Industry Pros Hopes for the New Year
The turning of a new year is always a time to reflect on the old one, make personal resolutions for the next 365 days, and maybe make some wishes. 2002 was a roller coaster year for New York real estate, charting spikes and lulls in activity that reflected a more widespread uncertainty about the economy, the prospect of war in the Middle East, rising taxes, and plans for rebuilding Lower Manhattan. Members of New York's real estate community are still digesting the hubbub of the past year as they look ahead to 2003, and despite the uncertainty about what the coming year will bring to our troubled, though resilient city, most are looking ahead with optimism - and with some ideas about what they'd like to see happen in and around the city, in their buildings, and throughout the industry at large. The Cooperator asked some prominent players in the co-op and condo scene to tell us what their wishes are for 2003; some of what they had to say was what you might expect - a stronger market, continued stability of property values in the co-op/condo community, and more shareholder/owner involvement in building affairs - but some of their replies may surprise you.
"I would do two things: lower the cost of real estate taxes, and have our insurance cost reduced, because unless something tremendous happens to give us a real turnaround, I don't 2003 being a real good year for real estate. I hope everything goes smoothly and we don't have a problem, but realistically, I think we're going to have a tough year." - Greg Carlson, executive director of the Federation of New York Housing Cooperatives and Condominiums (FNYHC)
"I wish that all buildings could afford 24-hour, seven-day-a-week doormen to enhance security. Since that's a wish that can't really come true, it's imperative that we address each building independently, with its financial status in mind and add as many safeguards as possible." - Michael J. Wolfe, president of Midboro Management in Manhattan
"I'd like to see better cooperation among brokers. Getting new properties to all the brokers will help buyer and seller have the best chance of knowing what's on the market, and the fairest way of dealing with [it]." - John Lawrence, executive VP and sales manager for Bellmarc Realty's Lincoln Center division
"If every building in Manhattan allowed big dogs, we'd be in much better shape. It's such a problem; people with even a medium-sized dog want to go into certain buildings, and the next thing you know, the house rule is no dogs over 20 pounds, the dog has to go to an interview, and it's big pain. I once even had a board interview a bird. It was just a small bird - it didn't even make any noise. But that's what we deal with. It might not be great for all the buildings, but it would make thing easier as brokers." - Janice Silver, executive VP and sales manager of Bellmarc Realty's Midtown office
"I'd like to see brokers getting along and working together - sharing information." - Carmen Lee Shue, broker and president of Lee Shue Realty in Manhattan
"It would be so great if board members could get along - so often, they're at each other's throats and divided into two or more camps"¦if they could get along better, it would help us even more with their representation." - Manhattan-based real estate attorney C. Jaye Berger
"I'd like [buyers] to go ahead and make decisions - to take risks - with less hesitation and head-scratching."
- Cornelia Zagat Eland, executive VP of Uptown sales for Manhattan-based brokerage firm Stribling & Associates
"I would love all of my client buildings to be wired - to have e-mail, word processing, and digital photography capabilities. I'd like all my boards to be on e-mail - that would be great too. The more we take advantage of modern technology for daily office functions, the better. These things are so easily accessible, and so helpful." - Paul Gottsegen CPM, director of Halstead Management Company, LLC in Manhattan
"I'd like to see more talent coming into the industry - and for the industry to be viewed more positively by people looking for a profession. It's an honorable, fulfilling profession where one can effect a lot of good and derive a lot of satisfaction." - James Heller, VP of Manhattan's Cooper Square Realty, Inc. and the vice president of the Institute of Real Estate Management (IREM)
"For co-ops and condo owners, [I'd like to have] an overall sense of reasonableness and normalcy return with respect to their real estate taxes, insurance premiums, and their dealings with their fellow residents and neighbors." - John Janangelo, president of Bellmarc Management in Manhattan
"I'd like [the U.S.] to make a decision about Iraq and finalize whatever it is we're going to do. Buyers are frozen, and they need peace of mind. The [uncertainty] is unnerving, and keeps them in one place." - Daniela Kunen, managing director with Douglas Elliman in Manhattan
"I'd make people more legitimately informed and less reactionary in the coming year, and disabuse them of the notion that the real estate market is bound to suffer the same crash it did in the 1980s. You can't compare the two periods; they're very different. [People] have to take a step back and look at what's really happening." - Jonathan Miller, president of Miller Samuel, Inc. in Manhattan
"I hope that market hype doesn't blur the good judgment of buyers holding out for unrealistically low prices. There may be a softening, but the reality is that it's a fluctuating market. Things will come down, but they won't come down to the extent buyers think they will." - Roberta Benzilio, an executive vice president at William B. May in Manhattan
"I'm hoping to see building begin on the World Trade Center site, and for revived activity downtown." - Judy Thorn, senior vice president at Manhattan's Ashforth Warburg brokerage firm
"I'm hoping that all the outer boroughs will continue to undergo development in the coming year. I see this most clearly in historic areas in the South Bronx, in what used to be marginal areas with vacant homes, and also in Harlem." - Alex Herrera of the New York Landmarks Conservancy
"I hope that people are made aware of the fact that the new property tax increase that [passed] through city council in 2002 was only effective for the [last] half of the fiscal year, and that they understand the implications of what this means if the tax isn't rolled back in the spring. I hope people"¦mobilize to let their council members know how they feel about the issue."
