DS+R's Columbia Business School; One Museum Mile Sales

CurbedMay 15, 2013
MORNINGSIDE HEIGHTS—Last week, Columbia's Manhattanville business school got a $100 million boost from billionaire Ronald Perelman, and with that announcement came new renderings of the two buildings. Like the medical center, they are designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro and feature similar zig-zagging cutaway facades. They will provide a combined 450,000- square-feet of space, some of which will be filled with those same collaborative gathering spaces we heard about before.

EAST HARLEM—One Museum Mile, the condo building located at the northeast corner of Central Park on Fifth Avenue, is now 70 percent sold. Reps send word that in the last three months, the building has seen 25 new sales, including a $3.6 million one that set a record for the neighborhood. So what's left? Two-bedroom apartments ranging in size from 1,284 to 1,699-square-feet, and three-bedrooms up to 2,118-square-feet.

The Great Outdoors

The New York PostMay 14, 2013
52 East 72nd Streeet: $21.95 Million
This residence includes 1,200 square feet of terraces.
When rubbing a lamp and asking the real estate genie for three wishes, your first request will likely be a good location. Your second will no doubt be multiple bedrooms and closets. Your third wish, though, is a bit of a mystery. Perhaps you crave a skylight. Or a fireplace. But we’ll take a wild guess about what you want for your no-holds-barred dream apartment: outdoor space.

“It’s consistently one of the most coveted things in the apartment,” says Kelly Mack, president of Corcoran Sunshine. “It’s a rare opportunity to step outside your door, enjoy a moment of peace and serenity. In large-scale towers, outdoor space is even more difficult to find and people are really willing to pay up for it and pay a significant premium.”

How much of a premium?

Exterior space trades at somewhere between “25 to 50 percent” of the interior price per square foot, says Jonathan Miller, president and CEO of the appraisal firm Miller Samuel.

So if you have an apartment with interior space that’s valued at around $2,000 per square foot, 1,000 square feet of outdoor space can add somewhere between $500,000 and $1 million to the price of the residence. “The increase,” adds Miller, “represents the greater functional utility of the space.”

By this, Miller means that an undivided 1,000-square-foot terrace is probably worth more than four 250-square-foot terraces because the former is more useful.

Properties with outdoor space are difficult to land. “Outdoor space is one of those things you’d pay a premium for because it’s usually either a penthouse apartment or ground-floor garden,” says Shaun Osher, CEO of CORE.

Rare or not, there’s no question that there’s been an uptick in units with outdoor space that have traded in the last decade.

“In 2000, about 9 percent” of apartments sold had terraces, Miller says. “In 2012, it’s closer to 12 percent.” Apartments with balconies and gardens have also been selling. “Another way to look at this is, it’s now roughly one out of four sales that has some sort of outdoor space — terrace, garden, balcony, patio. Twelve years ago it was roughly one out of five.”

And when developers run out of units with private outdoor space, they tout their building’s common courtyards or landscaped roof decks — for instance, the forthcoming 150 Charles St. features a good 40,000 square feet of green space. At 455 W. 20th St., the condo building within the grounds of the General Theological Seminary, there’s a block-long enclosed garden that looks like something out of Oxford. Buildings like the Schumacher, at 36 Bleecker St., bandy about the names of their courtyard designers (the Schumacher tapped Ken Smith, who did MoMA’s roof garden). Each of these new developments is selling condos for well over $2,000 per square foot, making them some of the most expensive real estate in the city.

But whether it’s a still-under-construction super-pad or something already built, the city offers some outstanding options for those who want to get outdoors.

Why Pets Don’t Appear in Listing Photos

The Wall Street JournalMay 14, 2013
While the prized possessions of property owners might feature in residential listing photographs—artwork, furniture, décor—there’s one thing that won’t: their pets. No matter how cute, fluffy or personable they might make a property for pet lovers; marketing directors have traditionally shied away from including them in listings.

“A pet is not a universally appealing value proposition in a home,” says Nicole Oge, senior vice president of marketing at Town Residential. “Eight out ten people—if you show them a photo with a dog in it, they wouldn’t remember the apartment, they would remember the dog.”

This week’s Mansion video segment explores why pets don’t regularly feature in agents’ listing photographs. (Separately, we searched our archives to showcase some of the pets photographed for the WSJ House of the Day feature, which profiles high-end properties on the market.)

“What you’re trying to do is paint a picture of the type of experience one could imagine [having], living in that home,” says Ms. Oge. “What you want to do is avoid a really strong focal point that is completely subjective.”

At least one broker wishes that wasn’t the case: Sotheby’s Phyllis Gallaway, who has been in real estate for almost 30 years and has made a name for herself catering to pet loving home buyers.

A pet lover herself and owner of five dogs, Ms. Gallaway feels photos of a pet would “warm up a picture,” give it character and differentiate it from a “run-of-the-mill real estate photo.” But she says she understands why photos of pets could be a turn-off for people who aren’t pet owners or are allergic. “Not everyone loves pets,” she says.

Elizabeth Kosich, Director of Marketing and Digital Strategy at CORE, says brokers have such a short window to engage potential buyers that they “really focus on featuring brick- and-mortar qualities of a property.”

Seen & Heard

Tribeca CitizenMay 10, 2013
The folks at 93 Worth invited me over for a tour [cough finally cough], so I got to check out the work-in-progress lobby (with two vaulted ceilings forming a T), the common roof deck, a penthouse (check out the northern view directly below and, below that, what a good look one of the penthouses will have of the clocktower at 346 Broadway once its renovation is complete), and several model units (note how luscious the new windows are from inside). The last photo gives you a great look at the cute Dutch-style building on Thomas. The building is 85% sold, and most of those were completed before the elevators were even functioning; a sign of a solid market, I’d say. Click to enlarge.

NASCAR Star Jeff Gordon Puts Central Park West Residence on Market for $30 million

New York Daily NewsMay 10, 2013
The stunning home overlooks Central park South and comes equipped with black-granite sushi bar, a 740-square-foot master bedroom and an audio/visual system. But buyer beware: There are also pictures of elephants throughout the home.

NASCAR stud Jeff Gordon has a dark side, likes pictures of elephants and modern ceiling lights. Those are the defining design characteristics of the race car driver's for-sale $30 million three-bedroom apartment in 15 Central Park West, one of the world's most celebrated condominiums.

The stunning home has 46 feet of windows overlooking Central Park. Located just above the tree line, it's like living near a forest in the summer months.

Gordon purchased the apartment in 2007 for slightly less than $10 million. Halstead Property's Nora Ariffin and Christopher Kromer share the listing. They were unavailable for comment. The pricing on the apartment is nothing new for this building, home now or at one time to actor Denzel Washington, sportscaster Bob Costas, singer Sting, Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein, and hobbled Yankee slugger Alex Rodriguez. An adjacent unit, larger than Gordon's, sold in December for $32.5 million.

"When you get into the realm of super luxury, this is it," said CORE vice president Jarrod Guy Randolph, who works in the highest end of New York real estate. "It has A-plus location, pedigree, amenities and views. This building is a total slam dunk and it still commands the highest prices."

The apartment listing calls it a "masterpiece." The home has a black-granite sushi bar with a steel countertop, master bedroom suite measuring more than 740 square feet, wine cooler, and an audio/visual system that controls lighting, window shades and music. The building's amenities include a 14,000-square-foot fitness center, sky-lit lap pool, business center, library, car port and residents'-only terrace.

