get invites?? Yes, I do. Would you like to come? Just shoot me an email - I'll put you on my email list and send out invitations.

Do you like to shop? I also have invitations to open house tours - usually 4-6 properties in similar neighborhood and price ranges during a weekday afternoon. Customers are welcome, and I love to go on these. Let me know if you are interested - drop me a line!

Hope you had a great long weekend...

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Hard Facts...

Well friends, things are just humming along as we are getting into the spring and summer seasons. This is the high season for both sales and rentals alike. Before I continue my series about new developments, let me warn you of a few hard facts:

This year's rental market is going to be the tightest in a long time. The New York economy has grown for three years straight, more people are moving to Manhattan than leaving. Land prices have made it nigh impossible for a developer to build a rental project that makes financial sense. As a result, very little new rental housing has entered the market.

Now I understand there are people out there who are saying "of course you would say that, you are a rental agent." Friends, I am telling the truth. People are paying the prices, and in the law of supply and demand, that means the rents are going to keep going up.

A lot of people are seeing that indeed, prices have already gone up in the past year. (In fact, this year rents will have surpassed pre-2001 levels, when they were at their height). What are they doing? They are staying put, renewing their leases and keeping their rent increases as small as possible. What does that mean? The vacancy rate is currently .89% of available units.

Friends, this means for every 1000 apartments, ONLY 10 WILL BE VACANT THIS YEAR!

Let's keep going here. The low supply means there will DEFINITELY be multiple applications for each vacant apartment out there. It also means that in the high months of June and July, you can expect landlords to be asking - and getting - premiums of $100 to $200 per month.

How can you help yourself?

1) Don't mess around - get your paperwork together. All Manhattan landlords require at least two of the following documents:

  • bank or stock statement (where you stash the cash)
  • W-2s from previous year
  • First 2 pages of Form 1040 from tax return
  • Letter from employer verifying employment, tenure, and income
  • Letter from accountant verifying income if self-employed
  • Previous landlord reference

Do yourself a favor: have all this READY TO GO. Carry it around with you. Carry a minimum $300 deposit in cash as well - it is the only way to hold the apartment.

2) Get your guarantor in gear! Here are the Hard Facts for Guarantors:

  • They will have to provide the same documentation as applicants. Landlords WILL NOT take your word for it.
  • Get their documents BEFORE you start your search. I never understand parents who agree to guarantee, but won't equip their kids with the tools. Friends, if you don't trust your kid, GET THEM OUT OF NEW YORK.
  • Be prepared for sticker shock - you no longer can find a decent 2-bedroom near NYU for under $2400, and even that is pushing it. If your kids are looking for a share for $1800, they are getting a one-bedroom and converting the living room - make sure you know it and so do they.

3) If possible, get an apartment before June 1.

By this I mean start your lease by May 20th. Because on June 1, prices are going up. You may think that's a joke, but I see apartments that are sitting on the market for two weeks get MARKED UP $75 come June 1. Why? Because the landlords can do it and someone will rent it.

It may sound counterintuitive, but if you can get an apartment by May 15, you will save yourself $50-$100 per month. That will add up, especially if you are planning to stay in the apartment for more than 12 months.

4) Brooklyn is not the boonies you thought it was.

A friend of mine who currently resides in Manhattan just called me. He is trying to get his own place and has a budget of $1500. In Manhattan that won't get you much more than a closet these days (and a closet on the fifth floor at that), so he wants to try his luck in Brooklyn. Trouble is, I don't know if he's going to like what he sees.

Here are the hard facts about Brooklyn:

  • Brooklyn is just as expensive in Manhattan. Diehard Manhattanites seem to think that just because they voluntarily exiling themselves off the island, they are automatically knocking their rent in half. I have seen people who had $2000 budgets in Manhattan come across the Brooklyn Bridge and cut their budgets in half. Newsflash guys: there are 5 million people in Brooklyn, and most of them already know what you just found out: Brooklyn is a great alternative to Manhattan.

