Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year 2013!

I wish you all a safe, happy holiday. To all who worked so hard to make celebration possible, be they mothers, business owners, employees, public officials, soldiers, and so many more I thank you for your generosity of time and spirit. And to all I pray a very happy and prosperous 2013.

Hanna Edwards

Friday, November 02, 2012

My Hurricane Sandy Odyssey

NYC Real Estate Goddess rode out the storm snug in Brooklyn, where my location in Kensington - though sometimes seemingly inconvenient to the nightlife splendors of Manhattan - lent itself to my safety. My 6 story elevator building lost neither power nor water nor heat, and no damage to the building (so far as I am aware) or my unit. So I am very thankful.

The office of M. Woods & Associates - my brokerage - also came through the storm in good shape. There hasn't been any power since Monday night due to the 14th street substation outage, but the building did not flood and did not sustain any damage, though a wall of ivy in the backyard was ripped off the wall and landed in the garden.

Since Sunday we were hunkered down in Brooklyn. It was so cute to see all the kids in the building watching movies like Madagascar and Ice Age 3 in our basement common room. Parents brought popcorn.
Our proximity to Park Slope made the wait for public transport bearable - Tuesday we walked up to the Pavillion to see Taken 2 - Argo was unfortunately sold out! - and to have dinner on Prospect Park West at the Windsor Cafe. Our server (who I think was also the owner, as we've seen him before but never waiting tables) seemed harried but polite - no doubt due to the inevitable short staffing situation that comes with no public transportation in NYC!

Wednesday was Halloween. I was spared the stress and anxiety of trying to find a way into Manhattan to conduct a lease signing when the markets re-opened, making it necessary for the new tenant to work the NYSE. I had a plan if necessary. It involved 1-2 local buses to get to downtown Brooklyn, then walking or taking the ferry across to Manhattan, then a bus up to the Village, and walking the rest of the way. My building is actually 3 blocks from an express bus stop, but it's the last stop before departing to Manhattan (through the Battery Tunnel, which was closed, meaning a detour to the Brooklyn Bridge), and there would be little chance that the buses wouldn't be packed within the first couple stops in Sheepshead Bay. Luckily, in the end the only bus I had to take was the B68 up to Park Slope with my sweetie, to indulge our favorite Halloween tradition of eating at our favorite pizza place, Pizza Plus, and cooing at all the cute Halloween costumes that the kids were wearing. I also was able to add our leftover Halloween candy to Pizza Plus' stash - businesses give away candy in Park Slope - thereby keeping us from devouring it in the days to follow!

Thursday, we finally got some subway service back. With a guaranteed route available to Downtown Brooklyn, I was finally ready to attempt the crossing! I had 4 plans for crossing into downtown Brooklyn:

1) Take the subway shuttle bus, which would leave me at 14th and 3rd and and walk over to 12th and Hudson.

2) Take the East River Ferry at Brooklyn Bridge Park and get a bus on the Manhattan side to go up to 14th Street.

3) Get in the carpool line at the Brooklyn Bridge and get a ride into Manhattan, supplementing with bus as necessary.

4) Walk across the Brooklyn Bridge - this was my last resort plan!

Upon arriving at Jay St - Metrotech, I encountered the shuttle bus line. It wasn't too long, perhaps 80 people were in line, though the line wasn't very clearly defined, e.g., with barriers. Instead of having shuttle buses lined up, they were pulling up 1 at a time about 5-8 minutes apart. As I watched a bus being loaded up - to the gills - I realized that I would likely have to stand, and that in Manhattan people would try to get on, with few getting off til 34th street. I decided to try my luck elsewhere. Option #1 was out, perhaps to try on the way home.

The on-ramp to the Brooklyn Bridge was just up the street. I walked over and found a cop directing traffic. I asked where the carpool lines were but he told me there weren't any, that I was supposed to "arrange it" myself, and "it was a good way to end up in someone's trunk". That remote possibility aside, I didn't feel like waiting at the side of the road for someone with 2 people in the car needing a 3rd to roll along. Plus it would mean walking away from the bridge, which would be going backwards. No go on Option #3.

I considered Option #4 my last resort, though I've walked the Brooklyn Bridge countless times. So I didn't walk directly onto the bridge after talking to the officer and instead started walking towards Dumbo. I knew that once I got to Old Fulton St, I could see the lines for the ferry, and if they looked long, I could just dart up the staircase near Cadman Plaza to get on the bridge instead.

Luckily, that didn't have to happen. From my vantage point I saw that there was no line (and confirmed by checking Twitter feeds for NY Magazine and NYEDC) and got my spot.

An added benefit of heading to the ferry was walking through the neighborhood I lived in nearly 15 years ago, but have rarely visited since - Brooklyn Heights. Cadman Plaza has been refurbished with a new green play surface to accommodate all the screaming kids that were working off the excess energy from being cooped up for 3 days + a lot of Halloween candy. The paths snaking along the perimeter have also been redone with a rubber composite for nice jogging surfaces. I caught a glimpse of the new building at Poplar and Henry too as well as a new restaurant up the block. I do miss those few blocks.

$4 for a quick ride is a great bargain and I was lucky enough that the next ferry was heading straight to my preferred destination of Wall Street Pier. So, Option #2 ended up being the plan. But it wasn't the end of my journey by a long spell.

