Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!

Wow, what a year it's been! New York saw a huge break out of activity at the ultra top end of the real estate market, but lagged behind the rest of the country in lowering unemployment. The stock market had it's best year in about a decade, but Wall Street did not regain employment as companies sought to diversify to other lower cost states.

Today, we are seeing the end of the Michael Bloomberg era (which I personally enjoyed and I thought overall enhanced the quality of life for New Yorkers).  The incoming mayor, Bill DeBlasio, was a come from behind candidate who has pledged to be progressive and, many people hope will also bring more focus to the outer boroughs, some areas of which are still truly suffering from the havoc of Hurricane Sandy. Though I do not know him personally, Mr. DeBlasio was in fact my city councilman for nearly 8 years. I wish him luck and good progress.

I wish a very prosperous new year to my family, friends, colleagues, and to everyone I have yet to meet!

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Brooklyn Rents Rise While Manhattan Gets Cheaper, Report Shows - Upper East Side - DNAinfo.com New York

If it seems like Topsy Turvy to have Manhattan rents sink while Brooklyn rents rise, it's not all that hard to understand : quite simply, when two things are considered equal, prices reach a similar level. Given that many people now work in Dumbo and Williamsburg, ‎or just across the river in Lower Manhattan, it's not too hard to equate the lively Brownstone neighborhoods in Brooklyn to the charming Landmarked areas in the Village, Soho and Tribeca. So rents in the two areas are meeting each other.

The article somewhat contradicts itself by saying that tight credit markets (making purchasing homes harder) hold renters in place, but that Manhattan rents may have gone down because many purchased. I say that the more likely answer is that people now see Manhattan and parts of Brooklyn as interchangeable and live where they find the most personal value in doing so.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

The Flickering Light Bulb In Your Furnace

Every winter, at least one of the properties I manage experiences issues with the heat. Usually the first sign of trouble is when it fails to turn on in that shoulder season in October. You know, when it dips into the 50s and below at night. Tenants call me to say their radiators are cold, and I call the plumber. Then suddenly, the heat comes on! I cancel the plumber. All is well... until we get a 10 degree temperature drop.  Inexplicably, the heat goes out again. Sometimes it kicks on again before I can get the plumber over there, so we leave it again. But the writing is on the wall: I know that it's only a matter of time before the problem is back, and usually in a matter of days.

signal relay
Signal Relay - this little guy might be to blame if your boiler
doesn't come on when it should, but then comes on by itself later on.

This week I finally put a name to the most likely culprit: signal relay. A signal relay is a switch that turns on the circulating pump (which draws hot water up through the radiator and back to the furnace to be re-heated). They are electrical circuits, and they fail. It's hard to say how often they fail - and there might be more than one if the furnace has zoned heat.  But, if your heat fails to go on when it should (and may or may not come on later without a plumber's help), or goes off at an inappropriate time (either to come back on or not), you can put money on a signal relay failing or having failed.

If you're wondering why shouldn't we have the plumber in even when the heat starts working by itself, the answer unfortunately is because you can't tell a signal relay is broken unless it's actually not working. Think of a light bulb in a chandelier. Sometimes, the filament in one bulb disconnects from one of the two contact wires and the bulb goes out. You think to yourself "I need to replace the light bulb", but before you can, the filament reattaches and the bulb starts working again.  Now, you can't remember which bulb it was (unless you're really good like that), and you don't want to change out the good light bulbs because that would be a waste... so you have to wait until it goes out again before you can identify it.

Same thing with a boiler. If the signal relay is causing the problem but it's still working intermittently, then the heat is on while it's working, and if tested the relay will not seem broken. So, unfortunately usually the heat has to be off for the plumber to find the problem.

The good news is it's usually an easy fix if your plumber has a compatible part with him. Make sure you can tell him the make and model of your furnace when you call. Otherwise he may not have a compatible part and may have to come back the next day - meaning more hourly charges and possibly a very cold overnight.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Plastic Bag Law Not So Bad - Says My Dad

Last month I went down to visit my father and stepmother who live in the District of Columbia. My first morning there, I headed around the corner to get my morning tea at the Starbucks and a quick stop at the convenience store to pick up a few things I'd forgotten to bring with me (and some donuts for Dad).

