Monday, June 27, 2011

Fame at last. Well, sort of.

There's a Q and A with your friendly broker/blogger and her friend and former business partner Siim Hanja in the New York Observer's Luxury Rental issue.  A bit surprising because the Q and A is all about the downtown real estate market in general, rather than just rentals.    Here's the link.    It's on page 18--there's an arrow on the bottom right to scroll down.  The picture is retouched out of all recognition (I'm not really 28!).

Thursday, June 23, 2011

50 Madison Avenue

Third in a series on what it costs to live on Madison Square Park and what you get for the money.

The building:

50 Madison Avenue was designed and built by the architectural firm of Renwick, Aspinwall & Owen in 1896 to be the new home of the ASPCA. 

Originally just five stories, in the mid-2000s several stories were added and it became a condominium, much to the distress of the American Institute of Architects. 

The AIA Guide to New York City says, “It swallowed Renwick & Co.’s ASPCA building almost whole.  A grand, historic (though sadly not landmarked), renaissance revival palazzo has been sur-elevated: the top floor and cornice were surgically removed, a mundane tower mounted on what remained. An attempt at ‘dove-tailing old and new’ (in the words of the project architect) only points to how much better the old was than the new.”

Be that as it may, the nine approximately 2,650 square foot condominiums, one per floor, that make up the building are quite lovely.  Each three bedroom, three and a half bath unit has spectacular views south to the park from the living room. 

A brilliant compromise was made between a closed kitchen and one that is open to the living space; the kitchen opens to a good-sized dining room, but the living room remains separate.  

The building has a permanent certificate of occupancy.

What it costs to live there:

Not much turnover here; the only sale in the last five years has been the third floor, which closed last February for $4,400,000, or about $1,660 per square foot.  Higher floors would go for higher prices.

Common charges on the third floor are $3,000, and real estate tax is $2,390.  There is an abatement, so taxes will increase.

What you get:

A full service building.  There is a 24-hour doorman and a superintendent, and they have only nine units to watch over.

Unusual privacy.  With only one apartment per floor, you don’t share a landing with anybody.

Available extra storage.

A spectacular view from every apartment.

And the park.  Commonly recognized as the best small park in the city.

©copyright Confidence Stimpson 2011

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

One Madison Park update: Poor Ella Cinders has morphed into Cinderella. And everybody wants to be the prince.

Now that the New York real estate market appears to be on the upswing, several parties are vying to finish a project that could reign over Madison Square Park as the most desirable condo building in the broader area.

Makes sense.  After all, the physical building itself, in a prime location, architecturally interesting and offering incredible views, would be a really lovely place to live.

But it's been entangled--okay, strait-jacketed--in lawsuits and other serious complications for years. 

The situation is still murky.  However, as a broker with interested clients, I am anxiously awaiting a happy ending to this long, sad story.

Josh Barbanel of the Wall Street Journal explains it much better than I could.  Here’s the link to his article on the subject:   
©copyright Confidence Stimpson 2011

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

We're Number Four! We're Number Four!

It's not wishful thinking and it's not my imagination.  The market here really is a whole lot better than it is in the rest of the country.  And it continues to improve.

A national firm providing real estate market information, Clear Capital's latest monthly Home Data Index Market Report says that the New York market is the fourth highest-performing major housing market in the country. 

The New York market comprises New York City, Long Island and northern New Jersey.

While on the national level, home prices continued to decline (but at half the previous rate), home prices in the New York area are up 1.5% over the previous quarter, and up 1.4% over last year at this point.

The Washington DC area is the highest-performing, followed by St. Louis, Missouri; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and then us. 

We are followed by the Virginia Beach, Virginia area, the Miami, Florida area, and the San Jose, California, area, among the seven highest-performing markets in the country.  And after those, there’s everywhere else.

The lowest performing market, for the fifth straight month, is Detroit.

©copyright Confidence Stimpson 2011

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Should Soho and Noho’s artist certification ("AIR")* requirement be eliminated?

About 200 people gathered in St. Anthony's Church in Soho Tuesday night to debate the question.

Some background: 

For years, the city has required that any resident of a defined area in Soho and Noho be certified as an artist by the Department of Cultural Affairs.  

Honored more in the breach, this requirement has been as irritating as a permanent case of poison ivy to those who live there and those who would like to. 

Now it feels like leprosy. 

For various rumored reasons (the most persistent being new personnel at the Department of Buildings) the DOB has suddenly decided to refuse certificates of occupancy to buildings whose residents are not all certified artists. 

Needless to say, at present, this includes most of the buildings in the area.  As recently as the mid 2000s, non-certified residents were no obstacle to a building getting its C of O.  Now, if they don’t already have one, they can’t get one. 

