News

The Dreaded Co-op Board Application Goes Online

The New York TimesApril 21, 2017

Buying an apartment in a New York City co-op can involve baring your financial soul. Co-op boards (and, increasingly, condo boards) demand that applicants show years of tax returns and other financial statements, provide letters of recommendation and even share details about their pets and hobbies. This infamous board package can run hundreds of pages and determines whether or not a buyer gets the apartment.

 

All that information must be collected, collated and copied for every board member to review, a mind-numbing task. Now, a few companies have stepped into the arcane world of the board package, promising to simplify the chore by dispensing with all that paper and moving information online.

 

These platforms — ApplyPort, BoardPackager and, in the coming months, ApplySmart — will not make the process any less intrusive. You still have to “lift your skirt all the way up,” as Clelia Warburg Peters, the president of Warburg Realty, put it. But perhaps, you will feel slightly less exposed if you (or, more likely, your broker) no longer have to ferry 10 copies of your 200-page portfolio around the city by courier pigeon. So long, copy shop; hello, iPhone app.

 

“You do enough of these things and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, there has to be a better way,’” said Ms. Peters, whose own board package was recently misplaced in the basement of a co-op when she and her husband were applying to buy an apartment. (The package was eventually located, and later approved.)

 

With any of the three platforms, a buyer or a broker can upload personal and financial information, fill out applications and pay fees. Once it is complete, the managing agent can review the application online, redact sensitive data like Social Security numbers and prepare the bundle for the board. Board members can then log on to review, reject or accept the application with the click of a button. Anyone who prefers paper can still print the documents.

 

All three companies insist their platforms encrypt sensitive information and keep it secure from hackers. Although uploading such material into the cloud poses potential security risks, printing everything out and hoping a half-dozen recipients eventually shred everything is hardly a foolproof alternative.

 

Some brokerages and management companies quickly embraced the services. BoardPackager entered the marketplace earlier this year, signing agreements with CORE real estate, Century Management, Argo Management and Douglas Elliman’s brokerage and property management divisions.

 

The founder of BoardPackager, James Brune, an associate broker with Douglas Elliman, got the idea after suffering through a package glitch that involved 4,000 sheets of paper, two jammed printers and a frantic dash to Staples. The price tag for all those photocopies: $500. “The current decades-old process is a waste of time, money and resources,” Mr. Brune said. (Douglas Elliman is not an investor in BoardPackager but is an early client.)

 

Talk to brokers and you get an earful about an obsolete system that somehow still prevails in a market where even a fixer-upper can fetch a cool $1 million. “You’re chopping down 50 million trees to do a single package for a fancy building,” said Elizabeth Ann Stribling-Kivlan, the president of Stribling, which is finalizing a deal with BoardPackager. “By the time you’re done, this package has been from here to Topeka 18 times.”

 

Douglas Elliman released BoardPackager to its brokers in March. In the first three weeks, 64 packages were assembled using the platform. “They’re excited,” said Jeff Hummel, the chief technical officer of Douglas Elliman. “Anytime we can take technology and have it be like background music, they just don’t know how they ever lived without it.”

 

ApplySmart plans to offer a similar product later this year. Its users would also be able to use the platform to do things like apply for a mortgage and get title insurance. “Everything and everyone is in one central place for the entire transaction,” said Marc Nathan, a mortgage banker and a founder of ApplySmart.

 

The idea is not entirely new. OnlineBuildings, a web developer, created ApplyPort in 2007 for FirstService Residential New York, a property management company that was called Cooper Square Realty at the time. Educating co-op board members involved “a lot of hand-holding initially,” said Dan Wurtzel, the president of FirstService Residential New York. But eventually, people adapted and now 90 percent of the 500 co-ops and condos that the company manages use the platform.

 

For years, ApplyPort struggled to get traction beyond FirstService. Peter Friebe, the president of OnlineBuildings, said that property managers simply saw little reason to reinvent a system that worked well enough.

 

Consider Vanderbilt Management, which manages 22 co-ops and condos in the city. An applicant sends the company a single printed copy of the package, and Vanderbilt scans it, copies it and sends the copies to the board. “We’ve been doing this for 35 years and we’ve got it all figured out,” said Steve Birbach, the president of Vanderbilt. “No one complains.”

 

There is also the issue of money. Already buyers pay around $700 to $1,000 in application fees, if not more. ApplyPort charges property managers $50 per application. BoardPackager charges the companies that use its platform a fee that varies depending on the terms of the agreement. ApplySmart declined to say whom it planned to charge, since the platform is still in development.

 

Still, the tide is shifting. In the past year, OnlineBuildings has noticed a surge of interest in ApplyPort. Nine management companies have signed on, including Rose Associates, Brown Harris Stevens and Halstead Management. “They see it as a selling point for them now, rather than, ‘Oh jeez, it’s something else I have to do,’” Mr. Friebe said.

 

But are these platforms really a game changer? “We’ve had mixed success,” said Paul Gottsegen, the president of Halstead Management, who has not found that ApplyPort saves his employees much time. As for the boards, some embrace the technology, while others resist a new system when the alternative is literally handed to them.

 

“It’s a learning curve, certainly, for all of us,” said Michele Sansone, a board member of the John Adams, a 416-unit co-op on West 12th Street, which is managed by Halstead and began using ApplyPort last summer.

 

Some board members were reluctant to change. “They really wanted the physicality of the paper,” she said. But Ms. Sansone and other members preferred the new system. Ultimately, the board voted to keep it. “It just streamlines the process,” she said.

Annabelle Selldorf: Ultimate Art House

BillionaireApril 21, 2017

Even if her name doesn’t ring an immediate bell, chances are that if you have a penchant for art you have been in one of Annabelle Selldorf’s spaces. When it comes to architecture she is the go-to person for blue-chip galleries. Her elegant sophistication sets the perfect quiet backdrop for any work of art. And ever since Selldorf converted a New York mansion into the Neue Galerie private museum for Ronald Lauder’s collection of German and Austrian art, she is in the premier league whenever a museum is to be built, renovated or extended.

 

Selldorf’s colours are usually understated and paired with a refined minimalism so that eventually the atmosphere seems as if the building was made specifically for the exhibited art. Just recently she won the competition for an extension of New York’s Frick collection.

 

Selldorf’s workload is enormous. In latter years, her company has completed 16 houses in The Hamptons, as well as five massive luxury residential buildings in New York. She has completed a recycling facility in Brooklyn and a showroom with integrated performance hall for piano maker Steinway & Sons in Manhattan. Currently, she is turning railroad warehouses in Arles, south of France, into huge exhibition spaces for the Luma art foundation. Furthermore, she is working on a non-profit school in Zambia and a massive expansion of the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego. There is only one downside of being in such high demand: “I have to talk so much nowadays that I really miss the quiet, concentrated design process.”

