Brokers facing tough choices when portals raise prices for ‘featured’ listings

InmanMarch 05, 2015

Those not willing to pay more for exclusivity must accept ads for competing agents on their listings.


When Zillow told New York City-based brokerage CORE in December that the price of "featuring" its listings on the portal in 2015 would be four times what it paid in 2014, the company decided to cancel its ad spend.


Instead of paying to feature listings on the site -- blocking advertisements for competing agents in the process -- the brokerage transitioned to Zillow's free Zillow Pro for Brokers program. While that move opened up dozens of listings marketed by CORE's 113 agents on Zillow to ads from other agents, participating in the Pro for Brokers program does provide some additional branding, CORE Executive Vice President Doug Heddings told Inman.


CORE's not alone in having to devise a strategy to address rising ad rates on Zillow, Trulia and, real estate's most popular search sites for consumers.


Inman talked to five brokerages that have recently negotiated new contracts with one or more of the big three portals. All of them said ad rates are on the rise -- particularly on Zillow and Trulia, which appear to be playing catch-up with


Brokers who find themselves in similar situations can either pay higher prices for exclusivity, accept ads for competing agents alongside of their listings, or pull their listings altogether. Not an easy choice for many.


While real estate agents and brokerages love to complain about the portals, most have been loathe to break off relations entirely, because many sellers expect their homes will be marketed on the sites.


When brokerages pay for their listings to be "featured" on Zillow and Trulia, they prevent ads for buyer's agents (left) from appearing alongside of those listings. When they pay to "enhance" listings on, inquiries submitted through unbranded lead forms that appear next to listings (right) are directed exclusively to the listing broker, and not to competing agents or brokers.


The scale of price increases is hard to pin down. While Inman found only five brokers who say prices are rising, industry scuttlebutt suggests portals are seeking price increases on a more widespread basis.


Zillow Group, which took questions on behalf of both Zillow and Trulia, wouldn't say if the portals were indeed raising prices across the board for brokerages to feature their listings.


"We develop our product pricing differently in every market depending on a variety of factors," Zillow Group spokeswoman Amanda Woolley said. "We also have many unique partnerships that are tailored to meet our partners’ specific needs, of which we don’t discuss the terms of."


If prices are rising, the reasons aren't clear.


But it's well documented that the big three search portals can't sell ads or generate leads for buyer's agents on a significant chunk of their listings, thanks largely to enterprise-level featured listing deals they've signed with brokers and franchisors.


Listing brokers and agents were paying to "enhance" 42 percent of listings on, and site operator Move Inc. was looking into raising prices for its Showcase Listing Enhancements ad product, Move CFO Rachel Glaser said last year on a conference call with investors.


Like Zillow, Move declined to answer detailed questions from Inman about its pricing.


"There’s no apples-to-apples comparison when it comes to features and pricing models across the different real estate experiences," Move spokeswoman Lexie Puckett told Inman. She added: " attracts the most transaction-ready consumers, and as a result provides brokers and agents with the highest-quality leads and conversion rates."


Between 45 and 55 percent of listings displayed on Zillow don't display ads for competing buyer's agents, according to a study conducted last June by PAA Research, a firm that provides insights to stock market investors.


By prying brokerages off of their listings, Zillow could open up more ad inventory for its breadwinners: agents.


The $239 million that agents paid Zillow for exposure on the portal last year accounted for nearly three-fourths of the company's total revenue. By comparison, display revenue, which includes revenue from broker- and franchisor-level ad deals, totaled just $58.7 million. (Whether ad prices for agents are also headed up will be the subject of a future Inman report.)


There's a chance that ad products for brokers and agents will look considerably different at the end of the year when the portal landscape's current upheaval settles down. Zillow Group has been digesting Trulia for less than a month, and News Corp. is still in just its third month of ownership of Move.


In a recent Inman guest column, James Dwiggins, CEO of the new franchise brand NextHome, noted rumors have been flying for months that Zillow Group might discontinue broker- and franchisor-level featured listings altogether later this year.


Just raising prices could have unintended consequence for the portals, Brian Boero, the founding partner of real estate design and consulting firm 1000watt, noted in a recent blog post. If the price of featured listings on Zillow, Trulia and goes up, that could push brokers to search for a new outlet, such as a national broker portal project currently in development.


Responding to rising prices


In all, Inman spoke to five firms that have recently negotiated renewals of their featured listing ad contracts with at least one of the big three portals.


Executives at all of the firms except CORE asked that their firms remain anonymous because they were either in negotiations with one or more of the portals, or expected to be soon.


The firms that recently negotiated ad contracts with Zillow or Trulia began those talks before Zillow completed its acquisition of Trulia last month -- the price increases they agreed to don't cover both sites. Some of the firms are still in negotiations with Zillow or Trulia.


At some point later this year, Zillow Group, the new entity that houses both Zillow and Trulia, will begin offering a single set of ad products to brokers and agents that will cover both portals, but the firm declined to specify whether new contracts Zillow or Trulia sign with brokerages now cover listings on both portals.

Best Real Estate Trend

Manhattan MagazineMarch 02, 2015

224 Mulberry is included in a piece on the emergency of smaller, boutique buildings in NYC.

Movers & Shakers

Leverage Global PartnersMarch 01, 2015

Eileen Spinola, the wife of Steven Spinola, the outgoing president of the Real Estate Board of New York, is also leaving the organization. Spinola was responsible for REBNY’s education programs, played a role in the growth of its residential division, and organized many of the group’s social events.

Real estate investment veteran Anthony McElroy joined Herald Square Properties as a partner, and will oversee acquisition of commercial properties for the group. Before joining Herald Square Properties, he was senior managing director for what is now DTZ, in charge of acquisitions and dispositions for its New York Investment Fund.

Gabriele Sewtz, who ranked as Elliman’s No. 3 Brooklyn broker in 2013, has moved to Compass, and will spearhead the opening of the firm’s Brooklyn office.

Heather McDonough and Henry Hershkowitz joined CORE as a new sales agent team. They were previously at Douglas Elliman, where they were ranked among the top-10 agent teams at the firm.

