Saturday, June 28, 2008

Real Estate: A Tale of Two Williamsburg Waterfront Developments

Today we visited the sales offices for two new Williamsburg waterfront developments: The Edge and Northside Piers. Two adjacent developments, similar in many ways--floor to ceiling windows, state of the art amenities, including pools, with views of Brooklyn, the Manhattan skyline and the East River.

But different in some other significant ways: The Edge, which only went to market in March 2008 and isn't going to be ready for closings until late 2009, has a beautiful sales office with a dazzling model kitchen and bath and interactive kiosks loaded up with photos and every floor plan in the entire 575-unit phase one development. And beautiful flower arrangements, like this one: Curbed did a good job of featuring this sales office in all its glory on their blog. I guess you need to be pretty when you're trying to get people to buy in this market based on their imaginations alone. Because The Edge is a Silver LEED "green" development, even the Sales office abides by those rules, offering filtered water in washable "Edge" inscribed cups, rather than in plastic bottles and sending you home with brochures in an environmentally friendly "Edge" canvas bag. The front: The back:Nice touches like that make me want to buy, but as expected, the units do not come cheap. We're going to wait a bit to see how sales go for them and hope they drop their asking prices in future releases (me with the real estate lingo--I'm learning!).

...which Northside Piers, now at the end of its sales cycle for Tower 1 of three, is doing. The nice thing about this development is that they're ready to negotiate. That's Tower 1. Looks a little ominous with all those clouds forming in the background, eh? Sales have been sluggish apparently and they're only 65% sold after being on the market for a year and a half. The NY Times has a nice write-up on the situation. The thing is Tower 1 had a number of less than stellar features--the two subsequent towers are going to obstruct a lot of the currently limitless views of the river, not to mention the Edge on the north border, the amenities are not as great (The Edge has a basketball court, on-site resident only spa, indoor/outdoor pool), the kitchen and bathrooms are nice, but I've seen much nicer. The attention to detail that we saw at the Edge was just not there. And they're not a green building. Plus, they didn't give us a nice canvas shopping bag. Just kidding.... On the plus side, we got to walk some model apartments and works in progress, and the floor plans are nice and roomy. The walk-through really sold me with the views....but it's hard to know how much of your views will be obscured by future development.

Well, those two appointments took about 3 hours to complete. We were hungry and exhausted and though the original plan was to walk around Billyburg and get a feel for the area, we just beelined it to North 6th St and went to Sea, a Thai restaurant, for lunch. Funny, I've only been in Williamsburg three times before, and one of those three times I ate at Sea with City Guy. Anyhow, we sat next to the Buddha: ...and tried to cool down with a thai iced tea with litcheeand talked about how nice to floor plans and the views were in both developments, but for the prices per square foot and the high costs and risks of buying into a new development in this market in a part of Brooklyn that is going to be under construction for years and years to come (the beautiful waterfront park you see in renderings is not even built yet - it's just industrial yards and construction), we might be better off limiting our search to Manhattan for now.

I guess we thought Brooklyn would give us that waterfront view at a couple hundred thousand less than we'd pay for an equivalent place in downtown Manhattan, but we were wrong. Maybe prices will drop. They should, as the inventory is overpriced considering the variables, but eager beavers might not care. One thing's for sure: with both developments planning future phases, there will be inventory for years to come.

After our 45-min schlepp back home and recovering from my heatstroke, I was so grateful to be living in Manhattan. I picked up the Battery Park City Broadsheet and Downtown Express, two pubs that are always at the doorman's desk for the taking, which I've ignored before, and started reading--lower Manhattan is such a cool area. "Did you know there's a free bicycle lending program? And a community center with a pool and yoga lessons? And outdoor bootcamp in the park? And sailing?" I said to City Guy.

And of course, there's the incomparable Battery Park City esplanade. The lease renewal for our lovely rent-stabilized apartment (it's rent stabilized b/c it's a NYC historic landmark--just found this out today!) had been sitting around for a few days. "3% increase in rent? We're so lucky,"I said. We have a gym, a deli, doorman services, dry cleaning, a great space, a great neighborhood, and we're just across the street from the waterfront.

Plus, I read this enlightening article on why you should rent, not buy.
When the housing market slumps—as it has every 10 or 15 years for the past several decades—homeownership becomes little more than renting, from a bank. Without appreciation, buying a $400,000 house—instead of renting the same property for, say, $2,000 a month—can turn into an expensive, potentially money-losing proposition. Assuming home prices come out of their death spiral (prices fell 4.5 percent in the third quarter compared with last year), they would still have to appreciate at 4 percent every year for a decade—even if rents climbed well above the rate of inflation—before a family would save more owning than renting.
The economics are clear: investing in the stock market, hell, investing in Treasury Bills, is less risky and more profitable than investing in the housing market at this point. Sometimes you got to wonder...City Guy signed the lease an hour ago. Until we find a good deal, we're saving money and that makes me feel savvy. We're in no rush.

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