 

At the beginning of Selldorf’s rise, however, was a rejection. Back home in her native Germany she couldn’t get into architectural school, even as the daughter of an established architect in Cologne. Feeling down, she started working for her father, and then tried her luck in New York — it proved to be a turning point. “I really appreciated this amazing freedom, all these inspiring people from different countries.” In order to study at New York’s prestigious Pratt Institute she cut a deal with her father. He would pay her rent while she would finance her living. She landed a job as an assistant to architect Richard Gluckman, who specialised in minimalistic art spaces that could make shown work swing. Selldorf already had a strong relationship with the visual arts: “Going to galleries was already part of my parent’s lifestyle. Cologne in the 1980 was a truly inspiring place for contemporary German art,” she recalls.

 

After her architectural degree at Pratt and a masters programme in Florence, she went back to New York and started her own firm in 1988. Selldorf’s first projects were small projects, all designed on her dining table in Soho. She was content with this — as long as she was her own boss and could work on her precise signature style: clearly designed, well-proportioned spaces and sensuous materials.

 

In 1990 came Selldorf’s first call from the art world: Michael Werner, a fellow German in New York, asked her to design his gallery on the Upper East Side. The eccentric Werner was the opposite of the proper and well-mannered Selldorf – but the two complemented each other and the timing couldn’t have been better: the art world was just about to become an art market.

 

David Zwirner, originally also hailing from Cologne, asked Selldorf in the early 1990s if she would be able to plan his first gallery in Soho, and she also worked on another Zwirner gallery on 20th Street in Chelsea that opened in 2013. It includes not only a five-storey concrete staircase, but also different exhibition spaces, all cast-in-place concrete — which Selldorf made look as soft as velvet. Her inspiration came from Le Corbusier’s hillside convent of La Tourette. “But little did I know what a formidable challenge concrete would pose,” she said wryly during a talk at Harvard University.

 

This year will see Zwirner and Selldorf working together again on their 20th project, a new branch in Hong Kong, which is to open in early 2018. Yet not all Zwirner’s commissions were for public spaces as Selldorf has also taken care of his private homes, relying on her expertise in residential architecture.

 

A great example of a unique attention to detail on every level is the most recent Selldorf project on the corner site of 42 Crosby Street in Soho. This has an expansive facade, a porte-cochère entrance, a car elevator, public sculptures by artist Paula Hayes and a landscaped courtyard. In contrast to Soho’s established iron-cast neighbourhood, Selldorf chose large stainless windows, higher ceilings and generous open-plan living areas.

 

The interior is also particularly striking. Some of the furniture comes from Selldorf’s sideline Vica. The result is a touching form of harmony. And that’s exactly what she wants —an environment that can enhance the chaotic lives of people. “Architecture is not only what you see, but what it does,” she says.

Historic Chelsea Duplex Relisted with $2M Discount

CityRealtyApril 19, 2017

A uniquely laid out 4-bedroom duplex is back to the Chelsea market —only now it has been relisted at a discounted price. The stunning unit was initially listed at $14.5 million back in October 2016 but, as CurbedNY points out, didn't manage to land a buyer despite glowing accolades from The New York Times.

 

Now, the generously sized unit has exchanged hands (from Compass to Core) and has been relisted at $12,950,000 —a generous $2 million markdown. The Annabelle Selldorf-renovated home boasts 4-bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms and gets bragging rights for its locations in one of Chelsea's finest landmarks, the former McBurney YMCA.

 

Unit #8N features a lightness that makes many industrial lofts seem stark and grim in comparison. With 30-foot, double-height ceilings, and enormous casement windows framing the entire apartment —the entire residence is privy to sun-dazzling west exposures, whichever way you turn.

 

The multilevel apartment sprawls to an unparalleled size of 7,000 square feet that is tiled with radiant-heated ceramic flooring throughout, and connecting the two stories is a stylish glass-enclosed walnut staircase. Another notable feature is the unit's automated Crestron heating/cooling systems, and the original steel beams that ornate the ceilings. These features, along with the two wood-burning fireplaces (one in the living room, another in the master bedroom), guarantee warm and comfy winters ahead!

 

The open concept chef's kitchen is every chef's dream come true: it's endowed with an extra-long, marble island fit for 6 seats, a Gaggenau wine refrigerator, a double Thermador oven with a 6-burner cooktop range, and a Miele dishwasher. The corner dining alcove has a grand banquette, ideal for both former and social hosting.

 

The upper level has three more bedrooms, a secondary living room, home office, and a laundry room. The master suite, cornering the upper floors, comes with a grandiose dressing room, and a state-of-the-art bathroom —complete with a walk-in shower, soaking tub, and a dual-sink with teak countertops. The upper floor is completed with yet another "guest" bedroom, customizable depending on family needs.

 

Bordering Seventh Avenue & Eighth Avenue, 213 West 23rd Street includes an intimate mix of 12 apartments, over 9 floors —and as we've mentioned— the landmarked structure served as the McBurney Branch of the YMCA which was frequented by notable New Yorkers, like Andy Warhol and Al Pacino. Its 100-year-old legacy came to term when it was converted into condominiums in 2004, but luckily the Beaux-Arts building has been permanently commemorated in the infamous Village People music video, relicking the YMCA —and you can even say, burning its image— into the memory of some avid fans.

 

The boutique elevator building is pet-friendly, has a professional part-time staff, excellent access to public transportation, and a central Chelsea location that affords residents with incredible views, fine dining, shopping, and taking part of the area's bustling art scene.

 

I've heard the term 'escrow' during closings—what is it?

Brick UndergroundApril 17, 2017

When your money is "in escrow," that generally means that it's being held by an impartial third party until the completion of a deal, the better to safeguard it from any foul play on either side. For instance, in a rental, landlords are technically supposed to keep your security deposit in an escrow account—usually in a bank—until it's returned to you, to prevent it from getting mixed up or lost in their other money.

 

When you're closing on an apartment purchase, with the large amounts of money being moved around, there are a few different ways that escrow comes into play. Below, four of the most common scenarios in which you'll be putting your cash into escrow in the process of closing a deal:

 

The deposit


Though you'll eventually be parting with your entire planned down payment, when you first go into contract, you'll be expected to put a portion of it in escrow as your deposit. "When you go into contract on any transaction, the standard deposit is 10 percent, and that is held in escrow until closing," explains CORE agent Matthew Cohen. "And then at closing, you owe however much of the down payment is left."

 

So if you're putting down 20 percent, you'd owe the extra 10 percent, on top of the other 10 percent you've already put down. For the most part, this is fairly straightforward, unless you're buying with a non-contingency contract—meaning that you've agreed to the deal outright, rather than making it contingent on factors including your eventual approval for a mortgage. If you're buying as a noncontingency and the deal falls through, then you stand to lose that deposit money that's been sitting in escrow. (More details on that here.)

