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Veronica Mainetti, a Sight for Sorgente Eyes

Commercial ObserverMarch 22, 2017

Who among us isn’t spellbound by the New York City skyline? Whether it’s architecture, design, construction or Instagram, one look at the rooftops and towers and you can’t help but be enchanted.

 

The Chrysler Building has a pretty remarkable effect on Veronica Mainetti, the president of Sorgente Group of America. The night before her interview with Commercial Observer, she drove through the Midtown Tunnel and, as usual, looked up in awe at the 77-story Art Deco masterpiece. It’s her favorite building outside of Sorgente’s current holdings and her favorite overall. “It’s not just architectural and historic love for it; it’s also emotional and personal,” she said.

 

Mainetti’s great-grandfather moved to New York City from Italy in the 1910s and founded a company that built load-bearing frames. And skyscrapers. One of the first skyscrapers to use exposed metal as part of its design, the Chrysler Building, was part of his portfolio.

 

The classic masonry her great-grandfather employed makes for slow, labor- and material-intense construction, so it’s considerably less common today but significant in Mainetti’s current work. The group specializes in historical preservation projects.

 

We’re sitting in penthouse E at 60 White Street between Church Street and Broadway in Tribeca. Everything is special here, including the moment. It’s the day the 3,078-square-foot, three-bedroom sustainable duplex—one of eight apartments created in a New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission-protected, commercial-to-residential (and again sustainable) conversion—goes on the market (for a modest $9.3 million).

 

Here, ultra-efficiency meets the highest-end design. And we’re looking out the windows. Actually, we’re looking at the windows.

 

“You cannot even begin to tackle energy efficiency if you do not start at the windows,” Mainetti said, gazing at a gorgeous trio of Zola American Heritage SDHs. That’s simulated double hung—triple-pane windows developed for historic restorations in tribute, and in LPC compliance, to the classic double-hung.

 

Mainetti explains the difference in operation: Double-hungs have two slightly overlapping parts that slide up and down within the frame. These tilt and turn in the lower half. In buildings with six stories or less, with less than 41 feet of frontage, the LPC demands primary façades have windows matching the configuration, material, detail, finish and operation of the originals.

 

But these are the best windows on the market, Mainetti said, noting the tight seal. “It’s almost hermetic,” she added, “like a safe.” That’s key to green building and means very low amounts of energy are needed for heating and cooling. It also means Mainetti and her team paved the way for other developers as the LPC has approved similar windows for renovations of townhouses but never a building of this size or a project of this scale. (The company, which purchased the 65,800-squre foot building for $23-million in 2010, declined to disclose the costs.)

 

Mainetti also bought the best marble she could find: more than 14,000 square feet for lobby, bathrooms and kitchen, chosen for its attractiveness, density, low absorption rate and the fact that it’s from a local quarry. “When people use natural stone, it’s really for the aesthetic. For Veronica sustainability was important too. She knew what she wanted. She was precise,” said Luca Mannolini, the general manager for Vermont Quarries Corp. Mainetti visited the quarries at least three times, he said, accompanied by architect, designer, fabricator (they cut to size) and installer.

 

“Building ground-up is easier than restoration,” Mainetti said without complaint. “Because when you enter into a restoration, you enter a maze; you don’t know what you’re going to find. But it’s absolutely doable, especially in a sustainable way.”

 

Sustainability is not just a buzzword for the 38-year-old diagnosed with epilepsy as a child and completely overhauled her diet (no gluten, no diary) in reaction to complications during the pregnancy of her now 5-year-old son. If you subscribe to the notion that Italians love great carbohydrate-heavy food, or if you have any idea how difficult it is to change lifelong dietary habits, you know this is a big deal. And you know to trust her recommendation of Le Pain Quotidien’s organic, super seed, gluten-free bread. (Prego!)

 

Taking care of herself and her world by making it a better, healthier place is as natural as, well, living in New York City to the woman born in Rome, who grew up playing on construction sites with her brother. And as natural as working in the family business. It was not discussed, nor demanded: It simply was part of her DNA.

 

Mainetti talks a lot about her nonna, a heroine who recently passed away. Her nonna (her grandmother on her father’s side) taught her the art and skill of restoration through little projects like repairing furniture and always talked about New York. “I always had this idea I would be here,” said Mainetti, who visited many times as a child. “New York was part of our culture.”

 

After Mainetti’s great-grandfather died, his company became a property management operation, run by Mainetti’s grandmother and great aunt.

 

Now Mainetti is doing everything she can to preserve that culture, for all of us. Literally. She’s a preservationist. And so is her father, Valter Mainetti. Sorgente Group of America is one of three holding companies of the Sorgente Group of Rome. Valter is the majority shareholder and chief executive officer of the company his great-grandfather started in 1910 in Italy (manufacturing iron), plus the company his grandfather started in the 1920s in New York City (building load-bearing frames).

 

By the 1980s and 90s, Sorgente—which means “source” in Italian, like an aquifer that forms a spring—was primarily a ground-up developer, building big retail and commercial properties outside of Rome. In New York City and New Jersey the business was property management. In 1999 Sorgente restructured. The focus became developing and managing real estate funds, through which they invest in historic properties. They own 731 buildings globally.

 

“We’re always looking for properties that have historic and architectural relevance,” Mainetti said. Like the Flatiron Building. Sorgente is majority owner (52 percent).

 

The company has an asset and acquisition manager always on the hunt and is approached by brokers and owners with off-the-market opportunities. Selectivity is vital. “A building needs to be a jewel. There are not many, but they are out there,” Mainetti said.

