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  • But My Broker Says…

    Local brokers give us the scoop on the state of the NYC market

    By Eric Messinger

    In New York City’s notoriously difficult real estate market, buying or selling a family apartment can be a daunting task. We spoke with several local brokers to get the scoop on the state of the market right now, whether there are any “deals” left in Manhattan, and common mistakes when considering a city upgrade versus a move to the suburbs.

    Stacey Froelich & family

    Stacey Froelich & family

    Stacey Froelich, Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker with Compass

    What’s the most common mistake that first-time buyers who are either planning to have a child, or have a small child, make when buying in the city? 

    Purchasing a property that is too small without room to grow. Many customers purchase a property thinking that they will only stay in the city for three years after they have a baby. Then they have another child and they really aren’t ready to leave, but they’re cramped for space.

    Do you talk to those kinds of buyers about schools, or are they just not ready to hear it?  

    Fair Housing Law unfortunately restricts us agents from giving opinions on the quality of schools, but I can direct my customers to the proper places to learn more about the schools in the area.  The majority of my customers are focused on what school their property is zoned for even if they don’t have children yet. 

    For city owners who have a child or two, what is the most common mistake they make when considering whether to try to upgrade in the city or move to the suburbs? 

    This is a very difficult decision for most families, especially for parents that work in the city as adding a commute will limit the time they will spend with their children. Unfortunately the pricing in the city does tend to dictate the move rather than their readiness to move. The financial jump from the two-bedroom to the three-bedroom plus property is substantial. Two-bedroom and three-bedroom inventory is very limited right now. Therefore, bidding wars are common.

    Are most new ownership-type residential properties in the city condos these days? Or is it still a mix of co-ops and condos? 

    Any new building or conversion coming to market now will be a condo. In Manhattan, our supply is still 76 percent co-ops.

    New luxury housing in the city often touts amenities that, in theory, might appeal to families. In your experience, what are some building amenities that might really make a difference? For example, my building (not a new one) happens to have an affordable car garage in the building.  That’s like the single most helpful building attraction that’s ever happened to us.  

    Amenities have become very important to the condo buyer. The majority of my customers want a gym, a children’s playroom, storage, and some sort of outdoor space—either a roof deck or garden level. Other amenities, like a pool, tend not to be must-haves. Even though people want the gym, they tend to be lightly used.  I agree, having a garage is a lifesaver with kids!

    What’s a good rule of thumb for figuring out how much you can responsibly afford to pay for a home and keeping a balanced approach to your other financial goals, like saving for college and retirement?

    A necessary first step prior to buying, if financing, is to be pre-approved for a mortgage. I always refer my customers to a mortgage professional whom I trust and know will give good advice on what their buying power will be.  I have each of my buyers complete a financial statement at the beginning of our search so I know which properties will work for them. Banks generally want buyers to put down at least 20 percent and will allow a debt-to-income ratio as high as 40 percent, however co-ops have more stringent requirements. Every co-op differs on what their down payment requirement is. There are even a few cash-only buildings. A general rule of thumb for co-ops is that your debt-to-income ratio should not exceed 25 percent. A minimum requirement for liquid assets is to have at least two years of mortgage and maintenance in liquid assets in reserves after the down payment.

    Is it wise to use a broker to help you shop for an apartment, or just to sell an apartment? Do you owe any fees to a broker who helps you find a place to buy? 

    Using a professional real estate agent is crucial for buying and selling. My role as a buying agent is to guide my customers through the complex process of purchasing. I ensure that my clients focus on properties not only that they can afford, but if [it’s] a co-op, where they can pass the board. The board package is one of the most stressful parts of the process. My team and I walk our customers through each step in order to relieve the pressure and to ensure that the board sees them in the best light. In this competitive market where inventory is tight and bidding wars are prevalent, a buyer needs an experienced agent. I have a team of professionals: mortgage brokers, attorneys, contractors, architects, insurance agents, movers, etc., whom I have worked with throughout the years that I arm my customers with. The seller pays the commission in a sales transaction. A seller needs a professional agent to properly represent their property. Proper pricing is crucial. A seller’s agent will maximize the exposure their home receives, which will lead to a quicker sale to a more qualified buyer at the highest price.

    Right now, are we considered to be a in a buyer’s or seller’s market? And what’s the forecast for the next six months? 