Citi Habitats hired Christopher Young as director of advertising and marketing. He will be responsible for marketing campaigns, social media outreach and event planning. Young formerly oversaw marketing and advertising at Stribling and Associates.

John Cahill joined Cresa to lead the firm’s new life sciences practice at the New York office, and will seek to expand the firm’s pharmaceutical, medical and biotechnology client base. Cahill was previously at Colliers International, where he was responsible for office and laboratory leasing.

Colliers International tapped Kimberly Brennan as chief operating officer. A veteran broker with 21 years of industry experience, Brennan will oversee business operations for the firm’s tri-state offices. She was previously at Cushman & Wakefield.

JLL hired Joseph Messina to be executive managing director of its New York consulting/advisory group. He formerly served as executive managing director at Studley.

Also on the move

Stephen Earle, the former Ralph Lauren senior vice president of home design, joined Related Companies as senior vice president and creative director … Brad Hamel was appointed by Alliance Residential Company as senior vice president of operations for the northeast and southeast … Angel Johnson joined Brown Harris Stevens as a residential agent … Jon Ziefert joined Stroock & Stroock & Lavan’s real estate practice group as special counsel in the firm’s New York office.

$12.75 Million | 224 Mulberry St.

Alexa: Luxe LivingFebruary 28, 2015

One of two duplexes in a boutique Nolita building, this 3,924-square-foot, four-bedroom, 3.5-bathroom condo is awash in cool, "contemporary and contextual design." Such as the custom kitchen, with polished marble counters and Gaggenau appliances, and the master bathroom's freestanding, cast-iron tub and dual sinks with Barber Wilsons fixtures. A wood-burning fireplace warms up the "Expansive" living/dining area, and, come spring, you can take advantage of the "grand" private terrace. Agents: Emily Beare and Tim Crowley, Core, 212-726-0786 and 212-726-0163. 

West Village Townhouse for $17 Million

The New York TimesFebruary 27, 2015

A 25-foot-wide, bow-fronted townhouse in the West Village, whose distinctive facade, commodious interior and outdoor garden have made it a sought-after locale for filmmakers, sold for $17,000,000, more than 20 percent above its asking price, and was the most expensive sale of the week, according to city records.


The annual taxes on the four-story house at 66 Morton Street, currently configured with two bedrooms and two-and-a-half baths, are $31,298.60; the original list price from last October was $13,900,000.


“There was a bidding war,” said Eileen Robert of the Corcoran Group, the listing broker, along with Charlie Miller. “It’s the only one of its kind in the West Village, and 25-footers are the rarest of commodities of all townhouses.”


The house, built in 1852 for the trustees of Trinity Church, according to the listing, had been owned since December 1969 by Mary E. Kaplan, and is “in need of updating,” Ms. Robert said. “But they have the best bones to work with.” Many of the original details, including the decorative moldings and ornate fireplaces, remain.


Ms. Kaplan had rented out the 5,800-square-foot property several times for movie shoots. The house, for instance, served as Harrison Ford’s residence in “Working Girl,” Matthew Broderick’s in “The Night We Never Met” and Winona Ryder’s in “Autumn in New York.”


The buyer’s identity was shielded by a limited liability company, Triple Y Properties.


The runner-up, at $11,000,000, was an apartment on the 16th floor of Linden78, a 21-story beige-brick condominium built in 2008 on a prime Upper West Side block near the Hudson River and Central Park. Monthly carrying costs for the four-bedroom four-bathroom unit, No. 16A, situated at 230 West 78th Street, between Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue, are $6,513.


Lori Ben-Ari of CORE represented the sellers, Stephen P. Murray, the former chief executive of the private equity firm CCMP Capital Advisors, and his wife, Tami A. Murray; the couple bought the apartment in the spring of 2011 for $7,127,750. Ms. Ben-Ari said the Murrays had “loved the open layout and the outdoor space,” a 786-square-foot terrace that offers views of the river and park.


The 3,840-square-foot residence also features a private landing and a master-bedroom suite with a spacious walk-in closet and dressing area, as well as a mud room/laundry area.


Dylan Hildreth-Hoffman of Douglas Elliman Real Estate represented the buyers, Bruno Mejean and Martina Hund-Mejean. Mr. Mejean is the founder and principal of BJM International, a company involved in renewable energy, while Ms. Hund-Mejean is the chief financial officer of MasterCard.

Top residential agents of the week

The Real DealFebruary 27, 2015

Price:  $11,000,000
Listing brokers: Lori Ben-Ari of CORE
Address: 230 West 78th Street


Price:  $10,150,000
Listing brokers: Joshua Wesoky and Steve Dawson of Sotheby’s International Realty
Address: 73 Wooster Street


Price:  $7,400,000
Listing brokers: Jeffrey Levitas and Madeline McKenna of Brown Harris Stevens
Address: 285 Central Park West


Price:  $6,850,000
Listing brokers: Gilad Azaria of Douglas Elliman
Address: 200 Riverside Boulevard


Price:  $6,500,000
Listing brokers: Randall Gianopulos and Stan Ponte of Sotheby’s International Realty
Address: 443 East 87th Street


Luxe listings: New York

New York PostFebruary 25, 2015

224 Mulberry and 93 Worth listings are prominently featured in this month’s luxury listing round-up. 

The closing costs: What it takes to please New York City's most elite real estate buyers

MashableFebruary 23, 2015

Loft six of 17 East 16th Street, near Union Square, is buzzing. It's Saturday night just past 6 p.m. and the elevator hums with activity. Its steel green doors open into the apartment, where geometric paintings line the spacious entry and sparkling lights dangle from the ceiling. The smell of burning candles wafts through the air, mingling with the sounds of a live jazz band tucked by the entrance. Paint chips off the walls; the dark wood floors are trodden and faded.


Everything is in its place, designed to make guests feel chic and rustic — and ready to spend millions of dollars. This is how you sell New York real estate to a guest list of millionaires looking to buy their own slice of the city.