 

Neighborhood and location are also integral to a purchase. Is the area about to explode? Three-and-a-half years ago, Sorgente purchased The Clock Tower in Santa Monica, Calif. (the 53,465-square-foot, 12-story Art Deco building opened in 1929 at 225 Santa Monica Blvd.), for $38.8 million, according to Mainetti. Today, she said, it’s appraised at over $50 million. The building is in Silicon Beach, the part of L.A. that’s home to hundreds of tech firms and startups. Sorgente also owns the 1926 Fine Arts Building in downtown Los Angeles.

 

“There are so many buildings that are worth preserving. I wish developers would tackle these restorations more,” Mainetti said. “These types of properties have a way to sustain themselves, even in a market that’s fickle.” One such building she mentioned was, wait for it, the Chrysler Building, which Sorgente owned some 25 percent of from 2005 to 2008. “Fortunately and unfortunately we sold for double, almost triple, our investment,” she added.

 

People tell her falling in love with a building is a big mistake, but she does not know any other way.

 

“Some people are astonished that someone from a city with 2,000-year-old buildings could appreciate buildings only 100 years old,” Mainetti said. “But there’s so much beauty in architecture in New York City.”

 

Mainetti arrived in New York in 2003 to obtain a master’s in architectural design at Parsons Institute of Design. Her timing coincided with Sorgente’s investors wanting to learn more about the New York City real estate market. She left school to focus on the work. She didn’t begin with the Flatiron or the Chrysler Building; in 2007 she acquired 32-34 Greene Street in Soho. It was Mainetti’s first renovation project, and the true start of her life as a New Yorker. She’s such a fan of the neighborhood—the Mecca of cast iron properties, a passion of hers—she currently lives on Greene Street with her son and wife, Lorri Shackleford, a former vice president with modeling agency Wilhelmina.

 

“I really love New York City. There’s nothing like it anywhere else. I feel like this is maybe what Rome used to be once. The energy that it emanates. It’s almost intoxicating,” she said.

 

She was drinking in some of that energy on a walk with her Great Dane, Juno (who has lamentably passed) when she first really noticed the façade of 60-66 White Street, three cast-iron buildings. “That’s where great-grandpa comes along and whispers it to me,” she said, playfully. Knowing Tribeca was flourishing she started asking around. The bones were good. The zoning was amenable.

 

Sorgente purchased 60-66 White Street in 2009 for $500 per square foot. The seller was the primary tenant.

 

The buildings were erected in 1869—the year Ulysses Grant was inaugurated, the American Museum of Natural History opened, Major League Baseball was founded, and Wyoming granted women the right to vote. Back then, a building could go up in seven months, as was the case with this one.

Renovation began three years ago. Some 300 people have been part of the process: architects, structural engineers, mechanical engineers, construction workers, sustainable consultants, landmarks consultants, New York City Department of Buildings consultants and expediters.

 

A paint analysis to determine the original color revealed 25 layers of paint.

 

“I know this is such a small, tiny project, but we were able to reach some goals,” Mainetti said.

 

Florian Speier, the founder of Zola Windows, agrees and credits the developer herself. “Working with a developer like Veronica, who truly cares both about energy efficiency and historic sensitivity, resulted in a project that leads the way in showing how we can use landmark buildings to create outstanding living spaces with a true and original sense of place, while being highly energy efficient and thereby supporting the future.”

 

The future is as important to Mainetti as the past. “We need to find a way to restore where we can and restore in a more conscious way and make these buildings smarter,” she said. “We owe it to the environment. We owe it to our children. We just can’t keep building the way we have.”

 

Clearly, the green aspect of life as a developer is important to Mainetti. Sorgente is increasing its involvement in related city efforts.

 

“People are happy with their T-shirts and tank tops [on unseasonably warm winter days], but I walk through this in a panicked state. Climate change is so palpable, it’s so obvious,” Mainetti said. “We have to build in a more conscious way at least in order to slow down the process, because we can’t stop it. It needs to be mandated in high-end projects. Because then it will trickle down everywhere else, and that’s what we need, affordable housing to be focused more on sustainability and energy efficiency.”

 

Beyond work, though somehow always connected to it, Mainetti is a dedicated photographer. Her wife has been encouraging her for years to show her Renaissance-inspired work, and she’s finally agreed. “It’s kind of out there,” she said. “I’m freaking out a little bit.” Not including the company logo she designed as a teenager—two M’s mimicking a spring—she has never shared her art with the public so widely. (Those who are curious should definitely check out her Instagram account, and see our favorite picks here.)

 

Detachment is a theme, in part due to the loss of her grandmother and in part due to her epilepsy. Like many, she experiences seizures as an out-of-body, dream-like experience. Rebirth is another theme in her photography, as is construction. “For me, restoring a building, going to its foundation and finding a way to make it stand up proud again, it’s not just a rebirth of the building itself, but it’s also my own. It’s very therapeutic.”

 

Mainetti said, with a sparkle in her eye, she likes to think she’d recognize the family masonry if she came across it now. But maybe not. There are records, but they’re incomplete. “Sometimes I do go around and look at buildings thinking maybe my great-grandfather worked on this. Being able to find a way to preserve them is extremely rewarding.”

 

And she always goes back to the Chrysler Building. It gets her every time she looks at it, as recently as the night before we met. “It’s just such a beautiful, gorgeous, absolutely outstanding piece of architecture,” Mainetti said. “I am sure my father shares the same opinion.”

 

So will they get it back? She was silent for a moment then smiled. We’ll have to wait and see.

Forget the hype: What are the real options for a regular buyer in the Bronx right now?

Brick UndergroundMarch 21, 2017

For a while now, the South Bronx has been simmering with hype—and an accompanying influx of gentrification and development. And while that’s an obvious boon for developers and big-time investors, for your average buyer, it’s a different story. Does a wave of eager investment mean that even the Bronx will be out of reach for buyers who have been priced out of the market in Brooklyn and Queens?

 

Not necessarily. Though the much-discussed South Bronx is short on inventory and packed with deep-pocketed buyers, look a little further and there are plenty of options for buyers on the hunt for reasonably priced real estate that’s still within the five boroughs. Below, the lowdown on the current state of the market uptown:

 

Tough competition in the trendy South Bronx

 

As the nexus of most of the borough’s trend-pieces (and one ill-fated attempt to rebrand the neighborhood as the “Piano District”), it’s perhaps unsurprising that the bulk of new development and buyer activity appears to be centered in the south Bronx around Mott Haven, Melrose, and Port Morris.

 

The problem? While there’s a flurry of interested buyers and investors convinced that they’re getting in on the ground floor of the so-described next Williamsburg, having only been recently rezoned and with only a handful of high-priced condo projects underway, there aren’t that many properties you can actually buy. As Bohemia Realty's Beth Gittleman puts it, owners tend to be longtime residents who aren't looking to move (or sell), or investors looking to swoop in on the market.

 

“Most people who are moving into the Bronx from outside areas want places that are an easy commute to Manhattan, so that area around Mott Haven is very popular,” says Citi Habitats agent and Bronx resident Taylor St. Valliere. (From Mott Haven, it takes about 40 minutes to get into Midtown Manhattan.) “But at this point, there’s not a lot you can actually buy—you have to go a little bit north to find that type of inventory.”

 

After a recent rezoning, the formerly industrial waterfront areas are seeing a rush of development, but most of those are a few years away from being finished. "There are about six to eight projects going up in the South Bronx right now," says CORE agent Sebastian Oppenheim. "Some are just breaking ground, some are partial structures. But right now, that's a market that's really tied up for first-time buyers."

 

While many other Bronx neighborhoods are chock full of prewar co-op inventory, the industrial South Bronx is short on those options, explains Gittleman, and even unrenovated and unrestored townhouses are facing all-cash offers from investors. "There are a lot of these smaller two-family homes that people want to get in on, and they're complete wrecks, but there are still 40 people at the open house," says Gittleman. "And the traditional homebuyer has no chance against an investor with a boatload of cash."

 

The lack of inventory (and the fervent interest) in the South Bronx are pushing prices higher, and Citi Habitats agent Chyann Sapp notes that prices in the area are now roughly comparable to East Harlem. "In Melrose, I recently saw a one-bedroom listed at $400,000," she says. However, as the area's market goes through unprecedented changes, buyers and brokers are also finding themselves having trouble determining appropriate pricing. "There are no comps ... and buyers have a hard time determing value," adds Gittleman.

 

But a wealth of other options farther north

 

That said, there are still plenty of deals to be found if you expand your search—and head a little further up on the 1 or the 6.

 

"The Bronx is the only place in New York where you can still buy a nice one-bedroom for under $200,000, even less than $150,000, and these types of properties are scattered throughout the borough," says St. Valliere. "You have Kingsbridge Heights, University Heights, Kingsbridge terrace, and further up, neighborhoods around Fordham."

 

In particular, the area around Grand Concourse is known for its prewar co-op buildings, as we've written previously, and though Riverdale is more known for its suburban-style mansions, it's also packed with smaller apartments that will fit the budget of a first-time buyer. "You can find studios and one-bedrooms anywhere from $89,000 to around $100,000, and two-bedrooms that range from $115,000 and up," says Sapp of Riverdale. (It really is flush with options—a quick search of StreetEasy reveals over 100 one-bedrooms currently on the market in Riverdale, most of which are well under $200,000.) "And we're not talking about a small apartment. There are a lot of prewars that haven't been divided up like they have in Manhattan," Sapp says, "so you have a lot of space."

 

(One potential downside, however: Gittleman notes that Riverdale in particular is tough to navigate without a car, especially west of the Henry Hudson Parkway, so weigh your options accordingly. Express buses are an option, of course, as is taking a local bus to the Metro-North stop and the subway.)

 

Just north of Fordham (and near the Bronx Botanical Garden), says Sapp, "the apartments are huge, and there's a lot of greenspace." But as with Riverdale, you'll likely need a car given the limited public transportation options.

 

If you're buying with an eye to future property values, Triplemint’s Ajile Faust recommends researching any potential new development that's slated for the block or neighborhood. "Some of the savvy buyers are looking at the development pipeline," she tells us. "If there's a new construction rental that's going up, for instance, they want to be on that block." 

 

However, Faust also notes, "I'm a native New Yorker, so as far as I'm concerned, people have always been buying in the Bronx, though the buyers may look different. People like the tree-lined streets and the quiet."

 

Meaning, then, that buyers shouldn't go in with the attitude that they're "discovering" a new neighborhood or re-making it in their own image, but rather, becoming a part of a strong community that's already been in place for decades. "The Bronx has what I call 'authentic' neighborhoods that still feel old-school," says St. Valliere. "People still know each other, they grew up there, they say hi." 

 

A prime opportunity for multi-family investment

 

If you have the means to buy something a little bigger than a one-bedroom, nearly every broker we spoke with emphasized the popularity (and low price points) of multi-family homes uptown. "The multi-family is the real hot ticket," says Faust. "A renovated two-family in Wakefield will run you about $475,000 to $650,000. At 135th Street in Harlem off the B, a two-family will cost you $2.5 million. Ride that four more stops up [to 167th] on McLellan Street, and a three-family with a driveway will cost you $400,000 to $500,000."

 

And the availability of multi-family homes is hardly a well-kept secret: Investment sales for the first half of 2016 in the Bronx totaled $1.36 billion, according to this report from Ariel Property Advisors, much of which is investors looking a multi-families. "There's a lot of opportunity for first-time buyers to leverage this," says Oppenheim. "I recently closed a deal with a 28-year-old first-time buyer, who purchased a three-family in the Bronx. He's basically living rent free, and making a little money on the side, and in a few years, can move out, re-finance, and purchase another one." 

