Archive for January, 2012


In the News

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1/6/12:  Silk Stocking District Still Hotter Than the Trendiest Neighborhoods:  ‘Last year, the somewhat stodgy “Silk Stocking District” of the Upper East Side fared better than hip new downtown and uptown enclaves in terms of their absorption rates — the percentage of listings that went into contract or were taken off the market.’  Read about it at

1/18/12:  ‘Medical Arms Race’ Spurs Massive Health Development on East Side:   “At a time when the city’s public hospitals are struggling and Brooklyn hospitals are facing possible closures, top-tier East Side institutions — including the Hospital for Special Surgery, NYU Langone Medical Center, Lenox Hill Hospital, Weill Cornell Medical College and Mount Sinai Medical Center — could dramatically reshape the city’s landscape over the next five years as they expand their footprints, modernize and adapt to upcoming health care reforms.”  Read about it at

 1/21/12:  Chefs, Butlers, Marble Baths:  Hospitals Vie for the Affluent:  “Pampering and décor to rival a grand hotel, if not a Downton Abbey, have long been the hallmark of such “amenities units,” often hidden behind closed doors at New York’s premier hospitals.”  Read about it in the New York Times

1/22/12:  Massive, Exclusive Full Floor UES Co-op Wants $30M:  “It’s not every day when a unit at the fabled 2 East 67th Street comes onto the market, and this massive full floor unit is certainly impressive.”  See the floor plan and read about it at Curbed

1/24/12:  East River Underwater Turbines Give Jolt to City Power Grid:  Using underwater turbines in the East River off the coast of Roosevelt Island, Verdant Power will be electrifying New York with roughly 1 megawatt captured from the strait’s natural tidal currents — enough for an estimated 1,000 city homes.  Read about it at

1/25/12:  A-Rod sells his NYC condo for a considerable profit:  “According to the Wall Street Journal the New York Yankees third baseman has already received a contract for his 3,500-square-foot condo on the 35th floor of the Rushmore building on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.”  Read about it at YAHOO! Sports



Shopping for the Best Mortgage Rates

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 Are you enticed by the mortgage interest lowest rates in decades? If so you’re not alone, but they are often out of borrowers’ reach. Lenders base their rates on perceived risk. Only if you can show you’re low-risk would you qualify for a rate that matches those seen in headlines.

If you’re looking for the lowest available rates consider these basic factors:

  • Credit Score: The ideal FICO score is around 740 or higher. This will put you in the best place for pricing.
  • Points: 1% of the loan amount is a point, and by paying points you can reduce your mortgage rate. Be sure to ask for a zero point quote as well to compare the two rates.
  • Property Types: Such property types as duplexes, condominiums in newer buildings or with lower down payments, commercial properties or non-owner occupied properties come with higher rates.
  • Down Payment: Experts say putting down at least 25% could lead to more attractive pricing. Lenders offer different breaks on rates if equity is higher.
  • Loan Length: ARM and 15-year loans are often lower than those on the 30-year loan. Consider how long you plan to live in the property and weigh your options.
  • Other considerations:
    • Lock-in: You may receive a lower rate for a shorter lock period 30-45 days rather than the usual 60 days
    • Additional ownership costs, taxes, insurance and maintenance.

 Inspired by New York Times Article by Vickie Elmer published January 12, 201









Mortgage Market Trends for week ending January 27, 2012

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 The Federal Reserve took center stage last week following through with its commitment to become more transparent.  The Fed has revealed that it intends to keep rates “extraordinarily low” for a longer period than thought, potentially through 2014.  Additionally, the Fed has now officially stated that it will use an inflation target to help control monetary policy.  Following the Fed’s announcement, Fed Chair Bernanke revealed that the Fed is considering a QE3, potentially later this year.  Mortgage rates had been on the rise until this statement which many interpreted as the fed showing signs that it has significant concerns about the overall state of the economic recovery.

This week is jam packed with economic news and data for markets to digest.  We have both ISM Indices due, Consumer confidence, and the monthly employment data.  Should any of these reports reveal signs of economic slowing, mortgage rates are likely to move back toward record lows.  However, a week of positive economic data could nudge rates just slightly higher at the week’s end.


 Graph Courtesy from NY Times in an article by Vickie Elmer January 27, 2012.  Data and Commentary provided by Noori Rafael, from GFI Capital Resources Group, Inc.

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NEW YORK, January 26, 2012 – The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) has released the results of its Residential Brokers Survey for the fourth quarter 2011. 

  • New York City average home prices and sales citywide declined compared to the same time last year
  • 60 percent of the brokers surveyed are optimistic for 2012 and expect next quarter’s residential market to be slightly better or much better than this quarter
  • There was a seven percent increase in brokers reporting executing contracts of sale at the $3 million and above price range

Top 4 Building Features/Amenities:

  • Doorman building
  • Laundry in unit
  •  Private storage space
  • On-site fitness center

Most Popular Areas:

  • East Side with 27 percent of all closed sales,
  • Downtown with 22 percent of all closed sales
  • West Side with 19 percent of all closed sales
  • Brooklyn with 16 percent of all closed sales.

