Out and About: Why I write what I write

(Flickr photo by MN Photos)

I frequently am asked why I publish this weekly feature.  Well, not frequently.  Actually, not at all.

But I thought you might permit me to indulge myself with an explanation.

It happens that I (among others) believe it is essential for real estate agents to get to know their market intimately.  That means not merely reading listings online but kicking the tires, as it were.

Not to toot my own horn too loudly, let me express my sense that only a minority of us go to the trouble of checking out listings personally just because they exist.  In other words, we don’t look at properties that might interest only a particular buyer but properties that may fit the needs of the next buyer as well.

The process of thereby learning the market takes a fair amount of time and uses up an unholy amount of shoe leather.  One week, I counted 160 blocks that I traversed, and my all-time number of open houses covered on a Sunday stands at 16.

I started writing every week about some of the apartments and houses that I visit — usually on Sundays and often one or two additional days — when I began working in real estate more than 10 years ago.

Like many a buyer, I found myself with rising indignation as I compared photos and descriptions with the what I saw in person.  Having been a professional writer in my long first career, the natural thing for me to do was go public with what I learned with as much integrity as possible.

Enjoying the absence of an editor, I have entertained myself by occasionally having fun with language in the hope that perhaps I also would entertain my readers while also informing them.

Whether I have succeeded or continue to do so is not for me to say, but I think that a decade of having gone that route may have blunted my saber, dulled any wit to which I lay claim, toned down my cynicism and muted my praise.  (But not my penchant for a series in a sentence or for alliteration.)

Either way, I intend for my writing Out and About to be cogent and honest, shedding light on individual listings, their character and their price while also illuminating the state of the market in general.  I mean for the column to be helpful to buyers and, perhaps in my mind alone, chastening to brokers.  I also hope that sellers will experience what I write as a reality check on their aspirations.

Obviously, I avoid specifying the addresses of the properties I visit.  To do so would be an unacceptable interference in the business of other brokers.

Having critiqued literally thousands of condos, co-ops and single-family houses over the years, the burden of finding a fresh way to describe them grows heavy.  I can imagine a not-too-distant time when I’ll run out of things to say in my little essays at the top, and I’m not sure how well I can manage to keep from repeating myself.  But rest assured, I’ll keep trying.

Herewith another attempt at describing apartments that various other brokers have listed and that I have visited:

  • In the mid 90s between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues, a dreadful 500-sf studio in its original condition.  Considering that the grim co-op with exposures into a courtyard is in a pet-friendly 1927 building, “original” may be a bit of an exaggeration — but only a bit.  It is, as the broker remarks, “value priced” at $315,000 with maintenance of $613 a month.  Unsurprisingly, the unit was yanked off the market in May, no doubt to take a well deserved vacation.
  • A scrupulously renovated 1,350-sf condo with superlative skyline views to the east and south over Central Park on a corner of Columbus Avenue in the very high 70s.  With two split bedrooms, top-end pass-through kitchen, stylish baths that have Carrara marble sinks, generous closet space, oversize windows, washer/dryer, gorgeous Venetian plaster walls, built-ins of exceptional quality (including HVAC units) and herringbone floors apparently of walnut, the corner apartment on a high floor is listed at a heady $3.75 million with monthly common charges $1,361 and real estate taxes of $1,542 in a pet-friendly 1984 high rise that has full service and little else.  Despite the price, it found a buyer last month.
  • In the low 100s between Broadway and West End Avenue, a two-bedroom apartment that has been searching for a buyer for a year and a half for as much as $539,000.  This dreary co-op in an unprepossessing 1891 building with virtually no amenities has two bedrooms, an acceptable bath, washer/dryer, improved open kitchen and sorry reminders of its privileged past in the form of butchered wood paneling.  There is nothing to see out the windows but brick walls from its lower floor.  At its current asking price of $489,000 with maintenance of $1,046 per month, the co-op hasn’t a prayer of going to contract any time soon.
  • A two-bedroom, two-bath corner co-op in the low 80s near the Museum of Natural History.  Among the highlights are a wood-burning fireplace, modern kitchen with high-end appliances, decently improved baths and exposed-brick walks.  Exposures are somewhat limited in the renovated unit, which is in a pet-friendly 1890 doorman building with washer/dryer on each floor.  Whether the apartment can fetch close to its asking price of $1.375 million with monthly maintenance of $1,982 is open to question, though it did go to contract last month for an undisclosed amount.
  • The sellers are said to be “serious” (which always is a good reason to take a listing) about unloading their airy two-bedroom, one-bath co-op in the 60s west of West End Avenue.  With standard-height ceilings, a kitchen renovated six years ago to include granite countertops and black mid-range appliances, plenty of closets, parquet floors, through-wall air conditioners, exposures ranging between bad to good and a slightly updated bath, this apartment is offered for $925,000 with $1,386 in maintenance a month in the presumed hope of selling for approximately $875,000.  Under contract within three weeks.
  • On a corner of Broadway in the very low 90s, an unremittingly depressing four-bedroom, three-bath co-op in which everything is so old and gloomy that the 2,134-sf apartment ought to be a nursing home.  The ceilings are strangely beamed, the baths are vintage, the bedrooms face the noisy street not far below, the floors cry out for refinishing, the maid’s room hasn’t been changed for decades, and the windowless kitchen was upgraded with dark wood and black appliances a while back.  On the plus side is the wood paneling in the dining room and the updated electrical system.  At $3.295 million with monthly maintenance of $2,197, this unit requires a buyer with vision.  And deep pockets.

Tomorrow: Landlord regrets

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Malcolm Carter
Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker
Charles Rutenberg Realty
127 E. 56th Street
New York, NY 10022

M: 347-886-0248
F: 347-438-3201

Web site

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