 

Of course, if you're buying a multi-family that you plan to rent out as an investment, you'll want to do your due diligence about any current tenants, as well as necessary renovations, since Gittleman notes that many of the multi-families currently available are what could be termed fixer-uppers. (Unrenovated multi-families currently go from around $180 to $200 per square foot, whereas a fully finished property will be more in the range of $250 to $350 per square foot, says Oppenheim.)

 

Bottom line: If you've been on the fence about wanting to invest, now is a smart time to make moves, before even more investors flood into the Bronx—which they most assuredly will. (But do your due diligence, of course.) 

 

"My investor clients who used to call and say, 'What do you have in Inwood and Washington Heights, ' now they're calling and looking for multi-families in Morrissania," says Faust.

Six homes with fireplaces, because winter’s not done with us yet

Brick UndergroundMarch 17, 2017

Just when you thought you could safely store your Canada Goose and Sorels, it snows and sleets. Instead of grumbling about the lack of spring-like weather, embrace the winter season one last time and snuggle up by a roaring fire. These homes with fireplaces will do you fine. 

 

This contemporary fireplace, located off the kitchen of a four bedroom, five-and-a-half-bath townhouse at 223 East 62nd Street (asking price: $9.4 million) will appeal to those with more modern sensibilities.

 

Finally, for those willing to brave the cold, this three-bedroom, three-bath penthouse condo at 211 East 13th Street (on the market for $4.895 million) includes a private landscaped terrace with an oversized granite woodburning fireplace that may just make you forget the weather—at least temporarily.

Two Outdoor Spaces that Will Make You Really Wish It Was Spring

MetroMarch 15, 2017

Despite a surprise March snow, spring is just days away. That means New Yorkers will emerge from hibernation and be able to enjoy the outdoors again. For the lucky ones, that includes their own outdoor spaces - from tiny balconies to actual backyards.

 

Here are two outdoor spaces that are sure to make any New Yorker jealous and wish for that warm weather to hurry up.

 

261 W. 25th St., 7BPH
$3,495,000

 

This two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath apartment has its own private penthouse roof cabana. The cabana features a full kitchen and is professionally landscaped with irrigation.

 

“I believe to have a private cabana in the metropolitan area is very special, especially if the cabana has wonderful views and is equipped for entertaining as this one is at The Seymour,” said Lawrence Treglia, broker at CORE.

 

When you’re forced to spend your time inside, this Chelsea apartment features a full wall of casement windows, including in the master suite, and wire brushed solid oak floors.

 

211 E. 13th St., PHF
$4,895,000

 

Even when the weather is somewhat chilly, the private roof terrace of this penthouse condo will remain cozy with its wood-burning fireplace encased by jet-mist granite.

 

With more than 730 squarefeet, the terrace also features a built-in Wolf gas barbecue, and Sonos-ready surround sound, lighting and irrigation systems. It is beautifully landscaped, including two Japanese Maple trees and five Cherry trees.

 

The inside centerpiece of this three-bedroom, three-bathroom East Village home is an iron and oak staircase. Other highlights include 9-foot-2-inch ceilings, wide-plank oak flooring throughout and radiant heated floors in all the bathrooms.

A Home with a Dining Banquette

Brick UndergroundMarch 10, 2017

A dining banquette doesn’t just provide convenient and, frequently, space-saving seating for quick meals and snacks, it transforms a kitchen (already the informal heart of the home) into a comfortable place to congregate.

 

Here, five homes that do it especially well. 

 

A slim banquette maximizes space brilliantly in this 10-foot-wide dining room within a three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath condo at 141 East 88th Street (asking price: $3.495 million)

Developers Step Up Concessions in Tepid Market

The Real DealMarch 09, 2017

With its undulating glass facade, 252 East 57th Street was among the marquee new developments that promised to reshape Midtown East back when it debuted in late 2014. But after an extended period of sluggish sales – just under half the condominium’s 95 units remain unsold – the developers decided it was time to take drastic measures.

 

On top of price cuts last year, World Wide Group and Rose Associates are now offering brokers a 4 percent commission, including 1 percent that’s non-refundable and will be paid as soon as a contract is inked.

 

“We were trying to think outside the box in terms of what would set us apart,” said Stribling’s Pamela D’Arc, who is marketing the condos. “People come down 57th Street and I think they literally go from one end to the other.”

 

Discounts have been part of the high-end condo market’s story for many months now, but price slashing is not the only way developers are trying to hook buyers. Faced with stiff competition from a heap of new luxury product on the market, developers are paying transfer taxes, offering discounts, dangling gifts cards and other sweeteners in front of brokers and buyers.

 

It’s all about getting deals done as quickly as possible.

 

“They don’t want to give off the perception that they’re lowering prices, so they may offer a concession,” said Douglas Elliman’s Vickey Barron. For buildings with unsold inventory, offering incentives can be an easy way to move sales along, she said.

 

“They’re not wrong for doing it,” Barron added. “You don’t want to be sitting with empty apartments.”

 

Developers whose construction loans are coming due have the most on the line, and are anxious to stave off lenders anxious about getting paid back.

 

“The pressure on developers is starting,” said one marketing executive. “I’ve been getting calls from banks asking what the larger units will rent for.”

 

Slow and soft

 

It’s taking longer to sell new condos these days as high-priced units planned during 2014 and 2015 flood the market. New development sales dropped 13.2 percent year-over-year to 479 units during the fourth quarter, according to appraisal firm Miller Samuel. Meanwhile, the average number of days on the market jumped 20.7 percent to 181 during that time.