 Excerpted from REBNY Press Release January 26, 2012

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Maintenance Fees are More than Just Maintenance

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For most buyers in Manhattan, getting past the asking price of a co-op or condo is only the first in a series of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.  The monthly maintenance fee is the second.  From a few hundred dollars a month to a few thousand depending on the various buildings, most owners find the maintenance fee never goes down, and rarely stays constant.   Most are adjusted on an annual basis.

Buyers need to be concerned about the fee as a direct impact on the property value, not just because of the cash going out every month.  The maintenance fee covers operating costs:  Staff Salaries, management fees, heat, water and sewer and other items.  In co-ops, the real estate tax bill and underlying mortgages on the entire building is part of the maintenance fee, and is proportional to the number of shares you own in the co-op corporation.

Condos are different. The common charges still cover the operating costs the same as co-ops, but the property tax bill goes directly to the owner because of the different ownership type.  Condos may have more amenities but lower common charges due to this distinction.

According to the Council of New York Tax Cooperatives and Condominiums, the fees have skyrocketed over the last decade.  For example, the median maintenance fee for co-ops on the West Side of Manhattan rose by 59% between 2000 and 2009, while condo common charges increased by 38% city-wide for the same period.

Increasing Real Estate Taxes are the main reason for the rise in co-op fees.  Both the tax rate and the assessment of property values have increased in recent years.  On the West Side, co-op median real estate taxes increased by 116% between 2000 and 2009.   On the East Side in 2000, 23% of the maintenance paid was attributed to taxes; by 2009, that figure had risen to 33.3%, indicating that taxes were a larger portion of the maintenance fees.

Land Leases are another issue for increased maintenance fees for some co-ops.  As a number of co-ops do not own the land their building sits upon, rather rents the land.  Some of those leases are coming up for renewal soon, and the experts predict there will be a huge jump in cost.

Finding savings to offset the increases is difficult.  Most costs are fixed, including salaries, taxes, insurance, upkeep and utilities.  Several co-ops have hired consultants to check for water leaks, while others are switching to natural gas from oil heat.  Still others are metering each apartment’s utilities separately.

Many co-ops are refinancing their underlying mortgages to take advantage of low interest rates.  Others are generating income by imposing or increasing fees for using the bike room, moving in or out or renting a unit.

Reviewing a building’s financials will give a buyer an understanding of how a building spends its money.  If you disagree with how a building spends the fees, there’s little point in moving there.   See our Series on reviewing building financials starting with  ‘Tis the Season: Many Manhattan Coop Financial Statements Are Released In May.

Inspired by New York Times Article on Jan 15, 2012 by Jim Rendon.

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Enticing Foreign Investors – Buy a home get a Visa?

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Recnetly,  U.S. Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Mike Lee (R-UT)  introduced a bill that would allow foreigners who spend at least $500,000 on residential property to obtain visas allowing them to live in the United States.  The “Visa Improvements to Stimulate International Tourism to the United States of America Act”, or VISIT-USA Act is similar to an existing program that puts foreigners on a fast track to a green card if they invest at least $500,000 in an American business that creates at least 10 jobs.

The legislation would create a new homeowner visa that would be renewable every three years, but would not be a path to citizenship.  There are a number of stipulations and restrictions, however:

  • To be eligible, a person would have to buy a primary residence of at least $250,000 and spend a total of $500,000 on residential real estate.  Other properties could be rented.
  • The purchase would have to be in cash, no mortgage or home equity loan allowed.
  • The property would have to be bought for more than its most recent appraised value
  • Buyer would have to live in home for at least 180 days each year, requiring paying US Income taxes on any foreign earnings.
  • Visa eligibility would be revoked if property was sold.
  • Work visas still must be obtained to hold a job.
  • Neither buyer nor dependents would be eligible to receive Medicaid, Medicare or Social Security benefits.

Some brokers say that a visa incentive to foreign buyers could potentially even triple sales in their markets. 

“California, Florida, New York, Colorado, Hawaii, and Texas — those states will see a huge increase in demand,” Sandra Miller, a broker at Engel & Volkers in Santa Monica, told the Los Angeles Times.

Source:  Los Angeles Times story

Categories : Buyers, Foreign, The Process
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In the News

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1/6/12:  From the New York Times:  Living Above the Stove.  “The Five Boroughs of New York have more than 23,000 restaurants.  But what of the tenants who live above them?  Read about it in the New York Times.

1/13/12:  From the New York Times:  Not for Vampires Only.  “Some New Yorkers seek dim, dark spaces that admit little sense of the throbbing city outside their doors.  Read about it in the New York Times.

1/16/12:  From the  New York Post:  Rents Soar as Apartments Dwindle:  “Manhattan rents soared 8.6 percent last year — reaching pre-2007-crash highs — while vacancy rates plummeted and residents grabbed apartments at a near-record pace, new industry reports show.  Read more about it in the New York Post.

 1/19/12: From Prudential Douglas Elliman:  Exclusive 4th Quarter  2011 Queens Sales Market Report.  Get the full report

1/19/12:  From Prudential Douglas Elliman:  Exclusive 4th Quarter 2011 Brooklyn Sales Market Report.  Get the full report

1/20/12:  From New York Times:  Big Ticket:  Sold $9.5 Million:  The biggest sale of the past week according to city records was a TriBeCa penthouse selling for $9.5 Million.  Read about it in the New York Times.

This week, we released our Fourth Quarter report for the Manhattan Residenital Rental Market.  Manhattan Residential Rentals Market Overview Q4 2011 reported here and summarized below was prepared by Miller Samuel for Prudential Douglas Elliman.

“Tight mortgage credit conditions continued to drive rental prices and activity higher.”

  • The median net effective rent (face rent less landlord concessions) jumped 9.5% from $2,950 to $3,121 in the same period last year. The year-over-year-gains were consistent across all rental price indicators.
  • The 2-bedroom and 3-bedroom markets outpaced their smaller counterparts,increasing 14% and 18.1% respectively over the same period.
  • New rental activity (excluding lease renewals) was up 10% from 7,217 to 7,942 in the same quarter last year.
  • About 7.4% of new leases had some form of landlord concession compared to the 40.5% in the prior year quarter. For those leases with concessions, the average amount was the equivalent of 1.2 months of free rent.
  • Days on market—the number of days from original list date to lease signing—was at its second fastest pace of 37 days in 15 years, which is when we began tracking this metric.


Getting Started – Homework for Manhattan Condo Buyers

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With an aging housing inventory, new condominiums have quite an appeal in Manhattan.  Luxury amenities like pools and play areas, high end finishes add to the appeal.

New condos have a few drawbacks, however: often higher selling prices and closing costs as well as difficulties in obtaining loans.  New buildings must have offering plans approved by the state attorney general’s office, detailing important points about the building.  This complex document can be intimidating to the lay person. 

Bringing in a good attorney familiar with new construction to review the offering plan early in the process can save a client thousands of dollars by identifying taxes and fees that can be negotiated.

Tax abatement is another point that bears close scrutiny.    While it is a great selling point because it keeps monthly costs lower for a while, an attorney can help determine the time span of the abatement and what the tax bill could be when the abatement expires.

Closing costs are much higher on new construction.  Expect to pay the transfer tax and the seller’s attorney fees in addition to the customary closing costs for established apartments.

Be sure the building has a temporary certificate of occupancy, required before you can close on an apartment in a new building.  Check the Building Department Website

Financing a new condo can be difficult.  Buyers may be approved for a loan, but it is entirely possible the building will not qualify.   Certain FHA and Fannie Mae requirements may preclude the building, such as flood zone or percentage of sold apartments.  Individual banks may have their own additional requirements.  Many new buildings have preferred lenders and mortgage brokers to overcome this hurdle.

Appraisals must match the purchase price.  It is not unusual to have difficulties finding nearby comparables to the new apartment you wish to buy, causing appraisals to come in lower than expected. 

Inspections are recommended for new construction.  Cost cutting measures like lower-quality windows and problem with floors or exterior stucco may affect the quality of your life.  Significant problems can be addressed in the contract.  Smaller issues like paint drips or broken screens should be addressed on a ‘punch list’.

Doing your homework now can save you a lot of aggravation down the road.

 Inspired by New York Times Article by Jim Rendon, published October 30, 2011


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Sellers in Manhattan are Renovating

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The decision to sell an old apartment can be liberating.  Old counter tops and kitchen appliances can start you dreaming of a fresh start in a new kitchen with shiny appliances and granite countertops.

But buyers are more discerning than ever, and squeaky or stained floors and cracked laminate countertops can sink a potential sale as fast as an outdated kitchen or bath.

Renovations before the open house can attract a buyer faster.  Buyers today want move-in ready, a far cry from the boom years when buyers would buy anything with walls and a floor, and often will pass up the older units in need of updating.

It might go against the grain to spend money on an apartment you’re leaving behind, but it can be money well spent, setting your apartment above the dozen or so apartments a buyer is considering.  You may not be able to add the cost of the renovation to your asking price, however in most cases, if you don’t renovate, you may need to reduce your asking price, causing people to wonder what is wrong with the place.

It may not make sense to spend a huge amount of money.  With a fresh coat of paint and skillful staging, you can present a buyer with an attractive property, even if you can’t swing the $50,000 kitchen renovation.  Of course every case is different and you should consult your broker when making a decision on whether a renovation is ‘worth it’ in order to sell. 

 Inspired by New York Times article by C. J.  Hughes published November 4, 2011.

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Our Q4 Manhattan Market Overview was released today and summarized below was prepared by Miller Samuel for Prudential Douglas Elliman.

“After a year of mixed economic news, the Manhattan housing market, while continuing to experience overall price stability, closed out the year with a slower pace of sales.”

  •  Median sales price was $855,000, a modest 1.2% increase from $845,000 in the prior year quarter. Price per square foot increased 5.6% to $1,117 from $1,058 over the same period.
  • There were 2,011 sales in the fourth quarter, 12.4% less than 2,295 in the prior year quarter. The fourth quarter had the lowest number of sales since the same period six years ago, perhaps related to the unusual surge in sales in the prior quarter. Pending sales were also below the prior year level.
  • There were 7,221 active listings at the end of the fourth quarter, essentially unchanged from the same period last year, but 2.6% less than the ten-year quarterly average of 7,412.
  • Days on market—the number of days from the last price change if any to the contract date—saw a modest 5 day increase to 130 days from 125 days, still consistent with the 132 day average for the prior decade.
  • Listing discount—the percent difference between the list price at time of sale to the sales price—fell to 4.9% from 8% in the same period last year.


Mortgage Market Trends for week ending December 30, 2011

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The news is understandably slow the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. The most notable release was last Friday’s news on new home sales, which rose to an annualized rate of 315,000 units in November, a 1.6-percent gain over October.

To be sure, we have a long way to go until we reach the normalized construction rate of 1.5-million units per year. Nevertheless, we expect the new-home market to gain pace in 2012. After all, there are only 158,000 units in inventory. Even at the current slow sales pace, this equates to a record low six-month supply
Over the past three years, new-home construction has fallen far below historical norms and also below the level needed to keep pace with population growth. The fact is our country gains roughly 2.7 million people and one million new households annually.

You might not see supply as a problem. We are all familiar with the glut of distressed properties. Indeed, Bank of America expects eight million distressed homes to come to market over the next four years. These homes, we’ve so often heard, will continue to depress new home construction.

We view B-of-A’s outlook with a skeptical eye. There is a likely prospect that many of these distressed properties will simply go away. Destruction is too frequently overlooked in many supply projections. A house is not a permanent structure. Many are destroyed by fire, wind and flood each year. Many more are lost through simple decay and abandonment. Based on U.S. Census data, 300,000 homes are lost annually. That number will surely rise in years to come.

In short, the math – low inventory plus more households minus more home destruction – suggests to us a rebound in new-home construction. We are not alone in this contention, either. Wells Fargo projects that housing starts will continue to rise each year for the next five years before reaching once again the normalized construction rate of 1.5-million units annually by 2017.

Of course, projections are one thing, betting on those projections is another. Here, we see an encouraging trend. Big money is starting to wager on housing. The Wall Street Journal reports that many large hedge funds are investing billions in housing-related investments. Other investors have followed suit. Shares of homebuilders are up 30 percent over the past three months, making them one of the best performing investments in the market.

Up For A New Year

As we approach the end of the old year nearly all of us stop to ask, “How will the new year unfold?” Of course, none of us know with any certainty the answer to that question, but it can be insightful (and fun) to ponder. So, how will 2012 unfold, at least as it pertains to the housing and mortgage markets?

Both markets will obviously be influenced by economic growth, which, in turn, will spur job growth. We see a pick up in economic growth and job growth in 2012.
The economy has been growing at a sluggish rate for too long now. The United States is unique in that Americans tire of pessimism quicker than most other cultures, and then we do something about it. In our opinion, rising consumer confidence points to a lot of pent-up demand that is waiting to bust loose, and will bust loose in 2012.

A pick up in demand, in turn, necessitates new hires. In fact, a recent survey by found that nearly one in four employers is keen to add new permanent full-time employees. These employers are simply waiting for a clear sign the coast is clear. We think they will get that sign in the first quarter of 2012.

Greater economic activity will obviously impact the housing market. We see accelerated sales volume in both the new and existing home markets. We also expect to see prices stabilize in the first half of the year, and then appreciate perceptibly in the second half.

As for the mortgage market? This is much more difficult to call. The Federal Reserve has stated it intends to hold rates low through 2012. However, all it takes are a few persuasive signs that the economy is back on track, and the Fed could easily backtrack from its stated goals. All we can say is that we would be much less surprised to see mortgage rates 50 basis points higher six months from today than 50 basis points lower.

Graph Courtesy from NY Times in an article by Vickie Elmer December 29, 2011.  Data and Commentary provided by Fred Ashe, from DE Capital Mortgage.