 

Otherwise, it's more or less just a chunk of your down payment that you part with sooner than the rest.

 

Maintenance charges in a co-op

 

While many co-ops require buyers to have a certain amount of post-closing cash liquidity up front—say, enough money in the bank to cover a year's worth of mortgage and maintenance payments—some boards take it a step further, and require you to put some months' worth of maintenance charges in escrow.

 

Often, this is a tactic used as a financial safeguard for the co-op if they're worried about a buyer's finances (for instance, if the buyer is a contract or freelance worker, without regular paychecks). "If the board is on the fence about the buyer, they might ask them to hold six to 12 months of maintenance charges in escrow," explains Cohen.

 

In this case, you can expect there to be an escrow attorney involved to hammer out the details of the deal. "It depends on the transaction, but I had a closing recently where an escrow attorney was brought in to put together an escrow agreement between the co-op and the buyer," says Cohen. "And the buyer had to basically give that money up front."

 

When repairs are needed

 

In this scenario, it's the seller who might be fronting the money, usually because a problem presented itself during the walk-through or inspection.

 

"If anything comes up, like an appliance that isn't working or some other repair that's needed, money will be held from the seller to make the buyer comfortable with closing," says Cohen. "And then, once the problem is fixed, the seller will get it back."

 

The idea is that this provides an insurance policy of sorts for you, the buyer, so that you'll have money to handle the problem in case upgrades or repairs aren't completed as promised once you've already closed on the contract.

 

With your mortgage lender

 

Yet another area in which you may be expected to part with some extra money ahead of time: Mortgage lenders often want buyers to pay several months of taxes and insurance costs, as a hedge in case you're unable to pay your mortgage for some reason. (Tax costs take precedent over mortgage payments, so if you stopped paying, the lender that held the lien would be out your mortgage payments and the tax money.)

 

Depending on how soon the next tax bill, says Everbank's Julie Teitel, your lender could want two to six months of taxes and insurance set aside and put into escrow.

 

However, on this front it may be possible to negotiate. "People don't realize that they should discuss this [with their lender], and ask to waive it," says Teitel. "There have been so many situations where people get to the closing and freak out because they don't want to pay it."

 

Instead, you should ask for your lender's policy on this, and whether or not you can get it waived. "Depending on the bank, there could be a fee," says Teitel. "We don't charge a fee, but if there is one, it's usually a quarter of a point."

 

Unsurprisingly, Teitel adds, fee or no, "you have to have good credit in order to waive it."


It can seem like a lot of money to part with up front—and indeed, it is—but it's all par for the course in a typical NYC apartment deal. For a comprehensive guide to other closing costs to watch out for, we've got one here.

Chelsea duplex with an Annabelle Selldorf-designed remodel returns for less

CurbedApril 17, 2017

A Chelsea duplex with a renovation by Annabelle Selldorf has returned to market with a slightly smaller asking price. The duplex at 213 West 23rd Street, the former McBurney YMCA, hit the market alongside some glowing New York Times coverage for $14.5 million back in October 2016, Alas, it was not enough to push a sale.

 

The apartment’s back, having swapped brokerage firms from Compass to Core, and with price reduction to $12.95 million. When the apartment first hit the market, the Times noted it’s owned by Beverley Kerzner, daughter of a famed South African hotelier, who picked it up for $8.35 million in 2007. (The Times piece also mentions that the West 23rd Street building figures prominently in the music video for the Village People’s “YMCA,” which, great.)

 

As for the apartment itself, it’s clean-lined in a Selldorf kind of way, and includes radiant-heated anthracite ceramic tile floors; an extra-long marble kitchen island with room for six seats; and a corner master suite with a wood-burning fireplace, a master bedroom with a dual vanity with teak countertops, and a walk-in closet.

 

The condo, formerly the YMCA’s gym and running track, covers 7,000 square feet and includes four bedrooms, three full baths, and one half bath. Emily Beare at Core holds the listing.

Six homes for sale in stunning, architecturally-significant NYC buildings

Brick UndergroundApril 14, 2017

25 Bond Street is an eight-story loft building with a façade made up of asymmetrical layering of Jerusalem limestone, bronze and glass to create a contemporary design that still honors the historical significance and style of the neighborhood.

 

While it's true one should never judge a book by its cover alone, sometimes a cover is so stunning it begs a look inside. The same can be said for a home in a building that makes a strong architectural statement. Here, six prime examples.

From the inside, this three bedroom, three and a half-bathroom condo at 25 Bond Street in NoHo (snap it up for $10 million) includes a 45’ wide great room with 10'6"' ceilings and over nine foot tall, bronze sliding window walls that allow for great natural light.

Building Tour: One Wall Street

Field ConditionApril 11, 2017

Construction is underway on the conversion of One Wall Street, the landmark fifty-story limestone Art Deco tower located on an entire block at the intersection of Broadway and Wall Street in the Financial District. Developer Macklowe Properties is converting the Ralph Walker designed office tower into residential condo and rental units with retail at the base. The tower was completed in 1931 and then expanded in 1963, bringing its total gross floor area to 1.1 million square feet.

 

At the top of the tower, the 49th floor Observation Room features amazing views of Lower Manhattan and a ceiling clad with shells from the Philippines. The space was originally used for formal meetings under the prior office program.

 

The building's double height entry lobby at Wall Street, long closed to the public, is known as the Red Room and features tile mosaic walls and ceilings by muralist Hildreth Meière.

 

Architect: SLCE Architects; Developer: Macklowe Properties; Program: Residential Condo and Rental, Retail; Location: Financial District, New York, NY; Completion: 2018.

Financial District landmark One Wall Street begins its condo conversion

CurbedApril 11, 2017

The conversion of Art Deco gem One Wall Street from a commercial building into a mixed-use development, with residences and ground-floor retail, is well underway, and Field Condition recently got inside to see where progress is at.

 

The building, which was designed by Ralph Walker and originally completed in 1931, is best-known for its glorious interiors, including the Red Room (pictured above) and a 49th-floor Observation Room. While the Red Room will be preserved as part of the residential conversion, the fate of the observation deck is still unclear. But because the building is a New York City landmark, the exterior won’t change too much in the SLCE Architects-led conversion.

 

Just last week, developer Harry Macklowe told Bloomberg that when completed, the building may have a larger percentage of condos than rentals. As we previously reported, “the lower portion of One Wall Street will have apartments asking between $2,000 to $2,500 per square foot, and units in the top portion of the building will range from $2,800 to $3,000 per square foot.”

 

In addition to the apartments, the completed building will have a Whole Foods at its base. Check out more photos from inside, below.

