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.