Sunday, April 26, 2009

Calpurnia Opens it's doors! Finally! Vincent Price must have helped get these doors open.

I stopped into the newly opened Calpurnia this weekend to check out there swank decor.
I was astonished to find the space of descent size since it was once the very cramped Hole in the Wall Video.
It looks nothing like the old hole but now reflects the trend of many other new joints in the hood like Char No 4 , Clover Club and Frankie's 457 but 1/10th of the size. .
I didn't know that they still upholstered chairs in red velvet and I swear that Vincent Price was the designer behind the space.
They did not have a menu for me and I missed my free glass of wine but the owners were excited that I showed interest in the place.
I hope that it does well cause I feel it's a nice addition to Court street's limited bar/food spots.

Snack Shop opens on Court Street but wasn't what I expected

The neon signed Snack Shop finally pulled down the brown paper in the windows this weekend only to reveal a high end deli.
I had hopes of a renewed Schnack or 50's style diner/soda shop from the name.
It doesn't look like anything special and they also have sushi?.... imported cheeses, pastry and chocolate. seems like a hodgepodge.

I am not really sure where they are going but it seems they are trying to do 10 different things at once and it's not going to work.
Will this place survive? Has anyone dared to try the Sushi?

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Red Hook Lobster Pound opening on Van Brunt

These guys drive to Maine so you don't have to!
Husband and wife proprietors Ralph Gorham and Susan Povitch have a perfect recession business model - people can pre-order the lobsters, then they drive to Maine (Portland or Kittery, depending on who has the best price) to pick 'em up. You get your lobsters on Friday afternoon, fresh off the boat that morning. 
Lobsters arrive April 24th. Estimated price is $11/lb (two bucks cheaper than Fairway).
Call them at 646.326.7650
284 Van Brunt (between Verona and Visitation)
Or check the bare-bones website here.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Selling your apartment? How to pick a real estate broker.

I'm always surprised when I see sale listings come on the market with bad photos, no floor plans, no advertising. I think sellers need to be as educated about the market as their buyers are, and should insist on certain services from their listing agents. Here are some of the services you can request from your broker:

-Insist on professional photos and floorplans - they should be part of your listing from day one. 
-Advertising in NYTimes at the very least; ask for a "featured" listing in Streeteasy, Trulia, Property Shark, etc.. 
-If you are going after a high-end buyer, or even just buyers over $1M, the advertising commitment must be long term and inventive; even a well-priced (i.e. 20% off recent comps) apartment over $1M may take a while to sell. Make sure your broker will continue to actively market the place if nothing happens in the first six weeks. 
-Ask what types of buyers they have currently - what are their buyers looking for? Ideally, you'll find a broker who has qualified buyers lined up looking for a place exactly like yours. What have their buyers bought recently? 
-What banks have they dealt with to facilitate loans for properties like yours? See if they can have a bank/mortgage broker draw up a sheet showing loan options for buyers of your actual apartment. It helps buyers and sellers to know that a bank will underwrite the mortgage for your property. 
-Ask for them to provide a stager. They may not want to pay for it, but you can usually get them to (at least) split the cost with you. Staging is KEY. 
-Ask what their co-broke policy is. You want them actively marketing the property to other brokers. Ask them to hold a brokers' open house. See if they'll provide lunch. 
-As always, you'll want a CMA - a comparative market analysis - to support your asking price.

Please know that in this market, your initial asking price needs to be realistic to ensure a timely sale. There is no margin in starting high to see if anyone will bite. They won't. Buyers are looking for value. Find a broker who knows how to maximize your apartment's exposure to the very people who are in the market to purchase it. But don't expect them to find any suckers. They're not out there.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Transform your own neighborhood - lessons from DUMBO's David Walentas

I've been thinking about how to use this economic downturn to galvanize the artists who have been squeezed out of their studios and performance spaces by high rents and greedy developers. Seems the best place to look is DUMBO.

David Walentas is a visionary developer, who transformed the neighborhood almost singlehandedly. In 1981, he bought a number of buildings in the then-bleak area and, over time, managed to rezone the neighborhood. His company, Two Trees, still owns a number of commercial and residential rental buildings, and he rode the crest of the wave he created to sold-out condos in One Main, 30 Main, and 70 Washington (in addition to 110 Livingston in Downtown Brooklyn).

His strategy to bring in high-end buyers seems to have worked in this way: while awaiting rezoning, he made space available to artists and arts organizations at a discounted rate. The artists transformed the neighborhood by creating a demand for services in the area (seriously, in the 1980's you couldn't get a cup of coffee in Dumbo). Coffee shops, delis and bars emerged to serve the artist population. "Destination" restaurants like Superfine (which sprang from the backside of a divey bar before moving to its current location) began to bring in people from outside the neighborhood. Walentas used the vast lobby spaces in his buildings as galleries, and large-scale art events spilled out into the cobbled streets. People were enchanted by the river, the bridges, the sense that something cool was happening. By the time the buildings had been reclassified as residential properties, there was enough pent-up demand to sell some very pricey (albeit extraordinary) apartments. People were willing to pay more for the views, the high ceilings, the massive pre-war masonry and steel construction - especially because there was little condominium stock in the surrounding neighborhoods. Most of Brooklyn Heights was/is co-op, much of it with very high maintenance. Walentas didn't overdo it with in-building amenities, and his timing was brilliant. I have friends who lost their studios/offices/illegal homes as these buildings were converted, and saw some great art spaces transformed into high-end appliance stores and children's boutiques. But most people in Dumbo (even those who lost their cheap rentals) don't begrudge Two Trees their systematic transformation of the neighborhood. Like a brilliant card player who lays down a straight flush, you just shake your head and hand him your money. He outplayed you, fair and square.

We're seeing something similar happen in Bushwick, but again, the artists are truffling pigs, not landlords. As prices decline, perhaps we're approaching a moment in which artists and arts organizations can finally afford to buy their own property and reap the rewards of their own ability to transform a neighborhood. It'll take time, organization, political chutzpah, and vision.

Sunset Park, anyone?