Walking from the pier to Broadway was interesting. Everything was very quiet, subdued, just a lot of pumping trucks and a few people manning them. No lights in any of the buildings. Once I got to the Stock Exchange there were walking tours of tourists. I cut down Thames Street to Church, which goes uptown, and stood across from the World Trade Center site, which had lights and a working elevator. I noticed businesses on the same block had electricity too - maybe they are on the steam system? I hadn't heard much before Sandy about buildings buying steam directly from ConEd to power them. It's definitely something I want to know more about. With the exception of one all-electric building in Chelsea, everything building we manage has gas or oil boilers.

One unintended benefit to getting the ferry was hitting Church Street before the bridge-crossers do. I caught an uptown M5 with relatively few people on it - I was able to get a seat. At the next stop, perhaps 15 people got on - no more seats. The stop after that was next to City Hall Park - right across where the Brooklyn Bridge hits Manhattan. But the bus was practically full already. A few people managed to pack into the rear door, making it very uncomfortable. Naturally the guy standing all the way in the back thought it beneath him to move a half step back, allowing for breathing room near the rear door. The bus driver made everyone enter and exit from the rear door, I'm assuming so that he wouldn't have people yelling at him or crowding the front of the bus, against regulation. We skipped a few stops but had to stop at the stops where people wanted to get off. When that happened, 3 more people than got off would try to pack in, sometimes delaying us by blocking the rear door from entering.

I decided it was time to get off when people started screaming at each other. A loudmouth packed on and blocked the doors, causing someone further in to yell at her to get off. She pushed further in, managed to get the door to close, and then proceeded to talk smack back at the other woman. Not that they could have reached each other to come to blows. Even if they were next to each other they probably couldn't have raised their arms above their shoulders. Maybe they could have bitten each other, a desperate measure in these bacteria-averse times. There wasn't much chance of a fight. But I'd had enough, and 8th Street was close enough so that I could get to the office within 15 minutes of walking. I reached my office 2 hours and 5 minutes after entering the subway station near my home. Usually it's a 55 minute commute, including the 5 minutes it takes to stop at Starbucks and get a tea - which I couldn't do this time because no Starbucks in any part of the Village had power.

Once off the bus I realized that there was indeed no cell phone service as had been reported! I had one bar at 6th Ave and 11th Street, but as soon as I turned down 11th Street, it was gone, and there was none all the way to 12th Street and Hudson Street. I hoped no one was trying to reach me. The landline in the office was working, at least. The landlord I was heading to see greeted us with flashlights as we walked up to the top floor apartment.  The lease signing went well and I was glad to see the landlord was holding up very well without power. He has gas heat, so he could cook, and gravitational water pressure, so he had water, though it was all cold since the water heater was off.

Collapsed Chelsea Facade From Hurricane Sandy
On my way back I stopped to look at the building in Chelsea where the facade was blown off. The truck with scaffolding materials was just below and it seemed they were starting to build the scaffold as the sun was going down. It's exactly as the footage on TV showed it. How sad! Two of the apartments had beds just inside the walls - how scary to realize there is little keeping you from falling down 3 stories!

What's truly amazing about this collapse was the fact that not just the facade fell off the building - the facade was some kind of brown stone. But there was a brick interior wall underneath that stone, anchored by wooden studs. And ALL of it was sheared away on the third and fourth stories, only the brick surviving on the second story. You can see the metal trim at the top was pulled out on the lefthand side, maybe providing a crack that the wind levered away? Or was there longtime water damage from the roof weakening the facade's adhesion to the building? I feel sorry for the people who lost their homes there. It's a great location!

Dark Downtown with Lights from Times Square in the Distance - Hurricane Sandy
After this it was time to head back to the shuttle on 3rd Avenue. But by then it was getting dark. I knew the street lights were out, but it didn't really occur to me until I saw someone walking down the street with a flashlight that it was going to really get dark. Not completely dark - there were many cars on the street - but much darker than I've ever seen it in New York. I could see pretty well but was glad I had my own flashlight to shine into the corners under street scaffolding as I passed by - just to be sure. I caught the bus at 7th Ave after a good taste of the darkness. Kind of made me feel like "I Am Legend". I've been camping plenty of times and am used to complete darkness under the night sky, but it was a little creepy in the city, especially this city!

At Union Square I got off the bus when I realized Whole Foods had lights and shoppers! They had opened at 1PM on Thursday. They had limited lights, little bakery goods, no meat other than some packaged goods, and no dairy in the display case. But it was good to see them open! I got a couple bagels. The Green & Blacks Chocolate was completely cleaned out.

At Third Ave there were plenty of shuttles. It was full but not jam packed. It was 6:30 by then, I guess people who had been working hightailed it out. It was hard to see out of the bus with all the lights on the street out but the interior bus lights on, but I saw a couple bars who had opened in candlelight. Soon enough we were over the Manhattan Bridge and back to Jay Street, where the streets were lit and I didn't need a flashlight to go down the working escalator and back onto my working F train to Kensington. Again, a 2 hour trip, not including my detour to get Indian food at Bombay Grill in Park Slope.

Luckily, ConEd announced that power would most likely be back on Saturday, meaning more of the subways would be able to run into Manhattan. My train - the F - will likely continue running in sections until the tunnel is drained, as will the other 8 lines that run under the East River. I hope they will start running the R train over the Manhattan bridge when service to Lower Manhattan resumes, and extend the N train at least as far as Atlantic Center. The Manhattan Bridge likely to be the only crossing point by subway for the next week. Either way, starting Sunday there should be trains running at least as far down as Wall Street and the Battery, meaning I could pick it up just the other side of the Brooklyn Bridge. Walking across won't be so bad for me if there's a train just on the other side.