Some interesting features in Gordon's home include large photographs of elephants, dark walls, mahogany riff-cut floors, mod recessed ceiling lights, and a kitchen with rust-colored large square tiles and dark stone walls. The entire home is a play on light and shadow. The master bathroom is clad in limestone. Monthly maintenance and real estate tax comes to just over $7,000. The apartment is in move-in condition, although most buyers prefer to build these homes to their specifications and design desires. The views of the building on Central Park South are spectacular. Gordon hopes to capitalize on the red-hot highest tier of available real estate in Manhattan, where inventory remains scarce.

"New York is still a relative bargain compared to other top cities around the world," Randolph said. "You get more for your money at the $50 million level."

‘Historic’ Doesn’t Rule Out ‘New’

The New York TimesMay 09, 2013
Since it was designated a historic district in 2001, the Madison Square North neighborhood, with its row houses and Art Deco-style towers, has undergone a striking transformation. Hotels and offices have replaced many of the warehouses and garment showrooms that once populated the 10 blocks around the northern end of Madison Square Park.

But although the character of the tenants has shifted, the historic neighborhood, which some call NoMad (for North of Madison Square Park) and which is bounded by 25th and 29th Streets, between Madison Avenue and Avenue of the Americas, has seen very little new construction since the Great Depression.

Now, one of the first new condominium developments is nearing completion. The 20-story glass tower at241 Fifth Avenue, between 27th and 28th Streets, will have 46 units ranging from one-bedrooms to three-bedroom penthouses when it is completed by midsummer or early fall.

The area is still home to many wholesale shops that specialize in costume jewelry and wigs, but the opening of upscale boutique hotels like the Ace Hotel on 29th Street in 2009 and the NoMad Hotel on 28th in 2011 helped set a new standard of trendiness. Both hotels, along with other developments in recent years, have been conversions of late 19th- and early 20th- century buildings.

The new condominium is a project by the New Jersey developer Victor Homes, a unit of Eclogue Management of Israel; the interior and exterior were designed by the architecture firm ODA. In 2011 Victor Homes paid $20 million for the original structure — a four-story commercial building known as the Fifth Avenue Bazaar, which had mirrored glass tiles.

Ran Korolik, the vice president and a managing partner in the United States of Victor Homes, said the company began construction on the project, now valued in the $100 million range, in November 2011. A lengthy approval process ensued, with the Landmarks Preservation Commissionweighing in, because the property sits within a historic district.

Although the building is one of the first new condominiums in the district in many years, conversions are also under way. At 242 Fifth Avenue, the developer Pan-Brothers Associates is converting a landmark building into rentals and adding a floor, for a total of six. And just outside the historic district, the Witkoff Group is creating condos in the former International Toy Center, better known as the Toy Building, and renaming it 10 Madison Square West.

A number of buildings that struggled during the downturn have also been revived. At 39 East 29th Street, east of Madison Avenue outside the historic district, a new condo opened in 2007, but sales soon stalled. The developer Espais Promociones Inmobiliarias of Barcelona, Spain, rented out its unsold sponsor units but has now sold them all, according to Richard J. Steinberg of Warburg Realty, which represents the building.

As for 241 Fifth, it will have one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, and there will also be one alcove studio. The three-bedrooms, ranging in size from about 1,360 to 1,700 square feet, will be priced from $2.4 million to just over $3 million. The two-bedrooms will range from 990 to more than 1,200 square feet and will be priced from $2 million to about $2.75 million. The one-bedrooms, with 560 to 640 square feet, will start at $1.2 million, and the 500-square-foot alcove studio will be priced at $950,000. The condo will have two full-floor penthouses: one, a 3,000-square-foot unit on the 20th floor with panoramic views of One World Trade Center and the Empire State Building, will be priced in the high $7 million range. The other, a 2,700-square-foot penthouse on the 15th floor, has a setback for a large terrace and will have indoor and outdoor fireplaces; it will be priced in the high $6 million range.

The developer has raised prices about 20 percent since the first units went on the market in April. “We had a wait list of about 350 people when we launched sales,” said Doron Zwickel, an executive vice president of CORE, which represents 241 Fifth, adding that more than half of the units are already in contract or have contracts out to buyers.

Several units have terraces, and the building will also have an amenities floor, with a gym, a yoga room, a massage room and a lounge, as well as a garden. Apartment finishes include oak floors, teak wall accents and Zucchetti plumbing, as well as Miele appliances and Sub-Zero wine storage. The ceilings are mostly 9 and 10 feet high; in some areas, like the kitchens, they drop to 8. And while many of the units, especially those above the 16th floor, offer soaring views, the lower floor units with southern exposures face an interior courtyard.
The building also has a 3,500-square-foot retail space on the ground floor. “Time is on our side,” said Mr. Korolik of Victor Homes, who doesn’t expect to market the retail space until this summer. “This is a high-end boutique building, so we will be a bit picky about who we want to put in it.”

House of the Day: 643 Macon Street

BrownstonerMay 09, 2013
This three story Bed-Stuy brownstone has a lot to recommend it. The garden level renovation includes some very housing bubbly high-end features like a Viking range and refrigerator and a Bosch dishwasher. The ceiling, with plaster between the joists, gives the space a rustic feel and adds little height to the living space. And the owners certainly spent some money on the bathroom renovation. This is a really nice tree-lined block of Macon Street, but the ask of $949,000 for a three story house east of Malcolm X seems a bit, well, housing bubbly. What do you think? Has eastern Bed-Stuy come this far in pricing?

Helping Agents Pursue Dreams

Herald SunMay 08, 2013
Real estate agents will be encouraged to dramatically improve their selling and personal skills to better meet the demands of vendors and buyers at a top industry conference next week.

A line up of international speakers including American Chris Gardner, the inspiration behind the Academy Award nominated film, The Pursuit of Happyness, New York agent Shaun Osher and Aussie Home Loans spokesman John Symond, will talk to agents about topics including navigating tumultuous times and using common sense.

More than 3000 agents are expected at AREC13 (the Australian Real Estate Conference) to be held on the Gold Coast on May 19-20. “As real estate transactions become more complex, the public needs more competent real estate agents to manage the process,” David Knox, a top industry coach in the US who will present at the conference, said.

"Consumers need to make sure that agents understand your real needs and you need to ask them to explain the steps of marketing your home and how they will deliver increased value.''

Australian coach and trainer, Josh Phegan said the customer had never been so clear about what they wanted.

“They want value for money, they want service and they want it now. Being able to sell yourself as an agent is one of the most highly sought after skills.”

Shaun Osher said agents needed to understand what motivated vendors.

“When a client chooses an agent, they need to make sure they are working with someone who they are comfortable with being their face to the consumer,” Mr. Osher said.

3,000 Estate Agents to Gather for Gold Coast Conference

Photoplan BlogMay 08, 2013
Australian property marketing pros will gather on the Gold Coast this month for the country’s annual Real Estate Conference.

Estate agents and other workers from within the property marketing industry will come together on May 19th and 20th to share industry knowledge and insights as well as gaining inspiration from a list of exciting guest speakers – including the man who inspired the hit movie “The Pursuit of Happiness” – Chris Gardner.

The inspirational entrepreneur (played on the big screen by Will Smith) will top a bill which also includes New York agent Shaun Osher, industry coach David Knox and troubleshooter and consultant Josh Phegan.