 

“People come down 57th Street and I think they literally go from one end to the other.”
In recent months, the slowdown has spooked a handful of developers, notably CL Investment, which scrapped its $300 million luxury condo conversion at 287 Park Avenue South this fall. In February, the Chinese investment firm also sold its 32.9 percent stake in Coda, Magnum Real Estate Group’s rental-to-condo conversion at 385 First Avenue.


Kuafu Properties hit pause on its major development at 161 East 60th Street, a $300 million site now controlled by ex-Kuafu principal Denis Shan, while JDS Development Group and Property Markets Group suspended sales at 111 West 57th Street last year. At the time, PMG’s Kevin Maloney preached the value of waiting until the market improved.

 

In instances where waiting isn’t an option, buyers are calling the shots, he recently observed.

 

“The next two years will be the year of the deal,” Maloney told Bloomberg this fall. “If you have cash, I can’t imagine there’s not a condo project that’s coming out of the ground where you can’t walk into the sales office and say ‘This is the deal I’m willing to offer.’”
And while the terms of those deals may not be ideal, many developers aren’t in the position to call the shots.

 

“In a strong market we would say no — in a soft market like now, we would consider it.” said Elliman’s Richard Steinberg, who is marketing the Chamberlain, Simon Baron Development and Quadrum Global’s 39-unit condop at 269 West 87th Street. He said buyers always try to push the closing costs, transfer taxes and mansion taxes onto developers — that’s the name of the game. The difference is, in a market like this one, they’re more likely to be successful.

 

“At the end of the day, it’s what is net to the developer,” Steinberg said. “So if it’s a higher offer, and they want us to pay closing costs, of course we would do it.”

 

Just the tax

 

While many developers stay mum about offering concessions, others talk them up as a marketing tool.

 

Last month, Toll Brothers City Living offered to pay the transfer and mansion taxes for any buyer who went into contract at select buildings before Feb. 26. Billed as a part of the company’s “national sales event,” the offer was good at 55 West 17th Street, 100 Barrow Street and the Sutton at 959 First Avenue.

 

“We have, in certain locations, had increased incentives to sell,” Toll Brothers CEO Douglas Yearley said during a Feb. 22 earnings call. “But even with those increases in incentives, our gross margins have far exceeded the company average.” He said while the company was proceeding with caution in the market, it was “well-positioned to absorb what has been going on in New York City.”

 

Still, Toll Brothers is one of very few developers who have made across-the-board offers. It’s far more common for sponsors to take a building-by-building — and deal-by-deal — approach to sales.

 

“Each developer is in his own situation with his own project,” said Magnum’s Ben Shaoul, who said he’s willing to pay transfer and mansion taxes at 100 Barclay — where sales launched in 2015 and prices average $2,254 per square foot, according to StreetEasy — but wasn’t extending the same offer at 196 Orchard Street, which hit the market a year later and is asking $2,324 per square foot, on average. “To generalize about the market is naive and ridiculous,” he said.

 

Most buyers nowadays are trying to save a buck where they can. “If you are a buyer at over $10 million, you will be asking for concessions,” said one top broker, who requested anonymity.

 

Compass’ Leonard Steinberg said, “Correctly priced properties in prime locations that are beautifully executed, mostly don’t require additional incentives to sell. But right now, there is a bit of a race to drive concessions.”

 

For example, Jody Kriss’ East River Partners is offering tax concessions for a “limited time” at its condo developments at 164 South Oxford Street and 171 South Portland Avenue in Fort Greene. MNS’ Andrew Barrocas, who is marketing the projects, said the sweeteners helps sales velocity, and that the developer was only offering them until the end of March.

 

“Extell’s commission deal shook the market.”

 

The savings, particularly on luxury apartments, can be significant. For a $10 million property, mansion and transfer taxes — which come to about 2.5 percent — can set a buyer back $250,000. Watching who foots the bill for attorney’s fees, which can run another several thousand dollars, are another way to take the temperature of the market: When things are red-hot, buyers sign those checks, but when sales are sluggish, sponsors may absorb those costs.

 

“Particularly in the over $2,000-a-foot market, developers are more likely to negotiate on some of the costs,” said Alvin Schein, a partner at law firm Seiden & Schein, who has worked with Toll Brothers, Madison Equities, Magnum and Extell on various projects.

 

The Bentley club

 

But developers aren’t just luring buyers by agreeing to pick up the tab on the added extras. In some cases they’ll agree to make design modifications if it will get a buyer over the line.

Others are trying more outlandish stunts. Wonder Works Construction and Girona Ventures, the developers of a townhouse at 357 West 17th Street asking $36.8 million, are throwing in a Bentley worth at least $200,000. And at the Nevins, a new condo in Boerum Hill that hit the market six months ago, the developers offered gift cards to brokers and buyers during the holiday season if they signed a contract by the first week in January. (They offered $2,000 for one-bedrooms, $3,000 for two-beds and $4,000 for three-bedroom units.) “We didn’t want to lose momentum,” said the Corcoran Group’s Tamir Shemesh, who is marketing the 73-unit project for developers Naveh Shuster Group and Adam America Real Estate. Shemesh said the building is nearly 70 percent in contract, but, “you can’t sell a project at the same pace that you sell in the beginning, so when you see the potential for slowdown, you boost it up.”

 

Some developers prefer to spend their dollars on agents who can bring in buyers. Earlier this month, Extell took the unusual step of offering brokers a 50 percent commission advance on sales at properties now under construction — including One Manhattan Square, 70 Charlton and the Kent.

 

“Extell’s commission deal shook the market.” said one broker. “We’re going to see more and more of it — particularly in the Midtown corridor where there is a glut of product.”

 

Gale International, which is trying to sell the last penthouse 21 West 20th Street , is taking a similar approach, wooing brokers with an unusually high commission of five percent.


