Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Astor Row: All you need is a wicker rocking chair and a glass of lemonade.

Where can you find a house with a front porch in Manhattan?


There are 28 of them on the south side of 130th Street, between Fifth Avenue and Malcolm X Boulevard, which is known as Astor Row.

A few years back, my then-partner and I had a client who was looking for a house in that neighborhood. 

We were exploring the area when we came upon a row of beautiful 19th century brick townhouses with wooden front porches painted green.  
New York Landmarks Conservancy Photo
Many had become dilapidated over the years, but they hadn’t lost their charm.

Not only were there front porches, but they looked out over front yards, which must have once been gardens, and could be again.

I never forgot those houses.  

I was reminded of them today, when I saw an article in titled "A Harlem street with a 'quiet southern town vibe' shines again."

The article says that the lot on which the houses were built was originally bought at auction by John Jacob Astor in 1844.

During the next 150 years or so, the houses were built, changed hands several times, and eventually fell into disrepair. 

In the 1990s, Astor's great granddaughter-in-law Brooke Astor was on a driving tour of Harlem when she saw them. 

"What is this?" Mrs. Astor inquired.  Funny she should ask.

She was appalled by the houses' condition, particularly that of the porches, which in some cases had been removed. 

Mrs. Astor was in a position to do something about this.

“After a conversation with the then-President of the Conservancy, Susan Henshaw Jones, Mrs. Astor pledged the first of two Astor Foundation grants that eventually totaled $1.7 million to jump-start the restoration of homes on the row,” Brick Underground says. 

“Eventually, $3 million was raised to do the work on the porches, as well as to repair toppling chimneys, damaged roofs, and cast-iron fences, and repoint and clean the facades.”

Times have changed in Harlem, especially on this newly restored row. Today, one of those houses is on the market for $4,300,000. 

Here’s the link to the article:

Call me at 917-991-9549 or e-mail  I'll be happy to visit your apartment, loft, or townhouse and give you a detailed broker's opinion of what it could fetch today, supported with figures and comparable sales.  Of course, there's no cost or obligation involved. 

Even if you plan to stay in your home forever, it's always good to know what it's worth.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Is the Manhattan real estate market softening? Yes and no.

At the top, it's melting, rapidly.  At the bottom, it's granite.

More than three thousand new and ridiculously expensive apartments are about to hit the Manhattan market. 

As if we didn't have enough.

Central Park Tower, 111 West 57th Street, 520 Park Avenue and 432 Park Avenue are among the new buildings rising on or near 57th Street, now known as Billionaire's Row.
Architectural rendering of
157 West
57th Street (New York
Daily News, MARCHMADE)

The Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group defines ridiculously expensive (they call it "luxury") as costing $2,400 per square foot or more.

The March 31 issue of Crain's New York Business says that well over half of a total of more than 5,000 new apartments will be priced at that point. ("Luxury Market Cooling") 

A 2,000 square foot two bedroom (2,000 square feet could easily accommodate three or even four bedrooms, but we're talking luxury here) would cost a minimum of $4,800,000.

Of course, this is not counting the high-end condos already on the market. Per The Real Deal, condo units at Extell's One57, at 157 West 57th Street, are still not sold out, more than four years after sales launched.  

Exactly how bad is it?  Well, six to nine months of inventory is considered a balanced market.  More than nine months is a buyers' market, less than six months is a sellers' market.

The chart below was prepared by Miller Samuel Real Estate Appraisers and Consultants. Read it and weep. 

At the moment, there are 28.2 months of co-ops and 26.3 months of condo inventory priced above $10,000,000. From $5,000,000 to $10,000,000 there are 12.6 months of co-ops and 12.4 months of condos.

As you can see, at the lower end, the market is still firmly in the hands of the sellers.  Less expensive properties are being snapped up before the ink is dry on the listing agreements.

At the top, the market is at the other extreme, flooded with new, shiny and expensive condos.  

It's definitely a buyers' market. But where are the buyers?

I don't know.  The Real Deal doesn't know either.

"So how much demand actually exists for uber-luxury condos?" The Real Deal asks.

"Who today knows how many people around the world can afford an ultra-luxury apartment, and how many of them would be willing to buy one in New York?.....This dilemma doesn't just concern luxury developers but the whole industry.

"If developers are overestimating global demand for high-end New York product, they could be inflating a luxury bubble that could drag down the entire market.  If they are underestimating it, the industry may well be misdirecting its resources."

I don't see any signs that they're underestimating it. 

One developer, HFZ Capital Group's Ziel Feldman, is making his properties smaller and pricing them between $4,000,000 and $8,000,000. Feldman is calling this "affordable luxury." We'll see if it works.

Jeff Blau, CEO of The Related Companies, says that at this point, building on Billionaires' Row is more like gambling than investing. (The Real Deal)

In a panel discussion at the 92nd Street Y last Thursday, developers Jared Kushner, Steve Witkoff and Abby Hamlin, along with Blau, seemed to agree.

"Gary [Barnett, of Extell] built that building and then 40 other developers came out and said, 'Oh, I've got an original idea. Maybe I'll do a similar project in a similar area with similar pricing,'" Kushner commented.

Donna Olshan's weekly newsletter (Olshan Luxury Market Report) for March 28--April 3 says that "The biggest stumbling block so far: sales above $10 million.  Year-to-date, 45 contracts at $10 million and above have been signed, down from 73 in 2015 and 80 in 2014."

Crain's New York Business says that despite a number of new projects coming online in the past year, the number of sales increased by a mere 8%, while the number of units on the market fell as developers of new buildings chose to keep homes off the market.

Keeping apartments off the market is expensive. Developers carry and service seriously heavy debt between the time a project is begun and the time when the last sale closes. Other than for inventory control, they don't keep apartments off the market unless they really, really have to.

And they really, really have to.

On the other hand, if you want to buy an apartment for less than $2,000,000, first, try to find one, and then be prepared to stand in line. 

Below $2,000,000 it's definitely a sellers' market. This is where more inventory is seriously needed.

But that's another story.

Call me at 917-991-9549 or email  I'll be happy to visit your apartment, loft, or townhouse and give you a detailed broker's opinion of what it could fetch today, supported with figures and comparable sales.  Of course, there's no cost or obligation involved.

Even if you plan to stay in your home forever, it's always good to know what it's worth.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

How one super-smart, super-organized tech entrepreneur bought a co-op.

You don't have to be a Meagan Palatino to buy a co-op in New York, but it helps. Here she offers some excellent information for anyone planning to buy one in the near future.

So I Bought a Co-op in New York, and Here's My Story, by Meagan Palatino

For more on the subject, see 

What to obsess about when you buy a co-op. 

How many of your secrets do you have to tell to get into a co-op? Or condo?

The mortgage contingency: what difference does it make to a seller whether you finance or pay cash?

In defense of the much maligned co-op.  

Essentials of the offer: how to be the perfect buyer 

The one essential for working with a broker as a buyer. And what you're entitled to in return. 

Call me at 917-991-9549, or e-mail I’ll be happy to visit your apartment, loft, or townhouse and give you a detailed broker’s opinion of what it could fetch today, supported with figures and comparable sales. Of course, there’s no cost or obligation involved.

Even if you plan to stay in your home till the next millenium, it’s always good to know what it’s worth.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Does anyone ever really shop for an apartment in January?

Well, yes, as a matter of fact, they do. They may not actually buy in January.  But they do begin to look.

There’s something about the winter holidays that makes people want to change their lives. They decide to get married. They decide to get
divorced. They decide to have another child. They decide to move someplace where it doesn't snow.  

All of these decisions involve real estate.

So if you're planning to sell, January is in fact a good time to hire a broker and put your property on the market.

Those buyers who are out there looking are really serious, or they wouldn’t be braving the winter winds.  And while your apartment may not look as appealing in winter, neither does anybody else’s. 

In fact, if you have a fireplace, it will look a lot better in the winter when there’s a fire in it than in the summer when there isn’t and it’s an empty black hole in the wall. 

Also, potential buyers are in town, not off vacationing with their children, who are in school.  Many are beginning to look with an eye to actually moving in the summertime, when school is out.

You may have less competition, as the conventional wisdom is that spring
is a better time to sell, so a lot of sellers wait till spring.  This also means that your broker is not quite as busy and will have more time to devote to your property.

There are a few disadvantagesbut these are easily dealt with.  For example, second only to location, light is the most important attribute a property can have. So if you're on the market in January, your broker should try to schedule showings towards the middle of a bright day.

Also, you should make sure your home is warm and friendly, because buyers may be cold and cranky. A fire in the fireplace can warm the coldest feet, and the smell of baking cookies can warm the coldest heart.  

Speaking of feet, don’t forget to tell your broker to ask buyers to take their boots off so you don’t have slush all over your floors.  Put a chair by the front door so they can do it comfortably.

The best part is, you will have the benefit of a longer selling season.  If despite all your broker’s research and expertise your price turns out to be too ambitious, you can drop it and still have plenty of time to sell before things slow down after Memorial Day.

Call me at 917-991-9549, or e-mail I’ll be happy to visit your apartment, loft, or townhouse and give you a detailed broker’s opinion of what it could fetch today, supported with figures and comparable sales. Of course, there’s no cost or obligation involved.

Even if you plan to stay in your home till the next millenium, it’s always good to know what it’s worth.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

The median price of an apartment in Manhattan is $999,000. That will get you a one bedroom.

The New York Times reports that in the third quarter of 2015, the median price for a Manhattan apartment was $999,000 (Manhattan Prices Near Million Dollar Mark).

The median price is a more accurate picture of the market than the average price, which is skewed by those stratospheric sales north of $50,000,000 you keep reading about. 

And what do you get for $999,000 in Manhattan? Most likely a single bedroom. 

A quick search for apartments currently for sale in Manhattan priced between $950,000 and $1,050,000 yielded nine studios (yes, there are million-dollar studios), 84 one-bedrooms, 36 two-bedrooms, and seven apartments with three or more bedrooms.

Yes, I know, not so long ago a million dollars could buy you the moon. And if you're in Columbus or Muncie, it probably still can. But New York is--well, let's just say it's different here.

According to Jonathan Miller of Miller Samuel Inc. Real Estate Appraisers and Consultants (, there are not enough million dollar apartments to go around. 

If you've got one to sell, it will go in a flash.
Here's Jonathan's absorption report for the month of November, which shows the number of months it will take to sell the currently available properties at each price point.

You may have seen this chart here before, but in case you haven’t, the green columns are co-ops, the blue ones are condos. The total number of months of inventory in each price bracket is at the top of each column. Less than six months is a sellers' market, six to nine months is a balanced market, more than nine months is a buyers' market.

As you can see, with no more than five and a half months of inventory priced under $2,000,000, the lower end of the market is still squarely in the hands of the sellers.

On the other hand, with up to 31 months of inventory, the upper end is still equally squarely in the hands of the buyers. If you've got $10,000,000 or more to spend on an apartment, sellers will greet you with open arms.

Another reliable authority on the subject is Noah Rosenblatt, who publishes Urban Digs ( 

Noah reports that 49% of sales in Manhattan trade at or above the asking price. 

This is what happens when there's so little inventory at the most popular--that would be the lowest--level. It also indicates that properties that are priced properly are the ones that are selling. 

Buyers are not making offers on properties that are priced too high. And they all read what's on the web about real estate, so they know when a seller is delusional about price.

(For more on this subject, see Pricing 101: Why you have to get it right the first time, and Pricing 102: How to get it right the first time.)

Among other helpful services, Noah also tracks the number of contracts signed every month (Urbandigs Monthly Contract Activity), which is a more current indicator of market activity than the number of closed sales, as there is a lag time of two or three months between contract signing and closing. 

He groups them by the month for the last eight years so you can compare this past November to Novembers in 2014, 2013, 2012, and the five previous Novembers, to eliminate seasonal changes in the market.  

November of 2015 had 861 contracts signed, 9.1% fewer than November of 2014, which was the busiest November in the eight years Noah has been keeping track.  May of 2013 had the most signed contracts ever, with 1,427.

To find out what your apartment is worth in this environment, call me at 917-991-9549, or e-mail, and I'll happily come to look at it and put together a broker's opinion of value. No charge or obligation. It's my idea of fun.

If you're thinking of buying an apartment, I'll be glad to help.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Under $3,000,000, it's still a sellers' market in Manhattan. Above $5,000,000? That's another story.

Bottom line, the market for both condos and co-ops priced under $3,000,000 still belongs to the seller.  Although inventory is beginning to ease upward, there is still a real dearth of property in this category.

For those priced from $3,000,000 to $5,000,000, the market is balanced.  (This is good for everybody. Sellers get a fair price, and buyers don’t get discouraged and drop out of the market.)

I’ve been saying it for more than a year, and it’s still true: now is a great time to sell a mid-range co-op.

Above $5,000,000, the market overwhelmingly favors the buyer. In fact, it’s interesting to speculate on what will happen to the 34 months of condo inventory priced above $10,000,000.  Will the prices come down?  Will the condos turn into rentals? Will they just sit there, gathering dust and waiting for buyers? 

The scary thing is, there are more and more of these super-high ticket properties coming on the market. 

But (whew!) that’s not our problem.

Another interesting thing is that, at every level, there are more condos available than co-ops.  This, despite the fact that at least two thirds of the ownable housing stock in New York is co-ops.

Prepared by Miller Samuel Real Estate
Appraisers and Consultants
The chart above, prepared by Miller Samuel Real Estate Appraisers and Consultants, measures absorption rates, that is, how long it will take to sell the co-ops and condos currently on the market.

The columns represent the different price ranges.  The numbers at the top are the estimated number of months it will take to sell the properties currently available in that range.  Less than six months means a sellers’ market. Six to nine months is a balanced market; more than nine months is a buyers’ market.  Blue columns are condos, green columns are co-ops. 

For more information, including information about absorption in your specific part of town, here’s the link to the Miller Samuel website:  Miller Samuel Absorption Report.

For specific information about the market for your property and a detailed broker’s opinion of its value, with comparable sales and other information, e-mail me at, or call me at 917-991-9549.

I’m happy to do this free of charge or obligation.  And even if you never, ever, ever plan to sell your property, it’s always nice to know what it’s worth.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

What makes an apartment worth $20,000,000? Or more?

At the moment, there are more than 100 apartments for sale in New York with price tags at or above $20,000,000. 

Many are in the new midtown buildings that spring up almost daily as builders play their endless game of mine's taller than yours.

Each of these gigantic, thousand-foot-and-more obelisks is surrounded by a cloud of buzz as fluffy as the clouds it pierces.
157 East 57th Street,
architectural rendering
(Daily News, MARCHMADE)

The buzz, which helps jack up the price, typically involves an expensive marketing campaign and a lot of press about its starchitect (it's always a starchitect) along with the Russian oligarchs, the hedge fund managers and the movie stars who are paying stratospheric sums to live in it.  

But if you buy one, besides an address that makes people hate you at the same time they’re angling for invitations to it, what do you actually get for your $20,000,000+?

One57, that is, 157 West 57th Street, is the 90-story (Wikipedia says it's actually only 75, but it's being marketed as 90) condominium that began the transformation of a not particularly exciting stretch of office buildings into what’s now known as Billionaire’s Row.   

Central Park and Canada
It offers a truly spectacular view of all of Central Park at once, through walls that are made entirely of glass.  

To the south, you see the city skyline—all of that, too, along with both rivers.

You get hotel services from the Park Hyatt.  

You get proximity to lots of places to spend the rest of your money, like Bergdorf's and Barney's and David Webb and other shops so expensive and exclusive nobody even knows their names.

Fifth Avenue near 52nd Street
You do not get outdoor space.  You do not get a private entrance; you will share a hall unless you’re in one of the full-floor apartments. 

You do get walk-in closets, marble bathtubs and separate showers in the bathrooms, lighting with dimmer switches, brand name fixtures and hardware, a washer and dryer and an intercom system to reach the concierge.  

You will share, along with  the Russian oligarchs and the hedge fund guys and the movie stars and whoever it was who paid a mere $6,000,000 for the little one-bedroom down on the 39th floor (definitely Not Our Kind, Dear, the poor thing), a fitness center, yoga studio, indoor pool, private dining, catering kitchen, library with billiards table, screening and performance room "and more," the ad says.  You can have a pet, and onsite parking is available.

Onsite parking would be pretty cool.

One of several choices for the first of three courses on the $76 
prix fixe menu at Le Bernardin, an easy walk from Billionaire's Row.
But on the other hand, if you live in a $20,000,000+ apartment, getting the car is probably your driver’s problem, not yours.

For this kind of money downtown, in an older loft building for example, what you get is different.

These buildings generally have too few units to support a doorman, but then those who buy these properties prefer not to have a doorman anyway.  Doormen talk.

Besides, you will in all likelihood get a whole lot more square footage. In a property of that size, there is room for your own staff person who will, among other things, open the door for you. 

Warburg photo
You have a much better chance of getting outdoor space.  A whole lot of outdoor space.  Sometimes enough for a lap pool, certainly enough for a hot tub, and you won’t have to share either of them with some Russian oligarch or hedge fund manager or movie star you don’t even know. 

You can have your own private screening room.  You can have a private steam room big enough for yourself and five friends.

You will not get hotel service or onsite parking, but there are some very nice hotels and parking garages nearby. 

You will not get a spectacular view of Central Park or the city, but you will have a lovely view of the flowers and trees in your own roof garden.

The screening room in a 
downtown penthouse
For a very good reason, you may well have a painfully unpretentious, small, rather dusty vestibule instead of anything that could be called a lobby. 

This is because people who live in these buildings like to keep it a secret that there are trillions of dollars worth of art, jewels and other things upstairs.  A lobby that looks like the building is still a warehouse full of old machine parts is one way to get this effect.

(It's just possible there is some reverse snobbery involved here as well.)

As I said, it’s different. 

So mull it over.  Think about your priorities. 

And let me know as soon as you decide where to spend your $20,000,000.  (Or more.)

Any questions?  E-mail or call me (, 917-991-9549) and I’ll either have answers or know where to get them.