Topics covered will include advice on how to navigate tough times in the property marketing industry, applying common sense in estate agency and the importance of property marketing professionals in modern homes sales.

Speaking before the event, some of the speakers offered their unique insights on the industry:

Industry Coach David Knox:

“Consumers need to make sure that agents understand your real needs and you need to ask them to explain the steps of marketing your home and how they will deliver increased value

Australian coach and trainer, Josh Phegan:

“They want value for money, they want service and they want it now. Being able to sell yourself as an agent is one of the most highly sought after skills.”

US agent Shaun Osher:

“When a client chooses an agent, they need to make sure they are working with someone who they are comfortable with being their face to the consumer.”

On the Market: 100 West 58th Street, 10C

The New York TimesMay 05, 2013
Midtown Condo $1,650,000

MANHATTAN 100 West 58th Street, #10C

A two-bedroom two-and-a-half-bath with a washer/dryer in the Windsor Park, a pet-friendly full-service prewar building. Tom Postilio (212) 726-0783, Mickey Conlon (212) 612-9623, CORE;

Spare Change

Fox BusinessMay 03, 2013
Jarrod Randolph discusses current events in the world of finance with Fox anchor Melissa Francis and fellow guest Remi Spencer.

Record-setter in LIC?

New York Daily NewsMay 03, 2013
A new-to-market townhouse in Long Island City’s waterfront neighborhood is priced at $3.25 million, a neighborhood high if it sells at or above asking.

ET Luxury Report

ET Luxury ReportMay 02, 2013
Look back to the early ’90s and it’s easy to see how the modern luxury sector has evolved: Tom Ford just joined Gucci to reinvent the brand, Prada opened its second store outside of Milan and fashion house Versace held a runway show for the first time. The multithousand-dollar handbag was still on the horizon, and the overwater villas of the Maldives were a decade away. With the idea of luxury now delineated in almost every sector, much has changed. “Consumers now spend on luxury goods with much more sophistication,” says Jean-Marc Bellaiche, a senior partner and leader of luxury, fashion and beauty at Boston Consulting Group, a management consulting firm.

Rather than purchasing the next “it” bag or shoes, consumers are swapping brand loyalty for more quality craftsmanship. “In the early 2000s and ’90s too much of the business was about the logos, but [companies] were using low-quality raw materials,” says Bellaiche. Now the idea of luxury has spread into areas beyond retail to encompass anything from status-driven travel destinations to high-end condo finishes.

Changing Philosophies

Compared with the luxury environment just five years ago, it’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Rather than purchasing the same kind of high-end car or watch, consumers impacted by the recession are increasingly asking for individualized bells and whistles to differentiate their purchase (and make sure other luxury consumers can’t boast about the same one).

When real estate clients come to view multimillion-dollar Manhattan apartments, they are pickier than ever, says Emily Beare, managing director at Core Group Marketing, a luxury real estate firm in New York. Buyers are looking for specifics that signal luxury: radiant floor heating, high-end fixtures by companies such as Waterworks and quality marble; many even want to know the name of the building’s interior designer, she says. During the real estate boom of 2007, simply having a sleek-looking apartment was enough to sell it. Now buyers are seriously looking at the details that truly make it luxurious, Beare says. “It used to be all smoke and mirrors—[the apartment] looked beautiful but five years later it’s falling apart.”

Post-recession, the word luxury brings mixed feelings. “Luxury is a dirty word in this cultural climate, and nobody wants to be showy anymore,” says Pam Danziger, president of Unity Marketing, a Stevens, Penn.–based firm that provides insight on affluent consumers.
Experiential offerings are another way to be less showy for those eager to have one-of-a-kind experiences without purchasing more material goods. Spending on experiential luxury now makes up 55 percent of the total luxury spending worldwide and has grown 50 percent faster than sales of luxury goods, according to Boston Consulting Group’s 2012 Luxe Redux report, which examines luxury trends. Consumers worldwide now spend $770 billion on experience-related luxuries or events such as art auctions, the report notes. Over time, older consumers have also moved away from purchasing luxury goods to paying for more unique experiences. “They may already have 15 [luxury] bags, so it doesn’t make much sense to buy bag number 16,” says Bellaiche.

Luxury Redefined on the Road

When it comes to investing in luxury experiences, travel is key. And many are heading off to more nontraditional “adventure-oriented” destinations such as Myanmar, Bhutan and Chile, says Robert Warman, president of Capella Hotel Group, a luxury hotel chain with properties in Washington, D.C., and Cabo San Lucas.

The business traveler is also less defined, says Danziger. “The line between business and personal travel is not clear cut anymore,” she says. “You can’t tell the business traveler by the way they dress.” This means that even business travelers now pay attention to luxury amenities previously reserved for the leisure traveler.

Executives are looking for new airline and hotel amenities, craving the unique luxurious experiences they find in both real estate and retail. They are opting for a travel experience that’s more customized—be it through a personal on-plane chef or the hotel’s personal stylist.
At Etihad and Turkish Airlines, onboard chefs prepare foods that might include medium-rare rack of lamb and fresh eggs, says Christian Reisenegger, head of the flying chefs for Do & Co. a catering company that partners with Turkish Airlines. “We make sure it tastes just as it would in a restaurant,” he says.

Business travelers are no longer focusing solely on intricate design, says Warman. “They have moved past the physical aspects of a particular hotel,” he says. To entice luxury consumers, Capella hotels offer personal assistants round-the-clock. In the new Washington, D.C., location, guests can take advantage of private after-hours shopping tours at stores such as Christian Dior, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue through the hotel’s resident stylist, April Yvonne. “It’s no longer about the soft goods, it’s how we in the hospitality industry make our guests feel,” adds Warman.

Hotels are also focusing on more individualized demands to convey a sense of luxury, points out Thomai Serdari, a luxury brand strategist and adjunct professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. For example, the Sofitel So Singapore, opening in July 2013, will have a logo designed by Chanel’s Karl Lagerfeld and will allow guests to have their breakfast preferences on file and have full control of their stay through an in-room tablet. “You don’t have to utter a word; your experience is completely seamless,” Serdari says.

New Demands: From Craftsmanship to Retirement Homes

While conglomerates like Paris-based Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH) and PPR Luxury Group (owner of brands such as Gucci and Brioni) still make up a huge chunk of luxury goods, that’s changing because consumers are starting to look for products rather than focus on brands, explains Serdari. In the coming years, there will be less consolidation among firms, and consumers can expect to see smaller firms with a focus on craftsmanship emerge and countries such as the U.S., Germany, Brazil or China becoming both manufacturers and buyers of these products. “People want to see things that are handcrafted, that have quality and are authentic,” Serdari says. And of course the consumer has gotten savvier: “We are used to seeing beautiful images that are well designed,” she adds. The larger brands will need to work even harder to keep up.

These days, both millennial and baby boomer consumers are dictating where luxury is heading. As the luxury consumers of the 1980s and ’90s age, the idea of extravagance is trickling to less likely places such as hospital rooms with marble baths and butlers, luxury high-rises with movie-screening rooms and virtual golf capabilities, and airlines with private suites, according to BCG’s Luxe Redux report. “There will be some luxury retirement home businesses that will be very successful,” says BCG’s Bellaiche. Meanwhile, millennials are making more tech-focused demands and urging luxury brands to ramp up their online sales and social media presence. And that’s good news for consumers, who will soon have all kinds of luxury options at their fingertips.