    The first choice neighborhoods are always the same: Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Park Slope. If your budget is $1200, you are sleeping in a studio on the fifth floor - end of story. $1500 is the minimum for a studio in Brooklyn Heights.
  • Prospect Heights is just as expensive as Park Slope! I get so many requests for Prospect Heights, "but only the nice part". I assume that people are referring to the four blocks closest to Grand Army Plaza, which are filled with lovely brownstones and are walking distance to Park Slope retail. Sorry guys, no discounts here. To save a bundle, the best bargains are found east of Washington Ave, where some lovely conversions and new construction have gone up, all within six blocks of the Brooklyn Museum. The new Prospect Heights condos on Pacific Street are only going to drive this trend forward - and even moreso when Atlantic Yards is finally built.
  • Windsor Terrace does not end at Prospect Park West. In fact, that's where it BEGINS. Windsor Terrace is the strip of land bounded to the west by Greenwood Cemetary and to the east by Prospect Park. That's right, y'all, when you hit the Pavillion movie theater you've only gone halfway down the park!

    But wait, this will really blow your mind: early 20th century documents peg the bottom of Windsor Terrace not at Parkside Ave, but at Caton Ave. Robert Moses slivered off the last three blocks in the 1940s by building Ft. Hamilton Parkway, which starts as an overpass crossing Ocean Parkway just two blocks west. But those last three blocks are still part of Windsor Terrace, and they're really nice, not to mention nicely priced. Apartment rents are $50-$150 less than apartments north of the overpass. Co-op prices are some $50,000 less. However, "East Windsor Terrace", as the locals call it, is part of the same community board district as the rest of Windsor Terrace. Kensington, the neighborhood directly to the south, is part of a different community board.

    It really blows my mind when people are willing to settle along the Prospect Expressway in South Slope/Greenwood Heights, subjecting themselves to the horrible R train. But they turn up their noses at the idea of living along Ocean Parkway, which was designed by Calvert Vaux, the same guy who designed Prospect Park. Why? It's no further south than Gowanus. They come kicking and screaming down, only to fall in love. And I would too: no more crossing the freeway to see green.

    So get it right, and don't turn up your nose at the deals available near the bottom of the park.

Ok friends, that's it for today. I have a lot to say so I will be hopefully posting every day for a while - stay tuned!

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

The Michigan Connection

I once heard it said that one out of every 20 people in New York did some kind of course work at my alma mater the University of Michigan. Well, that appears to be true as I am meeting more and more wonderful Michigan alums through my real estate career.

My first new friend is Ron Wilde, a mortgage broker with Manhattan Mortgage. For those who are not familiar, Manhattan Mortgage is considered by many in the real estate brokerage industry to be a leading mortgage broker in the Five Boroughs. When selling brokers hear that a prospective buyers has been prequalified through Manhattan Mortgage, they know that person can make the transaction happen.

What I like about Ron is that he has a few years of experience (not like so many mortgage brokers who are just getting into the business) and really has his stuff together. I often am solicited by mortgage brokers who are looking to form a "referral relationship" with me. We are not allowed by law to get referral fees from residential transactions, so basically all we can offer each other is to refer business and to get the job done smoothly. I am very confident in Ron's ability. Every person I have sent his way has been treated professionally, whether they eventually took a mortgage for Ron or not. Ron's phone number is (212) 745-9004, for anyone who would like to discuss getting a mortgage with him - either for purchase or refinance. Let him know I sent you and you'll be treated like gold :-)

My other new acquaintance is a contractor - Andy Davis. Andy is a Project Manager with Certified of NY, Inc, a firm of general contractors and construction managers that have a wide variety of projects throughout New York City, including some lovely residential renovations, commercial construction and (my favorite) high end restaurant construction. Their website is http://www.certifiedny.com where you can check out their portfolio of recent projects. They do both high and middle end renovations. I will definitely be getting a quote from them for my bathroom and kitchen work!

Well, that's all for today. Email me to join my mailing list - first issue coming soon!

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Everyday Something New...

Greetings from the fast-paced world of New York City Real Estate. Time is flying by so quickly that it's been a few weeks!

