We mortals have been working for a long time.  Long before we became humans or even mammals. It is many a wise person’s belief that, right up there with food, water, clothing, shelter, and air, is work!  Earning a little coin forges pride and achievement, allows us to take care of ourselves and others, and provides much needed social contact – albeit, these days, virtually.  Suffice to say, weeks before we were permitted to, my colleagues and I were in a lather, chomping at the bit to get back to one of the essentials of real estate life – showing property. On June 22nd, Phase 2 began and with it, real estate agents in NYC were permitted to work again. 

For me, Phase 2 felt more like crossing to Staten Island on a raft than driving over the Verrazano. I had strategized and planned for weeks so that I could hit the ground running. When the time came to finally bring strangers into my client’s homes, theory collided with practice harder than Foreman ever hit Ali.  Here are just a few observations of how the sausage is made during COVID.


Everyone is nice.  Really nice. One Sunday, I conducted ten separate half-hour showings of the same apartment.  Not a person complained about the mask, the shoes off, the hand sanitizer, the no touching, – the annoying inconvenience of it all. Admittedly, I was at my most charming and apologetic, but my experience with buyers since June 22nd is only positive. 

BTW, that night, at 8pm, after ten separate charming showings, I went right to bed!


We are working a lot more for a lot less. The ten, half-hour showings could have been squeezed into a single one hour open house pre-COVID. As alluded to above, each showing requires said agent to be the toucher and the opener. This leads to a lot more showing, a lot more talking, a lot more joke making, etc. Yes! I know! I’m whining but I haven’t even mentioned the four, two-page disclosures that have to be reviewed and executed via DocuSign for each showing!


It’s easier to spot the real buyers. In my business, we call a “real buyer,” someone who is ready to move forward immediately. This usually means that they have a knowledgeable buyer’s broker, know what they want, know their price point, have retained an attorney, are pre-approved for a mortgage or paying all cash, and know when they want to close. These attributes are the attributes of our dream buyer.  75% to 90% of the buyers I have encountered during COVID fall into this category.  In the epoch of pre-COVID, said buyer showed up only 10% to 25% of the time (fodder for another post, but if a listing is overpriced, the percentage drops to near 0%).  So yes, if you surmised that in this aspect of my work, I am working less – you are correct!


Presentation is paramount.  Photos and staging have always been important, but now that consumers have more time on their hands, they are looking more closely at property photos and videos.  As a result, solely because they liked the way we present our listings online, we have had a number of clients hire us without ever meeting me in person. Thank you Melanie, Orik, and Compass Concierge, we couldn’t have done it without you.  And, of course, the Virtual Tour technology is the bomb.  Everyone asks for it!  It also substantially increases web hits and property saves.    


Postscript thoughts:

  • People are more or less adapting and we may never go back to the “old way.”   
  • No one sells a property because they sent out an email blast to 10,000 agents or because they sent postcards to 1,000 homes in the neighborhood. They are a waste of time and money. There! I said it!
  • My Goodness! The NY Times Real Estate search aggregator is awful!
  • I love working from home.  

Condo Versus Co-op

The rules for dinner conversation, as stated by many of Brooklyn’s esteemed successfulites are, 1) Never discuss religion; 2) Never discuss politics; and 3) Never discuss condo versus co-op. In light of this very wise counsel, I ask that you not read the following while eating your supper.

Why are co-ops held in such poor regard by some?  For starters, one does not own one’s co-op apartment.  Instead one owns stock in a corporation – a.k.a. the co-op.  The co-op in turn issues the shareholder a lease to occupy the apartment, essentially making the owner a tenant. And here’s the rub: because the co-op technically owns the apartment, it can – and does – place restrictions on how the tenant can use, occupy, and resell the apartment. This means, that in extreme cases, the co-op can force a “bad” or “disruptive” tenant to sell his or her shares and move out, i.e. evict. Furthermore, in contrast to a condo or townhouse, a co-op apartment owner may not sell his apartment until the purchaser is first approved by the co-op board. One may not even bequeath the apartment to one’s heirs without the board’s approval.  And sometimes…the board does not approve. As damning as that sounds, it’s still not the primary reason my buyers say they prefer a condo over a co-op.  It is – drum roll please – the sublet policy. Co-ops place restrictions on the amount of time and to whom you can sublet your apartment to.  Today’s buyers have plans to work in Europe, study on the west coast, and join the circus.  It’s understandable that they don’t want a “nonsensical” board approval or sublet policy to stand in their way.

