Heading home warms my heart and lifts my spirits

Whittier, Alaska, which is dominated by a building in which almost everyone lives.

Whittier, Alaska, which is dominated by the Begich Building. (Photo by Jessica Spengler on Flickr)

When I moved from Manhattan to Phnom Penh toward the end of last year, most of my friends and family made clear their impression that I was heading to the least desirable outpost of the civilized world.

They were clearly wrong.

During my travels over the last month, I discovered Whittier, Alaska, which must rank on any list as one of mankind’s least hospitable municipalities.

The driver of the bus that dropped Lin and me at Anchorage Airport after a 90-minute drive from Whittier through a one-lane tunnel noted that the city began its life as Continue reading

I’ve taken Manhattan, but I’m leaving it behind

Skyline

New York City has captivated me since I first moved here in 1970.

Like everyone who appreciates the city, I have celebrated its universally acknowledged virtues — the myriad restaurants, the energy, all types of diversity, the stimulation that almost every block offers, the glorious parks, the vast range and high quality of cultural offerings, the climate of creativity along with residents whose intellect can be challenging, whose openness is endearing and whose directness can be refreshing.

I left Manhattan once, in 1995, to undertake a new and rewarding project in Washington, D.C. for the U.S. government.  I expected to be away for just a year, but that year stretched into 11 years, the last four of which unexpectedly involved a detour from communications, public education and journalism into what became a thriving real estate business.

But I missed the Big Apple, so I gave up that business to start a new one as a real estate broker in Manhattan.  Although returning in 2006 filled me with delight and impressed me with new discoveries, my business never reached the heights that I had achieved in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.  Moreover, the practice of real estate here left me yearning for the level of involvement that it requires in the Washington area, where agents and brokers complete contracts themselves, without a lawyer’s participation.

I have felt — and I am sure I will be accused of hyperbole — that all we do in New York is open and close doors.  True, we counsel, we negotiate (to a limited extent), we analyze the market and we peddle properties.  Yet I have found the demands of the work to be wanting, especially in comparison with D.C.  That’s me.

Despite my lackluster income from real estate in New York, I have somehow managed to acquire substantial assets.  However, I have in recent years become concerned about the chance that I might outlive them.  Continue reading

Auction of two Harlem buildings nets $6 million

Auctioneer Chuck Schcieifer spots a biddder.

Auctioneer Chuck Scheifer swivels and spots a bidder in packed room.

In a highly successful auction Wednesday of two Manhattan buildings that the state has declared surplus, taxpayers benefited with winning bids totaling $5.97 million.

An estimated 300 individuals jammed into the auction room on the eighth floor of the Adam Clayton Powell State Office Building on 125th Street to witness or participate in the sale.  There were 107 registered bidders, according to one official.

“Our goal is to get property on the tax rolls,” said the official, James P. Sproat, director of Real Estate Planning & Development in the Office of General Services.  “We’re satisfied that we’ve done the best for the taxpayers.”

Auctioneer Chuck Scheifer was less restrained: “I’m incredibly pleased and thrilled,” he allowed. “Fantastic.”

Immediately after successfully bidding on

Immediately after bidding successfully on 364 W. 119 St., the buyer (in blue shirt) and auctioneer converse.

First on the block was Continue reading

Auction set for vacation place with great security

Two houses in Manhattan also are available to bidders

If security is paramount, the happiness will be hard to contain of whoever is the winning bidder at the auction of a property in Northern Adirondack Park this summer.

On 27.3 acres in the hamlet of Lyon Mountain in Dannemora, the property includes several acres of undeveloped land and 23 buildings totaling 90,676 square feet.

New York State is selling the former minimum-security correctional facility as surplus property on July 10, and the minimum bid is a mere $140,000.

(If a second prison might prove to be of interest, the former Arthur Kill Correctional Facility on the southern tip of Staten Island is for sale as well, but not at auction.) Continue reading

The High Road: I broke every smart broker’s rule

(Flickr photo by litherland)

I have no one to blame but myself after I took on a new buyer.

Cindy is an acquaintance who e-mailed me one Friday saying that she was toying with the idea of moving out of her nearly $4,000-a-month rental to purchase an apartment on the Upper West Side.  Could we chat sometime? she asked.

I spent a couple of hours with her the next day explaining the process to someone who had lived overseas for decades and, like any first-time buyer in Manhattan, knew little about co-ops and condos, let alone what she needed to do to buy one.

It was a good conversation, in the course of which I went on at some length about steps that Cindy hsf to take to obtain a mortgage, retain an attorney and make an offer before going to contract.

She indicated as we talked that there was some urgency to get moving because Continue reading

Weekly Roundup: All-cash offers, reality dust-up, high annual sales growth, no-doc loans, Newtown resiliency, worst investments, housing ‘haze’

April transaction volume in Manhattan beats year earlier by 24 percent as supply finally starts to rise

Rent board preliminarily approves annual increase of at least 3.25 percent for one-year lease

Winning offers at even lower levels more likely than ever to be all cash

State passes overhaul Continue reading

The High Road: Unfunny comedy of errors

We arrive at the Upper East Side building around 3:30 p.m., 10 or 15 minutes early for our showing appointment, and the concierge calls up to the agent.

He descends soon thereafter, and the first words out of his mouth are that we were expected 15 minutes earlier.  The buyers I am representing and I introduce ourselves. The broker — call him “Sam” — does not.

I note that we changed the appointment from 3:15 to 3:45 in a series of e-mails trying to fix a mutually convenient time and apologize for any misunderstanding.

“Violet never told me,” he replies.

“Violet?” I wonder, Continue reading