Things have been hopping along nicely in the past couple weeks, although I wish I was doing more "Quadrant II" stuff (if you aren't familiar with Stephen Covey, it means things that are important but not urgent - really the things that are key to our success!). I have finiahed my email list and will be sending it out to people that I know - friends, family, current and former customers. Once I have my basic list ready, I will introduce a couple others: weekly hot rentals, highlighted sales, and invitations to weekly open house tours.

A website is also in the offing - a few overnights are needed I think. Sleep has been very inviting for the past few weeks, but I know I need to do it, so I will.

So this time I need to talk about the Financial District. Everyone thinks they know it very well - a bunch of cookie cutter luxury doorman buildings in a neighborhood where everything rolls up at night. Well, I predict that very soon it WON'T be true. Why? Because of Stone Street - the beautiful cobblestoned street that is the last of the original "Old New York" blocks. Located near the Wall Street subway station and just a couple blocks from the water, Stone Street has some amazing restaurants - and they're even open on weekends! If you work on Wall Street, you might know about Stone Street... they do a good business for lunch, I'm sure. But just to be in that peaceful space on the weekends... my prediction is that more and more people will flock there. Here are some highlights of properties available in and around Stone Street:

For $2195 this studio loft blows away anything you could get in the luxury doorman buildings. Located in a clean converted warehouse with gorgeous architectural detail, you get a large space, full kitchen, balcony with pets allowed. The building features a fitness room and laundry (on your floor), elevator, and landscaped roof deck. This is a great building! There is a building being built next door, so during the daytime you will get noise, but anyone who works a 9-5 day will likely not notice it as he would be out during construction hours.

Another historic building sits right on the corner of Stone and Pearl Streets. Lovingly restored and managed, features include historically correct arhictecture and studios, one and two bedroom apartments. Unfortunately, this is a very popular place and has no current availabilities for rent - but anyone interested in future (around May) availabilities should definitely let me know.

Those of us who are looking to own may find it worthwhile to look at Block House, a historic conversion taking place just around the block from from Stone Street. Housed in an amazing 1920s Tudor-Style facade (I'll try to include a photo of it), this building has lovely top-of-the-line kitchens with granite countertops and stainless steel appliances. Bathrooms are also beautifully appointed. All apartments have high ceilings which really lets in the light. Pets of course are allowed. This condo, being located right on Stone Street, and right around the corner from the water, is priced very well, with remaining one-bedrooms starting at $620,000-$835,000. This is a far cry from what we're seeing uptown! The remaining penthouse boasts 3 bedrooms and 2.5 bathrooms with two fireplaces - a stunning space for $3,310,000 - not a bad amount for over 2000 square feet!

If you are interested in getting to know the Stone Street area better, please contact me - particularly for the condominium. I'm dying to sell one of these ... they're so GORGEOUS!!!

Until next time...

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Where to Look If You Have More Time Than Money

People in New York City have been proclaiming the end of rental brokers and broker fees for rentals for many years now, and yet there are more rental agents then ever! Why is that? Quite simply, because apartments are hard to find, and people don't have the time it takes to acquire the knowledge to find the apartment they want.

But there are lots of people who DO have the time and DON'T have the money. These people have been served (at least up until now) by craigslist.org. Much remains to be seen with whether the owners' section becomes inundated with spam by brokers hoping to get a nibble. But meticulous searches (or using RSS) to craigslist definitely can yield some results. I think craigslist is the best free resource for sublets and roommate-finding, although Flatster is certainly good for that as well.

But what about people who can't afford a full broker fee, but don't have the time to find an apartment using the hunt-and-peck method of craigslist? These people, who would be willing to spend money to find a shortcut, have been poorly served by such "membership services" as Coastal Living and Easy Rent. These apartment information vendors are plagued with small amounts of market share - meaning that customers interested in a particular area and price range will find little to choose from.

THERE IS ONE apartment information vendor that has been gaining a LOT of market share, however. I have had glowing reviews from both landlords and tenants who have used it to find no-fee apartments. At $195, it isn't cheap, but from the results I've heard, this is a great way to find apartments. The service is called Rent Direct. This service has the largest marketshare of any online rental service that I have seen... it even lives up to its claims that it gets many landlords that brokers have.