At the 7-Eleven, I stared blankly at the screen as the cashier rang up my purchases. Then my eyes focused on one thing: a bag charge of ten cents. I hadn't even thought twice when she'd asked me if I wanted a bag. "Huh," I commented (did I mention I am NOT a morning person - even a late morning person?). "How long has this bag charge been around?"

"About three years," said the cashier.

I headed over to Starbucks and got my coffee, a breakfast sandwich and the pound of ground coffee beans my stepmother asked for. The barista asked if I wanted a bag. "No thanks," I said, and tucked it all into the bag I'd gotten from the 7-Eleven. One bag saved.

Back at the ranch, I told my Dad about my discovery of the bag charge. "Oh yeah," he said, "that's been around a while now. I didn't realize you didn't know about it."

"How are you handling it?" I asked curiously. Dad is in great shape, but senior citizens aren't known for their desire for change or inconvenience, and being charged for bags that used to be free isn't something that seems convenient OR like the status quo.

"You know, I like it," Dad said.


"Yeah. We drive around (because despite the Metro, DC is very much a driving city) with a couple of these reusable bags that the grocery store gave us in the trunk of each car, and it's not a big deal. Plus, it's really cut down on plastic bag litter. And if I have to, I can always pay the ten cents. But I usually don't have to."

What struck me most was my father's comment about the lack of plastic bag litter. I think we've all seen plastic bags stuffed into planters, flying around in the wind and caught in trees. Bags that benignly end up preserved forever in our landfills or more worse: that end up in our waste water ( potentially clogging up rain sewers); can get into our rivers and wash up on the shores; or worst, get out into the ocean where larger sea life can eat or get stuck in them and die. Free-ranging plastic bags journey to join one of the several oceanic gyres of plastic waste that have congregated with the currents in many parts of the world.

In economic terms, litter is an externality. That is the term we use for something that affects many people as a result of actions created by a few. In this case, plastic bags which are given for free to shoppers end up affecting many more people as litter in our public places. It's sad but many people - for reasons of convenience, spite, or accident - fail to properly dispose of plastic bags. And everyone, polluter and non-polluter alike, pays the cost of cleanup (sanitation, parks & recreation staff, supplemental cleanup such as the Doe Fund, and countless hours of building superintendants, plus volunteer hours of generous citizens).

Moreover, for the moment, more than 99% of plastic bags used in New York City are going to landfills. Aside from being able to bring plastic bags to certain grocery stores and retail stores as mandated by state law, there is nowhere to recycle plastic bags. The city specifically says not to put them in the curbside recycling (though I do). And who wants to hoard them at home to shlep them to the grocery store anyway?

I speculate that flimsy plastic bags do not recycle well and therefore recycling companies do not see profit in accepting them. That means plastic bags are an end product that - even if reused once or twice - have no resurrection factor. The free market is a long way away from bringing them back into the resource chain.

Plastic bags - plastic grocery-type bags in particular - have no long term value. They have a maximum of two uses - to ferry a set of groceries from your local store to your house, and maybe to pick up some dog poop. Ironically, dog poop would return safely to the earth if we put it in a compost pile but because we put it in a non-biodegradable plastic bag and toss it into a landfill, it will probably not biodegrade for decades. Or - another irony - you could use the plastic bag to stuff full of paper (yes I have done this, when I've run out of Whole Foods paper grocery bags) to put in the curbside recycling!

Enter the idea of just not using plastic bags in New York City. If you use them, you have to pay towards the cost of cleaning them up. Easy as that.

Naturally there are people who will oppose this for monetary reasons. The most obvious group will be manufacturers of plastic bags for grocery and retail stores, who will see their revenues fall when shoppers opt not to take a plastic bag, leading stores to cut their orders of these bags. To them I say: sorry. Figure out how to make a widely available recycling program and we'll talk.

I expect regular people to object too. I expect their reason will be something along the lines of: "You're taking away another thing I used to get for free!" To them I say: the bags were never free. You pay for them twice: once when you bought something at a store and again when you pay taxes to have them cleaned up off the streets and out of parks. You pay for them in the time you spend volunteering to clean up your favorite parks and beaches. Plastic bags are convenient, but what price should we pay for that convenience? Should it be the oceans, and our public parks and streets? Our landfills which, once filled, cannot be used for decades? Should it be loss of the ingredients of those plastic bags - which could have made up something much more useful - like school desks or chairs? Just so we could carry something around for an hour?

I carry a lot on my back as I move about the city, but starting tomorrow I am putting another thing in my backpack - a reusable bag that packs down into a corner of itself. It was a promotional item from a seminar at Google. When it wears out I have another just like it ready to go. I won't always be able to avoid using plastic bags, but I'll try. And when (not if - I'm pretty sure this bag charge will pass) we have to pay for our plastic bags, I'll do it when I need to. And then - sorry, Department of Sanitation, consider it a civil protest - I'm putting it my curbside recycling.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

New York's the Same, the World is Better, What's Going On?

I am no Wall Street guru, but I follow the market pretty closely these days, as well as economic indicators throughout the world. Here is what we've got going:   .

1) Interest rates made a rather large move (.25% not really a large move, but for bond traders it's a large move)

 2) Several large retailers - and today Cisco, which is like the GE of pure tech plays - have reported lower than expected 2nd quarter results (whose expectations? it's sort of an average taken across many investment firms' analysts' projections).

 3) Walmart also missed on revenues, though not earnings (earnings are the actual income reported after all expenses have been removed), and cut its own projections for the rest of the year.

 However, other things are not all bad! For instance:

 1) July unemployment nationwide FELL to 7.4%, the lowest since 2007 - that's a YEAR before the crap hit the fan in 2008. Remember that before the credit crunch caused by the failures of Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers and Washington Mutual, among many others. Many people forget that the downturn began in late 2004, when the first of the subprime mortgage crisis started to be felt.

 2) Europe, which caused an echo credit crunch on these shores as analysts scrambled to discern which of our multinational banks held how many Greek, Spanish, Irish, Cypriot, etc. bonds, has suddenly peaked its head out of the recession pit, according to the official statistics office of the European Union. China, too, has seen a slight rebound that is pulling materials and mining stocks up ever so slightly.

All that, plus lighter volume (which exaggerates price swings in an individual stock) made for a 200-point drop in the market today.

I watch the stock market because it seems to have more correlation to the real estate market in Manhattan (and increasingly, Brooklyn) than the markets in the rest of the country (which is why NYC's prices kept going up until almost the moment Bear Stearns went down). But it's hard to say what's the new normal here: the Dow made new highs nearly every week until April, had a correction in May, resumed upwards in June, and now in August (traditionally not a great month for the market) it's heading down again, mostly lazily but today in a more precipitous fashion. What will happen in September? What indeed? It's a soap opera that doesn't end.

My personal experience tells me that buyers are less likely to buy in New York when the market goes down. This might be because the buyer is actually employed in the financial industry, or it may be sympathetic concern, as most people in New York are at least cognizant of the market's moves, even if they aren't invested.

Dearth of buyers can lead to price drops, but only if there is a glut of properties relative to the number of buyers on the market. A quick glance at the live listings infographic provided by Urbandigs.com shows that active inventory (ie, properties currently listed for sale) has dropped nearly 20% in the past 3 months. In addition, properties in contract, after a huge 43% pop four to six months ago, has declined by 6% in the past three months. Finally, properties that have gone off market have increased over 15% in the past three months.

So, to summarize, fewer properties are on the market, at a rate that exceeds the drop in contracts signed. This means the inventory seems to be right-sizing itself. So, for the moment, prices in New York should remain unchanged.

We'll see how that works out when interest rates really begin to rise.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Nice Place You Got Here....