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

The Real DealApril 10, 2017

Todd Lewin and Emily Beare's closing at 53 Crosby Street, PH was highlighted as the 16th most expensive sale last week.

Top negotiating mistakes buyers and their brokers make

Brick UndergroundApril 06, 2017

Most people buy and sell a home just a few times during their lives, so even if you consider yourself a good negotiator, chances are that you’re bit rusty when it comes to acquiring or unloading a co-op or condo.

 

So with the spring market ahead of us and First-Time Buyers Week taking place as we speak*, we reached out to a dozen or so real estate brokers and closing lawyers to compile this list of top negotiating blunders committed by sellers and their brokers.

 

1. Don't talk too much in front of the seller’s agent
“Buyers tend to talk too much in the presence of the selling agents about their financial information before they even make an offer,” says Maria Pascal of Douglas Elliman. “This information is best left confidential and should be handled by their real estate broker.”

 

"Even when buyers have brokers, they like to go to open houses themselves. And when you go to an open house, the seller's broker is often looking for indications that could make it harder for you to leverage anything in a negotiation," says Ian K. Katz, of Ian K. Katz Group, whose firm focuses on working with buyer's. "I tell my clients to leave emotive responses and even questions to themselves."

 

The only thing you should be sharing with the seller’s agent is your “apartment needs and wish list," says Pascal. "Ask questions but don’t show your cards."

 

You may give the agent reason to believe that you can afford more than you initially offer--or, unbeknownst to you, you might disqualify yourself as a buyer by inadvertently underselling your qualifications.

 

“Presentation is everything and your broker knows how to present your net worth statement properly,” says Pascal. “Oftentimes even the most educated buyers leave out assets that they didn't realize are counted towards their net worth.”

 

2. Don't make a lowball offer that isn’t—or can’t be—defended
Starting with a really low offer “just to see if a seller is desperate enough to take it" is a mistake, says Bevan Versfeld of Rutenberg Realty. “The broker for the seller will recognize it"--and you may "insult" the seller into refusing to negotiate with you.

 

"The first thing is you come across as not serious, and your broker comes across as not knowledgeable," says Kobi Lahav of Mdrn. Residential.

 

Rather than pulling a number out of a hat, says Olinda Turturro of Mdrn. Residential, study comparable properties in the building and neighborhood. Have a conversation with your broker so you will be able to “make an informed offer," accompanied by a well-reasoned analysis that makes sense to the other side too.

 

"Sometimes low-balls are fair if the property is overpriced, but if there's a lot of activity at an open house, it's just not going to fly," says Katz.

 

Part of the problem, says Lahav, is that everyone thinks they're an expert on comps now because of Zestimates on Zillow. "Those are usually wrong," says Lahav. "You still need an expert, and someone who's been in the market for years to help you know what the correct prices are," he says.

 

3. Don't ask for everything at once
Pick your battles when you make your first offer, says Kevin Kurland of The Spire Group. Making a lowball offer and insisting on closing in four months even though you know the seller wants to close in two will probably not get you very far.

 

"If this was 2008-2009, you could ask sellers to throw in a lot of extras, like renovations and furniture. Not anymore," says Lahav. For things like small cracks in the floor, people can be very short-sighted, says Lahav. "People don't realize that these things aren't worth holding up a sale."

 

4. Don't present your best offer first
“A lot of times when people negotiate they put everything on the table right away,” says Holly Sose of Corcoran.

 

The problem lies in the fact that most times, the other side assumes you’re asking for more than you expect to get, she says. They try to chip away at your position; meanwhile, you’re stuck digging in your heels with nothing left to give.

 

“If you give it all up at the beginning, they don’t understand you’re being generous," says Sose. “It makes the transaction go so much better if everyone can give and take.”

 

If you get into a bidding war, Sose says you have to get over the mental hurdle of going over the asking price.

 

"In this market, if you're in a bidding war you need to take your highest mental number that you're comfortable with and add 2-5 percent. Or be prepared to go home empty handed."

 

5. Don't seem too enthusiastic
Stay neutral in front of the seller or their broker: “Stop saying that you picture yourself eating in their kitchen or hanging out in their soaking tub,” says Rodrigo Guzman of Douglas Elliman. “Be more neutral so the seller and their broker won’t think they can yank on your heart strings during price and concession negotiations.”

 

6. Don't forget to write a proper offer letter
An offer is more than just a number scribbled on a piece of paper. Your offer letter should be carefully crafted, typed in a Word document on your agent’s letterhead (scanned and emailed is fine) and explain the offer as well as the reasoning behind it, referencing supporting information like comparable sales.

 

“It communicates a lot more sincerity if it’s a written letter that takes time to delineate the points supporting the offer,” says Wei Min Tan of the Castle Avenue team at Rutenberg. But it's not just about the letter "You should include a pre-approval letter from the bank, too, if you're financing. It gives the seller a sense of comfort. Also, make sure you're including the standard REBNY financial statement that you submit with the offer letter." And, if the buyer is buying all cash, Tan suggests presenting a proof of funds/bank statements that show the buyer has the right amount money in the bank.

 

Moreover, he says, "the seller’s broker will show an offer letter to the seller, and these points will not be lost. A letter also shows that you are a nice person who is taking the time to produce a letter, rather than presenting 10 other offers on other properties at the same time.”

 

7. Don't disappear after low-balling if you haven't heard back on a counter-offer
"Staying on top of the seller's broker is important," says Lori Ben-Ari of Core. "Playing it cool is a strategy if you're willing to lose the property, but if there's a lot of interest in the property, you need to stay in touch with the seller's broker."

 

If the property has been on the market for a short time, and there are other offers, she says, "the property is most likely priced well."

 

And, adds Ben-Ari, “When the seller does not counter, the buyer should go back to the selling broker and get a sense if the other offers have been countered. If this is the case, the buyer needs to come in with a stronger offer, within 10 percent of the asking price. If the property has been on the market for a while, the buyers can afford to have more patience, but should still check in with the selling broker on a regular basis," she says.

 

8. Don't forget the the big picture
Lahav says he's had buyers get so focused on negotiating down a little ($5,000-$10,000), that they don't realize that all negotiations take time and can cost them money, especially in the current climate when interest rates are increasing. "You have to do the math and see if going back and forth is going to be worth it."

 

9. Don't go in guns a-blazing
The more broad problem in New York City, says Katz, is that a lot of buyers are attorneys or executives in other fields that are used to negotiating transactions. "They can come to the negotiation thinking it’s a zero-sum game — that they have to win and the other side has to lose. "I often tell people they need to look at it from a more collective bargaining perspective. Sometimes people need to lose a couple of apartments to realize that. You need to be willing to meet in the middle."