    Properties have spent less time on the market than previous years. The US economy is currently enjoying the positive signs of growth, with a strengthening dollar, diminishing unemployment, falling energy costs, low interest rates and rising household net worth. All signs point to a strong 2015 residential Manhattan market.

    Is finding a three-bedroom (or larger) still a bit of a holy grail in Manhattan or have more opened up lately? 

    Inventory in the $1-3 million range is very limited.

    What part of the Upper East Side are you most likely to find a relative bargain? 

    Unfortunately there are no bargains in Manhattan, but you get more space for your money east of 2nd Avenue towards the river.

    Let’s get somewhat personal for a second: Where do you live in the city, and what your children’s ages? 

    I am a proud co-op owner at 363 East 76th Street on the Upper East Side.  I have two daughters: Sydney, who is 10 years old, and Jessica, who is almost 7.

    Tell us a bit about why your neighborhood and your living situation is right for your family? 

    We love living on the Upper East Side. We have every convenience and a lot of choices when it comes to parks, restaurants, supermarkets, dry cleaners, stores, schools, etc.  Soon we will have the 2nd Avenue subway, which will relieve congestion on the 6 train.

    If we gave you $4 million to buy your dream place in the city, what kind of home would you buy in what area?

    That’s a tough one, as I am not sure $4 million would buy me my fantasy home in this market. My husband and I do have a plan that after the kids leave the nest, we will retire to the West Village—our favorite neighborhood—where we will enjoy all the fabulous restaurants that we currently travel to on Saturday nights.

     

    Rebecca Buchanan & family

    Rebecca Buchanan & family

    Rebecca Buchanan, Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker, Corcoran

    What’s the most common mistake that first-time buyers who are either planning to have a child, or have a small child, make when buying in the city? 

    Not thinking far enough ahead. Many people only think of their immediate need for an extra room, and what suits their family now. What happens if you have another child or you want to get a dog?  Do you have family or friends who visit frequently, or do you need more help after a second child?  Suddenly, what felt just right can feel cramped.  It’s important to imagine different scenarios and if you think you’ll still feel comfortable, or be forced to move.  While some families are happy moving with each addition, this may not work for you.

    Do you talk to those kinds of buyers about schools, or are they just not ready to hear it?  

    One of the first questions I ask buyers is how long they see themselves staying in their next apartment. For many young families, schools aren’t even on their radar; even with young kids or just a baby on the way, it’s a great time to start researching schools.  The last thing you want is to buy a new apartment that you fall in love with, only to feel forced to move just a couple years later.

    For city owners who have a child or two, what’s the most common mistake they make when considering whether to try to upgrade in the city or move to the suburbs? 

    I think the most common mistake is to focus only on the idea of suburban living providing more space. It’s a completely different experience to raise a family in the city than the suburbs. While most of us would love a few extra rooms, is the extra space in the suburbs worth it when you need to load everyone in the car to go anywhere? Do you have very active kids that need a huge yard, or do you enjoy having the city as your backyard, with museums, zoos, parks, and incredible activities to choose from? It’s so much easier finding an activity tailored to your child’s specific interests and age group in the city.

    Are most new ownership-type residential properties in the city condos these days? Or is it still a mix of co-ops and condos? 

    It’s still a mix of co-ops and condos. Since more families are choosing to stay in the city, many new condos are being developed with larger apartments, and it’s easier to find three- and four-bedroom apartments. In an older co-op building, you’re more likely to find larger apartments that are combinations. Combining apartments can be a great option, but you need be careful of awkward layouts. 

    What’s a good rule of thumb for figuring out how much you can responsibly afford to pay for a home while keeping a balanced approach to your other financial goals, like saving for college and retirement? 

    Having a trusted financial advisor is a great way to get an in-depth look at your cash flow and help plan for all of your future goals. The rough rule of thumb for co-op buildings is having a debt-to-income ratio of 25-28 percent or less. This means that your total housing expenses and any other debts shouldn’t exceed 25-28 percent of your gross income. Condos and financial institutions are generally more flexible.

    Is it wise to use a broker to help you shop for an apartment, or just to sell an apartment? Do you owe any fees to a broker who helps you find a place to buy?  

    There is no cost for working with a broker when purchasing.  Even though there’s lots of information available online, you need to know to ask the right questions and how to interpret the data.  With your own broker, you have a partner in the transaction who can objectively tell you both the positives and negatives about an apartment.