Yesterday I had my first visit to the MiMA building on 42nd Street off Times Square. As someone whose areas of specialty are below 34th Street, it just hasn't been that high on my must-see list. But I have to say I was impressed. I had in my head that the building was all the way on the Hudson. This isn't true. It's actually at the corner of 42nd Street and Dyer Ave (which is basically 4-block long access road to the Lincoln Tunnel that intersects between Ninth and Tenth Avenues). So it's about 1.5 blocks from the nearest subway stop, and 2.5 blocks from the majority of subway lines that run through the city. That's not bad! Also, it's near the Playrights New Horizons Theater, and the new Pershing Square Signature Theater. Those are two buildings I wish I got to more. You're off Times Square, so no hordes of tourists, but you're nearby for those few times you feel the need to, you know, remind yourself why you love New York City so much. Also, there's two Starbucks about one block away. A very important consideration to me! MiMA was developed by the Related Companies, and they are known for doing upper to ultra-luxury apartment buildings (doorman, etc), but I liked the floorplans I'm seeing - particularly that for the studio - it actually has a separate sleeping area; in some buildings the studio layouts actually force you to put your bed right up under the breakfast bar (at least you don't need a night table that way). Also nice is that that there is laundry in EVERY apartment, even the studios. I really liked the common areas. There are several large rooms that you can book (My meeting was in club room M-1, which had a large conference table, comfortable looking couch and a raised bar/table). Also there is onsite pet care (Dog City they call it). The health club is impressive. The terrace is large and they have a separate area they call "the lawn" which also has a seating area and an outdoor movie screen! (There is also an indoor screening room, and a catering kitchen!) I loved the lobby, which was very large with several groupings of bright, comfortable seating. I appreciated that after I identified myself to the doorman as having business in the building, he didn't begrudge me lingering a few minutes to check email and pack a few things away before I left. When people are looking for very luxurious accommodations (and this building definitely is very high end - studios starting around $4500/month), often they don't want to be west of Ninth Avenue - either because they want to be closer to the action or because they don't want to be near traffic. I'd say this building really isn't affected by those things, and anyone with a budget of $4500 or higher should check it out.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Sellers Reappear, Buyers Can Take a Breath.

Nice article on DNAinfo.com says more condos are now on the market after a few months where lack of inventory was causing bidding wars. This is good, because, according to the article, Manhattan condo prices are already back to and surpassing their peak value in 2007.

This article illustrates what I consider to be Phase 3 of the housing market.  In Phase 1, lack of buyers caused prices to fall. Sellers who had to sell at that time did so for much less than they could have just a few months before. But the sellers who didn't have to held onto their properties.  Sure, there was inconvenience for more than a few. Some had outgrown their space, while others needed to relocate for jobs or personal reasons. The ones who could hold on in their spaces did, while others managed to find renters to cover their expenses while they moved on with their lives. The result: eventually the equilibrium between available buyers and available sellers returned, but at a lower price point (econ 101, as some of you may recognize).

Phase 2: The buyers return. In this case, an easing of lending criteria (not by much, but you no longer had to be Bruce Wayne in order to qualify for a mortgage), an overall sense of more security that people weren't going to lose their jobs, and the resumption of the march upward in Manhattan (and Brooklyn) rents made them interested in buying again. People started looking around.... and didn't find all that much on the market. In the course of about 3 months over fall 2012-winter 2013, the lingering properties were swooped off the market.  That lead to a shortage in apartments, which means prices go up!  So, yes, there were stories of bidding wars earlier this year.

Now we are hearing signs of Phase 3. Phase 3 is - you guessed it - when the sellers return to the market. Not just any sellers, but what I would call "optional" sellers. These are people who would like to get rid of their apartment but have a little flexibility in when to do it. The owner who's renting after relocating to another city, or someone with a pied a terre that they don't use as much but can afford to keep. Or even the growing family who's a bit cramped but making do. 

Suddenly, selling seems more convenient to them now, and they are starting to put their properties on the market. The result: buyers have more to choose from, and a little more time to look. Prices probably won't drop, though. The market isn't loose enough for that. The bargain hunter days are pretty much over. Sellers may not all get the delight of having multiple sellers willing to jump through hoops for their property, but you can only sell to one person anyway. So price well (ask your real estate agent for help with that), and you'll still feel the love.

