Tuesday, December 01, 2009

U or W?

Well, it's been an amazing 6 months, to say the least. Every minute someone is making a prediction about where we are in the "cycle" and whether the bottom of the chart is going to look like a "U" - that is, a flat bottom that we ease out of - or a "W" - a double-dipping bottom with a small rally in between. As always, the jury is still out. When will we know? In a couple years. Yeah, it's what they say about hindsight...

Luckily, when it comes to real estate, we can often see what's going to happen years in advance because it's a lagging indicator - that is, whatever is affecting the market happens first, then real estate follows as much as 12-24 months later. That's why, when the markets were shaking in 2008, New York real estate was still going up, albeit at a slower pace than 2006 or 2007. Now, the market is getting the shakes of 2008 out of its system.

Where will it go next year? Well, the stock market spent most of 2009 recovering from a disastrous 2008. Oddly enough, in fits and starts, so did the rest of the country's real estate market. People who can afford to take their properties off the market are doing so. All that will help create upward pressure on the market.

Unfortunately, there is another lagging indicator - employment - that is going to stretch out our recovery. The government stabilized banks last year from the fallout of poorly-made loans. This year, it looks like a lot of good people are on hard times from the layoffs they've suffered, and now banks have to contend with more foreclosures. New York is still relatively insulated - there are so few foreclosures - but a lot of banking jobs and the services that revolve around them have been lost.

So, still no conclusions. But look around you and remember what you can. Maybe next time this happens - and you can bet that it will happen again - you'll be the one who was ready to take advantage.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Pros and Cons of Brownstone Living

When I became a real estate agent in 2005, my first training was to familiarize myself with the real estate of New York. That is no easy feat and it involved climbing lots of stairs and bluffing my way into hundreds of buildings to see many more apartments than I could hope to count. My photo collection includes hundreds of apartments, and hundreds more if I hadn't lost some photos to corruption.
What I learned was that, in addition to certain neighborhoods having various charms and amenities, the housing shares certain characteristics. People who don't live in these neighborhoods are sometimes shocked, for instance, that nothing in their price range has laundry in the building, or an elevator, or everything is dark. A real estate agent can end up turning off a client by doing nothing more than showing an uneducated client exactly what they are asking for in terms of price, location and number of bedrooms.
I sometimes get a call from an interested party who declares that their last broker "only showed me garbage." When I probe a little more deeply into what they asked for, I quickly realize why.
My favorite request is a brownstone "with lots of light".
Brownstones are long, narrow townhouses that typically have a north-south orientation. This means two things: 1) the only windows are typically in the living room and the bedroom, leaving the kitchen, bathroom, and half the living room fairly dark UNLESS the apartment is on the top floor. But that of course means walking up 2-3 more flights of stairs; and 2) one of the rooms with windows will usually be very dark because it's facing north. To make things even worse, the side of the apartment that faces the back of the building may face nothing but a brick wall because in some parts of Manhattan (Upper West Side!), there isn't much of a backyard separating the buildings.
And this is only when you are lucky enough to find a floor-through apartment! If you end up with a half floor-through, then you get one set of windows out the front, and one room (usually the bedroom) with one measly window on a (poorly named) airshaft - might as well have it bricked up for all the light it brings! So, when someone calls me up and specifies a brownstone, I have to groan just a little bit.

But other types of buildings have their own issues. More on that next time....

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

My Favorite Time of Year!

This is my absolute favorite time of year. The weather has turned warm but not too warm (except for a random few days), the trees are lush and green, and being outside is just a pleasure. And, yes, we are heading into the busy season for movers.

Many people have asked me what I expect this summer to be like. Well, according to two well-known market observers - Citi Habitats and the Real Estate Group of New York, May 2009 was the first month in which New York's vacancy rate went down since early 2008. Does this mean we've turned the corner?

Once again, I have to say that I don't know. We're not going back to the days where apartments are on the market for an hour before garnering 4 applications. At the same time, I did rent an apartment last week that had been on the market a mere 2 days! So... the good ones out there don't last for long.

And while by and large renters are only answering ads that say "no-fee", a good majority of the apartments out there are still officially "fee" apartments, though the fees may be reduced or the landlords convinced to pay them. So, at least for the next couple weeks, landlords don't have the same vice grip on the necks of renters that they used to... but renters shouldn't wait for the market to dip, because the softness might have already rung out. Remember, you never truly know the market bottom until you've missed it!