    Is finding a three-bedroom (or larger) still a bit of a holy grail in Manhattan, or have more opened up lately? 

    Over the last five years, developers have recognized demand and have been building more three-bedroom and larger apartments.

    Right now, are we considered to be a in a buyer’s or seller’s market? And what’s the forecast for the next six months? 

    We’re currently in a seller’s market. As a buyer, there is only a small set of apartments to choose from at any moment in time, especially for affordable two-bedroom (or more) apartments in prime locations. While inventory has grown by 20 percent since last year, most of this is in high-end new developments and it’s done little to ease the significant pent-up demand for quality one- and two-bedroom apartments. I strongly recommend that buyers do their research so they’re prepared to quickly seize the opportunity when they find the right apartment. I believe supply will continue to trend upwards to match demand, and prices will remain strong.

    You specialize in downtown areas like the Village, Gramercy, and Chelsea. In which of these neighborhoods would you be most likely to find a relative bargain? 

    Gramercy has been a very stable neighborhood. While there are a number of new development condos coming at luxury prices, you can still find deals, especially on 3rd Avenue and further east.

    Let’s get somewhat personal for a second:  Where do you live in the city, and what are your children’s ages?  

    I’ve lived with my family in Gramercy for the last eight years.  Our sons are Andy, 5 years, and Ryan, 16 months, and we have a miniature schnauzer, Dax.

    Tell us a bit about why your neighborhood and your living situation is right for your family.  

    We’ve always lived downtown, but moved to Gramercy when I was pregnant with Andy. Gramercy felt like a true neighborhood with a mixture of stunning pre-war architecture and newer buildings. We enjoy frequently running into friends when walking or in the park. Initially, we were attracted to the beautiful tree-lined residential streets in the midst of a vibrant downtown community.

    If we gave you $4 million to buy your dream place in the city, what kind of home would you buy in what area?

    I recently saw an incredible loft on 11th Street in Greenwich Village. It was a classic loft with soaring ceilings and exposed brick. It had recently been renovated and the designer’s touches were stunning. No details were overlooked. It’s rare to find lofts with three walls of windows and no dead space in the middle. I love having a large, open entertaining space. This one even had a playroom with a built-in tree house and slide. Just seeing it made me picture my sons giggling in delight on their way down!

     

    Danny Davis, Representative, Licensed Real Estate Salesperson, TOWN Residential

    For city owners, who have a child or two, what is the most common mistake they make when considering whether to try to upgrade in the city or move to the suburbs? 

    One of the biggest mistakes that I have seen far too many times is when the second child is born, the family decides that they “have” to sell and move to the suburbs. Quickly seeing that the grass is not greener, they desperately miss the city and want to move back, but in many cases find themselves priced out.

    Are most new ownership-type residential properties in the city condos these days? Or is it still a mix of co-ops and condos? 

    image1

    Danny Davis & family

    The housing stock in each neighborhood varies, [but] with new developments [it’s] almost exclusively condos.

    New luxury housing in the city often touts amenities that, in theory, might appeal to families. But in your experience, what are some building amenities that might really make a difference to a family?  

    A children’s playroom is always a huge benefit–especially during cold winter months. The best rooms are welcoming with space to play and ideally provide separate areas for various age groups. Other amenities that also top the list are in-building garages and proper gyms.

    Is it wise to use a broker to help you shop for an apartment, or just to sell an apartment? Do you owe any fees to a broker who helps you find a place to buy? 

    There is always significant value in using a real estate broker. This is what we do for a living—we understand the inventory and market intricacies, and how to close the deal while achieving the best results for our buyers and sellers. Sure, you can find listings on StreetEasy, but the information is not always accurate, and the pros and cons of the property are not presented within the context of the market or the buyer’s needs. I pride myself on knowing the ins and outs of every building, from the application process to the financial health and the current neighborhood amenities, to the hottest things slated to come. Buyers who use me to represent them know that when I call or email about a specific listing, that they should come running.

    Is finding a three-bedroom (or larger) still a bit of a holy grail in Manhattan, or have more opened up lately?  

    We are no longer living in a time when one would think about starting a family and immediately start looking at houses in NJ or Westchester. I see the size of the NYC family growing–I would say the average family I work with has three kids. And why not? NYC has become incredibly kid-friendly, the parks and playgrounds are incredible, and the schools keep getting better and better with afterschool options to match. I am raising my five children in Tribeca, and cannot imagine living anywhere else. I see a lot of three-bedroom apartments, and where I live in Tribeca, it’s not uncommon for developers to build four- and five-bedroom homes.