Is there a Phase 4? Yes, but it's not pretty.  It's the crazy market that existed 2003-2005 and again briefly 2006-2007 before the weakness finally caught up to NYC. Bidding wars, lack of contingency clauses, and lots of heartbreak. It's painful to be a broker during those times, even if I'm the listing agent, because I meet a lot of nice people and a lot of them end up heartbroken because they lost out on a bid. So I'm hoping Phase 3 - where buyers meet sellers in a healthy market - is here to stay for a while.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

New Listing!

Just a quick note:

M. Woods & Associates has a new listing for June 15 in the West Village - a 1 Bedroom for $3500. While it is a ground floor apartment, unfortunately there is not access to the garden. You can check out descriptions and photos here.

Late Happy Earth Day NYC!

Soooo,  been quite busy over the last month and just getting back now.  Most exciting was the Tribeca Film Festival - which I have written about before. I love Tribeca because I feel they bring in movies that are accessible and fun to watch. Not all of them are, of course, but I see many films available either in theaters, on video on demand, or even on cable channels such as HBO and MTV, later in the years.

 This year was very exciting for me because after 5 years working in screenings, I was given the opportunity to work as a jury liaison. Tribeca has several juries that see movies during the festival and award prizes. The prizes, often a cash prize and other services, such as post production services, which are very valuable to an independent film maker who is scraping together a movie budget. While technology has made film making very accessible in terms of equipment, it is still very expensive. So, these juries can make a big difference to a film maker.

My jury judged the best new narrative director competition and I think they did a great job. They were all very nice people and very professional. All were well known in the industry. It was a pleasure to meet them and work with them. It was very exciting, and a lot of hard work! I feel like a quarterback after football season is over. I need a rest, but I bet I'll want to do it again when next year rolls around.

April was actually an interesting month as far as the overall economy and housing markets. It seems that housing is making a comeback around the country, but really it's still finding its way after such a long time far under water.

In New York, the story is that unemployment has hit a multi-year low of 8.4%, (previously stuck at 8.9%), and it seems rents are starting to head up again as well. Sales prices have not moved too much, just a tick higher, but the story there is that the number of units on the market has pretty much dried up. Finally, properties that were taking 6-8 months to sell have mostly sold, and fewer apartments are coming on the market. Fewer "affordable" apartments (under $1 million), anyway.  The market for very high end properties is pretty lively.

My favorite news stories from the past month are actually some that will help New Yorkers enjoy a higher quality of life.

First up, we have the happy news that wifi coverage has become active on many more subway platforms in Manhattan. Previously, only 14th Street at 6th and 8th Aves, and 23rd street on 8th Ave stations had service. Very helpful! Really looking forward to expanding to those of us in Brooklyn. MTA, you have seen the coverage that rents in parts of Brooklyn are higher than in Manhattan, right? We're not all peons out here.

Next up, a couple late Earth Day bits of news. First is an exciting new program that is being piloted by New York City with a  large doorman building to have people separate food scraps for garbage collection by the city. This is the first time NYC has experimented with separating out food scraps. Right now, there are places you can drop your food scraps where NYC and/or nonprofits like the Lower East Side Ecology Center will take them off your hands for composting. But that's kind of inconvenient. I personally separate my food scraps because it keeps me from having to empty the garbage as often, thereby letting me fill my trash can instead of having to empty it before it's full (and contributing more plastic to landfills). My coop has a few compost bins that we use in our common garden, but alas more food scraps are produced than can be composted. The result? My food scraps often join the building garbage and end up in the landfill.

If NYC starts collecting food scraps, not only will we be able to reduce the amount of garbage we send to a landfill, but we can return organic materials to farms, gardens and other places where they are needed. And if it saves us a few million in tax dollars by cutting out on shipping to landfills, that's great too!

