New York City Real Estate Developers Cracking Into Townhouses and Brownstones

by Vlad Sapozhnikov30. January 2014 12:06


Townhouses and brownstones have been a staple of the New York City real estate market since the 1900’s. These walk-up buildings represent only a small fraction of the NYC housing inventory, but because they define certain cherished NYC neighborhoods, the implications of their transformation are considerable. The townhouse supply is limited. And estimates suggest that around 10,000 pre-war townhouses in Manhattan, with around 50,000 citywide (mostly in Brooklyn). Because supply is low and demand is high, operating in this submarket can be highly profitable for real estate investors and developers.

And over the last few years, a new trend that we are seeing in the New York City luxury real estate market is real estate developers cracking into walk-up buildings like townhouses and brownstones. Not only is it a trend but also it has emerged as a “can’t live without” mania for NYC homebuyers entering the New York City condo market. Neighborhoods like the West Village (48 Bedford Street) in Manhattan and Prospect Heights (650 Bergen Street) in Brooklyn are seeing a surge of NYC real estate developers building out brownstones and townhouses. For instance, New York City real estate developer Jared Kushner recently purchased seventeen walk-up apartment buildings (267 apartments and 25 retail spaces) in the East Village for about $130 million.

Why is this?

Let’s look at the numbers and origin of this trend.  According to The New York Times, the average monthly rent for New York City luxury one-bedroom walk-up apartments has jumped 5.7% in the past year. Additionally, over the past 12 months, the sale of NYC walk-up buildings has climbed to 64%. Jonathan Miller of Miller Samuel chimes in that over the past year, the price of walk-up apartments in New York City has risen nearly 22%, versus less than 2% for apartments in full-service NYC buildings.

A new type of renter and homebuyer has entered into the New York City luxury real estate market with a preference for a more intimate living environment that you don't find in many condominiums, co-ops and full service rental buildings. These high-end NYC renters and homebuyers are also willing to sacrifice some amenities for more space in the apartment.


Furthermore, these NYC walk-up buildings generally have old pre-war charm that has been merged with hi-rise condo development renovations and design (i.e. luxury finishes, high end appliances). In addition, idiosyncratic layouts can actually be a plus and not a negative! Novelty can translate into a premium over comparable units in full-service buildings in the same area. And NYC real estate developers have figured this out.

An obvious but critical reason for this emergence is that NYC real estate developers also see the value in “keeping small” and not overexposing themselves like a lot of real estate developers did back in 2006-2007 in the New York City real estate market.

NYC real estate developers have also figured out that their real estate tax bills will be lower. Walk-up buildings less than 3 stories is assessed at 6% of their market value as opposed to walk-up buildings with more than 3 stories at 45% of their market value which, as you can see, will result in a larger real estate tax bill. All and all, the lower the monthly carrying costs, the more a NYC homebuyer can pay upfront. Simply, the lower the monthly costs – more money available to pay upfront.

Ultimately, this trend to invest and develop walk-up buildings in New York City represents a vote of confidence in the big apple, a sign of recovery and economic growth. 

Happy New Year! And Here is our New York City Real Estate Outlook and Predictions for 2014...

by Vlad Sapozhnikov17. December 2013 12:23


As 2013 draws to a close and 2014 is right around the corner (literally a few hours at this point, Happy New Year to everyone!), there is quite a bit of chatter over news media outlets, online forums, and real estate industry related websites about the U.S. and global economic recovery - especially as it relates to the state of the real estate market and mortgage interest rates - how far up will they go? We at Oneworld Property Advisors have researched and examined many of the 2014 predictions out there in regards to the residential and commercial real estate sectors in New York City. Herein are our thoughts and findings.

First, let’s begin with breaking down The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) Luncheon at the Roosevelt Hotel in Midtown East where a series of predictions on 2014’s commercial and residential real estate markets occurred. The Panel was full of real estate thought leaders and mover and shakers, such as, Robert K. Futterman, Founder, Chairman & CEO of Robert K. Futterman & Associates (RKF), Neil J Goldmacher, Vice Chairman at Newmark Grubb Knight Frank, Woody Heller, Executive Managing Director and Group Head, Capital Transactions Group; Simon Ziff, President of Ackman-Ziff Real Estate Group. And Mary Ann Tighe, CEO of CBRE’s New York Tri-State Region, moderated the panelists of real estate heavy-hitters.