“Offering a higher commission does not sell an apartment, but what it does is attract the attention of the brokerage community,” said Stan Gale Jr., president of the firm. “Everyone knows that there’s a lot of product out there, people need to differentiate.” He declined to comment on whether the firm would offer concessions in the form of paying closing costs. Toll Brothers City Living is also offering a portfolio-wide commission incentive.
But in some cases, the only way to sell is to cut prices.

 

“Developers are not only offering to cover closing costs, but are breaking the final barrier — pricing,” said Martin Eiden, a broker at CORE. “The reduction in pricing not only affects people who bought in the building and are trying to resell, but neighboring properties.”
In January, for example, Extell cut the prices of five apartments at Carlton House by 10 percent. “We’ve priced to account for today’s market,” Barnett recently told the Wall Street Journal. “The market wants to see some discounting.”

 

Others are going a lot further, finally facing the music about what their product is worth.

 

DHA Capital and Continental Properties’ triplex penthouse at 12 East 13th Street was once asking as much as $30 million. But sitting without a suitor for three-and-a-half years, it’s now all the way down to $16 million.

 

“It’s a very different market now,” said Compass’ Herve Senequier, who is marketing the pad. “Most properties above $15 million have received pricing adjustments, and the price now makes more sense.”

Subway-less NYC

Brick UndergroundMarch 08, 2017

Living near a subway doesn't always guarantee a swift journey to wherever you're headed. As Gothamist reported last month, the latest stats from the MTA reveal that mass transit delays—many of them from overcrowding—are only getting worse. In November, for instance, some trains were running on schedule less than 40 percent of the time.

 

A slow subway, though, seems better than none. Last year, Chris Whong of the Department of City Planning created a map of the city's "subway deserts"—that is, areas that are a 10-minute walk or more from the nearest station—and found that large swaths of the boroughs are underserved. Eastern Queens and the northern Bronx, in particular, include many neighborhoods that lie beyond the reach of the city's 472 subway stops.

 

A New York Times article links poor transit access to lower incomes and higher rates of unemployment, noting that the people who stand to benefit the most from easily reachable subways are less likely to be able to afford living in a neighborhood that offers them.

 

But at the same time, some New Yorkers would rather live off the subway grid. In Red Hook, for instance, locals have spoken out against the prospect of streetcar service coming to the south Brooklyn area, saying they prefer to stay under the radar rather than see their home become the next hot NYC neighborhood.

 

So how do residents in these places make it work? And do neighborhoods like Bayside, Whitestone, and Riverdale have something to offer that makes up for the lack of public transit?

 

Getting around: to drive or not to drive?
The Times article on subway deserts suggests that most residents of such places rely instead on bus service. But in the more suburban corners of the city, cars are often the norm.

 

For instance, when Nick Fasulo moved from Astoria to Bayside—a neighborhood of eastern Queens that's over 3.5 miles from the nearest subway station in Flushing—he knew he'd have to buy a car. He uses it to get around the neighborhood, visit car-less friends back in Astoria, and, on weekdays, drive to Bayside's Long Island Rail Road station. From there, it's a 24-minute ride to Penn Station (provided the LIRR is running smoothly), and about a 20-minute walk to work. From door to door, he says, the commute typically takes him a little over an hour.

 

"It's probably tough," he says, of living in Bayside without a car, but notes that he does see plenty of buses around town. (The MTA bus map reveals several bus lines along Bayside's main thoroughfares of Bell, Francis Lewis, and Northern Boulevards, though that still leaves sizeable chunks of the neighborhoods sans bus or subway options.) He adds that finding parking in Bayside is easy for drivers, and that most people rely on street parking rather than lots.

 

Christian Nacpil, a broker with Citi Habitats who has lived in Bayside for 15 years, says he commutes to Manhattan by taking the bus to the LIRR, but that there seems to be an even split between locals who drive and who rely on public transit. "A lot of people commute out to Long Island, so they're either driving to work there or commuting via bus and train to Manhattan," he says.

 

The situation is similar in Whitestone, Queens, which is northwest of Bayside. Paula Manna works for Citi Habitats and lives in Whitestone; she also attended high school and college in Queens, and recalls that most people she knew had cars. "It's more suburban, and not easy with the transit," she says, "but people are accustomed to driving around and walking to the store."

 

There's also the option of taking express buses to get to Manhattan: The QM2, for instance, brings passengers from Whitestone to Midtown in under an hour. There are local buses as well; Manna notes that her fiance takes a bus to the Bayside LIRR stop and commutes from there.

 

In the Bronx, Riverdale residents may find themselves with several alternatives to choose from. Sid Whelan, a broker with CORE, notes that there are many small sub-neighborhoods within Riverdale; those to the east of the Henry Hudson Parkway aren't too far from the 1 train, while those to the west are at least a mile away from the nearest stop.

 

In these areas, he says, people tend to use the neighborhood's Metro-North station, from which it's about a half hour ride to Grand Central.

 

Some developments, too, try to make a move to Riverdale worth it for tenants by helping to ease their commutes. "There's a huge diversity of amenities in terms of buildings," Whelan says. "Some will have a shuttle bus to the Metro-North, in addition to things like pools and great views." Other properties make driving easy by offering parking garages or on-site Zipcars.

 

The upside to life beyond the subway
Across the board, residents of the subway-less corners of NYC say that life beyond the subway has the same major advantages as the suburbs: a quieter, more relaxed pace of life, more space to spread out, and an overall "suburbs in the city" feel, minus the steep property taxes of Nassau or Westchester County.

 

For Manna, that blend is key to her choice to live in Whitesone. "I like the lifestyle of being able to park in front of my house and pay lower rent on a bigger place, where I can hang out and barbecue," she says. "It's about suburban amenities, but still living in the city."

 

And at the same time, there are stretches of the neighborhood that are walkable; Manna points to 150th Street and 14th Avenue, where there is plenty of shopping and restaurants. Because Whitestone has an extensive East River waterfront, there's also a handful of parks for riverside strolls.