- John Doyle, vice president for government affairs at the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY)
"It would be nice if [board members] could share their decisions and thoughts with shareholders; to let them know why they've made a decision, instead of just making it." - Mickey Cohen, broker with Manhattan brokerage firm Charles H. Greenthal
"I'd like to see more of a standard in the industry as far as board applications. It may never happen, but it would be wonderful if boards could get together - maybe through the Real Estate Board (REBNY) - to put together a [uniform board application] that's not so arbitrary. Applications are so vague sometimes"¦people don't know what [the board] is looking for." - John Lawrence
"I wish that mortgage interest rates would remain low, and allow bargaining power to remain strong." - Michael J. Wolfe
"If all managing agents called brokers back within three minutes, that would make our lives easier." - Janice Silver
"I'd wish for something we actually already have right now: low interest rates. Property taxes and prices are so high, keeping borrowing rates low will keep the market moving forward."
- John Lawrence
"I'd also like co-op boards to require less liquidity on the part of the purchaser, which would open up the market just a bit to more people." - Daniela Kunen
"I'd like to rent Madison Square Garden, and have a 24-hour networking party for all the brokers in the city where everybody could meet everybody else. It might sound ridiculous, but it would be great." - Carmen Lee Shue
"I'd like to see more of a sense of urgency [in purchasing]. There's a sense of "New York is always going to be here,' but you can miss the bottom of the market if you hang back and wait for something to bottom out." - Corneilia Zagat Eland
"I'd like brokers to [be] more up-front and respectful of each other. It would be great for the industry, there would be a lot less animosity against each other, and it would make everybody's job that much easier." - John Lawrence
"I'd like an educational requirement in this business. I think anything towards establishing a license credential and an education requirement in this business is good. The whole industry [would gain] more of an air of professionalism." - Paul Gottsegen
"If Wall Street bonuses, instead of going down, would go up 200 percent, we could sell everything." - Janice Silver
"I wish that the New York City Shareholder Tax real estate tax abatement program would remain in effect to keep monthly maintenance and common charges down." - Michael J. Wolfe
"I wish professionals in this business could be compensated in accordance with the level of service they provide." - James Heller
"I'd like to see boards view their property managers as professionals - and allow them to fully use their talents and show what they're capable of doing." - James Heller
"I would love to relax co-op boards so more people could buy a home without fear of being turned down - there are certain co-ops that don't permit any financing whatsoever on a purchase, and I'd love to see financing restrictions on co-ops eased." - Daniela Kunen
"I wish there were no mold. Mold's been around since long before human beings - probably since Neanderthal Man hung his first shower curtain - and it's a real problem in a lot of buildings." - Paul Gottsegen
"I'm also hoping that development will reflect all the knowledge that we gained from the mistakes in planning the original towers; not just their vulnerability, but the original problems with transportation, and the lack of cultural institutions and support services in the [surrounding] area." - Judy Thorn
"I also hope that in 2003, as we continue to bring the outer boroughs into a more central orbit, more significant attention will continue to be paid to the city's waterfront areas. We always put our back to the water because it was an industrial city, and the waterfront was a place to load and unload cargo. Bringing people to the waterfront is a new, exciting thing for New York." - Alex Herrera
"I'd also wish for people to invest more energy in face-to-face communication, which cannot be taken for granted in New York City. I find it so important for shareholders to greet each other in elevators and in the hall; it makes a building feel more like home." - Mickey Cohen
And finally, what we all really want, deep down:
"To be as wealthy and influential as, say, Donald Trump." - Carmen Lee Shue
In the final analysis, 2003 isn't a Bicentennial or Centennial year, or the turn of the new millennium, or even the first or last year of a decade - or a presidential term of office. For New Yorkers, however, it's the second year since the World Trade Center attacks, the second year under a new mayor, and the jumping-off point for a long journey of rebuilding, reorganizing, and regrouping in the midst of an uncertain economic landscape, a tense geopolitical atmosphere, and the everyday struggle that is living and working in the Capital of the World. If the practicality - and good humor - of the people fueling and running the real estate machine are any indication, however, New York City will make the most of 2003, just as they have for decades.
Jessica O'Brien is a freelance writer based in New York City. Additional reporting was done by Hannah Fons, The Cooperator's associate editor, and Diane Frost, editorial assistant.