Today, Friday, I think I'll head over to the newly re-opened Park Slope Library and see if they need help stacking books. My Councilman Brad Lander's latest email said their regular staff was having trouble making the commute. Take it easy this weekend, everyone. Because it will be a sprint for the next two weeks!

Friday, September 14, 2012

666 Park Ave - NYC Real Estate Beware

I sometimes do background work on films and tv shows that shoot around New York City, so when I got the notices for a show called 666 Park Ave, I thought "wow, this sounds like a schlocky horror movie". Then I saw the previews:

Hmm, crossing NYC real estate with a ghost story. It looks sexy and fun! The premiere is September 30. I am really looking forward to seeing it. In the meantime, I'll stick to my downtown Village ghosts. Those Upper East Side ghosts are too fancy for me!

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Homebuyers know and stats show that closing costs you a ton in New York  - NY Daily News

Homebuyers know and stats show that closing costs you a ton in New York  - NY Daily News:

This study shows just one of the myriad ways that New York State is the highest taxed state in the country. If you want to buy a property - you have to pay tax on the mortgage that you take. Even on a refinance, it's sometimes required.

However, mortgage recording tax is not required on co-op mortgages, which significantly lowers the closing costs associated with co-ops. So when you're putting that pesky board package together for the co-op you've decided to buy, just think about how much money you're saving - up to 1.9% of the mortgage amount!

'via Blog this'

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

FHFA Says Fannie, Freddie Will Not Reduce Mortgage Balances | Realtor Magazine

So the holder of millions of mortgages has decided that reducing principal payments on underwater homes isn't going to be a good solution. I am a tad disappointed. It would seem to me that most of the people who walked away from their underwater homes have already done so. The rest of underwater people are paying their mortgages, even as they calculate how they will not be able to move for years unless they go through a very painful, very slow, very adversarial short sale process.

I think the government is looking at this completely wrong. Why not institute a principal reduction program for underwater homeowners who are current on their mortgages? Think of it as a reward to all those hardworking middle class homeowners who have managed to hang onto job and home by the skin of their teeth. These are the people who didn't take crazy risks and who would be more productive and able to productively contribute if they were a bit more secure.

Here is how I'd structure the program:

1) Homeowners must have a loan currently owned by Fannie or Freddie

2) Homeowners must be current on said mortgage

3) Homeowners must be using home as primary residence at least 2 years

4) Homeowners must apply for principal reduction and pay for an appraisal to prove that the home is underwater.

5) Homeowners would be eligible for principal reduction of half the underwater portion. In other words, If they are $200,000 under water, they would be eligible for $100,000 principal reduction. This way the homeowner still shares some of the burden.

6) Loan amortization schedule is recast so that payments are spread over the remaining life of the original loan. This drops homeowners' payments immediately.

I'll admit this might not really feel like much of a "stimulus" but it will have that effect. People need to feel secure in their lives to do the kind of consumption this economy needs. If they can't get a leg up on income, then helping them with the largest ongoing expense they have is a good way to go. Much more than a one-time handout, this will have a gradual and long lasting effect.

FHFA Says Fannie, Freddie Will Not Reduce Mortgage Balances | Realtor Magazine:


Tuesday, July 31, 2012

In Our Own Backyard

DNAInfo announced that today is the opening of a restaurant called Swine, which specializes in all kinds of pork dishes. They had me at "house-made charcuterie". At 531 Hudson, they are just 4 short blocks from our little office on 12th & Hudson. The owners also own Cafe Cluny, just down the block from us. I plan to stop sooner rather than later.

Friday, June 29, 2012

For Startup Entrepreneurs.

Are you an entrepreneur? Are you responsible for managing your company’s office space needs? If so, help NYCEDC to better assist startup companies to find real estate by taking the NYC Startup Real Estate Survey (

Monday, June 25, 2012

Wifi is Finally Happening!

So we finally are getting wifi in the subways- the same 6 that have cell service - according to this article from Crains:

While I appreciated it greatly when cell service went up in those stations, I'd rather see additional stations getting cell service. And I suppose wifi will help us use all those iPads, iPods and eReaders. But really we need service (of either kind) down an entire line, or what's the point? I certainly hope no one will start camping out on the benches of the subway to use the free wifi (especially when you can get free wifi in Jackson Square Park, and any one of 6 Starbucks, among others).

I tried to rationalize the idea that the shallowest stations would get service first, but that also makes no sense: the L platforms at 8th Ave and 6th Ave are at least 2 stories deep. Meanwhile, I used to get reception on the N/R/Q platform at Union Square, but that ended after only a few weeks. Why?

Shop Amazon Computers - New Laptops for 2012

I benefit from the service at 14th street because that is where I take the subway when heading into the office. But I would LOVE to have service at my home station Ft. Hamilton Parkway on the F train. And that's not even a tough station to wire up! On the south end of the Manhattan bound side, you can stand at the top of the stairs and get reception, but two steps down you lose it. I suppose I should be grateful just for that, but it's hard to do when I'm rocking out to Pandora and cut off half a song after jumping on the train. Once Pandora threw up Cashmere by Led Zepplin and I managed to ride that all the way through to the outdoor track at Fourth Ave, where I got a little continuity.

But I get it, Manhattan matters most, right? How about we wire up the A/C/E train from Fulton to 42nd Street and go from there?