Luxury’s New Look

  • Younger Consumers: Asian luxury travelers are 20 to 30 years younger than what luxury marketers have been accustomed to in the past, according to a 2012 International Luxury Travel Market Leaders Forum.

  • Travel Bug: Twenty percent of U.S. respondents are planning to increase the amount of money they spend versus last year on both weekend getaways and vacations, according to American Express Publishing* and Harrison Group’s 2012 Survey of Affluence and Wealth in the U.S.

  • Gen Y Wealth: Thirty-four percent of Americans ages 18 to 33 have been wealthy throughout their lifetime as compared to less than 10 percent of all other generations, according to the American Express/Harrison Group survey, which polls applicants with a minimum of $100,000 of discretionary income.

  • Travel Picks: River cruises through Europe and Asia are gaining in popularity alongside more traditional luxury cruises bolstered by baby boomer travel, according to the 2013 Virtuoso Luxe Report.

  • Emerging Destinations: Adventurous travelers will be heading to Cuba, Myanmar, Bhutan, Chile and Vietnam this year, according to Virtuoso.

  • Fashion: Gen Y consumers increased spend on premium luxury fashion by 33 percent in 2011 over the year prior, according to data from the 2012 American Express Publishing Luxury Summit.
  • Deep Pockets: Aggregate annual spending tops $1.4 trillion for what affluent consumers worldwide describe as luxuries, according to a poll of 1,000 people worldwide for BCG’s Luxe Redux report.

  • Online Bargains: Seniors led all other age groups in spend growth for online luxury flash sale websites such as Gilt and Ideeli during 2011 at 28 percent, according to data from the 2012 Luxury Summit.

  • Tech Meets Luxe: Elite consumers are more digitally savvy than their middle class counterparts, according to the 2011 Bright Young Things Workshop in Cannes, France.

  • Experience Trumps Goods: U.S. consumers are more than three times more satisfied with the purchase of luxury experiences as they are with the purchase of luxury goods, according to a Unity Marketing report.

  • Boom in China: Some luxury brands say that as much as 40 percent of profits are now coming from Chinese consumers, according to BCG.

Dream Homes: 310 West 52nd Street, PHA

New York PostMay 02, 2013
Clinton $5.95 million
See if this makes you feel like royalty: “Crowning” the 43rd and 44th floors above West 52nd Street, this “glittering” duplex penthouse is “one of the rarest jewels” adorning the “incandescent” Manhattan skyline. No? How about this: an open floor plan offering 2,022 square feet of interior space, with three bedrooms and 3 1/2 bathrooms, plus an adjacent private terrace. The “floor-to-ceiling” windows allow for “bird’s-eye views” of Central Park, Broadway and Times Square. Also, residing in the building means access to concierge services, a fitness center and a 3,200-square-foot landscaped terrace. Agents: Tom Postilio and Mickey Conlon, CORE, 212-726-0783 and 212-612-9623

Midtown West, Tribeca, Chelsea Rank as Manhattan ‘hoods with Steepest Inventory Plunge

The Real DealMay 01, 2013
The stock market is soaring. Unemployment is falling. And consumers seem newly confident. But at least one major obstacle is preventing a surge in residential sales in New York City: Even if buyers want to purchase homes, there aren’t many to choose from.
In fact, the current inventory crunch, the worst in recent memory, has become the defining feature of New York’s residential market.

At the end of the first quarter, there were just 4,960 co-ops and condos in Manhattan for sale — a stunning 34 percent decrease from 7,560 in the same period of last year, according to data from Douglas Elliman. That’s the steepest year-over-year plunge in more than a decade, according to appraiser Jonathan Miller, who prepared the Elliman data and who has tracked the city’s inventory since 2000.

Current inventory is hovering around 2004 levels, before the real estate boom gathered steam. Inventory peaked in 2009 and has been falling ever since, Elliman’s data shows.
Why the shortage?

One key reason is the slowdown of new residential development during the downturn, when construction loans were scarce and those that did get issued were far smaller than they were during the boom. Even as residential development heats up again, banks are far more comfortable underwriting loans for developers to build rental properties rather than condos, industry insiders said.

And these days, there are fewer external financial incentives in terms of tax abatements, like the now-expired 421a, which prompted developers to rush projects into the ground, resulting in a flood of residential inventory in the city.

Simple demographics may be to blame, too. The city is now adding about 50,000 residents a year, according to U.S. Census records, but the number of homes being added to the market is not keeping pace. Indeed, just 10,599 apartments and single-family homes were built in 2012, compared with a recent high of 33,911 in 2008, according to permits filed with the city’s Department of Buildings.

Low crime rates, improved subways and more family-friendly amenities are among the factors fueling the city’s popularity, said Ken Fisher, a real estate attorney and former City Council member.

Other factors restricting residential inventory today include continued high unemployment and tight credit, industry experts said. Homeowners who are struggling financially or fear they can’t get a mortgage can’t upgrade to larger apartments, said Neil Garfinkel, a veteran real estate attorney who represents buyers and sellers. That means they’re unlikely to put their own homes on the market.

“If you can’t trade up, you’re probably not going to sell,” he said.

Adding insult to injury — for buyers, at least — is that the lack of supply is sending prices of available homes through the roof.

“In a perverse way, tight credit is making housing prices rise, which is completely contradictory,” Miller said. “But it is definitely keeping inventory from entering the market in a normal way.”

The tight market conditions have also led to regular bidding wars. Garfinkel estimated that one out of every three Manhattan buyers who comes to his office has engaged in a bidding war of some kind. Last year, by contrast, he might have seen that in just one in 10 deals. “Things have heated up significantly,” he said.

None of the major Manhattan neighborhoods have been spared by the inventory shortage, according to an analysis of data provided to The Real Deal by the listings website StreetEasy.

Below is a neighborhood-by-neighborhood breakdown, detailing which areas have been hit hardest and which are seeing less severe inventory shortages.

Upper East Side (30 percent drop since 2009)

Sweeping from Central Park to the East River and north to 96th Street, the Upper East Side is among the largest neighborhoods in the city, and also among the ritziest.

There were 1,773 apartments for sale on the Upper East Side during the second week of last month, down 30 percent from 2,547 during the same week in 2009, according to StreetEasy’s data. During the same week in 2012, there were 2,219 units listed, 20 percent more than last month’s available Upper East Side inventory.

At the same time, the average asking price, not surprisingly, has risen. It shot up 14 percent to $3.2 million last month, from $2.8 million in 2012.

The shortage comes despite a slew of new condo projects in the neighborhood, like a pair from Harry Macklowe: 737 Park Avenue, which hit the market this past fall, with 103 condos, and 150 East 72nd Street, which started selling its 22 units in January. There’s also developer Aby Rosen’s 109-unit condo conversion at 530 Park Avenue, which launched sales last summer.

In addition to those high-profile new projects, sales continue at Manhattan House, the famed 534-unit conversion project at 200 East 66th Street.

Yet while it may seem like those condos should be boosting inventory levels, they aren’t pouring enough units on the market to make much of a difference, said Sofia Song, vice president of research at StreetEasy. Besides, units in new buildings are typically released in phases, so their impact can be subdued.

Upper West Side (32 percent drop since 2009)

Across Central Park, inventory has fallen as well. The Upper West Side — which StreetEasy defines as the area from West 59th to 125th streets — had 1,320 listings on the market last month, down 32 percent from 1,934 listings in 2009. And like on the Upper East Side, the dip has been especially pronounced in recent months. There were 1,634 listed units during the second week of April 2012, 19 percent higher than last month’s figure.

This comes despite the fact that new condos like the Laureate, a 76-unit, 20-story development at West 76th Street, have launched in recent years. But the number of new units hasn’t been enough to significantly move the inventory needle. And the Laureate, which started sales in February 2011, appears to have just one sponsor unit left, a three-bedroom on the 10th floor at $4.6 million, according to StreetEasy.

And as might be expected, prices have crept up, too. The average listing price in the neighborhood last month was $2.42 million, up from $2.3 million at the same time in 2012 and $2.1 million in 2011.

The Upper West Side is especially starved for apartments priced from $1 to $3 million, which generally buys a one- or two-bedroom unit in the area, according to Leonard Steinberg, a Douglas Elliman broker. He said those apartments appeal to the broadest cross-section of buyers: empty-nesters, foreigners looking for crash pads, young couples and investors.

Steinberg partly blamed the current inventory squeeze — which he referred to as a “crisis” — on sellers’ reluctance to price homes properly.

In addition, he said, some owners just don’t want to move, especially since capital gains tax rates are higher now than they were a year ago.

“There’s a big share of money in any transaction that you won’t see again,” Steinberg said. “It’s slowing the pace of transactions.”

Greenwich Village (40 percent drop since 2009)

Greenwich Village, which includes the West Village, is home to some of the city’s wealthiest residents. But there are limits to what deep pockets can do when there’s very little on the market.

According to StreetEasy, there were only 434 apartments on the market in the area — which stretches from West Houston to West 14th Street and Bowery to the Hudson River — in April. That’s a solid 40 percent drop from 726 in 2009 and a 13 percent decline from 501 listings last year.

Inventory is especially limited because much of the area, about 50 blocks, is landmarked and therefore restricted from new development, said Fisher.

Rudin Management’s construction of 350 condo units at the former St. Vincent’s hospital will ease the logjam somewhat down the road, Fisher said. But those units are not expected to hit the market until 2014. Another new project in the area is the 91-unit 150 Charles Street, from the Witkoff Group. According to published reports, units there have been selling quickly (at high prices), despite the fact that construction is nowhere near complete.
Still, many developers have bypassed building in the area in recent years in favor of the East Village instead, where there are more development opportunities.

“They are no longer looking at Third Avenue as being a barrier,” Fisher said.

Murray Hill/Gramercy/Flatiron (28 percent drop since 2009)

The Murray Hill/Gramercy/Flatiron area, which stretches from East 14th to 42nd streets, is seeing a slightly less severe inventory crunch than other areas.

There were 821 listings on the market in the three adjacent East Side neighborhoods last month, 28 percent less than 1,134 in 2009.

As in with other areas, the slide has accelerated since last year, dropping 17 percent from 994 listings.

For its part, Gramercy continues to attract marquee-name condo developers, like the Zeckendorf brothers, best known for the blockbuster 15 Central Park West. Their 18 Gramercy Park debuted last year, though it only brought 16 apartments to the area, seven of which have sold, according to StreetEasy.

The 98-unit Tempo, on 23rd Street and Second Avenue, launched sales in 2010, but has rolled its condos out in phases. And during the downturn, many were converted to rentals.
But Murray Hill may have slightly more inventory than other neighborhoods, said Shaun Osher, chief executive of CORE.

He said the area tends to attract specific groups, like well-heeled buyers of townhouses east of Lexington Avenue and twentysomethings fresh out of college. Still, many of those young residents are renters, not buyers, who stay for just a few years before graduating to new neighborhoods.

Murray Hill has a “loyal following, but not a very broad demographic of buyers,” is how Osher put it.

Soho (33 percent drop since 2009)

Soho may be home to a trendy set of New Yorkers, but the small geographic area has in recent years become as much of a retail hub as anything else.

As of last month, Soho had only 149 listings on the market. That’s down 33 percent from 221 in 2009 and 22 percent from 192 last year.

According to StreetEasy’s boundaries, Soho is bounded by Lafayette, Canal, West and West Houston streets, and includes the Hudson Square enclave that’s emerged in the last decade.
And Soho values are skyrocketing: In April 2012, the average asking price was $3.3 million. By last month, that figure had jumped 40 percent to $4.6 million.

Elliman’s Steinberg is currently listing a condo at 497 Greenwich Street for $4.25 million.
Despite the fact that the property is in need of renovation, it has two offers, and he said he expects more in the next few months, now that the sellers have finally moved out.

Steinberg said open houses tell just as much of a story as statistics do: One hundred buyers can easily show up for a Manhattan open house.

“And only one gets to buy it, so that means 99 are stumping around like the ‘Night of the Living Dead,’ looking for a home,” said Steinberg, who added that the current inventory squeeze is the worst he’s seen in his 17 years in the business.

Brokers noted that a hurdle to development in Soho is the “artist in residence” requirement, which applies to dozens of blocks and mandates that artists live in the converted commercial loft space within the allotted boundaries. The city does grant exceptions, though, like at 111 Mercer Street, which launched last fall. But that project added only four units.

Hudson Square, which is outside of the artist-in-residence zone, on the other hand, may shake up the status quo soon. In March, the City Council approved a sweeping rezoning of the area, paving the way for former printing plants and large empty lots along Canal Street to be used for residential projects.

Tribeca (48 percent drop since 2009)

This affluent Downtown area saw one of Manhattan’s steepest drops in inventory.
The neighborhood had 447 homes for sale in April 2009, but last month that number had dropped 48 percent to 232. About half that drop has come since April 2012, when there were 303 listings, or 23 percent more than there are now.

The area also saw an average listing price of $5.14 million, the highest of all 11 neighborhoods, with prices climbing steadily for the last few years. In 2011, the average apartment price in Tribeca was $3.7 million, while in 2012 it was $4 million. (For all neighborhoods, a small number of sales or a few outlier deals may skew averages dramatically in a given year.)

The heavy demand is, in many ways, being driven by the area’s strong public schools, like the now-overcrowded Public School 234.

Despite Tribeca’s popularity, the area — which stretches from Broadway to the Hudson River and from Canal to Barclay streets — is relatively small.

“There’s not much left to be developed or converted,” said CORE’s Osher, who predicted that just 500 units will come to market there in the next few years.

Buyers looking for new construction in Tribeca, where much of the housing stock is industrial buildings that have been converted into lofts, are most likely to find it clustered in the northeast corner of the neighborhood.

For example, 93 Worth, a condo conversion CORE is marketing, has sold 70 percent of its 92 homes in only four months, Osher said. Meanwhile, the 20-story Franklin Place, which is developed by the Elad Group, has 53 units, though sales have not yet launched. Elad’s 250 West Street condo conversion has 111 units, but just a handful, including a $42 million penthouse, remain.

Perhaps the most high-profile of the new Tribeca buildings is 56 Leonard, a 60-story skyscraper with 145 units being developed by Hines and the Alexico Group. The Herzog and de Meuron–designed building, sources said, typifies the supply crunch. Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group, which is handling sales, said 70 percent of the units at the newly launched building are already sold.

Financial District (24 percent drop since 2009)

The area south of Fulton Street at Manhattan’s tip saw more new development during the boom than any other part of Manhattan. As a result, its supply of available apartments has not dropped as steeply as other neighborhoods.

As of last month, there were 427 apartments available for sale in the Financial District (excluding Battery Park City), down 24 percent from 564 in 2009. But the decrease has been comparatively mild as of late: From last year to this, inventory decreased 10 percent from 476 listings.

But a catch-22 is in play in the area, said Richard Rothbloom, a broker with Brown Harris Stevens who specializes in the Financial District.

Knowing about the inventory squeeze, some would-be buyers are staying put, convinced there’s nothing out there for them, he said. “And I don’t see things changing much this summer, as people usually list in the spring,” he added.

Conversions of office buildings have slowed to a trickle, with few new projects in sight. In December, Rothbloom said, he sold one of the last sponsor units at 20 Pine, a 35-story condo conversion that first hit the market in 2007. There are some sponsor apartments left at 350-unit condo-hotel 75 Wall Street, he said, since developer the Hakimian Organization rented them out rather than selling them. But those come on the market only occasionally.

Meanwhile, there are 23 listings on the market at the W Downtown Hotel & Residences, according to StreetEasy, with the cheapest being a $1.1 million studio.

Some frustrated FiDi home-seekers are now looking in Brooklyn instead, Rothbloom said. He noted that a recent client who lives in a two-bedroom in the Financial District and wanted to upgrade to a unit with a terrace or garden is now searching in Carroll Gardens and Park Slope, “or something close to a subway line.”

Central Harlem (41 percent drop since 2009)

In April 2009, there were 452 co-ops and condos for sale in this part of Harlem, which StreetEasy defines south of West 155th Street. This year there are just 266, a drop of 41 percent.

That may be one reason why prices have crept upwards, growing from $767,000 in April 2011 to $794,000 in 2012 to $875,000 last month.

Few large condos have gone up in the neighborhood since the boom, when there were a slew of projects including the 249-unit Kalahari on West 116th Street and the 160-unit Fifth on the Park.

But the area is still drawing interest. Early last month, the Real Estate Board of New York hosted an open house event featuring 10 Central Harlem listings. The event, which showcased listings such as a two-unit brownstone townhouse at 165 West 126th Street priced at $2.5 million, was aimed at introducing buyers to Harlem properties.

Midtown West (51 percent drop since 2009)

There was a time when few would have considered this part of Manhattan to be a hot residential market, but the boom changed that. Indeed, new towers filled the West 42nd Street corridor, like Extell Development’s 551-unit condo the Orion and the Moinian Group’s 475-unit Atelier.

But despite its unconventionality, or maybe because of it, this neighborhood — which spans West 30th to 59th streets, from Eighth Avenue to the Hudson River — lured many foreign buyers, who liked its proximity to major tourist attractions.

Overseas investors may have a hard time parking their money there today, however.

As of last month, there were only 257 units for sale in Midtown West, a 51 percent decrease from 521 in 2009. The inventory is also 33 percent lower than it was last year at this time, when there were 385 listings available.

Not surprisingly, prices have swung hard in the other direction: The average list price in 2009 was $1.4 million, but in 2013, it was $1.9 million, a 36 percent spike.

Sources said developers seem reluctant to commit to condo projects because Manhattan land costs are so high. Research from the Marketing Directors shows that land prices in the borough have risen by 50 percent in the last few months.

To come out ahead, developers would have to be able to charge at least $2,000 a square foot for their finished product. That price point would only work for targeting luxury buyers, which not all projects can do, Fisher said.

Chelsea (43 percent drop since 2009)

Chelsea also saw a large inventory drop, despite being a darling for developers.

In April 2009, Chelsea had 576 listings, compared to 331 at the same time this year, a 43 percent decrease. Predictably, average listing prices have jumped, from $2 million to $2.4 million in that same time period, the data shows.

The neighborhood, located from West 14th to 30th streets and Sixth Avenue to the Hudson River, encompasses the hot High Line area.

A Corcoran broker who frequently works in the area, but asked to remain anonymous, said strong demand is one reason for the lack of inventory. In the last few weeks, he said, open houses have drawn roughly double the number of people there were a year ago.
“There’s a real increase in buyer confidence out there,” he said.

Still, big new developments are in short supply now that projects like Jean Nouvel’s 100 Eleventh Avenue and the 150-unit condo tower at 200 Eleventh are sold out.

And newer condos in the area have tended to be petite, like 455 West 20th Street, the new 21-unit Brodsky Organization project inside the General Theological Seminary. Even the hulking Walker Tower, under construction at 212 West 18th Street, is adding just 53 units.

East Village/Lower East Side (31 percent drop since 2009)

Inventory in this mostly young Downtown area, where protests recently erupted over the arrival of a 7-11 convenience store, has also dropped.

The combined neighborhood on Manhattan’s East Side — which runs from 14th Street to Canal — had 281 listings in 2009. Last month, there were only 194 listings, 31 percent fewer. Since last year alone, when there were 266 listings, the area has seen a 27 percent decline in available for-sale units.

The average asking price now is $1.3 million, up from $1.2 million last year.

Recent developments, though, have crept in on the edges. Orange Management’s 123 Third Avenue condo launched in 2010 and has sold all 47 of its units except a penthouse, according to StreetEasy.

And there are others on its heels: The Jefferson, an 82-unit condo on a long-empty lot at 211 East 13th Street, off Third Avenue, is rising fast. It’s being constructed by a team that includes Ironstate Development, the Shnay Brothers and Charles Blaichman.

The dearth of for-sale units has had another upside in the enclave: The rental market in the area has benefited, said Jason Misrahi, chief operating officer at Misrahi Realty, a brokerage based on Rivington Street.

“It definitely juiced up my rental market,” he said. Rents in the area, which run to $2,400 for a studio, continue to climb, he said.

NYC’s Boutique Brokerages Battle for Listings

The Real DealMay 01, 2013
Über-high-end firms dominated the ranks of Manhattan’s top boutique brokerages this year as prices soared in the luxury market — even as firms competed for a shrinking number of available listings.

With last year’s top boutique firm, CORE, now categorized as a mid-size company on The Real Deal’s annual ranking, Upper East Side brokerage Leslie J. Garfield regained its long-time berth as the No. 1 boutique firm. The company had some $93.8 million in exclusive residential sales listings as of mid-March, when TRD collected the data from listings provider On-Line Residential.

Following on its heels is the six-agent brokerage the Modlin Group, with some $84.2 million in listings. Laurance Kaiser’s Key-Ventures rounded out the top three, with $79.7 million, according to TRD’s research.

Despite the high prices of listings now on the market, many boutique brokerages now have fewer listings than they did at this time last year, largely due to the overall inventory shortage currently plaguing Manhattan (see related story, “Midtown West, Tribeca, Chelsea rank as Manhattan ‘hoods with steepest inventory plunge”). And while the biggest firms in the city deal in volume, boutique firms rely on far fewer listings and can therefore see their total dollar value of listings more severely sink when their listings count drops — even by just one or two properties.

Collectively, the top nine boutique firms had 91 Manhattan residential properties listed for sale, for a total sticker price of $443.6 million; those firms had 227 brokers. That’s a dramatic decrease from last year, when the top nine boutique firms had 254 Manhattan residential listings totaling $823.4 million.

At the same time, however, the demand for luxury homes has given firms more higher-priced exclusives than ever. Perhaps as a result, some firms did see substantial growth. The Modlin Group, for example, had nine Manhattan listings worth $84.2 million — almost double the $48 million it recorded at this time last year.

This odd combination of market conditions is frustrating for brokers, noted Barbara Fox of Fox Residential Group, which came in at No. 4 with $64.4 million in listings. “We’re rarely selling any of our exclusives without a bidding war right now,” she said. “It’s crazy.”

She added: “It is truly frustrating to have a great buyer and not have anything great to show them. Or to have three things, rather than 30 things, to show them. And I think it’s very frustrating for buyers, who really need to buy, [but] can’t find what they want.”

A Mercedes/Berk listing at the Time Warner Center

Boutique bonanza

Known for specializing in townhouses, Leslie J. Garfield is headed by the founder’s son, Jed Garfield.

The 11-agent firm’s most expensive listing is currently a $30 million Carnegie Hill townhouse at 12 East 96th Street. Still, TRD’s data showed the firm with only 10 Manhattan listings this year, compared to 23 (totaling $182.4 million) in 2012.

Luckily, Garfield said, the firm has been able to compensate by working with buyers more frequently (see related story, “Brokers turn to buyers to boost business”).

The lack of inventory “hasn’t specifically affected our bottom line yet, but I’ve definitely noticed it,” he said.

Still, it’s clearly exasperating.

“I have five or six good customers, and most of them have seen everything on the market,” he said, “which means the entire office is spending a lot of time on the phone digging for new product.”

Among the most dramatic leaps in the rankings was Modlin’s jump to second place from sixth place last year.

The firm specializes in “high-net-worth individuals and families,” said Adam Modlin, the company’s president and founder. “Having those specialized and trusting relationships over a period of years creates a certain ongoing business and stability that, thankfully and humbly, has been able to exist in spite of uncertain economic times.”

Though Modlin famously refuses to name his clients, he is known for working with celebrities, including baseball superstars A-Rod and Ichiro Suzuki. Among the firm’s priciest listings is a $24.5 million penthouse at 76 Crosby Street, which Modlin described as “one of the best and nicest penthouses in all of New York City” because of its renovation and design work. The house reportedly belongs to TV personality Kelly Ripa and her husband, Mark Consuelos.

Modlin is also listing a townhouse at 19 East 70th Street for $38 million. The Italian Renaissance mansion, formerly home of the Knoedler Gallery, was not included in TRD’s rankings because it’s classified as a multifamily building, though Modlin said it is being marketed as a single-family home.

Another firm that jumped on this year’s ranking was Kaiser’s Key-Ventures, which took the No. 3 spot, up from No. 7 last year. It had seven exclusive listings for a total of $79.7 million. That’s significantly more than its $45.7 million total for last year, despite the fact that the firm had a higher number of exclusives — 11 — last year.

Kaiser, who founded the firm 47 years ago, said he’s used to dealing with a shortage of listings.

“There’s always a lack of inventory for the best things in the best buildings,” he said.

Kaiser said his niche is working discreetly with high-end clients and celebrities who don’t like publicity. “We do very well, in a low-key way,” he said.

And he’s not showing signs of slowing down. Even as he approached his fifth decade running Key-Ventures, Kaiser said he’s nowhere near retirement. “As long as I’m alive, we’ll go on,” he said.

Meanwhile, the 13-agent firm Mercedes/Berk jumped to No. 5 in the rankings this year, up from No. 10 last year, with its listing volume increasing to $38.2 million year-over-year from $17.7 million, TRD’s data shows.

While the firm keeps a relatively low profile, it’s known for its high-end listings in buildings such as 15 Central Park West. Firm principal Noel Berk attributed the company’s success this year in part to its strong ties to international buyers.

“We have remained small in size, but the total volume of our deals is increasing tremendously because of the fact that we have a huge global reach of clients,” Berk explained.

She added that the firm has worked as the buyer’s broker in sought-after developments, such as 432 Park Avenue.

“It’s been a good year [for] selling new [construction] product,” Berk said. “We find our clients are seeking new apartments that will become available in two or three years. By the time these apartments [are ready], the return on their deposit is going to be very significant.”

Berk said she only anticipates the market getting busier as more international clients seek out high-end real estate in Manhattan. Of course, that depends on whether the supply of Manhattan residential properties gets boosted.

Inventory squeeze

Some firms’ results were concrete proof that the inventory squeeze may be most disproportionally felt in the boutique brokerage world, where those one or two high-priced listings can make a huge difference.

Kleier Residential, Fox Residential and Platinum Properties all saw the dollar amount of their exclusive listings drop this past year.

Kleier’s ranking dropped from No. 3 to No. 6, TRD’s data shows, and its dollar volume of listings fell from $113.2 million to $37.4 million year-over-year.

But firm head Michele Kleier said with listings scarce in the current market, she’s been representing more buyers than usual. For example, she said, in February she represented the buyer of a $12.9 million apartment at 823 Park Avenue.

While in the past, the firm’s client base was generally split evenly between buyers and sellers, she said that’s recently shifted to about 70 percent buyers and 30 percent sellers.
“People wanted to buy first, then put their homes on the market,” she said. “When the market has a scarcity of product, they’re afraid to sell first. They’re afraid they’ll sell and be homeless.”

She noted that Kleier Residential also listed several multimillion dollar properties in early April after TRD’s data was collected — such as a $3.5 million unit at 55 East End Avenue — to coincide with families returning to New York from spring vacation.

As for Fox Residential, Fox said she’s not concerned about a drop in listings to $64.4 million, down 24 percent from $84.5 million last year. “I never sweat it when we’re down a little bit because I know we always make it up,” she said.

Fox recently sold a $21 million penthouse duplex listing at 733 Park Avenue.

The eight-year-old brokerage Platinum Properties also saw a drop in listing-dollar volume, from $20.3 million last year to $13.4 million.

And Elegran Realty entered the fray this year with seven listings worth $16.8 million. Michael Rossi, cofounder of the five-year-old firm, attributed its “under-the-radar success” to its out-of-the-box approach. For one thing, all of the firm’s 38 agents are new to real estate.

“None of us came from another firm,” Rossi said. “We’re really trying to create something different here.”

Cornering the Middle

The Real DealMay 01, 2013
Call them the in-betweeners. They’re too small for the top firms list and too big for the boutiques. They’re New York City’s mid-size residential firms.

And for the first time this year, The Real Deal compiled a list ranking these firms by dollar volume of listings.

The firms — which this year had between 50 and roughly 240 agents — have recovered from the difficult market of the last few years and are now looking to grow, either by opening new offices and renovating old ones, hiring more brokers or expanding their core businesses.

“The market just has been steadily improving since the bottom in 2009, and we’ve all benefitted from that,” said Frederick Peters, president of the 126-agent firm Warburg Realty, which logged in at No. 2 on TRD’s ranking with $188.1 million worth of exclusive listings. (TRD’s data was collected from listings provider Online Residential in mid-March.)

Nabbing the No. 1 slot was the 55-agent brokerage CORE — which took the top spot on last year’s boutique list. This year, the company had 70 exclusive listings worth some $344 million. Rounding out the top three was relative newcomer Keller Williams NYC, which had 68 listings worth $186.5 million.

Collectively, the top nine mid-size firms had 319 Manhattan residential listings worth a total of $909.5 million.

Blu Realty founders, from left: David Tobon, Moshe Balalo, Alon Chadad, Michael Arcos and Andy Kim

Making moves

CORE saw a substantial uptick this year — 41 percent — in the dollar value of its listings. (TRD’s ranking last year found that it had listings valued at a total of $244.7 million.)

Much of that boost is due to one super-pricey listing: a five-bedroom property at 15 Central Park West, listed for $85 million with CORE’s Emily Beare.

CEO Shaun Osher said the firm has recently started representing several new developments, including the 92-unit 93 Worth Street in Tribeca.

The company also opened its first Uptown location on the Upper East Side last month, bringing its total number of offices to three.

“We’re definitively growing our brand,” Osher said.

In terms of number of agents, however, he said he’s not looking to drastically increase the size of the firm. Osher said the firm will “continue to grow organically,” but noted that he’s very picky about the agents he hires. “Per agent, we’re very efficient,” he said. “We don’t have agents who don’t do business.”

Warburg is also making moves. In March of this year, the firm moved from its longtime headquarters at 969 Madison Avenue into swanky new headquarters at 654 Madison.
Peters explained that it wasn’t until 2012 that Warburg even considered the upgrade.

“We needed more space,” Peters said. “It just seemed logical to look into an office building with a more central location; 2008 and 2009, the market had gone into the tank so it was hard to think about making a change like that and spending a whole bunch of money.”

“I love it. I am so excited about this place,” Peters added. “This move is clearly the most significant thing we’ve done” in the past year.

Next, Peters said he plans to renovate the firm’s other two offices to make them as “state of the art” as the Madison Avenue office.

That’s a significant change from the downturn. In 2009, Warburg shuttered two of its offices — at 2235 Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem and at 65 West 13th Street.

But when it comes to number of agents, Peters said he has no plans to grow Warburg significantly more than its current total of 126 agents.

“I’ve made a decision about the size that I wanted to maintain for the firm because I want to make sure our broker-to-manager ratio is always small enough so agents can always get the training and support and feedback that they need,” Peters said.

Meanwhile, the 62-agent brokerage MNS is expanding its reach.

The firm — which was formed in 2011 as a merger between the Developers Group and the Real Estate Group New York — recently opened a new Williamsburg office at the Edge, which the firm has been marketing. The firm has two other offices in Manhattan. (Only Manhattan agents and listings were included in this ranking.)

“We have a good story in [Williamsburg],” MNS CEO Andrew Barrocas said. “We have a high concentration of apartments coming on the market and more condo sales than any other company out there in the Williamsburg market.”

While the firm is marketing a number of new rental and condo developments in the outer boroughs, “we did do a lot of business in the Manhattan market” this year, Barrocas said. For example, the firm is marketing the new development condo 2280 Frederick Douglass Boulevard in Harlem.

MNS stayed mostly consistent in terms of Manhattan dollar volume of listings, TRD found, increasing to $27.4 million in total dollar volume of listings from $27.1 million year-over-year. (Like CORE, MNS was also on the top boutiques list last year.)

Like many others, Barrocas attributed the lack of substantial growth to the work MNS has been doing with buyers as well as sellers (see related story, “Brokers turn to buyers to boost business”).

“There are probably 30 buyers to every one apartment that’s out there,” Barrocas said. “A lot of what we do work on is new developments and there were periods where there weren’t any new projects being planned.”

Another firm, 55-agent DJK Residential, is also shifting its focus. The firm came in at No. 7 with $13.9 million in Manhattan listings.

With listings few and far between in Manhattan, the firm has been doing a lot of work in New Jersey, through its office in Nutley, according to Phyllis Pezenik, the company’s vice president of brokerage services.

“With the market being tight and exclusives being gold, everyone’s looking for the bigger properties and they’re scarce,” she said. “But short of building them, we’re trying to find them wherever we can.”

The fifth-ranked firm, 80-agent Fenwick Keats, founded in 1989, had $44.2 million in sales listing volume for 38 listings this year. (Its most expensive listing was a $19.95 million Upper West Side townhouse at 47 West 70th Street.)

The firm, previously called Fenwick Keats Goodstein, bought out Goodstein Management in late 2010. Following the split, it moved out of its Downtown office at 45 Seventh Avenue and into new headquarters at 419 Park Avenue South.

In addition to its headquarters, it has an office Downtown at 45 Seventh Avenue and one on the Upper West Side at 2244 Broadway.

“We adhere to the basics and we are very consistent and steady, so our agents are really trained to deal with all markets and deliver with both our buyers and our sellers,” said Kinnaird Fox, Fenwick’s director of development.

Not mid-size for long

Some firms that are currently mid-size don’t plan to stay that way.

Keller Williams NYC — the Texas-based firm, which opened a Manhattan franchise in 2011 — hopes to grow to 750 Manhattan agents in the next three years, according to Eric Barron, Keller Williams NYC’s CEO. (The firm was founded by powerbroker Illan Bracha, who is still at the helm as the firm’s chairman.)

TRD’s mid-March tally found 240 agents listed on the firm’s website.

Barron said Keller Williams NYC also hopes to open four more offices across the city — on the Upper East and Upper West sides and two Downtown — in the next three years. The firm currently has one office, at 425 Park Avenue.

Growing the number of agents is crucial to Keller Williams’ unusual profit-sharing model: Half of Keller Williams’ annual profits are paid out to brokers who have recruited other agents.

But Barron said he’s not daunted by the fact that the firm has a long way to go. “We’re building the core and the foundation first and then we’re looking to expand,” he said.

The firm’s visibility may get a boost now that a Keller Williams broker, Luis Ortiz, is joining the cast of Bravo’s “Million Dollar Listing New York.” The season premiere of the series airs this month.

Keller Williams hired Ortiz from real estate brokerage Synergy NYC this past year. Barron said he was initially concerned about how Ortiz would be portrayed on the show, but is so far happy with how it’s shaping up. “How can you argue with the name Keller Williams New York City being on television six times a week?” he said.

Another new firm, Blu Realty, clocked in at No. 4 on the list with 28 exclusive sales listings worth $80.5 million.

Blu was founded in 2011 by five former Nest Seekers International brokers. According to TRD’s tally, Blu had 56 agents as of mid-March. But firm co-owner David Tobon disputed that, saying the company has 66.

He said the firm aims to have 100 agents by the end of the year to fill two new offices it’s looking to open — one Downtown and another on the Upper East Side. (The company currently has two offices, its headquarters at 1674 Broadway, and an Upper West Side outpost at 120 Riverside Boulevard.)

Tobon attributed the firm’s growing business to an increase in international clientele.
“We’ve gotten a lot of international clientele in the last year,” he said. “That’s where we’ve grown in sales.”

He said Blu’s increase of international clients has come primarily from the firm’s newly formed London office, which has exposed a variety of foreign buyers and sellers to the brokerage.

Back home in Manhattan, the firm is currently marketing several high-end listings, including a $27 million Upper East Side townhouse at 170 East 80th Street and a $17.5 million Upper West Side townhouse at 38 West 87th Street.

New Development Slated to Hit Gramercy and Flatiron District

Luxury Listings NYCMay 01, 2013

Sizing Up the Market: Lindsee Silverstein

Luxury Listings NYCMay 01, 2013

Sizing Up the Market: Mickey Conlon

Luxury Listings NYCMay 01, 2013

Sizing Up the Market: Tom Postilio

Luxury Listings NYCMay 01, 2013

NYC’s Premier Properties: 212 West 18th Street, 10D

Luxury Listings NYCMay 01, 2013
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