I was also excited to read about an effort in my Brooklyn community to bring solar energy to the neighborhood. Solarize Brooklyn is a joint effort by Solar One and two Brooklyn sustainable living groups to help members of the communities of Windsor Terrace, Ditmas Park and Kensington to get their buildings retrofitted with solar energy.  These neighborhoods have many 1-4 family houses that the majority of the solar energy industry are prepared to work with. Creating both one intensive point of education and a collective purchasing program to help save on installation costs and claim tax benefits is a great idea here. I live in a co-op building, and from the research I've done, the 1930s-1950s buildings are hard to retrofit. However they are welcome to the program and I hope mine will participate. Certainly if for no other reason, it would be nice to have a back-up electric system should there be another grid-wide failure (a la Hurricane Sandy). Also more solar systems contribute to a scale that makes sense for even wider adoption of solar technology. And while at the moment it's not feasible to be 100% solar, it is certainly feasible that solar should contribute a sizeable percentage of NYC's electricity, especially in the peak summer cooling months when the grid could use a little help.

So, here's hoping that these two new programs will take root and make New York a cleaner, greener city. I hope all are enjoying the beautiful (if slightly tardy) spring weather.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Being Green Means You're a Good Risk?

Found this very interesting article on Inman News that highlights a finding that owners of energy efficient homes are significantly less likely to default on their mortgages. Significant as in 32% less likely - that's one third safer than your typical borrower!

The group that conducted this study - The Institute for Market Transformation, a group I've never heard of before but I'm glad I discovered - states that given the statistical significance, the energy efficiency of a property should be considered as part of the risk evaluation when making a mortgage. In other words, it should be easier to get a mortgage on an Energy Star - rated home. This could mean several things for buyers - a lower interest rate or perhaps qualifying for a mortgage amount that you couldn't have qualified for before. For IMT, that translates to a hope that buyers will look more favorably on greener homes, not just for the lower energy bills, but perhaps for a lower cost of living in the long run, even if the purchase price is higher than a non-Energy Star rated home.

While the talked-about study only surveyed new purchase mortgages, the finding could also impact considerations for refinancings, particularly if the property in question has had green retrofit upgrades as well.

For home builders, there have been incentives such as tax credits for building greener housing for a long time, but the longtime budget impasse threatens these credits. Being able to offer homes that qualify for lower rates, and knowing that consumers will be seeking these homes out, may be the market-based incentive we need to keep building green housing.

This study only surveyed single family homes. Here in New York, even most of the single family housing dates from 1900 or before, and not much more is being built. However, I found another item on the IMT website showing Fannie Mae is taking a similar mortgage-friendly tack to get multi families on board with green retrofits. This building program relaxes debt service ratio requirements for landlords who are refinancing buildings and intend to put in green retrofits. Essentially, they can take out extra money to do the retrofits that the bank wouldn't have allowed them to have before.

I'm glad to see that amidst all the angry fingers pointing at "big government mandates", there is a market-based incentive (do something, get/save more money). And I'm even happier that it is aimed at multi-family buildings. Again, in NYC, many of the housing stock was built in the 1930s and 1940s and therefore doesn't have HVAC, and has oil or natural gas burning boilers, as well as often falls in the shadow of taller buildings that block out solar potential. This is something I want to know more about.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

As If You Needed Another Reminder...

As if you needed on more reason to get your taxes done early (besides peace of mind), my contact Doug Rose over at Manhattan Mortgage (Guaranteed Rate) sent me a reminder that I thought worthy of passing on:

If you are self-employed and trying to get a mortgage on a property, you will have to show 2 years worth of tax returns. If 2010's taxes looked really bad (and I know mine did), being able to show returns for 2011 and 2012 might make a difference in how much you qualify to borrow, or if you qualify at all.

And you'll feel so great knowing they are done!

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

A Fan of All Seasons

In my readings I came across this article about ceiling fans which reminds me sometimes the best solutions are low-tech solutions. Ceiling fans are a great way to both save on energy costs and effective in circulating both hot and cold air around a room. Not just limited to the dusty long-bladed fans you see in deep South movie gas stations, ceiling fans are now a designer item, with fans to fit every decor, ceiling height and room size.

Obviously you get energy savings by using a ceiling fan instead of a room or central air conditioning unit, but did you know you can also use a ceiling fan to more effectively heat or cool a room while using a central heating or cooling unit?

That's right. By using a ceiling fan to circulate air, you also mix the air temperatures and even the temperatures out both vertically and horizontally. So a ceiling fan used properly (ie, you have to reverse the direction or change the fan blade angles) can be the difference between huddling near a heating vent and being comfortable anywhere in a room. And your energy bill comes down because you don't have to jack up (or down) the thermostat to reach every corner in the room.