Photo via

Goldmacher predicts densification will become a new trend in the New York City commercial real estate. What exactly does this buzzword mean? It means companies are reassessing how they utilize their office space and want to do more with less. And when it comes to New York City real estate, it means putting more people into less space. He also foresees that big box tech companies and sectors will be looking for office space in Midtown Manhattan, which in effect, will force current tenants to move downtown. Note: We at Oneworld Property Advisors don't see eye to eye with Goldmacher on this prediction. Firstly, there is plenty of vacant office space in Midtown Manhattan to accommodate tech companies moving in. Secondly, tech companies tend to not go for the Midtown Manhattan office buildings because of the 70’s/80’s style architecture. (Cookie-cutter spaces, low ceilings, layouts are less open and more constricting, and less diversity in culture and neighborhood options). Lastly, from an anecdotal standpoint and experience, we see tech startups and mature firms (such as Kickstarter, Facebook, Foursquare and Microsoft) going downtown or even to Brooklyn for office space. But time will tell. And office leasing still remains a tenant’s market with generous concessions.

Goldmacher said as the tech companies that got the New York start in Midtown South mature they are also more willing to look downtown. “It used to be, we want a great block of space as close to Google as possible,” he said. But we at Oneworld would question this viewpoint. Google’s NYC Headquarters is in Chelsea, which is not Midtown Manhattan or “Midtown South” as Goldmacher stated. It seems there is a discrepancy on defining neighborhood boundaries even in today’s transparent, online real estate data-driven landscape. And we would further suggest these tech companies (start-ups or mature) rarely had/have Midtown Manhattan as their top pick to move their offices to in the first place.


Photo via New York Times

Futterman’s main prediction was that the retail side of NYC commercial real estate is strong and will continue into 2014. He also went on to define a downtown Futterman also predicted a strong year for 57th Street – East to West – as well as the area north of Madison Square Park.

Additionally, a Manhattan neighborhood will get some renewed attention from the real estate industry – the Lower East Side. Futterman said, “You're going to see a lot more money and development there as investors and developers realize they've overlooked that last sliver of Manhattan between Downtown and Williamsburg.”

Oneworld would agree that the Lower East Side could have a bit of an uptick on the retail side. If what Mr. Futterman is truly referring to when he says Lower East Side is Chinatown, then we can see that prediction to be spot on. And we would like to add to this prediction that Greenpoint & Bushwick Brooklyn and Ridgewood Queens are where real estate visionaries are already looking and buying up real estate assets and developing projects. These neighborhoods have great potential for retail. Oneworld also agrees wholeheartedly on an issue Futterman said in that “The nice thing in the retail business is new neighborhoods emerge.”


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Heller continued on with his thoughts on the New York City real estate commercial market by suggesting that institutional investors will continue to look to Williamsburg as an important piece of their portfolio, a must-have, if you will, for any New York City investor. He referenced the sale of 111 Kent Avenue as an example. This Williamsburg residential rental building has set record rental prices and the area continues to grow – right into Bushwick, might we add. Heller also added that “Land is the best indicator of what’s going on in the market and the highest and best use we’re seeing for land today is clearly residential.”

In general all the panelists agreed that the hot retail market in downtown Manhattan and prime Brooklyn neighborhoods will continue to make an impact on investment sales in 2014. Moreover, we couldn't agree more with Heller on one of his statements: “You have an incredible number of national retailers who want to come into this market,” he said. “The island can get taller, but it doesn't get wider. So your supply is quite finite but the demand is quite strong.” Tighe also chimed in on this topic and said that 2013 has seen land in Manhattan trading at prices in “uncharted territory.” And the panel agreed that the prices have mainly been driven by residential real estate development. And prices had doubled since 2007 alone – the price of land is skyrocketing!


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Ziff expressed more caution for the New York City real estate market and the direction it’s heading in 2014. He used the term funky debt, which is on the rise; and he believes this is not a good thing. With so much equity in the NYC real estate market, leverage is high in some deals, which is very reminiscent of how deals were done in the pre-Lehman days right before the economic downturn and recession took hold. Ziff keeps seeing “three or four people in the capital stack of a particular deal.” And he also added, “I have not seen this since ’06, ’07.”

Of course, these all of these predictions are speculation and no one has a crystal ball, but because of the experience and expertise of the panel, these predictions do make one think and carry some insight into the NYC real estate market of 2014. Time will tell and test these real estate luminaries.


For the New York City real estate industry, 2013 was quite a year where price records were demolished in the NYC commercial and residential real estate sectors. One may not realize or even see this looking at the current economic challenges still out there. But we see some strong trends emerging that give us a more certain and positive outlook than back 2013 and even 2012.