Superstar broker Fabienne Lecole has hired an event-planning company to serve tuna sashimi and champagne. About a hundred of Lecole’s clients arrive. In sleek suits and stilettos, they chatter and peruse the artwork.


Lecole, tiny at 5-foot-3, weaves through the crowd. She’s put together, as always, wearing black pumps, leather pants and red lipstick. A sleeveless navy blouse shows off her muscular arms.


She recites the story of the loft. Owner Bernice Stacy was a painter, married to another artist. The two bought the place in the early 1970s, when the building converted from manufacturing lofts to residences.


They split the loft in two: their living space and a studio rental for artists. Painters had studied andworked there for years. A browning note is still taped on one of the room’s green doors: “To keep a line of anxious arTisTs. From jumping abouT ouTside The door. Please leave iT slightly open, When coming ouT To drink some more!”


“That was great,” she gushes the following day. “They loved it.”Lecole had actually sold the loft days before the event, three months after it had gone on the market. The event gave her a few backup offers, too, though she’d likely not need them. The place had sold for very near the asking price Stacy requested: $5 million, paid in cash.


Then she's on to the next. She must do more of these events — networking, reconnecting, reminding people she’s here. Otherwise she risks becoming another forgettable face in a city full of brokers clawing their way up.


There are about 27,000 licensed real estate salespersons and brokers in Manhattan, The Real Deal reported in 2013. Even with tens of thousands in the field, local real estate site StreetEasy reported just 4,803 units were sold in the borough in the third quarter of 2014.


The average price of a Manhattan property was $1.68 million in 2014, an all-time high, according to the Wall Street Journal. The median price was $911,000.


For brokers aiming for homes (and commissions) higher than New York's average, competition gets even steeper. Agents like Lecole, who has sold homes up to $20 million, have to roll out the red carpet at all hours of the day.


It's a field where you must be “always growing every single day,” says broker Ryan Serhant, star of Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing New York. Like Lecole, he is one of the city’s busiest and most sought after brokers. “If you’re not doing more today than you were yesterday, you’re dying.”


“I’m never satisfied," echoes Lecole.


Born in 1963 and originally from Montauban, France, Lecole relocated to the U.S. after completing a law degree in 1987. “Everything was big,” she says of her lifelong attraction to the country. “The cities, the towers, the skyscrapers.”


She moved in with family friends in Los Angeles, where she ultimately cofounded a company to import gourmet French foods to the U.S. One of her company’s first clients was Trader Joe’s.


Her business travels in the late '80s led her to New York, where she would ultimately relocate.


“When I came here everybody was in a rush, stressed,” she says of her first visit. “That’s me. I’m always rushed. I like being stressed.”


In the city she met and fell in love with her future husband, another French expat, in late 1992. They had three sons, Louis, in 1994, Martin (1996) and Arnaud (1999). Just before Arnaud’s birth, tired of travel and ready to invest fully in motherhood, Lecole quit her gourmet food business.


Soon, however, she got restless. So she secured her real estate license in 2001.


Lecole completed the necessary 75-hour course and qualifying exam at the New York Real Estate Institute in Manhattan, a requirement for becoming an agent in the state. That's when Barbara Corcoran, cofounder of one of New York’s top real estate firms The Corcoran Group, offered Lecole a job.


Lecole quickly climbed the ranks to become one of the company's top 2% of brokers (there are over 1,900 in the group). Over 13 years, she sold high-end homes to buyers like actor Neil Patrick Harris, who


now owns an 8,000-square-foot $3.75 million townhouse in Harlem, and legendary '90s rapper The Notorious B.I.G.’s, who grew up in Brooklyn's Bed-Stuy neighborhood.


In another move, Lecole joined Northeast firm William Raveis Real Estate, Mortgage and Insurance in the summer of 2014. There now, Lecole is building a team of agents around her to share the load (and the profits) under her name. Despite a constant stream of repeat buyers and sellers, Lecole never says no to new clients and more business. In New York real estate, the only way to succeed is to always grow and always go.


“My kids say I breathe real estate,” she laughs.


She works fast, 18-hour days, waking no later than 7 a.m. every morning with a glass of juice and the New York Times, to immerse herself in business right away. Depending on the day, she reviews additional publications: the am on Wednesdays, the New York Post on Thursdays. She gets The Real Deal emails every night, before it releases to everyone else the following morning; she pulls out her phone to show off the latest buildings.


Then she heads to the office, hair and makeup on point, in her usual pumps and leather. At William Raveis, she checks emails, calls brokers, sellers and buyers. As midday approaches, she leaves to show listings, on average four to six apartments per day, including Saturdays and Sundays.


Lecole has “big, positive energy,” especially when she's out showing apartments. She greets clients with kisses on each cheek. She regales them with each building's amenities — a rooftop pool, sprawling views of the city, the luxurious museum or park location.


On a recent showing, Lecole took a returning client to several $1 million investment properties at One Museum Mile. “Beautiful finish,” she said of the wood floors in a cramped, junior one-bedroom. It's expensive and small, but her passion is contagious.


“You have to believe in the house if you want someone to believe in the house,” she says.


As a broker, Lecole is responsible for representing sellers, that is, people selling particular spaces on the market, such as the loft in Union Square. But she also helps buyers looking for homes in the city, and prospective renters. Networking, working referrals from her clients and reconnecting with old contacts is key. Many brokers even send birthday cards to clients.


“When you hire your broker, this is a person that you’re going to be in day-to-day contact with discussing some of the most intimate details of your life," says broker Mickey Conlon. His partner (both in life and in work) Tom Postilio is a broker, too. Selling luxury homes at real estate firm CORE, the two star on HGTV's Selling New York and have worked with Lecole in the past.


Conlon and Postilio throw a yearly party around the holidays for their clients. Both originally in show business, last year's party was held at grand and upscale club The Players in Gramercy Park. It included a cocktail reception, a three-course meal and a show by a renowned jazz guitarist John Pizzarelli. In the past, Postilio and Conlon have hired Grammy Award-winning singer Michael Feinstein.