 

A co-op negotiation, Katz says, also tends to be more intricate and delicate than a condo. "And buyers often make the mistake of focusing too much on the price, on when they can move in, and what financing percentage they'll need. They don't dig down and see how their financial background compares to other interested buyers and therefore how much they can leverage that in the negotiations." If, for example, your post-close liquidity is strong and you could even afford to pay cash, you need to stress that to the sellers. If not, you need to be a bit more flexible on some of the aforementioned issues—like timing, price and financing percentages.

 

10. Don't be rude
Hearing someone's voice, and hearing that they're a nice person, makes a lot of difference, says Tan. "It's not just about reviewing papers. The seller is taking a risk on you. Until the contract is signed, both parties can back out," so they want to have a good feeling about someone, he says. "You don't want to create any tension at all."

 

11. Don't go for any broker
"Pick a broker that you trust," says Turturro. Interview them, and once you choose your broker, you need to trust what they're saying and how they're advising you in the negotiation process, she says. "Our job as a broker is to achieve a meeting of the minds between the two sides. A smart broker knows that unless the price is right for both, there will be no sale at all."

What can I afford?

Brick UndergroundApril 06, 2017

To be clear: This week's subject for our What Can I Afford? column isn't your classic first-time buyer. He is, however, looking to buy in the city for the first time, which, as anyone familiar with the New York City market will tell you, could still be a shock to the system, even if you've been down a similar real estate road elsewhere. Our city comes with its own set of rules and expectations.

 

Shaun (name changed to protect his financial privacy) has been living in the suburbs, where he owns a home, for a few years, and commuting into the city for work. He's getting tired of the daily journey, though, not to mention the occasional hotel stays that make working and socializing in the city easier. Shaun is ready for a lifestyle change: He's considering downsizing to a smaller house in the burbs, purchasing a pied-à-terre in NYC, and dividing his time between the two places.

 

For his city apartment, Shaun prefers to stay close to Penn Station, since he'll be coming and going from the transit hub fairly often. Koreatown is an appealing option as it's close to the station and he has friends who live there; he's also interested in neighborhoods like NoMad, Gramercy, the West Village, and SoHo.

 

"I'm open to quirky spaces," he says. "It just needs to be clean and have a washer and dryer, or at least the ability to put one in." Shaun says he plans to live in the city for at least four years, but ultimately sees the apartment as an investment opportunity, and may want to re-sell for a profit or rent it out in the future. He adds that he's comfortable with both co-ops and condos, though if he opts for a co-op, it will need to be one with a board that isn't too strict: Some don't allow pied-à-terres or sublets.

 

To determine what his options are for his first purchase in NYC, we asked Shaun to share his finances. Then, we spoke to Julie Teitel, a mortgage loan officer at Everbank, Tali Berzak, an agent with CORE, and GieFaan Kim, a broker with TripleMint (fyi, a Brick partner) to explore his options.

 

The finances

Income: $250,000, plus a discretionary bonus of $150,000

 

Retirement: $400,000

 

Cash on hand for a down payment: Shaun estimates he'll have $1 to $1.2 million in liquid assets after the sale of his current home.

 

Regular monthly expenses: $13,000 to $14,000; this amount includes the cost of staying at hotels in the city, as well as his monthly mortgage, homeowner's insurance, and property taxes. Once he sells his home, Shaun expects his monthly expenditures to drop quite a bit.

 

The analysis

The maximum amount the buyer could take out for mortgages for both properties, says Everbank's Teitel, is $2.56 million. Provided he sells his current home for at least $1 million, that would mean a total of $3.56 million to devote to a smaller property in the suburbs and an NYC pied-à-terre.

 

That said, Shaun doesn't necessarily want to spend the maximum amount his liquid assets allow. Plus, he'll need to set aside additional funds for closing costs and demonstrate post-closing liquidity, whether he opts for a co-op or a condo in the city.

 

Since he intends to hold onto his pied-à-terre for a few years, Teitel says that a five-year adjustable rate mortgage makes the most sense. For these types of mortgages, the interest rate is 2.875; on a mortgage of $1 million, Shaun's monthly payments would amount to around $4,148.92. And if Shaun were to split his money for down payments evenly in half, that would leave him with $500,000 to put down for the NYC property.

 

As to what this all means in terms of what's available to Shaun right now? "There are a couple ways to skin a cat when trying to understand what a purchaser can afford," says CORE's Berzak. "You can look at the desired locations and explain the average price points, then calculate the cost to buy and monthly expenses based on the average. Or you can take a purchaser’s desired down payment and monthly expense and see what he can afford."

 

In Shaun's desired locations—NoMad, Gramercy Park, and the West Village—one-bedroom condos typically sell for $1.25 to $1.5 million, Berzak says. (A StreetEasy search reveals that some go for far more: This Gramercy one-bedroom, for instance, is listed for $2.46 million.)

 

As Berzak explains, "A rule of thumb for calculating mortgage is for every $100,000 borrowed, a purchaser will pay $500 per month for her mortgage." For a $1.5 million property with a $500,000 down payment, Shaun could take out a mortgage for $1 million, leaving him with monthly payments of $5,000 per month. In this case, there could be some challenges when it comes to monthly expenses. Given that Shaun may be taking on monthly mortgage payments for two properties--the NYC pied-à-terre and a smaller suburban home--Berzak points out that there may be little left over for carrying costs on the city apartment (maintenance fees for co-ops, or common charges for condos) on top of his other regular expenses.

 

"There are three options here," Berzak says. "Either the purchaser is comfortable with $6,500 to 7,000 per month expenses for his NYC apartment, he can put more money down, or we need to reduce the mortgage amount by at least $300,000 to recapture $1,500 per month to use toward the carrying costs." (She notes that $1,500 per month is the average carrying cost for a 750-square foot one-bedroom).

 

"This means that given the desired monthly expenses and $500,000 down, the purchaser’s best bet is to focus on the Financial District or see if there are co-ops that work," Berzak continues. "However, if the purchaser is open to putting more cash down or having higher monthly expenses, then he can buy his 'unicorn': a one-bedroom condo in his desired area."

 

Shaun could also opt to devote more of his $1 million in down payment funds to a city property than to a suburban home, or even consider renting rather than owning in the suburbs, if that lowers his monthly expenditures. Futheremore, he could search for properties in his desired area that are listed for below $1 million, of which there are several--take this one-bedroom Gramercy Park condo, for instance.

 

Another potential hurdle is the closing costs and post-closing liquidity that Shaun will need to demonstrate. As Brick covered in our guide to how to prep your finances before buying, closing costs for condos typically amount to about four percent of the purchase price; for post-closing liquidity, Berzak says, condos expect to see you have enough in the bank to cover six months of principle, interest, taxes, and insurance. Co-op boards, meanwhile, want buyers who can demonstrate they have enough money available to cover two years of monthly expenses.