So, in most buyers’ minds, the obvious advantage to purchasing a condo, is that you are not purchasing a co-op. Here are a few more check marks in the condo column:

  • ·        The carrying costs tend to be lower. In general, condo buildings are newer. Newer buildings mean less wear and tear, and less wear and tear means less expensive repairs to pay for.  Add into the mix New York City’s generous tax abatements and a condo’s monthly expenses are often very attractive.
  • ·        Apartment repairs and upgrades are easy. Want to renovate your kitchen? Split that oversized bedroom into two? Add a bay window? No problem.  Your apartment is your castle and no one can tell you what you can do with it.
  • ·        Did we mention no board approval or sublet policy?

In addition to being a non-starter for the majority of today’s buyers, a co-op’s rules and procedures can cause much rancor for a co-op board who manages its affairs poorly. However, the perceived or unperceived perils of a co-op become clear advantages when put into the hands of a well-run co-op, and luckily for all, in Brooklyn, most fall into this category.  Here’s how: 


  • ·        Co-ops tend to be occupied by owners. They don’t attract short term buyers, and more importantly, don’t attract investors who never plan on living in the building.  A co-op’s sublet policy can be a real drag, but your neighbors tend to take a real interest in the quality of the building, the co-op employees, the common areas, and the shared services.  This creates a more stable environment (and, in my humble opinion, a nicer looking lobby). 
  • ·        It’s often easier to refinance. Your apartment, in a six unit building with only one other owner occupied apartment, is not going to be approved for a mortgage. In order to obtain bank financing, more than 50% of a building’s units must be owner occupied. Again, the co-op’s disastrous sublet policy to the rescue.  Co-ops are almost always between 51% and 90% owner occupied, meaning: not only are the occupants able to re-finance, they are able to sell their apartments to someone who is getting financing.  (Condo owners often have trouble selling their apartments when less than 50% of their building’s units are owner occupied).
  • ·        With the board approval process, there is a real advantage to being able to vet (financially and otherwise) the people you are going to share walls, and expenses with. (Here’s a great NY Times article demonstrating that some condo associations also see this as an advantage: Condos Steal a Page (or 20) from Co-ops).
  • ·        Co-ops can obtain an underlying mortgage, using their building as collateral. Condo associations don’t own their buildings and can only obtain a line of credit for much less money. This gives a co-op great flexibility when managing expenses and an additional write-off for its members.
  • ·        For a small number of units, co-ops can’t be beat.  If I asked you to purchase a townhouse with three other individuals that you have never met, have no idea of their job or financial status, and who may not ever live in the building, would you do it?  Probably not, but that is a fairly accurate description of ownership in a small condo building.
  • ·        The purchasing costs (i.e. price per square foot) tend to be anywhere from 10 to 50 percent lower (e.g., as of this writing, StreetEasy lists the median price per square foot for all NYC condos as $1333, while for co-ops it is $500).
  • ·         The closing costs for a purchaser are substantially lower.  There is no mortgage tax with a co-op, and title insurance is almost non-existent.
  • ·         Did we mention the board-approval and sublet policy.


Please comment freely on this article.  I’m very interested to learn what type of purchase you prefer and why.  Co-op vs. Condo? 

Thanks for reading.

Who You Know Votes Where

Skeleton of nonpareils by artist, Heather Cox

Today I took a break from work to pop into one of the artist studios participating in A.G.A.S.T., Annual Gowanus Artists Studio Tour. It’s great, it’s one of a kind, and I highly recommend it over a Fox NFL Sunday. Hurry up though, it’s only a two day festival and tomorrow’s the last day. The tour encompasses 28 different studios in the Gowanus Canal area. My friends Mical Moser and Heather Cox can be found at 295 Douglas St, between 3rd and 4th Avenues. I may be biased, but I think you should visit them  first.
 Author's cousins in Vermont

Mical Moser’s Map of Who You Know Votes Where



Annual Gowanus Artists Studio Tour

Oct 18 & 19, 1PM-6PM

The Secret

An Open House in Park Slope Brooklyn

Fig 1-5, An unidentified broker documents his time at a recent open house.