In a city where a 300-square-foot studio can go for $300,000 and 15,400-square-foot penthouse for $118 million, Lecole has sold everything from a $350,000 apartment in Chelsea to a $20 million townhouse in the West Village. Some of Lecole's clients are investors looking to buy a two bedroom, two bath condominium in NoHo and rent it out; others are families seeking large homes in Brooklyn Heights.

No matter where they fall on the totem pole, brokers make between 5-6% commission from a sale, split halfway between the seller’s broker and the buyer’s broker. Success depends on getting those expensive properties. And they fight for that 6%, says Lecole.

Her specialties are her own area in Harlem and former neighborhood, the Upper East Side. In Harlem she sold 10 homes in 2014. She was named Carnegie Hill Salesperson of the Year for 2009 and 2012.

“Her acumen, particularly about the Harlem area, was quite striking,” says Eugenie Jacobson, a client who bought a home through Lecole in 2013.


Lecole took Eugenie and husband Derek to see about 10 homes. They ultimately found their 119th Street townhouse a month and a half into the process. (Finding a home can take anywhere from one day to 12 months or more, depending on the client.) The spacious, four-floored home was built around 1903. It features sprawling wood floors, nine fireplaces, brick walls, a dumbwaiter and gryphons chiseled into the staircase’s original wood. They bought it for $2.82 million and, after a year of renovations, will be moving in 2016.


Lecole's own home, built circa 1900, features original wood doors and floors, 14-foot ceilings, a nook on the staircase where servants would sit (“I don’t have any servants,” she says) and colorful photos and paintings by friends and artists Victor Matthews and Joelle Deroy.


Aside from parties, “most brokers will hand people a bottle of champagne at closing,” says Conlon.


When touring her beloved Harlem, Lecole talks excitedly about the gospel singing you can hear from the street. She loves the international community (“I’ve never spoke as much French as since we moved to Harlem,” she says), the culture. Around the corner from her tree-lined row of brownstones, she points out French and Italian restaurants on Frederick Douglas Boulevard. The area reminds her of Paris.


Afternoons, after showings, it is back to the office, where Lecole sends more emails, makes more phone calls and catches up with paperwork. She might do a bit of marketing.


Then home for dinner with her teenage sons, who she speaks of often. Her youngest shares a passion for art; they visit galleries and museums together monthly.


They eat (though Lecole doesn't cook), and before bed she reads French literature or selections from her sons’ high school curricula and books about architecture.


Lastly, she checks new listings and goes to sleep.


Despite Lecole’s success, the ups and downs of real estate are daily battles. Deals fall through regularly — the seller decides he ultimately doesn't want to sell; the bank transfers don't come through; the whole buy is a hoax; the buyer reaches the final steps of purchasing and decides she doesn't want the house after all. It is a people business and therefore filled with fickleness.


Lecole’s toughest day on the job was when a couple who’d planned to buy a $20 million townhouse in Carnegie Hill decided not to buy, despite having already put a $2 million deposit.


Many can't handle the stress, the unpredictability and the lack of benefits.


Like most brokers, former agent Francesca Hoffman worked on the other end of the spectrum, renting to students and young couples looking in Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy. She was lured into the job with promises of a career like Lecole’s, but soon put a stop to it.


It was an “emotional rollercoaster,” she says. “You close a deal and you’re euphoric, and then you don’t close anything for two or three weeks … You don’t know where your rent is gonna come from.”


“Every single time I lose a deal, it’s the worst day of my career," says Serhant, explaining the difficulties even at the level of clients he works with. And everyone starts at the bottom. The first 12 months of working, he made only $8,000.


But, “you cannot worry about the bad ones,” says Lecole. “You worry for 10 seconds and move on.”


Besides wanting more money and putting in more hours, resilience is the key to New York real estate — getting up and doing more the following day, checking more listings before sleep and first thing upon waking. Always more.


But here, Lecole is different. She's always willing to do more, and does. For her, the real problem is inventory, having enough places to sell. There just never seem to be enough.

Modern Family's Jesse Tyler Ferguson Buys in Gramercy

CurbedFebruary 19, 2015

Jesse Tyler Ferguson, who plays Mitchell Pritchett on the outrageously popular television show Modern Family, has picked up a modest Gramercy co-op. The sale was spotted by 6sqft, who report that the one-bedroom apartment at 200 East 16th Street closed for $1.23 million. It seems like the apartment will be a New York City crashpad; Ferguson and husband Justin Mikita have a much larger home—that once belonged to songstress Gwen Stefani—in Los Angeles.

On The Market

Architectural DigestFebruary 13, 2015

93 Worth Street is mentioned in Estates - On The Market of Architectural Digest's March issue. 

In the News: Proposal for a Big New FiDi Plaza

Tribeca CitizenFebruary 11, 2015

“There are restaurants in Tribeca that I absolutely love,” Almond’s Eric Lemonides told WWD. “But there are very few really good, let’s-take-the-kids-and-go-get-something-to-eat places. Our bread and butter are the people who live up the block and are like, ‘come on, let’s go to Almond.’” So answer my email, eh? Anyway, the article says the restaurant officially opens next week.


“The Downtown Alliance is proposing to eliminate a two-lane exit ramp from the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel and combine a pair of small Financial District plazas that it separates into a single, larger public square.” That’s it in red. —Broadsheet


Manhattan Portage has a Q&A with Azikiwe Mohammed, “one of the very few NYC artists you will meet to be born and raised in Tribeca.” Also, he has “dedicated over half his life to working for the Church Street School for Music and Art.”


Eater loved Little Park. By the way, the restaurant seems to be holding the high-top tables along W. Broadway for walk-ins.