 

Fasulo says that Bayside delivers a close-knit feel more commonly found in the burbs. Young families are drawn to the area because of Bayside High School, which, according to Inside Schools, has a high graduation rate and programs for high-achieving students. "There's a soccer field across the street from the school, with lots of teams playing and practicing once the weather warms up," Fasulo points out. "There's a great neighborhoody feel."

 

Riverdale, too, draws New Yorkers because of the quality of its local schools, Whelan says. Inside Schools writes that while Riverdale's area—District 10—is known for having overcrowded public schools, it's also the highest-performing district in the borough, and is near respected specialized public high schools like Bronx Science. There are also several esteemed private schools, like the Ethical Culture Fieldston School and Riverdale Country School, but of course, sending children there is a significant added expense.

 

While the east side of the highway has a busier, more city-like feel, Whelan says, the neighborhood is generally slower-paced and affords more privacy than what you'd find in Manhattan: "You will see lots of houses with big yards, where the neighbors are 30 yards away or more."

 

On the other hand, in a bid to attract younger buyers who might be leaving Manhattan and Brooklyn in search of greater affordability, some Riverdale co-ops are trying to brand themselves as places that foster a good social life. "Co-op boards are putting real thought into what they can to do make their buildings more fun and lifestyle-oriented, like putting in common rooms and gyms. We're seeing a lot more of that kind of thing," Whelan says.

 

But will you save on housing?
But are these neighborhoods more affordable? A RentHop map suggests that the more central the location, the higher the rent, but places like Bayside, Whitestone, and Riverdale aren't exactly cheap, despite being further from the heart of the city.

 

"Living in the city is expensive no matter where you are," says Whelan. "Apartments are selling much faster [in Riverdale]. The absorption rate has really drastically changed, and you're going to start seeing prices going up." Riverdale's status as an emerging market seems cemented by the fact that Douglas Elliman started tracking it in its most recent market reports.

 

Bayside, too, is a tough place if you're seeking bargains. "The fact that it has that suburban vibe and is also close to Long Island makes it a little pricier," Nacpil says. "But you can find a three- to four-bedrooms for under $1 million, or rent a floor of a house for about $3,000 a month, which is more real estate than you could get in Manhattan."

 

According to Zillow, Whitestone's market is also strong, with the median home price at $768,800. But, Manna says, you're getting a lot more bang for your buck in terms of square footage. "My fiance was complaining about our apartment until I took him to see places in Brooklyn," she recalls. "Now he thinks we live in a mansion."

 

Live upstairs from Bethenny Frankel in this Soho loft

6sqftMarch 07, 2017

For a while, anyway, as the Skinny Girl mogul and RHONY regular recently listed her renovated pad downstairs at 22 Mercer Street. But the cobblestones of Soho‘s Cast Iron District boast more than enough celebrities to withstand the loss, and this 2,392-square-foot loft has had its own renovation; on the market for $4.75 million, it’s stellar enough that it doesn’t matter who the neighbors are.

 

Three bold arched double-paned windows frame the living/dining room, which also has a wood-burning fireplace. An open kitchen is sleek, yet feast-ready with stainless steel Gaggenau and Miele appliances including a five-burner cooktop and additional bar sink.

 

A dramatic 95-foot windowed hallway leads to the home’s two bedrooms, both with en-suite bathrooms. The master suite has electric blackout shades and hides a custom dressing room behind sliding pocket doors.

 

Beneath it all you’ll find Brazilian walnut flooring; custom window treatments, a surround sound system and a high-tech security system with closed circuit cameras create a tranquil space and peace of mind.

 

The 16-unit pet friendly boutique condominium offers a full-time doorman, a landscaped rooftop terrace and private storage.

New NYC apartments Hitting The Market: Spring 2017

CurbedMarch 07, 2017

Spring is just around the corner, which can only mean one thing: the real estate market is about to pick up, and quickly. And of course, that can only mean one thing for Curbed NY: it's time to look at the many, many, many apartments—both rentals and condos—that will be hitting New York's real estate market in the next few months. Across more than 40 developments, there are starchitect-designed buildings (your Viñolys, Meiers, and SHoPs among them) and apartments in some of the city's most anticipated megaprojects, along with under-the-radar outer-borough rentals and "affordable" apartments. It's a lot to take in, and as always, if we missed anything, the tipline is right this way.

 

37. 60 White Street
Sorgente Group of America has relaunched sales at 60 White Street, the 1869-built historic building retrofitted by Bostudio into eight posh condos. The building originally appeared on the market in 2014, but two condos hit the market again in February—a two-bedroom asking $4.625 million and a three-bedroom penthouse seeking $9.275 million.

 

38. 403 Greenwich Street
The development of this Tribeca condo by Colonnade Group has been in the works for no fewer than eight years. It was poised to be the world’s first glass brick building, but that originally proposed Joseph Pell Lombardi design was traded in for a more traditional building by Morris Adjmi in 2011. The four-apartment building is finally poised to hit the market this May. Shocker: the apartments will be expensive, with prices ranging from just shy of $4 million for the three duplex three-bedrooms to $12 million for the five/six-bedroom penthouse.

39. 868 Lorimer Street
A ground-up building designed by Stephen B. Jacobs Group, this McCarren Park-abutting condo is due to hit the market in April. Its 14 apartments will include five two-bedrooms, four three-bedrooms, four full floor three/four-bedrooms, and one duplex penthouse priced between $1.55 million and $2.5 million. The Chatham Development Company-developed building will come with indoor parking, a landscaped courtyard, and a media room.