Over the past few years Real Estate Developers and Investors have shunned away from large New York City condo developments and projects, but we saw a change in 2013. Developers and investors began to enter back into this market in greater numbers, and we predict more will in 2014. “Real optimism has emerged as a key theme in the real estate market for 2014 as trends are progressing significantly through the economic and real estate recovery cycles,” said Mitch Roschelle, partner, U.S. real estate advisory practice leader, PwC. “The steady economic recovery and job creation has created ‘tailwinds’ that have propelled the commercial real estate market forward, and momentum of this recovery seems powerful enough to weather spikes in interest rates that may be inevitable.” Yes, of course, there is concern in the New York City real estate market that once again pricing is getting too high. However, this does benefit the rental real estate market and hotel sector the most. And we feel these two sectors have some of the most promise for 2014. And can work together to bring more prosperity to the Big Apple.

We also see the tech sector coming to New York City in droves. For instance, Cornell University’s Roosevelt Island Tech Campus just named two developers, Hudson Companies and Related Companies, for the joint venture. For many years, New York City has been known as the city where companies leave when they need to expand and can’t justify the higher rent and salaries. But we are seeing the contrary happening today and expect it to continue into 2014 and beyond. We recently spoke with a high level tech executive who also mentioned; “being closer to the big money and funders” is also alluring to startups and burgeoning tech companies.


There is a high-rate of vacated office space and insufficient hotel vacancies in New York City, especially in Midtown Manhattan. According to CBRE Economic Advisors, Midtown Manhattan is at 26% vacancy rate while New York City’s hotels are at a 96% occupancy rate – basically completely booked! This is where “Office Densification” prediction appears to be off. There is quite a lot of prime office space that is sitting empty to long periods of time. This is where we see opportunity to fill these empty spaces, boost a building’s presence, and bring more tourism to New York City. It sounds so easy. Simply put tourists or New Yorkers who need a bed for a couple nights or a couple weeks into the vacant office spaces – enter the idea of Pop-Up Hotels.

A Copenhagen based company, Pink Cloud, is trying to solve Midtown Manhattan’s abundance of vacant office space and the lack of hotel affordable rooms. It also won the 1st Prize: Radical Innovations in Hospitality in June 2013. And they would be the first in NYC, although the idea has been around for a couple years. Some of us probably know it as “Glamping” or Glamorous Camping and Snoozebox. We also saw Airbnb try to tackle this problem but now it is pretty much done in New York City and tied up in the court system. But there is opportunity here. But bureaucratic red tape can be quite impossible to overcome.

Pink Cloud's solution is to construct luxurious, temporary hotels in empty Class A Office buildings in NYC, particularly in Midtown Manhattan. It’s a sort of “killing two birds with one stone” solution. The owner of the NYC office building can pull in some rent and tourists can stay in a luxury hotel for approximately $130/night, which is far under the average rate of $350/night for most NYC hotels. And we are seeing quite a boom in the Hotel sector in New York City. However, with all of the red tape and zoning restrictions, one has to wonder if this innovative idea is actually feasible. “A traditional hotel can take five to six years to build, from start to finish. With the pop-up hotel, we see it taking two to four weeks.” - Eric Tan, Pink Cloud.

Photo via Pink Cloud


According to Market Watch from the Wall Street Journal, the interest rate for a 30-year fixed-rate loan is currently at 4.54%, but some economists and experts have predicted that interest rates could rise to 6% in 2014, which could send bond prices tumbling.

Screenshot via Market Watch

As per several of the trade magazines and economic forecasts, mortgages should be easier to obtain because higher rates have put a damper on refinancing activity which, in effect, has caused some banks to increase their purchase lending. Furthermore, new mortgage rules taking effect in 2014 will give banks a better understanding about how much financial and sometimes legal risks a bank faces with all the different types of mortgages in the market. This new “clarity” should cause banks to be more willing to lend.

We do know this. Real estate developers, investors and NYC homebuyers will be closely watching how interest rates unfold in the first few months of 2014. And we will be watching to see whether new condo projects like One57 and 432 Park Avenue can achieve the sales prices needed to validate the high costs real estate developers paid for the land (approximately $800 price per square foot) and the recent record-breaking sales in these projects and similar ones around Manhattan. 

There is also the emergence (or re-emergence depending on who you speak with) of a concept called "shadow banking,” which is similar to traditional lending but transactions are completed outside banks so this type of lending gets around bank regulations and regulators. Borrowers will find different types of mortgages offered by family offices, wealthy families/individuals, and private funds.

To sum up, a modestly positive macroeconomic outlook (job growth, strong stock market, rising property prices, global recovery), less competition from investors moving to secondary and tertiary markets (aka “smile investing” philosophy), tech companies moving to NYC, and more access to credit and loans should all make residential and commercial real estate in 2014 less frenzied and uncertain than 2013. We here at Oneworld Property Advisors are feeling a bit bullish and optimistic. Happy New Year!