    Right now, are we considered to be a in a buyer’s or seller’s market? And what’s the forecast for the next six months? 

    I would still say we are experiencing a seller’s market, as inventory is still quite low, and bidding wars on re-sales are frequent. It’s true that there’s a lot more new development out there; however, these properties are 1-2 years away though they are already being sold. As always, it is all about supply and demand, and the demand is there!

    You seem to specialize in Tribeca and thereabouts. Pick a slice of the city around there– Tribeca, Financial District, Battery Park City, Chinatown–and let us know where one would be most likely to find a relative bargain.  

    I think the Financial District has a considerable amount of appreciation value. The area is quickly evolving into a bustling, 24-hours-a-day destination with luxury amenities including the spa at the Setai Club and Equinox; world-renowned retailers like Hermès, Tiffany, PINK, Saks Fifth Avenue, Michael Kors, and Stuart Weitzman; plus fine eateries including Capital Grill, Cipriani Wall Street, and Tom Colicchio and Keith McNally’s highly anticipated 5 Beekman Street restaurants.  Industries ranging from finance to creative to technology, and firms like Condé Nast, We Work, Droga5, Standard & Poor’s, and Nielsen Company, among others, all call the Financial District home.

    Let’s get somewhat personal for a second:  Where do you live in the city, and what your children’s ages? 

    I live on Laight and Hudson, in the heart of northwest Tribeca. My oldest son is almost 12, my daughter is 10, my son is 7, and then we have identical twin girls almost 2.5 years old.

    Tell us a bit about why your neighborhood and your living situation is right for your family.

    Having five kids, we are focusing on the public school system over private [schools]. We purchased in Tribeca to take advantage of what I consider one of the best public school districts [and schools]—PS 234. We have been blessed to have a great experience at this school, and our kids are thriving. We are also in District 2 for middle and high school—and before going through the process, I had no idea how many incredible schools were available to us. We are also surrounded by the best preschools—and will be back to Washington Market [School] again in the fall with the twins.

    In addition, I truly feel Tribeca has a small-town feel, in the big city. People smile on the streets; everyone knows each other. When our twins were born, and our oldest was concerned he would be late for school, we had no problem allowing him to walk to school by himself at age 9.5. And so he did. I recall several parents texting me or my wife that they just saw Rea, and he looked both ways when crossing the street. It was very sweet.

    I also love the parks, the big fields, Pier 25, and living by the waterfront is priceless. As an avid biker, I love the bike paths along the Hudson.

     

    Tamara Abir, Licensed Real Estate Salesperson, Halstead Brooklyn, LLC

    What’s the most common mistake that first-time buyers who are either planning to have a child, or have a small child, make when buying in the city? 

    Often new parents or couples anticipating starting a family try to look for a place they can stay in “forever,” but the truth is that most people move every 5-7 years. And while more space can be wonderful when you have a growing family (and the mountains of stuff that comes with it), buyers may miss out on a great opportunity that would work well for the medium term while they’re holding out for a long-term dream home

    Do you talk to those kinds of buyers about schools, or are they just not ready to hear it? 

    Abir Family Best(1)

    Tamara Abir & family

    While some new parents, understandably, are very concerned with school zones when they’re looking for a home, it’s very hard to know whether a school will be the right fit for your kid when they get to Kindergarten, even if it’s a highly-rated school. There are also lots of non-zoned options, especially in Brooklyn. There are wonderful charter schools, district-wide and lottery public schools, and amazing private schools. I encourage my buyers to research all their options, but also to keep in mind that they’re not married to their zoned public school.

    For city owners who have a child or two, what is the most common mistake they make when considering whether to try to upgrade in the city or move to the suburbs? 

    Everyone has their own priorities when considering where to live. I think it’s important to spend a lot of time in the neighborhood or town you’re considering moving to, and not just to rely on what other people have to say about living there. If you’re considering moving to a town or neighborhood that you don’t know well, I’d recommend renting for a year to see how you like it and [getting a sense of] the ideal location for your family before making a purchase.

    Are most new ownership-type residential properties in the city condos these days? Or is it still a mix of co-ops and condos?  