Many... but not all. Brokers will always have some clout here in New York... there just isn't enough housing for everyone, and people will always be willing to pay to save time. But for those who aren't - or can't - try Rent Direct.


So that's the big secret, and now it's out.

When I told some people about my intention of writing about this site, I was asked why I would "give away business". The answer is quite simple: I'm not. The people who will subscribe to this site are not willing to pay a broker fee. Will I lose out on some customers who might have ultimately HAD to pay a fee? Yes, but I wouldn't have felt good about taking their money, and they wouldn't have felt good about paying me. This way, I will get a tiny bit of money (yes, this is an affiliate program), but more importantly, I will receive real estate good karma. What is that? If you're active in real estate, you know!

For some people money is valuable. For others time is more valuable. And they are willing to pay to save time. It's that simple.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

A Few Thoughts On Craigslist...

If you were not aware of it, Craigslist.org announced this past week that they are going to begin charging rental brokers who post in New York City (and possibly one or two other places) a $10 fee per listing. If you read the forums on Craigslist you will see a lot of different opinions on whether this is good or bad. Here are my feelings regarding this new development:

1) Many very small brokerages who used craigslist as their sole source of advertising will be in trouble for a while. Some of these brokerages have their own exclusive listings (ie, a landlord gave them exclusive right to rent their apartment) and they will pay a few times a week to post on craigslist. But only 20% of the agents in this city actually represent a listing. Most brokerages advertise the same listings (in case you didn't know this already), sometimes multiple times a day. THE RESULT: craigslist will be less cluttered.

2) Many of these rental agents who just wanted the phone to ring will stop posting fake or inaccurate ads on Craigslist. You may have suspected that you called one during a recent search: you called them and they immediately started speaking about another apartment far more expensive. These guys will stop. If they don't stop, Craig will be able to ban them more effectively because he can track them better. This will not stop, however, good apartments from being rented shortly after the ad is posted. THE RESULT: You will trust rental agents more because the honest and productive ones will filter to the top!

3) Another bulletin board site may become more popular than craigslist for real estate rentals. Already one site Matchifieds is being surfed quite a bit. But I don't think this will happen because Craig has wisely kept from charging in all categories, just the most popular ones (currently only jobs categories in three cities are incurring fees). This means that people will still think of Craigslist as a free place to search and post, so the popularity won't drop off much. THE RESULT: Certain other posting sites may become more popular with rental agents, but the jury's out as to whether the crowds will follow.

4) Fake listings may abound on the "by owner" rental section. Currenty Craig has decided not to charge for this section, so it is possible that some shady rental agents will claim to be owners so as to post ads for free. If you call and find out the poster is a rental agent, REPORT IT TO CRAIG!! The logical end result of this situation is that people will not be able to find good by owner ads on Craigslist and will turn back to reputable rental agents (those paying to post). THE RESULT: Overall, direct-renting owners will be hurt by diminished feedback and will go elsewhere, possibly working with more rental agents. Other web sites may gain more landlord-direct listings.

Overall, I think it's a wash. I happen to advertise on NY Times Direct so I'm not too concerned. Also, the Citi-Habitats web site is one of the most heavily trafficked in the country, so you will certainly find my ads. Don't worry: when I find one that's great, I'll certainly let you know!

COMING SOON... I reveal a great web site for no fee listings - including MANY that brokers have!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Sometimes Giving Back is the Right Thing To Do...

The first day of February finds me finally back from vacation, yet embarking on a new journey.

Unfortunately I was forced to admit a defeat in my quest to live on my earnings as a real estate agent: I hit the threshold beyond which I dared not go. I'm not totally giving up, but I did have to have a part time job, preferably one that paid my health insurance, which I had to give up in January because I couldn't afford it anymore (for anyone working a salaried job out there, your insurance costs a LOT!!). I sent resumes in for front desk jobs, database jobs, event assistant jobs, anything that paid a certain level and was part time. But I found a unique opportunity with UHAB, the Urban Homesteading Assistance Board.