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

When is a Hotel Really a Hotel?

In 1997, I moved to New York, fresh out of college. For the first 2 years I lived here, I lived in Brooklyn Heights.

I didn't know many people back then. I lived first with a family friend whose grown sons had moved out, then with two roommates on the north end of Brooklyn Heights that I didn't socialize much with. I worked a lot of hours at my unpaid internship at a professional sports league office, and when I was done, I had no money and no one to spend it with.

So my first few months in New York, when I wasn't at a game, I spent my free time roaming the city, starting with my adopted neighborhood Brooklyn Heights. I wandered up and down the promenade and Henry Street where I lived. And I wandered up and down Montague Street where most of the shops were and still are. It may have seemed a lonely existence (and it was sometimes) but it was good for me, learning the streets of my new city and the buildings that lined them.

As Montague drew closer to the Promenade (a route I often took for the sheer sightliness) I came to know a large marble-columned edifice with arched porticoes, a building that stood far above its closest neighbors. As I recall, it had an awning, and the awning was embossed "Bossert Hotel". I never saw doormen there, or anyone going in or coming out, really. But it looked like a nice building. I imagined it was one of those old-time hotels with small rooms appointed in antiques.

So when my dad & stepmother said they were coming for a visit, I looked the number to the Bossert Hotel up in the phone book (remember when those were useful?) and called. A nice-sounding man answered the phone with the building's name.

"Hi, I'd like to if there are rooms available," I told him.


"My father's coming to town and I'm trying to find him a place to stay," I repeated. "Do you have rooms available for the Friday after next?"

"Umm, this isn't that kind of hotel," the nice man said.

"What kind of hotel is it?" I asked, envisioning some kind of extended stay requirement.

"This is a residence for Jehovah's Witnesses. We don't take paying guests."

"Oh."  I was really disappointed, not just because I wanted my father and stepmother to stay near my home, but because I really wanted to see the inside of the building. But Dad came and stayed in Manhattan, and I kept wandering past the Bossert Hotel, wondering what it was like in there, trying to catch a glimpse through windows positioned to reflect the sunlight back out. Eventually I moved out of Brooklyn Heights. To this day I never have seen the inside of the Bossert Hotel.

But that may be about to change. Apparently the Watchtower Society has put the building on the market and it's in contract now. According to this Brownstoner post, plans have now been filed to make the building back into a real hotel.  New York certainly needs the hotel rooms.  I am really looking forward to it, though, because I love to see beautiful buildings, inside and out. Here's hoping that the developers give it an inside (or preserve its inside) that matches the beauty of the outside I have so marveled at all these years.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Where Does the Sidewalk End?

Kind of laughed when I read this article "Herds on the Street" talking about crowded sidewalks. Made me think of the children's poem:

"We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends."
- Shel Silverstein "Where the Sidewalk Ends"

The sidewalks have always been crowded. So crowded that the Dept of Transportation has made pedestrian malls out of major "squares" in the city - near the Flatiron building, Herald Square and Times Square - so people can walk in the streets legally.  Back in the early part of the 20th Century, some streets were so choked with push carts selling everything from clothing to knife sharpening, that the mayor built the Essex Street Market to get them all out of the way!

Some places, like Times Square, I don't mind the crowds. I almost (ALMOST!) like them, because it lends an air of excitement. For some reason, the crowds on 34th street outside Macy's (and down the street between Fifth and Sixth Aves) make me angry, probably because I need to go somewhere whenever I'm in the area. And the Rockefeller Center crowds don't endear themselves to me either. I avoid Prospect Park - just 2 blocks from my house - on three-day weekends. 

The Crains article actually talks about how much commerce is now conducted on the sidewalks of New York. I say, look at how much sidewalk space garbage takes up first. Then we can talk about the sidewalk vendors, food trucks and bus loading zones.

Friday, April 20, 2012

I Love New York

Just a quick reminder that this weekend is the first weekend of the Tribeca Film Festival. There are a lot of great looking films this year. Please check out the website at and get a ticket.

IF you don't feel like heading to the theater (and a lot of showings are sold out already, though you can rush 1 hour before, and have a good chance to get in), there are several films available both online and through video-on-demand.

The quality of these movies is amazing, and more than half will trickle out in distribution, though somtimes it takes 1-3 years to appear at your local theater or on cable.

A few years ago, Black Dynamite, a campy homage to "Blaxploitation" movies from the 70s, premiered at Tribeca. It had a run at the Angelica theater in Manhattan about 8 months later. Last Sunday I saw it on TBS. I honestly have no idea why this didn't become a huge hit, but it should become a cult classic.  Netflix it. You'll see what I mean.

And don't miss out on all the awesomeness again - Participate in Tribeca this year!!

Back to the East Coast.

Greetings all... NYC RE Goddess has been on hiatus while handling some personal issues. But I'm back, and back in New York after a relaxing trip to the West Coast .... Ahhhh...

Here are a couple fast facts about real estate in some western states:

- water rights are extremely important in Nevada (duh!), and work a lot like air rights here in New York. You can buy them and sell them, and the amount in existance can be adjusted by the state legislatures.