Enjoy this gorgeous weather, and go see some apartments!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Spring Cleaning, Spring Dreaming

So we've begun the transition from bitter winter to summer heat. I'm dismayed that it's going to be one of those years where it's in the 30s one minute, and the 90s the next. Sure, right now it's in the 50s and 60s, but the humidity and wind make it feel much colder, yet I'm sweating all at the same time!

Well, Sunday was a soggy day and during the lulls of my open house, I started thinking about my OWN real estate - my 1 bedroom coop in Kensington, where I've lived the past 8 years this June. I bought it when I was 24 (yes, you do the math!), and it's served me and my sweetheart well. But it's definitely looking lived-in now, and nowhere so much as the bathroom.

Our bathroom was straight outta the 80s when I bought it. Actually, that's rather new for my building, where many of the units still sport their vintage 30s enamel soaking tubs in cranberry, and sometimes salmon pink or lime green art deco era tile as well.

My bathroom was obviously redone in the 1980s, but with powder blue-gray tile all throughout the shower, walls, and floor, and a shallower tub (still long and deep enough to accommodate my 6'3" sweetie, who loves to soak!) also in powder blue-gray. A captain's sink (suspended from the wall, with no vanity underneath to hide the pipes) matches. You'd think that a Civil War enthusiast chose the color scheme.

I have long harbored dreams of doing a designer rehab throughout my little home - it could be maximized to so well will all the amazing technologies that we have now. At the very least, I want to strip the moldings and window frames to get the globs of dried paint off them. But the bathroom, that place that you go for peace in all the urban lore, it brings me deep sadness... probably because of all the blue-gray!

Let's face it, in today's economy, income is a precarious thing, and I'd be a fool to undertake such a renovation at the moment. I mean, that room needs a gut renovation. I'd love to re-orient the tub to the back of the bathroom so that I can rip out the sink and have a real vanity. And possibly even (gasp!) a single-unit washer/dryer tucked under part of the vanity! The art-deco laundry hamper - currently housing our excess toilet paper - would go and make room for a larger set-in cabinet that could hold most of our medicines and some towels. Oh, to have some real color in the bathroom, but not much. I love cobalt blue and probably a border of that with black accents against classic New York subway tile.

But again, that's easily a $25,000 renovation, much of it eaten up by the custom bathtub and moving the plumbing. Not really something I can take on right now, and not a do-it-yourself type project either, since there's only one bathroom in my apartment and two people depend on it.

But.... I realized that just replacing the sink might have a nice warm-fuzzy feeling effect. The sink is really an eyesore and just about the most inconvenient thing about the bathroom. Since it's completely off the floor and has no vanity underneath, there's no storage at all - we are stuck stuffing the cleaning supplies in the linen closet, which is stuffed enough. And there is absolutely no room on top of the sink for anything except our toothbrushes. The two tile cup/toothbrush holders that stick out six inches above the sink mean we can't put anything over two inches tall on the back part of the sink, which is the only flat part of the sink where we can put things. And guess what? The holes in the toothbrush holder don't fit today's toothbrushes! also, they are so close to the medicine cabinet that opening the cabinet will knock any cup we put on top of the holder off onto the floor. At least twice a day, I knock a comb, razor, or even toothbrush off whatever precarious perch where we've managed to balance it. And I'm the CAREFUL one in the house!

Not to mention the grime that accumulates under the sink as a result of both shower spray and sink spray that makes it's way underneath. Simply put, practically useless.

That said, I endured it for over six years because it worked. Until one day, I realized that the cold water wouldn't shut all the way off. Odd that it would be the cold water, but then again, we use that faucet more than the hot water. The super very agreeably changed a washer and all was well. But just last month, it started happening AGAIN! Less than two years later, the cold water washer has gone on us. Now, I don't pay directly for my water - the bill is paid through the co-op maintenance, but I am concerned about conserving water - and money - for all of us. And I learned that, due to the fact that the sink has its faucets in a lateral position instead of a vertical, and I have to realize that the likelihood we'll have another leaky faucet soon after repair is very high. So the sink, it has to go.

So, spring dreaming and lulled by the rain that tapped on the windows of my giant duplex townhouse rental, I logged onto the Lowe's and Home Depot website and started pricing out sinks. And what I found was: I can get a "placeholder" sink for under $200, vanity, basin and faucets all included. I figure that installation would be a similar amount or less, making this a very doable improvement. Not that I'd want to just sell my apartment that way, but I'd sure feel better selling it that way than with the crappy sink I've been subjecting myself to all those years.

AND I can remove those horrid useless holders myself with my Dremel tool and patch the space with plain black tiles until I'm ready to gut the place. oh, I can hardly wait for that day. But until then, I'm going sink shopping, and no one can stop me!!!!!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

THIS is why I live in New York

Things have certainly been tough in NYC for a while. According to StreetEasy, about 400 more properties are coming on the market every week, and the time on market can be over 6 months! Prices have come down about 25%. Q1 2009 was slightly better than Q4 2008 in terms of closings and contracts signed.

On the rental side, vacancies are up and rents are down. People are renewing leases for LESS than the previous year's rent - good for them! Others are downsizing, or upsizing to more space for the same price. And I am seeing more people moving back to Manhattan from Brooklyn!

The truth is that while collectively we are in a world of hurt, the recession is really good for a lot of people. They are able to live New York, the way they always wanted to (perhaps the way they used to!).

I myself have been living New York this last week participating in what has become a New York staple: the Tribeca Film Festival. I have seen 7 movies and many actors and directors, some of whom I even got to talk with. I'm not a huge film festival junkie, but I decided for no good reason to volunteer in 2008 and had so much fun I went back in 2009. And I have had a great deal of fun!!! The weather has been gorgeous and I finally fulfilled another first, which was to eat at Bubby's (yes, 12 years in NYC and never eaten there until last week).

This last week, though a lot of work (especially squeezing in real estate showings all around!), has really refreshed me and made me proud to be living in New York again. Yes, things are tough for all around, but it's just incomparable to anywhere else!

On an annecdotal level, I have been seeing more people truly interested in buying. Some were always kind of off in the distance, but several customers have contacted me in the past month, interested in actively searching for the right apartment to buy. And it's a good time. There's no saying that this is the market bottom, but I feel reasonably comfortable saying that we're close to the bottom of this cycle, and anyone who is interested in buying can feel comfortable doing so if they have a reasonable down payment and their credit has stayed intact.

I'll be posting my latest listings in Gramercy and Chinatown soon!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

STILL AVAILABLE - 1700 - Surprisingly Spacious 2 room studio in Chinatown

Hanna Edwards | M. Woods & Associates | 718-696-7145
Mott Street, New York, NY
2-room studio - separate kitchen and dining area in prime

Chinatown/Little Italy.
Studio/1BA Apartment

Bedrooms Studio
Bathrooms 1 full, 0 partial
Sq Footage 425
Parking None
Pet Policy Cats, Small dogs (<>
Deposit $1,700


A junior one bedroom or two room studio on Mott Street just below Canal Street.

Gut renovated two years ago and featuring modern bathroom and kitchen, new hardwood floors, brand new electric heaters, soundproofed windows, two closets and lots of shelving.

10 foot ceilings. One flight walkup.

So many eating and cafe options just within one block, and the delights of Little Italy just one block away!

see additional photos below

Central heatHigh/Vaulted ceilingHardwood floor


Vintage building


One year lease. First month rent and one month security. Credit check required : $60 application fee. Guarantors accepted (additional credit check required).




Dining Room/Foyer

Dining Room/Foyer


Contact info:

Hanna Edwards
M. Woods & Associates

powered by postlets Equal Opportunity Housing
Posted: May 2, 2009, 11:57am PDT

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Enjoy Spring & Summer in Manhattan

Hanna Edwards | M. Woods & Associates | 718-696-7145
Barrow Street, New York, NY
Furnished Doorman Greenwich Village Loft Apartment - Short Term Sublet Starting February 20.
Furnished 1BR/1BA Vacation Condo
Bedrooms 1
Bathrooms 1 full, 0 partial
Sq Footage 700
Parking None


Available February 20, 2009-July 20, 2009 with option to extend through August.

Gorgeous 700 sq ft one bedroom apartment with 12 foot vaulted brick ceilings! Sun-dappled living room features a full balcony with gas grill. On the other side it opens to full equipped galley kitchen with stainless steel appliances including dishwasher. Spa-like Bathroom has undergone designer renovation with custom tile and upscale fixtures. Bedroom features queensized bed and oversized closet.

This peaceful retreat is in the heart of the bustling village, just two blocks in either direction from subway lines at West 4th Street and Christopher Street, respectively. Enjoy a "Sex and the City" lifestyle during the most vibrant times in New York!

The building allows pets upon owner approval.

see additional photos below

Air conditioningCentral heatHigh/Vaulted ceiling
Hardwood floorLiving roomDishwasher
Granite countertopStainless steel appliancesBalcony, Deck, or Patio
High-speed internet


Laundry on-siteSecured entryElevator
Vintage buildingWheelchair access


$3500 per month includes all utilities:
-Central heat and a/c
-Cooking Gas
-DSL Internet access

$3500 deposit is returned after move-out
$60 application fee
$2500 Broker fee


Contact info:

Hanna Edwards
M. Woods & Associates

powered by postlets Equal Opportunity Housing
Posted: Feb 3, 2009, 9:44am PST

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Embark Upon Your New Year's Direction

Happy New Year to all!!!

Well, since my last post, things have been pretty hectic, and not in a good way. As I predicted, the market has fallen quite a bit more, and companies are struggling to keep pace through layoffs. Everyone seems paralyzed, unsure of what comes next.

This is where I say to you: there is more opportunity now than before! The stock market as of Dec. 31 had fallen 33% in the previous 12 months. The rest of the country's real estate market has fallen anywhere from 10%-45% over the previous 2 years. Yet, remarkably, the five boroughs held on.

Sure, there was some crumbling around the edges as subprime mortgages and overleveraged investors began to fail. But it wasn't until that fateful week when Bear Stearns finally faltered that we saw the house collapse.

A great many people, gurus of our economic days from Robert Schiller to Robert Kiyosaki, have predicted this would happen. Indeed, it is happening sooner than even they thought it would. But though it is painful, in the end, there will be opportunity for those of us who are looking for our next step up the ladder to financial prosperity and freedom, or just to a comfortable home.

I was lucky - my rental properties are rented and I am even or above water in their values due to the fact that I bought them a few years ago. But they are illiquid investments - I probably could not sell them now if I had to. Thus, I hold them off the market. My stock portfolio took a hit, but I had sold many commodity-oriented stocks in July and have since been sitting on cash as well.

I am now looking to jump back into the stock market, and I think, that anyone who managed to preserve some liquidity should as well. Yes, the market for both real estate and stocks could and well may continue to fall, but this is hardly a reason to sit paralyzed on the sidelines, or to put aside life plans. Very few people manage to hit a market bottom on the nose - usually we miss it, sometimes we miss the first third of the new bull market before the media and society as a whole realizes what is happening. And the most rapid gains are always at the beginning. Personally, I'll gladly risk a further 10% drop to realize a 25% gain.

Perhaps, with the small rally that happened on January 2nd, we are finally turning around. But likely not. The market will likely continue down for a couple more months, then mill about for maybe 12-18 months, and most people will sell at this point and go into cash and bond investments that yield nothing. But then the market will turn up. Inventories and labor markets will have equalized, new companies will have been started from the dregs of the old - sublet office space, resold office furniture and equipment, fire sale services unneeded by failed predecessors. From the ashes of the old rise the beautiful newborn phoenix.

Another interesting note is that some of my friends who live in the midwest are reporting a mini-rally in real estate. My friend who lives in an upscale suburb of Detroit told me that several houses in her neighborhood had finally sold after two years of being on the market. Another friend who is a real estate agent in St. Louis suddenly has multiple offers on two of her listings and offers out for buyers on three more houses. It looks to me like some of the midwest has finally hit the comfort zone for these people. Good for them - they are seizing their opportunity.

However little the underlying capitalization of a stock may be, it is unlikely to go to zero, particularly if a company has little debt on its books (so do your due diligence!).

And real estate will never go to zero, because you are buying something tangible. The question is, at what price are you comfortable enough to purchase? When prices hit there, that is when you should pounce. Do not play the waiting game for too long, because none of us can predict the market bottom. If you want to find your new home, define what you want, what you need and what you can afford. Then go out and buy it. If you truly find what you want and need at the price you can afford, it will not seem too high even if the market does drop further. And you will never regret it.

Keep your head about you and seize your opportunity!