 

"In the case of condos, the post-closing liquidity is covered by the purchaser’s retirement accounts," Berzak says. "However, if we were looking into co-ops, the retirement accounts cannot be used as liquid assets. So essentially this purchaser’s 'buying power’ goes down significantly when looking at co-ops." On the bright side, she notes that closing costs for co-ops are lower, usually amounting to only two percent of the purchase price. Under this metric, a $1 million co-op would have closing costs around $20,000; for a condo at the same price, it would be closer to $40,000.

 

Kim of TripleMint says, though, that co-ops still may be worth considering for this buyer, as board rules are not always as restrictive as many New Yorkers imagine. "There are a slew of co-ops that are pied-à-terre friendly, and some that even boast that they have 'condo-like' rules," he points out. "Getting the best of both worlds is always great as you get more bang for your buck and also get the flexibility of rules."

 

The would-be buyer reacts

Shaun says he'd prefer to be more cautious when it comes to the size of the mortgage he would take out, given that he also needs to budget for expenses like insurance, property taxes, and city taxes. "I would also seek a seven-year adjustable-rate mortgage so that I did not come under time pressure to sell a co-op (which is probably a bit harder than a condo) after four years, or face a very steep rate increase," he says.

 

As for Kim's advice, Shaun is definitely interested in co-op opportunities that offer a bit more flexibility. He finds Berzak's analysis of his options compelling, though he notes that they are on the higher end of the spectrum. Many of her suggested properties (see below) come with a high cost per square foot--up to $1,700--whereas Shaun finds $1,200 to be a more reasonable rate.

 

"I am also looking for investment opportunities and less about buying the upper end and merely breaking even on a later sale," Shaun notes. "Nonetheless, that may be in my cards."

How can a millennial without a trust fund afford to buy in NYC?

Brick UndergroundApril 03, 2017

While one does occasionally hear stories of New Yorkers under the age of 35 who've managed to buy their own apartments, the backstory usually involves an enviably massive Wall Street salary, or a sizeable cash gift from family members, mentioned offhand as if it were some insignificant detail. (We've all read and heard those stories before.)

 

Not to knock anyone who's getting help—would you say no if your parents offered tens of thousands of dollars for a down payment?—but for the majority of young would-be buyers, that kind of influx of extra cash simply isn't in the cards. And with the median salary of a New York State millennial clocking in at $25,000, per 2016 data, bridging the gap can feel close to impossible.

 

Below, some practical advice for the aspiring buyer, none of which involves the magical conjuring of $50,000:

 

Finagling a smaller down payment

 

Given that many buildings expect you to pay 20 percent of an apartment's cost up front, coming up with the down payment is far and away the biggest obstacle standing between most millennials and home ownership. And it bears out: Since 2004 alone, home ownership rates among Americans under 35 have dropped by 21 percent, as the Daily Beast reported.


Especially considering that a huge portion of Americans in this age range have less than $1,000 socked away in savings. "That's the differential between the renter and the buyer: the down payment," says Miller Samuel appraiser Jonathan Miller. "Millennials have been subjected to static wage growth until very recently."

 

While monthly mortgage and building costs often aren't much different than what you'd be paying in rent, there's unfortunately no getting around the fact that if you want to become a home owner, you'll have to start saving aggressively. "It's really about figuring out the down payment, and if you're not getting big bonuses, it will take a few years of active saving," says Ashlie Roberson of Triplemint (a Brick partner). In these cases, says Roberson, she advises clients to track their spending and identify places to cut down, using services like Mint or other savings-oriented apps (we've got options here).

 

There are also plenty of options out there for negotiating a lower down payment, especially as the city's real estate market slows down. In condos in particular, you're much more likely to be able to buy with just 10 percent down. "With condos, as long as you have a commitment letter from the bank, they don't look that much at the down payment," says Ace Watanasuparp of Citizens Bank. "It may disadvantage you with the seller if there's a bidding war, but with the market changing, you'll start to see sellers more amenable to lower down payments, and that's a plus for Millennials."

 

There are also programs such as SONYMA loans that are designed to help first-time buyers by letting them buy with as little as three percent down. "If you're buying something under $625,000, Fannie Mae allows you to borrow as much as 95 percent of the total price," says Watanasuparp. And again, with the city's market slowing down, you'll find buildings that are more amenable to accepting this model of financing, though you'll still face some pushback, and, as we've written previously, are more likely to make it work in condos, which don't usually have the same kind of minimum down payment requirements as co-ops.

 

But do keep in mind that a lower down payment will translate to higher monthly payments, and in the long run, shelling out more in interest. "Your monthly payment is definitely going to be higher, because you're borrowing a lot more," Watanasuparp explains. "But it's a way to get into the home ownership conversation and from there, continually build equity into the apartment."

 

"Most of my buyers, I really urge them to work on the down payment to get to 10 percent or 20 percent, because in the long run, it lowers your monthlies and there's less that you have to pay back," says Roberson.

 

Expanding the search

 

To an extent, this one's a bit of a no-brainer. Pretty much all but the wealthiest New Yorkers have to compromise a bit—and count on a longer commute—when finding a neighborhood that's realistic for our budgets.

 

But for younger buyers, this can also mean facing the reality that your beloved neighborhood where you've been renting may not have much housing stock for sale in your price range. "A lot of times, clients are renting in one neighborhood, and might dream of buying a one-bedroom apartment at a certain price point there, but it just doesn't exist," says Win Brown of CORE NYC. "So they start exploring other options."

 

For instance, Brown says, a lot of younger buyers from north Brooklyn have been picking up and heading for Queens, where there's plentiful co-op inventory at reasonable prices. "I've listed a lot of $300,000 one-bedrooms in Queens, where there's a lot of co-op inventory," he tells us. "And that inventory just doesn't exist in north Brooklyn. You have some boutique condos and income restricted co-ops, but they're hard to find."

 

These buyers are also heading toward south Brooklyn spots like Bay Ridge, as well as uptown into the Bronx, where Riverdale is particularly awash in well-priced prewar co-ops. "I think most of what millennials will be looking at will be co-ops, because the prices are lower, and so many have monthly maintenance charges that are well below $1,000/month," says Roberson.

 

However, you might find well-priced condos in areas like Upper Manhattan or Astoria, notes Jana Angelakis of Citi Habitats. And you should also keep an eye out for condo buildings with enticing tax abatements, which will make your monthly costs much lower for a number of years, and therefore might bring the prices within reach.

 

The bottom line here: Besides a longer commute, if owning is a priority, you may have to square yourself to leaving a neighborhood that's trendy but rental-heavy for something that's a little more staid and established. The neighborhoods with tons of prewar co-op buildings are where you're likely to find your bargains.

 

Looking for long-term investment

 

Though it can be tempting to try to own by any means necessary, everyone we spoke with emphasized the importance of making your first apartment a savvy investment so that you can expect a solid return. And though there's more to owning a home than a pure return-on-investment calculation, for all the effort you'll be putting in, it's worth it to scope out options that are the most likely to put your money to work.