Event and floral designer DeJuan Stroud has moved from 433 Washington to Hell’s Kitchen. I noticed the other day that the company had left; it made me wonder whether someone has plans for that building (and its neighbor to the north?), but I saw nothing on the DOB’s website. Actually, it and its three neighbors to the north could be headed for development…. I had heard a rumor that 27 Desbrosses is not log for this world. —New York Times


The retail condo at 261 Broadway sold; that’s where a Wendy’s was said to be in the works. It was bought by “the Doria family, which founded the popular gourmet grocery store Grace’s Marketplace.” A Grace’s at that spot would be interesting, but it’s likely just an investment. —The Real Deal


A bit of turmoil at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. —Wall Street Journal


If you’ve never read about how those old houses on Harrison got there, 6sqft tells the story again. Also, lots of neat pix, like the one below (courtesy of Tom Postilio and Mickey Conlon of CORE).

When Apartment Listings Are Misleading

The New York TimesFebruary 07, 2015

Guarding Against Inaccuracies


During my recent search to buy an apartment, I came across many misleading listings on websites. Many studios were listed as one-bedrooms. And even some one-bedrooms were listed as two-bedrooms. The square footage was frequently incorrect, with different numbers on different websites. I found that the common charges and taxes cited were also unreliable. Are there regulations against such poor standards?


Upper West Side, Manhattan


“Welcome to New York City real estate,” said Paul Purcell, a managing director at the New York City office of William Raveis. “Given that we have no multiple listing service or central source for information, we are at the mercy of garbage in and garbage out. And then that misinformation gets duplicated as it gets picked up by various sites scraping other sites for information.”


New York City does not have a single, centralized location for real estate listings like the national multiple listing service, which is widely used in other markets. Nor is there a standard form that all brokers use, leaving plenty of room for error. Apartment hunters are at the mercy of brokers to update a listing when the price changes or the unit goes into contract. To make things even more confusing, co-ops measure square footage differently from condominiums. And then, of course, one person’s Junior Four is another’s two-bedroom.


“Room counts also range,” said Patrick Lilly, an associate broker for CORE. “For example, a windowed alcove studio with a wall up is called a one-bedroom legally.”


But brokers are not supposed to make things up. “Nearly every regulatory body involved with real estate does have rules against intentionally misleading the consumer,” said Doug Perlson, the president of the Manhattan Association of Realtors and the founder of RealDirect.


Both the National Association of Realtors and the Real Estate Board of New York have codes of ethics for members. The New York Department of State has laws requiring brokers to give honest and accurate descriptions of the properties they list. The department has the authority to revoke or suspend a broker’s real estate license. If you see a listing that is patently inaccurate, you could start by alerting the listing broker to the error. If you suspect the misinformation was intentional, report the listing to the manager of the office, the Real Estate Board or the Department of State, where you can file a complaint online or by phone at (518) 474-4429.


Brokers insist the industry is no Wild West. The dreaded comments section on many websites helps keep brokers in line. “The days of the bait and switch, those don’t really happen anymore,” said Adam Ginder, chief operating officer of MNS, a brokerage firm.


Confronted With a Fire Hazard


I own a 10th-floor apartment in a 12-story building constructed in 1910. The building, now a condo, is in a landmark neighborhood and has no sprinkler system. Apartments such as mine have no fire escape or means of emergency egress other than the central stairway. The board recently instituted a policy for all residents to put household rubbish in that central stairway for daily pickup by a building porter. I’ve pointed out to the board that the policy violates the city fire code. The board has responded with deaf ears; the same is true of the city fire department. What, if anything, can I do, short of bringing a lawsuit against the board?


Gramercy Park, Manhattan


A condo board wields substantial power over how a building is run, but its members cannot endanger the safety of residents or blatantly disregard the law. “Boards mistakenly believe that they can do whatever they want because of a legal rule known as the Business Judgment Rule,” said Leni Morrison Cummins, a Manhattan real estate lawyer, referring to the state rule that gives condo and co-op boards wide latitude when making decisions about a building.


In this case, the board has crossed a line. Write a letter to the board and the managing agent, detailing the situation and including photographs. Most condo bylaws include provisions that require boards to maintain the common elements and rectify illegal conditions. Be sure to point to these provisions in your letter. Send the letter certified mail, with a return receipt requested.


You should also report the situation to the city. You can lodge a complaint with the Bureau of Fire Prevention by calling directly at (718) 999-2541 or calling 311. The bureau would then instruct your local fire company to inspect the building. An inspector could issue the building a violation, or possibly even a criminal summons, according to Ms. Cummins. The board would then need to resolve the violation and might face fines.


But, “this is a double-edged sword,” Ms. Cummins said. As a unit owner, you would have to pay a proportionate share of the fines, even if you were the whistle-blower.


Combining Apartments


I own two contiguous units in a co-op that I combined into one. The city has not asked me to change my certificate of occupancy, nor have I requested to have it changed. I pay two maintenance and utility bills. Should I request a certificate of occupancy update from the city? What are the pros and cons of doing so?


East Midtown, Manhattan


Changing the certificate of occupancy is not a matter of choice. It is dictated by the city’s building code and depends on how the apartments were combined. Your architect or your engineer should know if your renovated apartment is in compliance with the law — and if that requires changing the certificate of occupancy, according to a Buildings Department spokesman.


Frequently co-ops do not approve renovation plans that trigger a change in the certificate of occupancy. “Buildings are loath to let anyone mess with their certificate of occupancy, for fear that an inspection may turn up issues that have nothing to do with the work at hand,” said Mauricio Salazar, a principal of Salazar Architecture.


If your plans did not increase the number of bedrooms, for example, you may simply need a letter of completion from the city’s Department of Buildings. Call your architect or engineer to ensure the paperwork was completed. As for simplifying your maintenance and utility bills, ask the managing agent about combining the two stock certificates and leases into one.

Top residential agents of the week

The Real DealFebruary 06, 2015

Emily Beare and Christian Rogers are featured in The Real Deal's "Top residential agents of the week".


ThrillistFebruary 04, 2015

Two recent CORE closings, 159 Carlton (Doug Bowen & Paul Johansen) and 37 Harrison Street (Tom Postilio & Mickey Conlon), are featured in a piece on NYC homes with an interesting history.


What it used to be: Feuchtwanger Stables

What it is now: Loft condo at 159 Carlton Ave


Many of Fort Greene’s historic stables were razed to make room for commercial and residential buildings, but this beauty lucked out. Nearly a century after its construction in 1888, this Romanesque Revival building underwent its initiation for gentrification and now serves as a one-bedroom apartment with absolutely zero hay in it.