Technically, it’s illegal to live in a building with no C of O, which means a large percentage of the population of this area is breaking the law.

Banks, at the moment averse to lending money anyway, are now even more averse to lending in buildings that don’t have Cs of O.   And you can’t get a permit from the DOB to do major renovations in those buildings.

Some history: 

I have made many, many sales in Soho and Noho over the years, and I know the loft law and its history are long and complicated.  Here’s my understanding:   

In the 60s and 70s and earlier, these areas were zoned for manufacturing.  Unions wanted to reserve the spaces for printing houses, garment factories and other industries. 

But artists were attracted to these large, cheap spaces, even though many lacked adequate plumbing, electricity and other things non-artists would have considered essential.  They moved in and invested elbow grease to make them livable. 

To protect these people and what was called their sweat equity, the city decided they could be considered light manufacturers and thus included in the zoning requirement.  And they could live in their manufacturing space.  Thus evolved the Joint Living Working Quarters for Artists, commonly called Live/Work, designation.

Since then, by law, anyone who wants to live in a defined area of Soho and Noho has to prove to the Department of Cultural Affairs that he or she is a legitimate artist. 

Art doesn’t have to be their primary source of income, but they have to provide programs from gallery shows, slides of their art, and various other evidence that they really are artists and they really need those big lofts to make their art. 

But Soho’s wide open loft spaces, stunning cast-iron facades, high ceilings and edgy, artistic atmosphere became more and more appealing to people whose closest connection to art was the occasional trip to the Met with visiting relatives.

As the Soho artists realized they could sell their lofts to these people for more than ten and later more than twenty times what they had paid for them and thus graduate from starving artist to simply artist, they understandably got less interested in enforcing the Artist Certification requirement.

This led to the “Soho letter.”  A lawyer, say, or a stockbroker, could sign a letter indemnifying a co-op against any fines or other damage it might incur through allowing someone who didn’t have artist certification to live there. 

And a vast number of Wall Streeters and others who wanted the cachet of a Soho address invaded the area. 

The neighborhood changed.  Prada, Marc Jacobs, Chanel and other retailers moved in to be near all that Wall Street money.  Many of the art galleries could no longer afford the rents that landlords could get from these retailers.

The neighborhood changed some more. Large chain stores could also afford those rents.  I well remember the day that a loft owner with whom I’d been talking for years called me to say that he had to move; Victoria’s Secret had opened at Broadway and Prince.

Today Soho is a major tourist destination.  Supersized outlanders in the wrong jeans and supermodels in stilettos crowd the sidewalks.  Foreign money pours into the shops. 

And despite the complications and the crowds, EVERYBODY wants to live there.

There’s vastly more demand than supply. Remember, there’s only so much Soho to go around.  Prime Soho comprises about twenty blocks.  Most of the buildings on those blocks are only five stories high.   

If area residents want to cash in on their lofts, they can get top dollar.

But because of the sudden enforcement of the artist certification requirement by the city, buyers’ lawyers are strongly warning them against buying.

The city picked the worst possible time to change the rules.

So what happened at the meeting?

There were about 150 folding chairs in the basement of St. Anthony’s Church.  They were all full, and there were at least another fifty people standing in the back and on the sides of the room.

The meeting was organized by an ad hoc committee of various concerned citizens including lawyers, brokers and architects who work in the area. 

Margaret Baisley, a real estate attorney who has closed hundreds of deals in Soho and who represents numerous Soho co-ops, presided.  She was joined at the head table by Susan Meisel, a prominent Soho real estate broker and gallerist, and Michael Zenreich, an architect.

The idea was to give anyone who wanted it the chance to speak to the group in favor of or against changing the zoning to eliminate the artist certification requirement. 

Baisley, Meisel and Zenreich spoke first, for about five minutes each, in favor of changing the zoning.  Baisley said if it’s established that the zoning should be changed, the next question addressed would be the nature of the new zoning.  There is no position on that at present.

After that, anyone who had previously signed up could speak for up to three minutes. 

I stayed for about an hour and a half.  Of the points I heard made by the various speakers, the following seemed the most salient:

Pro change:

There has been no consistency at the DOB.  Enforcement has been random.  The law is anachronistic and vestigial.

The requirements are arbitrary and apparently have become more rigorous over the years.  Today, if a film maker wants to qualify, he has to have had a film screened at the Film Forum or similar venue.  Some writers qualify, others don’t.  For some reason, writers of screenplays seem to have an edge

Zoning should represent the area, and there is no correlation between the zoning and actual practice.

Soho and Noho are the only places in the country where one has to be in a particular occupation to live there. 