- In San Francisco, all apartments are automatically rent stabilized.
- It's very hard to get clearance to convert an existing building into a condo. This is because the city thought too much rental housing was being lost as 2-3 unit townhouses were being converted in large numbers. So there is a condo conversion lottery, and hitting it could take a very long time.
- Tenant-in-Common shares (or TICs, as their advertised in the real estate section in SF) are the alternative. While in New York you might see 2 or 3 owners in a TIC situation, in San Francisco I saw buildings with 30-50 units offering individual apartments as TICs. It's kind of reminiscent of a co-op, but without a corporation. Just goes to show that the market will usually find a way to meet demand.

It's hard to find co-op financing outside NYC - a lot have to be all cash. TICs are technically real property, so I suppose it would be easier to finance than a co-op. And, as with co-ops in NYC, local banks have probably evolved so as to be able to fairly evaluate them, given that this phenomenon has been going on at least the 10 years I've been visiting, and possibly longer.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

2012 May Be the Year of the Starter Apartment

So the headlines of the last nearly 2 years have been how luxury homes (over $5 million) just don't seem to be slowing down... until they kind of have. I mean, at the very top end people will always have the money to buy. But now, according to a couple articles, family sized apartment sales have been slowing down.

Instead, it looks like the little guy is finally feeling a little more confident, and smaller starter homes are starting to finally move on the market.  It may not be all about the want to invest however, as Manhattan rents are starting to fly skyhigh again. All you renters, that means you don't have 48-72 hours to "think over" apartments. February, a traditionally slow month, saw very high rental activity.

When you're out shopping for apartments, you need your previous year's tax returns and/or W-2s, letter from your employer showing salary and tenure, 2-3 consecutive paycheck stubs, and bank statements showing enough reserves to pay all the move in costs (please don't send a checking account statement showing only $50; you are trying to prove you are financially qualified to pay rent monthly!). You may also need a copy of your ID, a reference or previous lease from your current landlord. Forewarned is forearmed: I would have quite a fortune if I were given a commission for every renter who missed out on an apartment they loved because they didn't take my advice and have all their paperwork close to hand.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Oh, the Weather Outside is Perfect...!

Today and yesterday have been pitch-perfect in their temperature - near 70 - perfect weather for chinos and a top and no need for those extra linings. I am planning to spend a little time on the High Line appreciating the weather.

What really makes me happy is the delightful new renderings for the 3rd part of the High Line - the part that goes above 30th street and over to the West. The amphitheater is ingenious and I love that part of the stretch will be left - temporarily at least - au naturel with the life that seeded itself there when the High Line was abandoned.

I've been so grateful the winter was so mild but I'm a little fearful the summer will blaze in compensation. So I'm going to head out and enjoy this weather while I've got it!

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Last 5 Days To Vote for NYC's Best App!

Only 5 days are left to vote on the most useful apps submitted in the New York City Big Apps 3.0 competition. A summary and video demonstration of the app is posted to the Big Apps 3.0 website. This year there are over 350 apps vying for the top. I found a couple very interesting real estate - related apps. Zoner, for instance, helps you figure out how much buildable area is available on a particular lot - this app has already been built and is available for download. I am looking forward to using it to double check my calculations for clients. StableRenters is a pretty comprehensive app aimed at showing public record activity such as violations that a landlord collects. Admirably it aggregates information from all of the landlord's buildings to give the landlord a sort of "responsibility rating". Definitely a tool that could benefit many renters and help get some apartments in NYC their needed updates. Another real estate app I thought stood out is New York City Datascape. This app uses census and other information to create a 3D map of New York City based on what you think is most important (parks, cafes, schools, even average square foot rents so you can stay within budget). It's a great way to figure out which neighborhoods you want to explore if you are looking at moving to a new neighborhood. I thought Phoundit was really clever. If you have Foursquare, then you might receive a ping if you check in at a location where a fellow Phoundit user has lost something. Many of the apps are fairly simple, but useful. Apps for finding parking garages or recycling centers or nearby city parks. Guestlist NYC seems like a must have for clubbers (a scene from which NYC Real Estate Goddess has mostly retired). A lot of work and imagination went into these apps, and winning or placing highly means a lot to these developers. Go to the Big Apps 3.0 website and vote on an app you think is interesting before March 8! You can vote once each day, so keep coming back. You might find your next can't-live-without app there.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Save on Your Refinance

Came across this excellent article today regarding title insurance and refinancing:

Title insurance is a safeguard against defects in the title of real property. This phenomenon came out of the era of non-computerized records (since the 1500s, basically), when it was very easy to impersonate someone, forge documents, or otherwise muddy the waters when it came to proving ownership of a property. Title insurance (coupled with title abstracts) basically come into play when there is a defect in title, such as an old lien on the property or a claim by a previous owner.

In New York, particularly in Manhattan, title insurance is rarely used. Some 80% of available residential units are co-ops, which are not considered real property, and therefore rarely involve title insurance. Title insurance is mostly applicable to real property ownership - including condos and townhouses or buildings of any kinds. In fact, mortgage companies require a title abstract - and usually also title insurance - before they will agree to the mortgage loan.

The author of this article - Mr. Guttentag - has highlighted a possible cost savings for owners of condos and townhouses who wish to refinance - namely, a discount on the reissue of title insurance. If you are thinking about refinancing your condo or house, this is required reading!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Dogs Are Classic New York...

NYC Real Estate Goddess entertained some family from out west over the last couple weeks. It's always fun to have the perspective of non-New Yorkers. Our own 1 bedroom apartment is about 750 square feet, so our cousins had some space to stretch out. I didn't take them "sight-seeing" - my version of showing them the quintessential tiny New York - particularly Manhattan - apartments that we're so famous for.

One thing they did notice was how many New Yorkers had dogs. Big dogs, little dogs, all kind of dogs. As mountain-dwellers with their own dogs, they wondered how we New Yorkers manage to care for their dogs. Answer: an elaborate system of housebreaking, strict scheduled walks, alternative transportation and/or totable dogs, and additional support. We love our canine friends. They brighten up our day. We bring them with us on the subway in approved (and not-so-approved) carriers. We have dog walkers shuttling them while we're at work so their not too uncomfortable. And of course, wee-wee pads have helped immensely. 

New York is such a dog town that the Westminster Kennel Club holds its annual dog show in New York's Madison Square Garden every year. This year - the 136th annual dog show, was where NYC Real Estate Goddess went to get her fix. Usually we just content ourselves with standing outside the Garden and peering at the specimens being walked. But not this year - we had to be in the thick of it. And so we were:

Scottish Terrier breed competition at 136th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show

Here you see my favorite breed being judged - the Scottish Terriers. Truly these are a dog after my own heart. They are described on the Scottish Terrier Club of America as "aloof" and the breed introduction in the group competition says they feel "openly superior to their owners". But they are great little creatures - equal parts smart and cute, and very loyal. I was able to figure out which one would be named the winner (it's #6 - in the center of the photo). But I loved them all!

Backstage at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show is the best place to be - it's very hectic and crowded, especially as there was a lot of renovation going on at Madison Square Garden. They were shoehorning the benching areas everywhere they could, including behind the judging areas in the theater, and grooming was happening up in the wings!

Norwich Terriers in the Wings at the 136th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show   

Here you see several of the Norwich (pronounced "NOR-itch") terriers getting ready for their show. They are shoehorned up into the wings of the theater stage left - luckily they are small and resilient, as are their groomers!

Backstage in the arena, the big dogs were on display. These guys have tons of personality and their owners give them lots of love.

Great Pyrenees Playing on the Bench at the  136th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show   

I think this is a Great Pyrenees Mountain Dog - not sure as I couldn't get close to that bench, but it sure looks like one to me. 

I guess I'm a sucker for large dogs. I mean, they were so cute!  

Mastiff backstage at 136th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show
I mean, how do you resist this beautiful (and friendly) mastiff face?

Or this?

A Young Girl Plays With a Leonberger entry at the 136th Annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

There were some great creatures in general. As a close second to my beloved Scottie, I really liked the Sky Terrier in the Terrier Group.
A Sky Terrier chills out in the benching area at the 136th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show.

The ears are the pointy things behind the pigtails.

There's no end to the gorgeous dogs, and most of the animals you see at home are just as wonderful. Yes, we New Yorkers love our dogs and Westminster is right at home among us (even more so when they move the preliminary judging and benching to Piers 92-94 in 2013, thus alleviating some of the incredible crowding we experienced this year and allowing more dogs to enter!). 

New Yorkers love their dogs so much, in fact, that it's known pet owners will pay a premium in rent to have their beloved friends with them. In fact, an apartment my firm listed recently did not rent - in part, we believe, because all cat and dog owners were turned away.  So, landlords, food for thought: better rents to let these adorable creatures keep their masters company.

Do you have a story about how you successfully deal with pet owner tenants? Let me know!

Thursday, February 16, 2012

New York Foreclosures Inversely Proportional to Delinquencies

Saw an article this week on New York State foreclosure and delinquency rates. The gist is that delinquency rates of loans (that means loans that are 30 days or more behind) have fallen as a proportion of all mortgage loans in New York State. Foreclosures, however, have risen during the same time. 

That may sound ominous but for the projections mentioned in this article regarding New York City Foreclosure and delinquency rates published in October 2011.  To recap, the article states that actual foreclosures in New York City (where the property goes to auction and is sold or taken by the bank) fell by 69% in third quarter 2011. However, experts cited a virtual moratorium on actual foreclosures forced by scrutiny and fallout from the robo-signing debacle. This earlier article states that the number of loans 90 days late was the same as in previous quarters in October 2011.

So, between the October 2011 article and this week's article... PROGRESS! It was predicted in October that a spate of mortgages currently in default (90 days late) would move through the foreclosure process, thus raising the number of foreclosures from the abnormally low number achieved in the 3rd quarter. So according to February's article, that happened. Foreclosures rose.

BUT, according to the February article, the number of delinquent loans fell. (Delinquent loans are loans that are 30 days or more late; this includes loans considered 90 days late which were previously defined as "in default").   30-day late loans fell as a proportion from 8.12% of outstanding loans to 7.98%. So, maybe New York State is starting to work its way through the housing crisis.

.14% of loans may not sound like much (and indeed may be somewhat accounted for by the number of loans that finally were foreclosed and therefore removed from the loan pool). So clearly New York has a long way to go. But every little bit helps. The February article puts the current levels of delinquency and foreclosures in historical perspective (5% of total loans go delinquent and .5% go to foreclosure), as well as national perspective (New York ranks 26th out of 50 in total delinquencies - right on the median). 

With the stock market, as a leading indicator, having been mostly positive from early 2010 through now, it follows that the real estate market would start to improve as a traditional trailing indicator. "Stopping the bleeding" in New York is one of the first steps.  It's nice to see some progress back from the brink.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Recycle your Electronics Year Round

If you're like me, there's a pile of useless, obsolete electronics sitting in a corner somewhere.  If you're like me on  a weak day, that electronic waste goes out with the garbage. If you're like me on a strong day, that electronic garbage sits in that corner, waiting until the Lower East Side Recycling Center hosts an e-waste pickup that's convenient to you.

If you're anything like me, getting there can be a bear. So far in the past 3 months I have dropped off useless electronic crap at Prospect Park, Cortelyou Road in Ditmas Park, Union Square, and Tekserve on 23rd Street.  And yet, there's more!  I have finally sucked the last out of my 2001-era Gateway desktop and it's ready to go. But it's sooooo heavy, and the most convenient drop-off was on one of the crappiest days of this blissfully mild winter.

Lower East Side Recycling Center to the rescue! Today, a new PERMANENT drop off center was opened in the Gowanus section of Brooklyn. The new address is 469 President Street (corner of Nevins). I am so excited about this! We separate our garbage around here, and the space constraints make it painful to hang onto something you can't/don't use anymore, even though it doesn't smell!  But it's important to me that reusable materials get reused, and don't end up somewhere they can poison people.

I'm planning to head to their open house on Saturday. And I'm bringing a few old things with me!

Friday, January 20, 2012

REBNY opposes New Brooklyn Heights Commercial Landmark District

An interesting situation is unfolding at the eastern edge of Brooklyn Heights.  In September 2011 the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission approved a landmark district called the "Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District". This area includes 21 commercial buildings from the late 19th and early 20th century, from 7 story Romanesque-style to a modernist skyscraper, and several Art Deco era buildings as well. I frequent the area, and have often admired several of the included buildings, though I find the skyscrapers somewhat forbidding.

This week, Crains New York reported that the Real Estate Board of New York - an industry advocacy group representing most of the real estate agencies in Manhattan and many in the outer boroughs (my agency - M. Woods & Associates LTD -  is also a member of REBNY) - sent out direct mail to residents in the area asking them to oppose the landmark district and to press their City Council members to vote down the designation.  According to the Crain's article, the City Council has never denied or adjusted the borders of a historic district after it was approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC).

The reason is because LPC has such a long process of considering proposed landmark districts, that most of the arguments have been hashed out by the time it gets to City Council. LPC has often designated smaller areas that ones proposed by preservationist lobbies such as the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (of which I am a member).  In this case, the Municipal Art Society of New York, Brooklyn Heights Association and New York Landmarks Conservancy proposed the Borough Hall Skyscraper Historic District.

Again, I frequent the area, and I do love the older Gothic and Romanesque buildings that were designated. I think there is a reason to protect these buildings. They are rather low buildings that are now in zoning districts that would allow much higher buildings, and therefore in danger of being torn down.  But I am undecided as to whether it is necessary to include the skyscrapers. After all, it's these are the tallest commercial buildings to be found in Brooklyn (with the exception of nearby Metrotech), now that the Williamsburg Savings Bank is mostly condominums.  In addition, which of these buildings is in danger of being torn down?  There are thousands of Art Deco era buildings on Manhattan that have been in service just as long, and are not deemed to deserve landmark status.

The reason given on the Municipal Art Society's web page speaks about recognizing the tremendous commercial growth that the district experienced "after (italics mine) the borough was consolidated into Greater New York."

REBNY's commentary has to do with the increased bureaucracy inherent with a landmark designation. It takes longer and is more costly to maintain the buildings' facades. I particularly note the quote from REBNY president Steven Spinola“The city just continues to landmark away its economic future.”  To some extent, I agree.  I support the landmarking of examples of past great architecture - I am around it more than most.  I am so grateful that the Village and Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope - all areas I love to be around - have been deemed worthy of landmark status.

But this issue has caused me to examine why I am so happy about it. And the truth came to me when I pondered when I thought about which buildings in this new district seemed deserving, others superfluous. The answer: height. While I love looking at all the Greenwich Village townhouses, I love more the sun on my face!  Same with Park Slope and Brooklyn Heights Brownstones. The townhouses are lovely, but I grew up in a Cape Cod and see the beauty there too.  Skyscrapers, in my opinion, don't need landmarks. But we do need more height restrictions in neighborhoods around the city. 

Another beef I have with Art Deco sky scrapers is the relatively small amount of window area they sport relative to their facade size. I worked in office buildings for many years, and often felt so stifled. How many occupational health studies have been done in office buildings that come up with a recommendation that more sunlight = more happy and productive workers? 

So here, I think REBNY has a point: we need to be able to innovate and upgrade. Particularly I think that is true of our commercial properties. It's hard enough with residential properties. Commercial properties should be icons of our future, not hallowed relics of our storied past.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

THAT's 700 Square Feet!?!

Found this post on the other day that highlighted a great issue: measuring square footage of a property and whether, or how, to report it.

With prices above $1000 per square foot in many parts of Manhattan, we care about every inch! As mentioned in this blog post, square footage is measured in several ways. In new development condos, for instance, the square footage is measured by the floor plate. That means some of the square footage in the apartment is between the drywall and the studs, unfortunately.

In prewar apartments, square footage is often (but not always) measured from interior wall to interior wall. Why the difference?  Because floorplans for the prewar buildings are often not available. As a result, new layouts are drawn using interior wall measurements only.  So next time you see a 650 square foot prewar and a 650 square foot recent development listing, and one feels a lot bigger, you know why.

The actual issue discussed in this blog post is whether to list the square footage of a property in the marketing materials. The author tells a story of a very particular buyer who tried to back out when the actual square footage differed from the listed amount by less than 1%.  That's a pretty extreme example to me, but it happens.