ThrillistFebruary 04, 2015

Two recent CORE closings, 159 Carlton (Doug Bowen & Paul Johansen) and 37 Harrison Street (Tom Postilio & Mickey Conlon), are featured in a piece on NYC homes with an interesting history.


What it used to be: Three houses on Washington St

What it is now: One house at 37 Harrison St


If you ever want to save a house from being demolished, chain yourself to it and call the developers bluff, or, just tow it out of harms way with a truck. The latter is what happened to three 19th century houses back in the 1970s. Dubbed the Wilson Hunt Homes, at 37 Harrison St, the three homes are now one huge Federal-style brick house.

Time Equities, Hamlin plan boutique condo at Nolita church

The Real DealFebruary 02, 2015

After paying more than $30 million for St. Patrick’s Old Cathedral School in Nolita, developers Time Equities and Hamlin Ventures will market seven luxury condos with a total sellout of $70.7 million, according to plans filed with the state Attorney General’s office.


According to the offering plan for 34 Prince Street, a three-bedroom condo measuring 2,743 square feetwill ask $7.74 million. A four-bedroom, 3,673-square-foot duplex (with a 1,210-square-foot terrace) will ask $12.5 million. A triplex measuring 4,478 square feet will ask $11.925 million.


Hamlin’s Abby Hamlin and Time Equities’ Francis Greenburger acquired the former school building – on Prince between Mott and Mulberry Streets – for $30.7 million in November. The building, a former orphanage, convent and parochial school, was declared a landmark in 1966.


In addition to the seven condos, the project will include a church-related community facility and two townhouses measuring between 9,000 and 10,000 square feet. Prices for the townhouses were not included in the offering plan. CORE is marketing the townhouses, while Time is marketing the condos in-house, according to the offering plan.


The development at 34 Prince is one of several boutique projects to hit the luxury market, such as Sorgente Group’s eight-unit 60 White Street and Flank Development’s six-unit building at 224 Mulberry Street.


Tim Crowley, director of new development at Core, said the boutique building will fit into the “boutique neighborhood.”


“Nolita is a neighborhood that’s very demure in scale,” he said. “The recent projects added to the neighborhood reflect that.”


Hamlin Ventures and Time Equities jointly developed 14 townhouses in Brooklyn, at 267-287 State Street in Boerum Hill.

The week in luxury: A map of NYC’s priciest apartment sales

The Real DealFebruary 02, 2015

Christian Rogers and Emily Beare’s closing at Walker Tower was the 2nd highested recorded sale in NYC last week.

Emily Beare + Elizabeth Beare | 1040 Fifth Avenue, 14A

Modern NYCFebruary 01, 2015



History, elegance, and the conveniences of modern restoration converge in this magnificent home boasting unobstructed views down Fifth Avenue, Central Park, the midtown skyline, and The Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Reservoir. This home's 26 windows and custom detailing accentuate the graceful layout of the grand scale rooms. Shelton, Mindel and Associates extensive three-year renovation, featured by Architectural Digest, only enhances this rare opportunity to live in one of Fifth Avenue's most highly regarded buildings.


Upon entering from a private elevator landing, you are welcomed into this light-soaked eleven room residence by a central gallery that opens to a generously sized living room featuring breathtaking western and southern exposures, a wood-burning fireplace and original herringbone floors. Off the living room sits a versatile library/media room, an exquisite formal dining room, as well as a serene planting terrace. The chefs kitchen and adjoining dining area, home office/recreational room, staff quarters, mud room, and laundry room facilitate flow for contemporary daily living.


The gallery hallway leads to private quarters where the spaciously lavish master suite is framed by a private terrace facing south, and sitting room with eastern and northern exposures. Complete with a luxuriously appointed bathroom and four closets the suite delivers a resplendent sanctuary from the city. The additional bedrooms enjoy southern light with windowed en-suite bathrooms.


Built in 1930 and designed by renowned Pre-war architect Rosario Candela, the landmarked 1040 Fifth Avenue offers the highest standard of luxury living in one of the tallest limestone-clad buildings on Fifth Avenue, once home to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Amenities include a doorman, elevator operator, concierge, storage room, and pets are welcome.

Dow Chemical chief shells out $10.75M to be Cameron Diaz’s neighbor at Walker Tower

New York Daily NewsJanuary 30, 2015

Dow Chemical’s fourth quarter profits far exceeded analysts’ estimates despite languishing oil prices. Now, the corporation’s CEO is rewarding himself with a chic Manhattan pad.


Andrew Liveris, who has served as Dow’s top dog since 2004 and reportedly takes home a tidy $41.5 million a year in compensation, has landed a $10.75 million apartment at Walker Tower, the high-profile condo tower on W. 18th St. that’s also home to celebs such as Cameron Diaz, the Daily News has learned.


The property last traded for a comparatively meager $6.98 million just over a year ago, records show.


The 17th-floor, 2,500-square-foot pad has three bedrooms, sweeping views of Midtown, French herringbone oak flooring and 12-foot ceilings.


The building, designed by architect Ralph Walker in the 1920s, was transformed into a luxury condo by developers JDS and Property Markets Group several years ago.


Listing brokers Emily Beare and Christian Rogers of Core were not immediately available for comment. A spokesperson for Core said the deal was just the third resale in the building.

Exile on Main Street: They Fled NYC for Suburbia, But Missed Taxi Cabs and Takeout

New York ObserverJanuary 29, 2015

Lynn Shanahan loved Westport, Conn. It was restful, beautiful and close to New York—an ideal escape from the city on sticky summer days. And then she moved there.


“I was standing on the train platform in the dark at 6:15 a.m. when I realized I had made a mistake,” she recalled.


“We had this vision of the perfect life,” said Ms. Shanahan, the CEO of apparel conglomerate Kellwood Company, describing the tranquil suburban existence she’d imagined: The long morning walks, the serene return in the evenings. Even the move was a breeze—she and her husband already owned a house in Westport, which served as a beloved, quasi-bucolic summer escape for the couple and their three children.