UHAB is a nonprofit organization that acts as developer for affordable housing projects. These are not "projects", which are basically meant to give shelter to the homeless. Instead, they are a form of home ownership for the poorest in the city, and something that is very necessary in this day & age.

Basically the following happens: a landlord loses his apartment building due to foreclosure (unpaid taxes, water bills, mortgages, etc.). Tenants can also organize to arrange to buy the building from the landlord (this costs more). The tenants organize with UHAB's help and ask to become a cooperative under the HDFC umbrella. They choose UHAB to be their "sponsor" or developer. UHAB then acquires the building using public and private funds earmarked for affordable housing. A construction loan is taken out to fix the buildings, which usually need serious upgrades. Apartment interiors are also rehabbed. Tenants are relocated during this process.

At the end of construction, the co-op is formed. The construction loan is replaced by permanent financing and the new board takes control of the finances, assisted by HDFC, a sister company.

So here I am working in the finance/construction department with a very interesting job: to help create requisitions, proformas and generally manage the books of all projects currently in development. Doesn't sound like a part time job? Well, techically it's not. It's an Americorps volunteer position! I'm not getting paid much, but I'm going to do things that are way more sophisticated than any other paper pushing job. Plus I still have flexibility to work real estate, which is what I wanted to maintain.

On the real estate side of things, I am almost finished (finally) with my email list. If you want to be on it, please email me. I have plans for two: one to be sent monthly, about general interest real estate and the second to be sent weekly for people who are actively looking for a piece of property.

Things are coming together. Slowly.

Here's one property that I want to highlight:

This gorgeous 1300 square foot duplex in Ditmas Park is only $425,000 and features an AMAZING layout: one long open living room downstairs (walk through kitchen and powder room are tucked off to the side) with ENORMOUS TERRACE! Upstairs, a large master bedroom, smaller second bedroom (PERFECT size for office or child's room), with enormous walk-in closet just off master bedroom in hall. Full bathroom upstairs. This apartment has been beautifully renovated and would make a very comfortable home. The building features a garage, elevator, and laundry. Nearby transportation: B68 bus to Pavillion in Windsor Terrace, bus across Cortelyou, Q train and F train at Ditmas Ave. Building allows pets and 10% down payment.

Pros: Fantastic layout (I almost bought one), great price for the size (and probably somewhat negotiable), OUTDOOR SPACE, available off-street parking, great location for kids and near one of the true up-and-coming neighborhoods (this means not rough, only has a few kitschy shops & restaurants with more on the way). The commute is incredibly short: less than 45 minutes door to door to 34th Street via the Q train.

Cons: Really only one: the maintenance is very high - over $900. Couples looking to relocate from Manhattan or Brooklyn Heights will find this easy to swallow, but it's pricey for people moving from Park Slope/Windsor Terrace. You can combat this by putting down more money so you don't have a large mortgage payment. This is the kind of home that you will live in for years - and you will appreciate it greatly as it appreciates!

Monday, January 23, 2006

New Year, New Approach

February 19 is my one-year anniversary of becoming a licensed real estate agent. For me, it's cause for celebration. Many people say that your first year is the hardest, and that's certainly true with me, especially since I had to go to two different agencies and learn two different systems. Although I am definitely not settled with Citi-Habitats yet (after so long!!), I am learning.

It's strange that I felt so supported when I was in such a small agency. Even though I didn't have the huge infrastructure behind me that CH gives, I somehow felt more at ease with the system that my broker had developed. I thought that CH would be more or less the same but discovered that my broker had taken the best parts and distilled them into a powerful system. It was the people that failed him, not the system. Although I was producing, it just wasn't enough for him. Perhaps if I had found him the year before... but that's all water under the bridge now. Time to move on.

But I am developing my own systems now. That's one of the great lessons of Robert Kiyosaki, whose books I rely on: Self-employed people own a job, but business owners own a system that can be replicated many times over on a larger and larger scale. Not nearly as easy as it sounds.