 

"A lot of younger buyers I talk to want to be flexible and nimble," says Watanasuparp. "They want home ownership, but they want to be in a place where they can re-sell quickly if they need to. So they think about what other young buyers are looking for if they want to re-sell."

 

Your resale potential can be influenced by factors like neighborhood, proximity to the train, and whether or not the building has an elevator. "I always have this conversation with buyers, that there should be an upside—you're not buying to basically not make money down the road," says Angelakis. "If you buy a walk-up, that will limit your pool of buyers when it comes time to re-sell, but if you get something in an elevator building, then anybody can buy it. The elevator is important, and something I really have to remind first-time buyers about."

 

Another major factor is the building's sublet policy. A building that allows sublets will work in your favor if you get a job out of town or move in with a significant other, and once again, says Angelakis, will make your pad more appealing to other buyers when it comes time to eventually sell.

 

Depending on your tolerance for fixer-uppers, this could be another way to up your potential investment without stretching your budget to buy a more expensive apartment. "I'm working with a woman now who bought an apartment on East 15th Street for $450,000 in 2012, and now is going to be able to sell it for around $890,000," says Roberson. This is in part a result of dramatic market appreciation in 2013 and 2014, and also due to some small cosmetic upgrades she made to the apartment while living there (think a few thousand dollars here and there for improvements, rather than a pricey, full renovation).

 

"You don't want to be living in a construction zone forever, but little things can make a huge difference in quality of life and also sales price," says Roberson. "For instance, she put in a new backsplash, and it made a big difference in the kitchen."

 

It might take some extra TLC (or a longer search), but it's worth it to find an apartment that's as likely as possible to appreciate in value. After all, for most buyers, that's the end game of climbing onto the so-called property ladder: to start small, in hopes of being able to buy something bigger—and more expensive—down the road. 

On the Market

The New York TimesApril 02, 2017

Flatiron Loft

 

$1,350,000

 

Manhattan 874 Broadway, Apt. 307

 

A two-bedroom one-bath with a washer/dryer in a landmark elevator building near Union Square. Win Brown, CORE 917-704-1306; corenyc.com

 

Maintenance $1,541 a month

 

Pros This renovated loft has an open floor plan, high ceilings, exposed brick walls, wood floors and oversize windows with wooden frames.

 

Cons The unit is a bit dark with windows that face an interior courtyard.

Prettiest homes that hit the market this week

CurbedApril 01, 2017

Every week, Curbed covers dozens of market listings that vary in price, location, size, grandeur, quirkiness, and other distinct characteristics. If they managed to capture our attention, that means there’s definitely something special going on. But some of these homes are so lovely that they warrant a special kind of notoriety as some of the prettiest homes currently up for sale in New York City. And so, here it is: five listing that have that special "je ne sais quoi" that separates them from the rest. Happy gawking! 

 

The cozy duplex apartment at 325 West 21st Street boasts two bedrooms, two working fireplaces, a spiral staircase, built-ins galore, and vast expanses of exposed white brick. The loft-like lower floor houses the living room, dining room, and an ambient, French-feeling kitchen. Of course, such character comes at a price. The place is currently listed for $1.275 million. 

Staging for the starter apartment

The Real DealApril 01, 2017

When Corcoran’s Victoria Reichelt picked up a two-bedroom co-op listing on the Lower East Side last year, its décor comprised a single chair and a few ugly bookcases. After the unit, at 212 East Broadway, sat on the market for months, Reichelt followed standard procedure, trimming $50,000 from the asking price. But she also persuaded the buyer to spend $5,000 staging the apartment — something she wouldn’t normally consider for an apartment asking just over $1 million.

 

“On the Lower East Side, no one does staging,” said Reichelt, who sold the property last month for $1.1 million, slightly below the original ask but $170,000 more than what a similar unit in the building fetched.

 

Once seen as the bright spot in Manhattan’s slowing residential market, lower-end apartment sales have gone from quicksilver to sluggish in the last six months. As of March 26, homes in the borough priced between $1 million and $2 million were spending an average of 82 days on the market — up 32 percent from last year, according to data from UrbanDigs.com. Those asking between $600,000 and $1 million spent an average of 70 days on the market, a 32 percent jump from 2016.

 

As a result, staging, which has long played a major role in the high-end new-development world, is increasingly being used for lower-end properties.

 

Brokers told The Real Deal that even spending a small amount on staging can move difficult-to-sell pads and, in many cases, help dodge a price reduction.

 

“You have to compete with the fresh look of new development that [buyers] are seeing —even if they can’t afford it, that’s what people expect,” said Brown Harris Stevens’ Leslie O’Shea, who credits staging for the contract recently signed on one of her listings, a $1.4 million co-op at 160 East 38th Street. “I was always hesitant to ask sellers to put money in, but I wish I started doing it years ago.”

 

Persuading sellers, however, can be tough. “At a certain price point, because there is an initial investment required, it scares off many sellers,” said Tamara Hubinsky, the interior designer who staged the co-op at 212 East Broadway. Hubinsky said she’s seen a jump in inquiries for staging cheaper apartments, with brokers trying to capture the attention of aesthetics-conscious buyers.

 

Certainly, it can reap financial rewards: CORE’s Tony Sargent said that at one of his listings, a one-bedroom asking $840,000 at 201 East 17th Street, he persuaded the sellers to repaint, replace floors and rent furniture. The apartment received 10 offers, according to Sargent, and is now under contract for more than the asking price.

 

While brokers closing above ask, or sidestepping a price cut, is ideal, the main objective is more modest: moving the property.

 

BHS’ O’Shea said that the $50,000 the seller at 160 East 38th Street spent on staging paid off because it drew people to that apartment instead of the other listings in the building — of which there were several.

 

“They were coming into that particular apartment because it was aspirational and happy,” O’Shea said.

 

Roberta Axelrod, the director of residential sales and marketing at Time Equities, agreed that staging piques buyer interest. “You definitely end up selling it faster,” she said. Time Equities had seen great success staging cheaper apartments at projects in the West Village and on the Upper West Side, she added. Two that were asking less than $1 million sat on the market for more than eight months before they were staged. In both cases, they sold within 45 days of getting a makeover.

 

And for those for whom dropping several thousand dollars is out of the question, virtual staging, which costs around $100 an image, offers a cut-rate alternative.

 

“Doing actual live staging is still way too expensive in most cases,” said Siderow Residential Group’s Joshua Arcus.

 

Steve Snider, a broker at CORE, pointed out that staging’s popularity at the top end of the market makes many sellers think it’s out of their price range.