The reality was far less idyllic. The house and yard required constant tending, weekly grocery shopping trips proved a chore compared to casually picking things up throughout the week and dinner options after 9:30 p.m. dwindled to pizza or Chinese takeout. Fine every now and again, but “when you’re 50 years old, you’re kind of over that.” Worst of all was the commute, which quickly solidified into a dreary pattern: “Get back, go to sleep and get back on the train again.”


The Shanahans couldn’t return to New York fast enough. Once their oldest daughter finished out her last two years of high school in Westport, they fled back to their apartment in Carnegie Hill, which they’d rented to a family that was itself enacting a suburban exit.


For many a New Yorker, moving to the suburbs is more a compromise than a cause for joy, a decision that’s made all the more difficult by its grim finality—you’d often think moving trucks were crossing the River Styx rather than the Hudson—done with the understanding that a return to the city, if there ever is one, is at least 15 to 20 years in the future. But a small percentage of newly-minted suburbanites double back in a matter of months, desperate to return even if it means taking a loss on a house or squeezing back into a tiny rental again.


For some, even a brief exposure to the realities of suburban life—shoveling snow and having to get into a car to pick up the dry cleaning or takeout—is sufficiently traumatic to cure longings for expansive lawns, swimming pools and vast storage spaces.


“Whenever I hear a client is moving to the suburbs, I wish them well and figure I probably won’t ever see them again,” Corcoran broker Deborah Rieders told the Observer. “But more often than you’d think, I get a call—‘It’s not working’—a few months or a year later.


“Maybe they’ve lived in Brooklyn for 10 or 12 years, they hear about a lot of people moving to Maplewood and they think it will be just like Brooklyn,” she continued. “Then they move and they don’t like the community or lack of community, they don’t like the fact that they can’t walk, they miss their friends. They don’t realize how alienating it will be until they get there.”


But whatever compels city-dwellers to beat a hasty retreat from the comforts of suburbia, they share a common trait—they not only want out, but immediately.


“Usually they move straight into a rental while they’re looking,” said Ms. Rieders. “Once they’ve made the decision, they don’t want to wait.”


Like many penitent suburbanites, Scott A. and his wife Leah were lured out of the city by a friend, in their case one with a spacious apartment in Jersey City. Their building on East 76th had been bought by Sloan Kettering and they were looking for a new place when the friend told them about a two-bedroom available on the top floor of her building. At $2,456, it was both a little bit cheaper, and a little bit larger, than their current place. Plus, the development had its own dog park, a big plus for two people with a large husky mix. Of course, Jersey City isn’t exactly a suburb, but it may as well have been for the long-time Upper East Side denizens.


“It seemed a bit like living in Greenpoint, it was like, ‘What’s the difference?’ ” said Scott, the CTO of a software company who was, at the time, doing most of his work from home. “Then I discovered what the difference is. You’re in Jersey.”


Small dissatisfactions quickly added up. “Little things that you don’t even think about at first, like no 24-hour diner within walking distance,” he said. They were the only people who used the dog park in their development. The novelty of eating at places like Joe’s Crab Shack soon wore off. And then they found out that none of the hospitals in Jersey City accepted their health insurance.


When the building raised their rent to $2,700, they called their broker, Cyla Klein at Citi Habitats, who herself had spent decades as a Long Island exile raising four sports-obsessed boys—“You do things you’d never think you’d do when you have kids.” Ms. Klein found them half-a-dozen places on the Upper East Side for comparable rents. When we spoke, the couple had moved into a $3,010 two-bedroom in Gracie Square less than a week before. “It’s like we never left, like I woke up from a dream or something,” Scott said.


Did he like anything better in Jersey City?


Such is the mistake made by people who drive up to the suburbs on weekends to house hunt, particularly in spring months like April or May, according to William Raveis managing director Kathy Braddock. Few actually practice the commute before moving—she recommends going to a hotel in the town on a Sunday night and commuting to work on Monday to truly get a sense of what it will be like. A commute that looks like 40 minutes on paper may actually end up averaging double that.


Even then, there can be unpleasant surprises. Many families move out after the kids finish school in June, when the days are long and they can enjoy a drink on the patio as the sun sets. Then the winter comes.


It’s also common for people to think that they’ll save vast quantities of money, only to discover that the cost-of-living difference is marginal. Taxes are often very high in New York suburbs and for commuters, the cost of monthly MTA passes must be added to monthly train and car expenses. And whereas rent is a fixed expense, much like common and maintenance charges, owning a house means lots of unplanned costs—from small plumbing hiccups to major roof jobs, not to mention the expense of yard work, alarm systems and pool maintenance.


“It’s a big transition, and it’s not necessarily a less expensive transition,” noted Ms. Braddock. “Are you used to really taking care of a home? People in New York are usually not.”


Saving money is not the only fantasy. New Yorkers accustomed to schlepping groceries on foot, hauling strollers up and down the subway steps and waiting in long lines often imagine a suburban life of preternatural ease only to discover that in the suburbs, they’re taking the car to the train to the subway just to wait in those same lines.


“The challenge for most people is logistics,” said Douglas Elliman broker Gabriele Sewtz. “There are very few people who don’t like some aspects of living in the suburbs, but the city is so convenient. You just walk two steps and get what you need.”


Sellers who used to live in doorman elevator buildings have a particularly hard time adjusting, she said. “It’s not only difficult to live in a different neighborhood, but it’s difficult to take out your garbage. And no one is there to take out your mail; you actually have to get in line at the post office. It’s not that you can’t do it, but like commuting, all things eat into quality time.”


It’s a more complicated life, observed Halstead broker Deborah DeMaria, who rented out Ms. Shanahan’s apartment and herself spent several years living in Charleston, S.C. Which isn’t a suburb of course, but it felt like it to Ms. DeMaria. She suddenly had a townhouse, a yard, two cars, school carpools to be scheduled, trash cans to be taken out and house sitters to be arranged when they went out of town. Strangest of all, she said, was that despite having a whole house to occupy, everyone hung out in the same few rooms.