Systems in development for me include my own website, an email newsletter list (format in development) and a local direct mail marketing campaign based on the teachings of Thomas J. Stanley (his books are a dry read, but you can find a great interview called Networking With Millionaires at Audible.com. Since the basic "plaster everything all over craigslist" is no longer working (and since a $10 per listing fee for rentals is coming down the pike), I'm going to try something else!

So it's off to the referral races for me. Thus the email list, which I am currently procrastinating on. So back to the grindstone for me!

Monday, January 16, 2006

OUCH, That Hurt!!!

There are some times when you think that everything is going your way, and then suddenly you find out that it isn't. Unfortunately, today is one of those days for me.

I have a listing that I've been trying to sell in the co-op building where I live in Brooklyn. It's a sponsor listing and unfortunately it's very overpriced. But I have it because I can advertise it, manage to get some buyers to take other places, and hey, I might even sell it to that intrepid soul that dares to make an aggressive offer.

Well, I thought I had found that soul. A nice gentleman who has been looking at places in my neighborhood came to see it twice. He actually bid on a fixer-upper one-bedroom in the same building, but unfortunately he thought about it too long and two other offers usurped him. So he was looking at my studio, which at nearly 600 sq. ft is not that small! He was thinking about what he wanted to bid and we were to follow up today. Well, it just so happened that yesterday he saw an open house for a fixer-upper in a nearby building that he used to live in. Since it was in his budget and a one-bedroom, he's going to offer on that instead. So frustrating! But, I figure, par for the course.

But that's not all. I was just advised that another agent who lives in my building was showing the apartment across the hall from me. Since we have the same database, I looked it up and sure enough, they had listed it for sale! These thing blindside you all the time I suppose, but I was sad because I had actually canvassed them - they were originally thinking about renting the apartment, and then it seemed they disappeared for two months and I never saw them. This morning, ironically, was the first day I saw one of them in weeks, and I asked about their new baby. But not a word.

So now I'm Monday-morning quarterbacking. Should I have been more aggressive? They had told me before that they were going to move. They had asked me my opinion about the rental, why not the sale? Do they think I can only rent apartments? Do they think I'm too inexperienced compared to this other agent (who has perhaps four or five years compared to my one) who sold a similarly sized apartment just two months ago? Likely, but maybe there's something else. I'm going to ask.

There is one silver lining in all this - the other agent is with a firm that has to cooperate with my firm. (In Brooklyn, "co-broking", as it is called, is not practiced by all firms, but is mandatory between certain firms, including ours). So, I can still bring buyers and hope to do so.

So anyone shopping with a $550,000 budget who needs a recently renovated 1350 sq. ft three bedroom that is on the corner of Prospect Park, please email me. Perhaps I have not yet closed a sale as an agent, but I have been through several as a buyer, and I have been on the board of this co-op, and I guarantee that I can get the job done. And you will be treated like gold!

Thursday, January 12, 2006

A New Yorker's Look at San Francisco.

Ok, so it's almost halfway through January and I haven't done my first post of the new year. I am still not giving up on my resolutions! I'm back from San Francisco so look forward to my new posts.

This New Year's I explored uncharted territory - for me at least. San Francisco and the surrounding bay/penninsula got my full attention for nearly two weeks. Well, not my full attention. Unfortunately about five days in I came down with a horrible 24-hour flu. After sweating it out in bed for 18 hours, I expected the usual head cold but instead got a pretty severe ear infection. Luckily I made the decision to seek medical attention more than two days before my flight home (wasn't sure if it was a cold manifesting itself) and therefore got enough antibiotics in me to prevent blowing out my eardrum and general misery flying home (not to mention infecting dozens of other people!).