38 Prince Street

New York Lifestyles MagazineMarch 07, 2017

Imagine living in a single-family landmarked townhouse with three protected exposures in Nolita (North of Little Italy). Welcome to 38 Prince Street directly across from Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral. Five levels plus a basement encompassing seven bedrooms, seven full baths, and three half baths all connected by a sweeping staircase and one of the city’s largest residential elevators.

 

The townhouse combines excellent clean, minimalist architecture (late Federal period) with some ornate details (Greek revival) like the North and South facing Oculus windows on the top floor. The top floor also has original exposed beams which are another defining feature of this house. Time Equities Inc., Hamlin Ventures, and Marvel Architects should be very proud of what they have accomplished.

 

SIMPLE YET ELEGANT
The two most defining spaces of this masterpiece are the English basement housing the common areas and the third-floor master level. The English basement houses the kitchen and dining area and leads out to the two-tiered backyard. The kitchen has been designed by Smallbone, and their custom cabinets are made of walnut. Simple yet elegant horizontal slots with Waterworks nickel features create a warm and homey feel. There is even a walk-in pantry. The centerpiece of this kitchen is the stainless steel La Cornue Chateau 150 Range and vented hood. It is an excellent choice for 38 Prince because like the design of this residence, this range is both sleek and elegant. The selection of stainless steel complements the warm walnut cabinets and the single slab Colorado Lincoln honed marble countertops and backsplash tie this tasteful yet modern kitchen together. The kitchen is large, and the dining area next to it is also quite large. There is a fireplace in the dining area but what sets this family area apart is that it leads straight to the backyard. A 1,600 square foot two-tiered backyard. The floor to ceiling glass doors open completely to expose the yard for an indoor/outdoor living. This is a classic design that provides for a private family time in the middle of the bustling city.

 

WINNING DESIGN
The master floor is another defining feature of this residence. An oversized master bedroom, a study, and a true master bath with dressing room and powder room comprise this floor. The master bath boasts two exposures, a bidet, a Waterworks free-standing sculptural bathtub, and a wet room. The wet room has a marble seating bench, a great niche factor, and a steam shower. There is a multitude of counter space with two vanities both made of walnut and aged bronze with free-standing vanities and under mounted Duravit sinks. The entire bathroom is encased in honed Calacatta marble with bronze inlays which create the elegant feel; a huge mirror custom designed by Nebil Gokcebay (of Marvel Architects) opens up space even more. This is a very original master bath in layout and scope. Worthy to be one of The Classicists AD100 honorees in Architectural Digest.

 

Three more levels consist of a parlor floor, secondary bedroom floor, and a top floor with a den and two additional bedrooms. The parlor floor has a grand entertaining room with a fireplace and wet bar and another dining room in the rear. The secondary bedroom floor has three bedrooms and a playroom and three full baths. The top floor has two more bedrooms and a family room with another fireplace. All of the secondary bathrooms are designed elegantly with marble mosaic floors, honed marble tile walls, custom vanities with 1.5-inch thick marble countertops and under mounted Duravit sinks. In addition to Robern recessed medicine cabinets there are Toto water closets, Waterworks classic drop-in bathtubs and Waterworks matte nickel fixtures and accessories. They mix up the powder rooms with polished Calacatta Borghini marble slabs floors and wainscoting and Carrara marble tiled walls.

 

This is a one of a kind opportunity to own a landmarked townhouse in a very exclusive area of NYC. Not enough can be said about 38 Prince. With the skylights and original exposed beams on the top floor, a staff room with full bath in the English basement, a mud room, a front garden, and a freight sized elevator in the townhouse this is truly a rare gem. Smart wired, marble mantles on all three fireplaces and numerous pocket doors throughout this townhouse show elegant design throughout.

Live below Rupert Murdoch at One Madison for $27M

CurbedMarch 06, 2017

It’s been a long, long road for the Building Formerly Known as One Madison Park—aka One Madison—but after years of lawsuits, foreclosures, and other troubles, it bounced back. Eventually, its view-toting, high-priced condos returned to the market and ended up selling to the likes of Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen—and Rupert Murdoch, who apparently got a case of buyer’s remorse not long after.

 

But there’s still what appears to be one sponsor unit left in the building: a duplex spanning the 55th and 56th floors, which returned to the market today with a $27 million price tag. Back in the day—way, way back, as in 2009—the two apartments were offered separately, but they later appeared as a combo in 2015, then asking $37.5 million.

 

The listing doesn’t offer much in the way of a description, and notes that “this residence is only offered as raw space”—the previous listing photos from 2015 back that claim up. But proposed floorplans helpfully offer some idea of what the 6,620-square-foot apartment could look like, boasting a huge living room and a master suite with two walk-in closets.

 

And then there are the views: the apartment is basically eye-level with the gorgeous clock tower of the MetLife building, and floor-to-ceiling windows offer expansive vistas of Midtown and Lower Manhattan on either side.

Tour an Art Deco Masterpiece

The New York TimesMarch 06, 2017

Often overshadowed by the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings, One Wall Street is one of Manhattan's lesser known Art Deco masterpieces. The landmark building's lobby, known as the Red Room, is currently being restored.

 

A worker strips a window ornament in preparation for painting. Here, the window ornament is being painted to match the original metal sheen.

 

Heading up to the building's observation room. The ceiling of the two-story observation room is covered with shells from the Philippines.

 

Situated near the southern tip of Manhattan, the rooftop offers a stunning view of the city. 

Six Homes Anchored by Stylish and Stunning Columns

Brick UndergroundMarch 03, 2017

As far as decorative details go, few lend a space more industrial-chic-style cred than a steel or cast-iron column. What were once largely practical architectural elements (supporting the beams that held up the ceiling), now make a distinctive design statement. 

 

Gunmetal columns and wood beams accent the living space of this 3000-square-foot, three-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath loft at 284 Lafayette Street (yours for $5.85 million).

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