“We had three floors, with a playroom on the third, but the kids never wanted to go upstairs by themselves,” said Ms. DeMaria. “A lot of time, people move because of space, but you’re only in one room at a time.”


She and her family moved to a three-bedroom Financial District a few years ago and her kids couldn’t be happier—their building has a pool and a billiard room. Indeed, as kids get older, a small Manhattan apartment with good amenities and nearby parks can actually be a lot less claustrophobic than a three-bedroom house on a cul-de-sac.


“People get so nutty about their children, they think, ‘Oh I have to do this for my kids,’ ” but they totally adjust,” said Ms. DeMaria. “If you’re fine in a two-bedroom apartment, the kids will be fine in a two-bedroom apartment. If you move to the suburbs, you have to do it for you.”


“The first time we put my son down on the grass, he cried,” said Tracy Beckerman. “We had to play recordings of city sounds to get him to sleep.” Ms. Beckerman lobbied her husband to move back from Summit, N.J., until they had a second child, at which point she accepted the inevitable. She subsequently vented her frustrations by writing a book—Lost in Suburbia: a Momoir, a blog, and newspaper columns.


A former TV producer-turned-stay-at-home mom, Ms. Beckerman said that one of the most difficult things for recent transplants is the one-two punch of losing their friends and in a lot of ways, their identity.


“When you live in a city as vibrant as New York, you don’t realize how much the city is your identity,” she said. She and her husband both had “cool jobs,” she said, they went out to restaurants every night, even with baby in tow—one of his first foods was sushi—and running together in Central Park. She loved her impractical Upper West Side duplex so much that when she was too pregnant to get up the spiral staircase, she told her husband she’d rather hook up a pulley system than move. Leaving behind all the things which she thought defined her, she wasn’t sure what did.


Plus, she had a terrible time making friends at first.


She recalled going to a neighbor’s barbecue where a group of women was animatedly discussing someone in the hospital for a miscarriage, who found out her husband was cheating on her and that she had an incurable form of cancer. “All these terrible things,” Ms. Beckerman said. “I finally said to one woman, ‘That’s awful. This is one of your friends?’ And she said, ‘No, it’s Victoria on Days of Our Lives.’ ”


After writing the book, she received hundreds of letters from other women who feel similarly displaced and her blog is a hotbed of discontent. Though the suburban mom-rage is such that Ms. Beckerman must often clean up the expletive-laden comments section. “It’s run on some family-family newspaper sites, so it can’t be all ‘What the fuck,’ and ‘Fuck that,’ ” she said.


Social isolation is, perhaps, the most common complaint of suburban refugees.


“I think what people miss most is the ability to go out, the opportunity and the options,” said Ms. Sewtz. “Even if people have a newborn and won’t be going out all that much, it bothers them that they are an hour away if they want to go to a show.”


One woman said that whenever she had dinner with friends, she was constantly checking her watch to make sure that she didn’t miss her train. Eventually, she started making all her dinner plans by Grand Central.


“When you have to look at a schedule, it changes your whole outlook,” said Ms. Klein. “All of a sudden you’re not willing to do things on the spur of the moment.”


Still, for all those who regret relocating, only a small number reverse the decision.


“I think two out of three have instant regrets, but no one likes to admit a mistake,” said Ms. Sewtz.


“Who could afford it?” shot back one friend when we asked him if he knew of anyone who did it.


“It’s hard to find rentals outside the city, so most people buy a house, and it’s not always easy to sell the house,” said Ms. Braddock. “Then there’s the question of whether the kids can get back into their schools. It’s hard to recreate your life in the city when you move out. It takes a lot of money.”


It’s not only re-selling the house, but also many of the furnishings, the yard maintenance apparatuses, one or both of the cars. Combined with the fact that real estate prices in the suburbs don’t appreciate as fast as prices in the city, many couples realize that they can’t even afford to reclaim the one-bedroom apartment they were so desperate to leave.


“I think people underestimate that it might be financially impossible to reverse the decision,” said Ms. Sewtz. “A few years ago I had a couple with a one-bedroom condo in Park Slope. They moved to Westchester, had a baby, typical story, then they called me up and said, ‘We want to come back.’ ” But the couple couldn’t afford to buy the two-bedroom they may have been able to get if they’d stayed in the city, so now they’re stuck renting one, trying to save enough to buy. If and when they do, she said, it certainly won’t be in Park Slope.


Shortly after Amy and Matt Kitt started renting in Rye, they contacted the broker, Steve Snider of CORE, to see if he could find a good-sized two-bedroom for less than $800,000.


But disappointed with the options—many of them were only a hair bigger than their old apartment—and expecting a baby, they felt but they had no choice but to stay. So they bought a house whose primary selling point, they say, is that it’s only a mile from the train station.


Even though they moved in June, they still spend three or four days a week hanging out in the city—dinners, Rangers games, visiting Amy’s parents in Brooklyn. “I can’t imagine not being part of the city,” said Mr. Kitt. “Even if we can’t come back until we retire.”


New York may be even further out of reach by then. “If you have the money to live in a $3 million apartment in New York, you have the means to come back, but if you’re a regular person who doesn’t want to leave the city, but can’t physically live in the city, I don’t think there’s any chance,” said Mr. Snider.


While it can be near-impossible for a couple like the Kitts to return to New York, those who do manage the feat say that it’s an easy transition: They hardly mind downsizing, learning to sleep amid the blare of sirens again or sharing their favorite greenscape with hundreds of other people.


“The noise at night was hard at first, but the adjustment happened really fast,” said Lynn Shanahan. “It’s such a joy to be home from work in 15 minutes. And I can’t believe I can just call a friend to meet for a drink.”


Best of all, living back on the Upper East Side, she can finally enjoy being in Westport again. “I’m back to being able to love the suburbs.”


*Correction: a previous version of this article stated that Deborah DeMaria lived in Battery Park City. In fact, she lives in the Financial District. The Observer regrets the error.

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