 

Sellers, he said, “look at one of Fredrik [Eklund’s] listings, and he’s spent $150,000, and they think that’s what they have to spend,” said Snider, who recommends that clients spend a few thousand instead “to freshen it up.” He added that sometimes brokers will even take the cost of staging out of their commission because they know it will sell the place.

 

Last year, Snider took over a listing for a co-op on East 72nd Street that despite a reasonable asking price of $615,00 had languished on the market for six months. It went into contract the weekend after staging and closed for $5,000 over ask. “Without staging, you’re just another Upper East Side co-op with no view,” he said.

Five studio apartments that make great use of their limited space

Brick UndergroundMarch 31, 2017

Think studio apartments are all poky and depressing? Think again. Thanks to some clever architectural and design tricks, a one-room apartment can feel just plenty roomy and spacious. Here, a handful of great examples of homes that make the most of the space they've got.

 

Floor-to-ceiling windows provide plenty of natural light in this bright and airy, 744 square-foot one-room condo at 200 Chambers Street (going for $1.098 million), which—thanks to an alcove floor plan—offers distinct areas for sleeping, living/dining, and cooking.

On the Market in New York City

The New York TimesMarch 31, 2017

Flatiron Loft • $1,350,000 • MANHATTAN • 874 Broadway, Apt. 307

 

A two-bedroom one-bath with a washer/dryer in a landmark elevator building near Union Square. 

 

MAINTENANCE $1,541 a month

 

PROS This renovated loft has an open floor plan, high ceilings, exposed brick walls, wood floors and oversize windows with wooden frames.

 

CONS The unit is a bit dark with windows that face an interior courtyard.

Charming $1.3M Chelsea duplex is a built-in lovers dream

CurbedMarch 30, 2017

Adorable is a word best reserved for babies and puppies, but this thoroughly charming pre-war Chelsea duplex may be the exception.

 

Sunny, with a rustic-chic kind of vibe, the cozy co-op apartment at 325 West 21st Street boasts two bedrooms, two working fireplaces, a spiral staircase, built-ins galore, and vast expanses of exposed white brick. The loft-like lower floor houses the living room, dining room, and an ambient, French-feeling kitchen, which the listing promises captures the “feel of a country cottage in the woods or by the sea,” except that the appliances are modern and include a dishwasher.

 

The two bedrooms—the smaller of which is currently configured as an office—are up the spiral staircase on the second floor, as is a “vintage” bathroom (not pictured), and a laundry room with a washer and dryer (also not pictured). Above is a private roof terrace, which spans the entire footprint of the apartment and appears prime for entertaining.

 

Of course, such character comes at a price. The place is currently listed for $1.275 million, with maintenance coming in at a not-insignificant $1,768 per month. Sublets, pied-a-terres, co-purchasers, and cats are all allowed; dogs, however, are sadly verboten.

Manhattan Apartment Sales Are Rebounding

The Wall Street JournalMarch 29, 2017

A slowdown in Manhattan apartment sales last year eased in the first quarter of 2017, according to a Wall Street Journal analysis of public-sales records.

 

The number of sales closed in the first quarter of this year was just 4% below the same quarter in 2016, which was unusually strong.

 

In all, the first-quarter 2017 performance was the second strongest for a first quarter since 2008. The data are based on an analysis of sales recorded by the city’s Finance Department as of seven days before the end of each quarter.

 

The latest data confirm earlier reports of a rebound based on increases in new contracts signed so far this year. Since many co-op and condo transactions take months to be finalized, the closing data suggest the market began strengthening toward the end of 2016.

 

Brokers and analysts said the recovery reflected renewed optimism by buyers after the stock market surged following the November presidential election. A spate of price cuts by sellers, as well as buyers’ eagerness to lock in before interest rates rose further also were factors, they said.

 

Through much of last year buyers were putting off decisions because of uncertainty, but “now buyers have the information they need,” said Gregory J. Heym an economist at Terra Holdings, a real-estate firm that oversees brokerages Brown Harris Stevens and Halstead Property. “Sellers realize they can sell now if they get the prices where they should have been. If you had priced right in October, nobody would buy.”

 

Lauren Muss, a broker at Douglas Elliman, said 2016 was a hard year. But the market has picked up in every price category up to $10 million, she added.

 

The recovering market was reflected in a Monday report by Olshan Realty Inc. showing that 330 contracts were signed with asking prices of $4 million or more in the first quarter, a 33% increase over the same period in 2016. Sales of expensive co-ops, which had lagged those of newer condominiums, also picked up, the report noted.

 

The closed-sales data show that the sales plunge began in the second quarter in 2016 and worsened through the year. Sales were down 17% during the fourth quarter of 2016 compared with the same quarter the year before.

 

The first quarter was marked by a 17% decline in sales in new developments compared with same quarter in 2016, offset by a 10.5% increase in sales of older condominiums. Sales of co-ops were down 2.5%.

 

While sales at new developments often vary with construction schedules, Shaun Osher, the founder and chief executive of CORE, a New York brokerage, said the decline this quarter reflected weakness in the market in the second half of last year. Now, he said, there is pent up demand, and projects and properties are selling “at very high numbers.”

 

The median apartment price was $1.13 million, off less than 1% from record high prices in the first quarter of 2016 but above levels in the last three quarters. The median condo price was $1.73 million, down 3.4% from a year ago. The median co-op price of $772,500 was up slightly from the $770,000 median in the same quarter of 2016.

 

The top sales of the quarter, as in recent quarters, were closings at 432 Park Ave., the tallest residential building in New York City. Two full-floor apartments each sold for about $65 million. The third most expensive sale was a renovated limestone townhouse at 12 E. 73rd St., a few doors down from Central Park, that which sold for $41 million in January, the first townhouse sale above $40 million in several years.

 

That townhouse was sold by Andrew Farkas, a real-estate investor who listed it for $42.5 million last June. It went into contract in December. For several decades it had served as the location for the high school of the Lycée Français de New York, a bilingual French school.

 

Mr. Farkas purchased it in 2007 for $23 million from J. Christopher Flowers, a private-equity investor and investment manager, property records show.

Six bathrooms with windows and inspiring views

Brick UndergroundMarch 24, 2017

Since so many New York City bathrooms are so small and dreary they're otherwise windowless closets, finding one with a window and—bonus!—a view, is especially desirable. Here are six that offer inspiring vistas sure to enhance your morning or evening toilette.

 

Thanks to a northeast-facing master bathroom, buyers of this one-bedroom penthouse condo at 20 Pine Street (priced at $4.195 million) can enjoy views of Midtown skyscrapers and East River bridges from their custom-carved marble soaking tub. 

 

It would be a shame to cover the floor to ceiling windows of this stunning master bathroom within a three-bedroom condo at 42 Crosby Street (priced at $8.4 million); but seriously, how else is one ever supposed to get naked in that space?

 

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)

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