For us city dwellers, the reality is that in pre-war buildings there is often no wiring in the ceilings for overhead lights, which is a prerequisite for ceiling fans. I'd encourage coop and condo owners considering making this upgrade to do so as it would have a double effect:  a more comfortable home AND a positive effect on home value (if I had a nickel for every prospective tenant or buyer who walked into a prewar and said "there's no overhead light in this room ?!?").  I include my own art deco era living room here (although, NYC newbies, I've managed for 12 years with torchiere floor lamps). The high ceilings were just made for them.  Don't like 'em?  Spring for the overhead wiring. No one ever said living in New York was easy (and if you can make it here....)

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Do Your Neighbors a Snowy Solid

We in NYC had our first real snow storm of the season - about 8 inches with about 12 inches in some places. Right away I remembered the really annoying part of snow in NYC. It's not the roads and it's not the unshoveled sidewalks - that's actually the second most annoying thing about NYC snow storms.

No, the most annoying thing starts 1-3 days later, when the snow inevitably starts melting, and icy slush puddles accumulate at nearly every sidewalk corner where you have to cross the street. Suddenly, what is usually second nature to me becomes a major hassle. Does that look like virgin snow or is it more like an icy marsh, waiting to suck me down and flow into my boots, guaranteeing me an uncomfortable rest of the day (which may be quite young when the incident occurs).
The worst part of this is at night when the temperature is far below freezing (for instance, last night it was around 18 degrees after a day around 33 degrees), and those two-foot-wide puddles become two-foot-wide ice rinks, often uneven ice rinks because the slushy icebergs have become the peaks and valleys of your own Antarctic ice shelf. Talk about dangerous.

If you want the pedestrians that pass your house or store to throw grateful smiles instead of cursing your fortunes, please consider doing the following:

1) If your property is on the corner, instead of just clearing the sidewalk, also clear a pathway from the curb into the street. Yes, I know this isn't your responsibility, it's the City's, but can't we all get along?

2) If there is a rain gutter in front of your property, please try to clear a little channel from the gutter to the corner.  Just a small channel of 3 inches will help the melting snow clear out a little faster and will keep icy pools from forming so widely at the corners.

Please consider doing your NYC neighbors these snowy solids and we will thank you, in our hearts, if not as we pass by and see you doing your bit to help us all out.  Be safe everyone!

Friday, January 04, 2013

Peculiar Cross Currents in Q4 Sales and Rentals

A trio of summary articles caught my attention as I browsed - both in The Real Deal.  Today we found out that Manhattan's sales volume for 4th quarter was up nearly 30% from fourth quarter 2011.  At the same time, median sales price dropped, meaning that more than half of all apartments sold went for under $1 million.

In fact, New York's over-$1 million market dropped by 13.5% for 2012. These two facts coupled suggest that people who are starting up the home ownership ladder are the ones doing most of the purchasing - much like when small cap stocks lead the market rally after a bear market has shaken out, no?

Adding support to my theory is the fact that Manhattan rents have hit a plateau for now. That's right. It might not feel like they are going down, but the average rent in Manhattan has in fact dropped each month since October. Now, that doesn't mean you'll suddenly get a deal, since rents overall are up about 1.5%  from 2011, and at an all time high. We also have to factor seasonality into this calculation, since the best rental deals are found from November-February (usually about $100/month difference). The article cites a jump in available apartments as well.

The conclusion? Low mortgage rates and improving job prospects, coupled with high inventory which kept prices from jumping as soon as the fish started biting, convinced a lot of renters that it was time to take the leap. I remember this happened around 2006 as well, when rents were at an all time high (then). In 2005, the sales market started flattening out, and mortgage rates were historically low. That hiccup, plus the appearance that the economy was working out its problems, combined to help a lot of people buy.

The smart money says the runaway housing market of the early 2000s is not about to resume, but with the total sales inventory having been halved since 2011, prices could start to creep up depending on the spring selling season.  In the meantime, you confirmed renters may have a year-long breather in rent increases. Maybe.