A colleague of mine doesn't list square footage because she finds that people have different opinions of the same number. Instead, she asks them to tell her how much they think the space is. Predictably, answers vary all over the map.

The truth is that layout greatly affects the perception of square feet. In my opinion, potential buyers will tell you how much usable square footage they see. Does the unit have a long hallway from the entrance to the foyer? Wasted Space. Square bathroom or narrow rectangular bath? The wide square shape may be perceived as larger. Galley kitchen or open kitchen with breakfast bar? That's a toss-up. Some will count the separate kitchen as more space, while others will perceive the narrow kitchen as smaller than it really is.

I've gotten pretty good at figuring out - within 50 square feet or so, how big an apartment is. Sometimes I work forwards. For instance, if a prewar apartment has a 12' x 22' living room and a 12' x 15' bedroom, then total square footage is likely between 750 (if a galley kitchen) and 850 (if eat-in kitchen).  Other times, I work backwards. For instance, if an apartment is a full floor of a townhouse, then you take the size of the town house (ie, 20' wide by 40' long, a typical size in the West Village) and subtract 50-100 square feet for the interior staircase. A longer house makes for a bigger apartment with an interior dining room and/or a second bedroom.

One thing I do not recommend is using a "rule of thumb" or "legendary" square footage. I once knew a seller who represented that his apartment was a certain square footage because "the coop assigns one share per square foot". Unfortunately, the buyer's appraiser found that the real number was nearly 300 square feet less. The buyer cared very much about the square footage and wanted a huge price drop. Turns out he cared about the price per square foot, even though the property appraised for the contract price. He didn't want it unless he was getting a deal, even though he'd been through the apartment several times and felt it met his needs. Ultimately, the sale died.  Moral of story: do take a measuring stick and measure the apartment yourself, even if you "know" what the rough number is.

As a broker (and a person with a decent - though hardly perfect - spatial perception), I appreciate an approximate square footage in the listing information. It helps me understand whether I should even bring a customer to a specific listing, or if it would be too small. I use floorplans and photos to help me make that decision (and the more information a listing has, the more likely I am to shortlist it for a customer).

Bottom line: Measure the property, even if you have documents stating a particular square footage. Always use the word approximate. Provide more visual information to complement the square footage information (floorplans, photos, etc.). It could save your sale.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Bedbug Scare Not So Bad This Year

You can't help but read anything about bedbugs without starting to itch a little... and then running to burn your sheets.  But Crain's brings good news!

Yes it seems that all our vigilance is paying off - thank goodness! But just as with other scourges, bedbugs never were completely gone, and they are still out there, as the article says, particularly in hotels. So please, keep taking precautions, and we will all sleep a little better at night.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

4th Quarter Manhattan Real Estate Prices Stayed Level

So according to the latest numbers as reported by the one of the largest (by volume) real estate agencies in Manhattan, prices remained steady during the last 3 months. That's a relief for home owners on the island.  According to the same report (and reported by New York Times), the actual number of sales fell.

Real Estate Prices in Manhattan are Steady, but Sales Fall

Might sound scary, until you understand why this likely happened - a 5.9% drop in the number of properties available for sale. In other words, in classic economics 101 form, supply went down, so price went up, or at least stayed the same.

I think that's the key story here. With supply down, prices held steady.  Other ideas - such as last year's increase in end-of-year closings to take advantage of the first-time buyer tax credit - are secondary at best.  Scarcity helps to drive up prices. 

There are still some issues keeping the market from flowing smoothly. For one, it's hard to get a loan if you're trying to borrow just over the Fannie Mae limit, but not way up into the luxury range (also mentioned towards the end of the NYT article).  So the fact that enough properties are selling to keep prices steady despite the adversity of the mortgage market is good news to me.

Unless we end up with more inventory.  According to an article in Crain's New York Business last week, NYC's foreclosure rates are going up as more properties complete the 1-2 year foreclosure process required in New York State.  The statistics were not broken out over the five boroughs, and Manhattan's share of foreclosures has been small so far.  But the trend bears watching.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Starbucks raises NYC latte prices

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Starbucks raises NYC latte prices

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2012 Predictions from General Investment Experts

I get Zack's daily "Profit from the Pros" email sent to me every day with a quick review on how the stock market did and commentary on what's next for the immediate day. Today I chose to read one of the linked articles as well entitled : "Treasuries, Stocks, Gold or Real Estate - Best Investment for 2012?"

1 of the analysts quoted picked real estate securities (home builders, REITS, etc.) as the top pick. Another made a comment, made by several other experts in recent national media, that the housing "bottom" could occur later this year.

I feel a little skeptical about this prediction. For one thing, there is still a lot of inventory sitting there. And another problem is that real wages (which means wages adjusted for inflation so you can compare one year to another) continue to drop. The fact is, when the majority of homeowners can't afford homes, then home prices drop.

Again, this is penalizing people who bought homes in the last 5-8 years, during the bubble, and have stayed current in their payments. They are going to continue paying much higher monthly payments, or sell at a price which won't recoup them enough for a down payment on a new home if they have to move. If they stay current, and wages continue to drop, then they will not have enough disposable income to a) enjoy life and b) keep the economy afloat with all their purchases.

Analysts are getting optimistic about 2012 because corporate earnings have rebounded a bit. I hope they are right. Naturally my livelihood depends on it, but I have to wonder if it wouldn't be a good idea to give all those hardworking people a little break?