While I was in San Francisco I did indulge in a tiny bit of real estate shopping. I was very excited to discover two four unit houses on Russian Hill (the bottom) for sale. The agent was Alex Mora, a very intelligent and helpful gentleman who didn't mind spending a few minutes on the phone with me even though I was probably not going to be very serious. I investigated them very seriously and discovered the San Francisco has made itself a horrible place to be a landlord. Among the rules are rent controls that extend to ALL buildings built in the early 1970s (in New York anything under 6 units is exempt), which makes it very difficult to get a building that carries itself. Furthermore, all of California has a law (Proposition something or other) that keeps all property taxes level for as long as you own a house. Then when you sell it, the taxes become a certain percentage of the new selling price. This would guarantee to sink you, even with the $7000 first year property tax exemption. My boyfriend explained that this was enacted to help people who were being taxed out of their houses. I'm not really thrilled with it - I think maybe there should be a tax break for you depending on how long you have lived in the house, not the other way around!!

So of course people are condoing their two and three family homes right and left in San Francisco. Because no one can afford to be a landlord there. So two or three parties will band together and buy a multi-unit house as "tenants in common" then apply for a license to convert to a true condo. And there's some strange kind of lottery that you have to apply to, but you get preference if you're a small owner-occupant, but not if you evicted someone else to move in, yadda, yadda, yadda. And I thought New York made things difficult!

Also, rents are very much less than I thought they would be! Obviously they are expensive but you can still find one-bedrooms for $800, and not in as bad a neighborhoods as they would be in New York. To me, that's cheap!

My favorite neighborhoods: Cow Hollow, although it was a tad posh. North Beach (although too litigious), South Beach (needs more commerce, but very bright and nice), SoMa - I am used to living in current/former Skid Rows, and SoMa seems no different. In fact, it seems downright interesting and a great deal.

My favorite part of the Bay Area: Berkeley! This lovely little town contains Univ. of California - Berkeley, (also known as Cal), the jewel in the crown of the U-C system. It also reminds me very much of Ann Arbor, the hometown of my alma mater University of Michigan (Go Blue!!). We drove up to the Science Institute and watched a stunning sunset, then down to have Indian food. Berkeley, as many know, is also the birthplace of the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA), my beloved medieval recreational society (sewing, crafts, mead and fighting). While I didn't regard it as a pilgrimmage, I did happen to drive by the house where it happened. Funny to believe what things can grow to.

I know my boyfriend, having hung his heart in San Francisco for nearly 20 years, would dearly like me to start packing my bags, but unfortunately it just didn't grab me in that way. While I don't think I would mind eventually living there, I don't think I could ever settle down there, the way I could in Ann Arbor or even New Orleans (I'm confident it still holds the charms that gripped me before).

But now back to the grind. On the last day before I came home, a customer called me to make an offer on an apartment that I had shown him six weeks prior. There had already been one accepted offer that had fallen through, but he waited (even though it wasn't being shown for three weeks) until a new open house happened and then bang! Three offers. He is now third in line. I can see one offer falling through again, but two?? Why wait six weeks?? Buyers, please, if you really like a place, don't wait six weeks! Make a bid so you don't kick yourself. Especially if you are planning to offer low!

I'm in the office and scheduled for a one-on-one with my two managers tomorrow. I dearly dearly want to do better but I still feel paralyzed. Three weeks away did nothing for that, even though I have just gotten a new listing for a lovely one-bedroom in Grammercy Park. I feel groggy and tired. People are buzzing around me in full action. I feel so out of it.

My second colleague from Wenton Realty (my former agency) has decided to go part time. I want to and don't want to at the same time. I really really want to make this work. I'm seeing a hypnotherapist tonight. Maybe she can help me with my anxiety. It's just paralyzing me.

In other news, I have the chance to become an Americorps volunteer for a non-profit affordable housing developer. This would be my chance to work with a developer - something I've never really understood other than from the agent side of it. I need to make my decision by tomorrow. Always so many choices! Pros: I would get amazing experience, the moral good will that comes from being a volunteer, and a stipend that would cover many of my basic costs such as mortgage, transportation & health insurance. con: I need to work there an average of 35 hours/week to fulfill my obligation in the time allotted. That will really cut into my real estate time. If I felt that I could fit it all in, I wouldn't hesitate. However I doubt myself. That is my downfall. If anyone has some good books or ideas for me on this, I would really appreciate them!!!!