Pssssst. Hey you. Yeah you: Mr. Buyer. Want to know a secret? Come over here. A little closer. Closer. Clooooser. Now listen carefully. We are not very busy. No- scratch that, we are not busy at all…OK, it’s dead out here. August is always dead. Really dead. Our open houses are poorly attended. Our blackberries aren’t buzzing. Our sales figures are down. Our sellers are not happy, so we are not happy. Our sellers are worried. We are worried. Our sellers want to make a deal. We want to make a deal.

Are you still listening? This is an opportunity for you. Here’s a suggestion: this year, why don’t you and your brethren close up the beach house early and, instead go shopping for a real estate bargain?

Here’s another secret: about two weeks after Labor Day, everything changes. Things pick-up, office phones ring, websites get hits. More of you go to our open houses. More of you make offers. And more of you actually purchase a home. How do I know? Just like August is always slow, September is always better.

So make a deal while you can – the Brooklyn Real Estate Sale ends September 14th!

E. 17th Street

A nice house in Ditmas Park Brooklyn

Click for Google Map of E. 17th Street in Ditmas Park BrooklynYesterday, I arrived early for an appointment and so decided to take a stroll down E. 17th Street. This neighborhood was once known as Flatbush and is now called Ditmas Park. It was such a nice walk that I had to share it with all of you. This block is full of detached Victorian style homes, all in pristine condition and most with front porches.  The sidewalks are pleasantly lined with oak, maple, and various fruit trees. I understand that many of you are familiar with this area, but believe me, even by Ditmas standards, this block is something special.

When you have a moment and before the summer is over, please take in E. 17th Street, between Newkirk and Dorchester…and if you have another moment, let me know how it went. Thanks for reading.

Take Five

Thinking about real estate in Park Slope Brooklyn

The author demonstrates the Take Five method

People often solicit my opinion about a given neighborhood. “Is it safe?”,they ask. “How is the area? What are the locals like?”, etcetera, etcetera,… I flat out try to evade these questions and I have my reasons. For one, I’m very fond of the neighborhoods I work in and don’t feel capable of answering objectively (It would be like bad-mouthing a family member to an outsider). For two, other than the number of times I’ve been fleeced by the Department of Finance (see How to Park It), I don’t worry all that much about crime in my neck of the woods. And three, the locals question? I don’t even want to know what people are getting at there. So I don’t answer any of these questions. But this is what I do say. I say, “because everyone has a different comfort level when it comes to these things, you need to explore the neighborhood yourself. That means more than just a cursory look. You need to take five extra minutes with some of the residents and get to know them. Doesn’t matter how you do it, but you need to engage a few locals. Ask for directions or the best place to get coffee. Say good morning or good afternoon. Whatever it is, just talk to people. If you do this, I guarantee, that if you really do this, you will see the neighborhood and you will see the entire city of NY in a very different light.”

I can hear the collective moan coming over the big T1 line in the blogosphere. You are out of your mind Jim. This is New York City! You can’t just talk to people on the street. You’ll scare them, or they’ll be suspicious, or they’ll get mad. My experience has taught me otherwise. When I first started exploring Crown Heights, I would stop random people on the street and ask them what they were paying for rent. If anyone asked why, I would simply say that I was thinking of buying a three family building in the neighborhood and wanted to know what I could lease the apartments for. And you know what? People talked to me. They were friendly. They were nice. They were very helpful. I even got invited into someone’s apartment to have a look. I couldn’t believe it either, but I learned a valuable lesson about my city. Nowadays, I almost always say hello, good morning, and good afternoon and my neighbors usually say it back.

So you want to know about a neighborhood? Take five extra minutes and get to know its residents. Thanks for reading, Jim.