    In Brooklyn, there are very few new developments that are not condos. In fact, I don’t know of any new construction co-ops.

    New luxury housing in the city often touts amenities that, in theory, might appeal to families. But in your experience, what are some building amenities that might really make a difference to a family?  

    A common outdoor space that is kid-friendly can be a lifesaver for families with young kids. In fact, a common outdoor space where families can gather with their kids is often more useful that private outdoor space, because the kids are happy to have friends to play with and the parents can socialize at the same time. Similarly, a great playroom that’s well-stocked with larger toys that you may not have room for in your apartment is fantastic for rainy days and wintertime.

    What’s a good rule of thumb for figuring out how much you can responsibly afford to pay for a home, while keeping a balanced approach to your other financial goals like college savings and retirement planning?

    Everyone’s needs and goals are different. I think the most important thing is to make the time to create a budget, realistically look at your financial situation, and anticipate what you’ll have to pay for 10, 20, 40 years down the road. For many people, investing in a home is part of their college savings and retirement plan.

    Is it wise to use a broker to help you shop for an apartment, or just to sell an apartment? Do you owe any fees to a broker who helps you find a place to buy? 

    An agent can make the difference in your winning out in a bidding war, or introducing you to buildings and neighborhoods that you might not have considered. It doesn’t cost you anything to use an agent to represent you in a purchase, but they represent you all the way through the process and make sure you get to the closing table efficiently and with as little drama as possible. If you don’t use your own agent for a purchase, the selling agent, who is a fiduciary of the seller, will be guiding you through the process. You should have someone representing you who is your fiduciary and has your best interests in mind first and foremost.

    Is finding a three-bedroom (or larger) still a bit of a holy grail in Manhattan, or have more opened up lately?  

    There are three-bedroom apartments out there, but they are in very high demand. In a lot of the new construction coming to Brooklyn, there are larger floorplans with hefty price tags attached. However, Brooklyn also has an amazing stock of fantastic townhomes and gorgeous pre-war buildings with gracious floorplans throughout the borough.

    Right now, are we considered to be a in a buyer’s or seller’s market? And what’s the forecast for the next six months? 

    It’s a seller’s market in Brooklyn, and while things may settle down a bit as more new inventory hits the market, the demand is so high—I don’t think that will change any time soon.

    What parts of Brooklyn do you specialize in?  Pick one or two areas–one established, and one upcoming–and please let us know slivers in those areas where one might find a relative bargain.   

    I work in neighborhoods all over Brooklyn, from BoCoCa (Boerum Hill-Cobble Hill-Carroll Gardens) to Bed-Stuy, DUMBO to Ditmas, and everywhere in between. I’m based in Park Slope-Prospect Heights, but recently I’ve sold several townhomes in Greenpoint, which is a neighborhood where your money can go a bit farther. Windsor Terrace and Kensington are also great neighborhoods to consider where the prices are less astronomical.

    Let’s get somewhat personal for a second: Where do you live in the city, and what your children’s ages? 

    I live in Park Slope and my kids are 8, 6, 3, and 4 months.

    Tell us a bit about why your neighborhood and your living situation is right for your family. 

    We live on the border of Park Slope and Prospect Heights in a 3-bedroom, 1,500 square-foot apartment in a 47-unit condo building. For us, the size of our place is ideal. We can keep an eye on the kids while we’re cooking or working, and the kids are forced into sharing their space and their lives, but there’s still enough room for us to spread out a bit, too. As a result, they’re all very close with each other and enjoy hanging out together. We also love the proximity to many of our favorite parts of Brooklyn, and with the B/Q stop less than a block away, we can get to any part of the city very easily. We spend a lot of time in Prospect Park and at all of the excellent playgrounds in the neighborhood, but also love to explore new places like Governor’s Island and Brooklyn Bridge Park.

    If we gave you $4 million that you had to use to buy a new place in the city, what would be your fantasy purchase? What kind of apartment would you buy in what area?  

    I love living in a building, with less responsibility for upkeep and a community of neighbors to share the load. My dream home would be a 2,500 square-foot duplex penthouse with some amenities like a roof deck or courtyard and a fitness center in BoCoCa, Prospect Heights or Fort Greene. I like being in the center of the action, and our kids feel very connected to our neighborhood, so I wouldn’t venture too far from where we live now. We are Brooklynites, through and through!

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