The city has been finding loopholes to allow exceptions to the requirement.  If a developer builds on land where no building was before (say, a parking lot), residents of the building are exempt from the requirement.  This has allowed the construction of extremely high priced condominium projects that have provided substantial real estate taxes to the city. 

The city has never told anyone to leave his loft.  Efforts have been made to get the city to challenge a non-artist’s residence in order to take the case to court and establish the requirement’s constitutionality, which some doubt.  These efforts have been unsuccessful.


Changing the zoning would change the character of the neighborhood.

Changing the zoning would remove the protection rent-controlled artist-certified tenants have against being removed from their spaces.   (Another speaker immediately raised the question, why should rent-controlled tenants in Soho have more protection than rent-controlled tenants in other parts of the city?)

Changing the zoning would remove protection for the artists  whether they own or rent.  They could be forced out by co-ops who want to make improvements the artist tenant-shareholders cannot afford.

While feelings certainly ran high, and at a few points, the gavel had to be used to quiet those who were talking over the designated speaker, the meeting was conducted in an orderly fashion. 

We can look forward to future developments.

*Point of information:  The popular acronym AIR which stands for Artist in Residence is incorrectly applied to Soho.  AIR appears on signs all over the city.  It’s a warning to the fire department that even though a building may look empty, there’s an artist living in it.  The sign has nothing to do with zoning requirements.

©copyright Confidence Stimpson 2011

Sunday, June 5, 2011

15 Madison Square North

(The second building profile in a series on what it costs to live on Madison Square Park and what you get for the money)

The building:

15 East 26th Street, a beige brick building constructed as offices in 1912, was converted in 2006. The top 12 floors comprise 69 residential condos (some are combinations); the lower eight floors are commercial. 

There are currently three active sales listings and one active rental listing.  As per PropertyShark, 60 of the 69 units are owner occupied.

City records show that there is no permanent certificate of occupancy.  The managing agent reports that the last Temporary C of O expired in late April.  But there are only 18 outstanding requirements, so a permanent C of O should be on its way.

What it costs to live there:

Average price per square foot for the last 12 months was $1,216.  However, all three of the sales in this period were one bedrooms facing east over Madison Avenue.  Overall APPSF would probably be higher if more sales had closed.

The most recent sale of a two bedroom apartment was in February of 2010 for $4,816,322 (the price includes closing costs), or just over $2,000/s.f.  On the 14th floor, it measured 2380 square feet, had two and a half baths and about 45 feet of south-facing windows looking over the park

Average monthly charges including real estate tax are $1.91/s.f.—not bad for a building of this size with as much staff as this one has.  And there is no abatement on the real estate taxes.  While taxes will undoubtedly continue to increase, there will be no nasty sudden upward bump because an abatement has expired.

Highest sale price in the building to date was $12,219,000, or more than $1,900/s.f., for 17AB, a 6137 square foot combination with five bedrooms and six and a half bathrooms which closed in January, 2010. It stretched the full width of the building and had 70 feet of south facing windows with full park views. 

Average rent in the building has been just under $8 per month per square foot.  For a two bedroom with home office of 2380 s.f., you’d pay $20,000 or more.

What you get:

A large staff.     There’s a concierge, 24-doorman service, porters, full-time super, superintendant, porters, etc., etc., etc.

A lot of amenities.  There’s a common roof deck, common storage, a nursery and a wine cellar.

An unusually spacious apartment with very high ceilings.   The one-bedrooms are nearly 1200 s.f. and have an extra interior room.  Two-bedrooms range from more than 1500 s.f. to about 2400.  There are also a lot of three-bedroom units—hard to find downtown unless you’re in a loft—and some with four bedrooms.  Ceilings are high, some as high as 12 feet.

Maybe a park view.    Only the A and B lines—the largest apartments—have park views.  But they’re spectacular and sunny. 

And of course, the park itself.  Madison Square Park is often called the best small park in the city, and there are many reasons for this. 

From 23rd to 26th Streets, from Madison to Fifth,  you’ll find some of the most beautiful landscaping around, always interesting outdoor art, the original Danny Meyer Shake Shack, a great kid’s playground, a huge dog run, the friendliest squirrels, the tallest trees and the greenest grass in town. 

And every time I get the chance, you’ll also find me.

Friday, June 3, 2011

One Madison Park update

Your friendly blogger told you on May 4 that had recently reported that a rescue plan was expected for the nearly empty 60-story tower at the foot of the park within one week. 

Now, more than a month later, says a rescue plan is expected within two weeks.  (There's a joke there somewhere.)

"It's taking longer than I think everybody had hoped," the attorney for the developers is quoted as saying.  No kidding.  Anyway, here's the link: