Real Estate News

Here Come the Green Brokers

Unlike buildings, no yardsticks exist to rate agents' environmental efficiency

By  C. J. Hughes (The Real Deal)

Over the past few years, New York has gone green with much fanfare — sprouting green condos, green luxury rentals and even green affordable housing.

Now, close on their heels come green brokers, who vow to track down these eco-friendly residences and to discern whether a unit is truly solar-powered, or just has lots of windows.

But it isn’t always easy to figure out which brokers are environmentally sensitive and which are just full of, er, hot
carbon emissions.  

Unlike with green construction projects, which can be compared with certain widely used energy-efficiency standards, like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, there aren’t similar yardsticks for brokers.

Indeed, sometimes, these brokers’ credentials seem to begin and end with their firms’ Earth Day-inspired names. And the few classes that are available to burnish eco-qualifications often seem better tailored for suburban markets than urban ones, as they take a national one-size-fits-all approach.

Also, some brokers don’t practice what they preach in their day-to-day lives, promoting a low-impact lifestyle while at the same time increasing their own carbon footprints, critics say.

The fuss may also be premature, brokers, architects, city planners and developers said, noting that green homes make up less than 1 percent of the city’s housing stock.

That cart-before-the-horse mentality seems evident with Green Homes NYC, a nine-month-old brokerage whose lime-hued Web site promises a “full-service real estate agency with a green twist” and a niche in the “green home market.”

But an informal survey of its listings turned up few “green” examples. For instance, an ad for a two-bedroom, $1.9 million condo touts its “high-gloss white cabinetry” and “maple hardwood floors” but nothing else that could be considered environmentally friendly.

“Some of them are green, some of them are not green,” said Ronen Trigoli, an associate broker and the manager. “I don’t have a choice because I need to supply the general public.”

That citywide shortfall of green homes also comes across on the six-month-old Web site for the Built Environment, which drives traffic to brokers, though it essentially functions as a database. Many of the 40 locations on the “property map” are office buildings, schools, government facilities and even a park in Park Slope, Brooklyn, that has a solar-powered waterfall.

Still, even if every visitor to the Web site doesn’t snap up a condo, the material might help raise the awareness of green design, said Jeffrey Schleider, a site creator and Corcoran Group associate broker who  also served on an advisory committee of the U.S. Green Building Council.

“Having the interest and the knowledge out there is helpful,” he said.  

Last summer, Schleider took an online course offered by EcoBroker International, a six-year-old company from Evergreen, Colo., that promises “innovative energy, environmental and green strategies and tools for real estate professionals.”  

The $395 course may also help attract clients. Schleider, for one, estimated he’s picked up eight buyers because of it.

The 18-hour course includes lessons about how energy-saving appliances can help secure bigger home loans, and about improving indoor air quality with carpets and paints that emit low amounts of volatile organic compounds.  

But many of the topics seem geared toward suburban-style residences, like the tips about installing sealed-combustion furnaces to keep pollutants at bay, and the mention of the hazards of leaking radon.

That emphasis on non-multifamily dwellings might account for New York’s comparatively low certified EcoBroker numbers, with 54, versus California’s 324. But chief executive John Beldock pointed out that there are 3,400 EcoBrokers in 47 states and two countries, and that their ranks are increasing monthly by 10 percent.

EcoBroker’s imprimatur may mean little if brokers don’t walk the walk, which can be a tough-to-attain reality.

“I go around shutting off the lights all the time,” said James Dunn, a sales associate at Abbott & Caserta Realtors, based in Wyckoff, N.J., and a certified EcoBroker.  

Still, retrofitting his older home with energy-efficient features would be cost-prohibitive, he noted, and the wait to buy an energy-efficient Smart Car (to replace his older BMW) is a year, he said.

Like homes, brokers come in different shades of green, Dunn said. Indeed, the scale of the 5,300-square-foot home he’s now marketing in Upper Saddle River, N.J., for $1.9 million may seem too huge to be environmentally sensitive.

The five-bedroom features low-flow faucets, a xeriscaped yard requiring little water, and a poured-concrete foundation that should be less permeable than a cinder-block variety.  

“You don’t have to be a hermit living in a hole in the wall,” Dunn said.

Chris Moss, founder of the five-year-old Moss Real Estate Group, said he believes a firm needs to be at least as sustainable as the homes it sells in order to establish a level of credibility.

In fact, his company’s 2,000-square-foot Noho office has floors stained with black tea and vinegar, not artificial chemicals, and plaster walls sealed with beeswax. Also, the bathroom tiles are comprised of recycled Coke bottle glass.  

Plus, Moss has converted the company car, a 1965 Mercedes convertible, to run on electricity generated by wind power.

More operationally, Moss has also devised a “paperless” condo and co-op board package, which in the case of exclusive buildings such as the Dakota, on Central Park West, could save 10,000 pages, according to Moss. Finally, part of Moss’ brokers’ commissions goes toward a national tree-planting fund.

Still, his company’s mission to sell green homes is not easy, as environmentally efficient homes make up less than 50 percent of his listings.

“But we don’t only want to sell green space,” he said. “We want to rethink the process so we are contributing to a more regenerative experience.”


Manhattan Apartments See Highest Quarter Sales Since 2008

As autumn makes its chilly presence felt in New York City, the skyrocketing prices of the city’s real estate have also cooled down (finally!). After a rollicking summer that saw eye-popping prices being asked for several homes in Manhattan, real estate reports from the third quarter of 2012 say that the prices of condos and co-ops have remained more or less the same, with only a few real estate firms showcasing an increase in prices. This is especially true in the lower and middle end of the market. However, Manhattan apartment sales have continued to rise, reaching a level that is the highest quarterly total since the financial crisis began in 2008.


International Buyers Making New York City Real Estate Sector Shine

New York City’s real estate sector has been having a great spell over the past few months. Several high profile listings have come into the limelight this past year, with some garnering eyeballs for their astounding heights and others with their stupendous brands of luxury. Besides these, many new construction projects are also being developed, with these swanky new apartments being lapped up as soon as they enter the market. But what’s interesting about the buyers of these ultra deluxe homes is that many of them are not from New York, or even from America—foreign buyers are dominating Manhattan’s real estate scene today.


Prewar and Postwar Apartments in NYC

Once you’ve decided that a Manhattan luxury condo is where you want to buy your NYC home, there’s one more question to consider -- which type of Manhattan luxury condo is right for you? While there are certain things that all NYC condos seem to have in common -- they tend to be tall, as you might have noticed -- not all Manhattan condominiums are created equal, and not every type of Manhattan condominium is for you. While there are many types of Manhattan condominiums, NYC real estate lingo breaks down luxury condo buildings into three broad types:

Pre-War Apartment Building

The “war” would be World War II, and the apartments in question -- apartments in pre-war buildings, that is -- are one of the great prizes in Manhattan real estate. Because there’s a limited supply of pre-war apartment listings and near-unlimited demand for them, pre-war condominiums are routinely among the most sought-after condo listings in Manhattan. Strange as it may seem, though, recent years have seen a steady stream of “new” pre-war apartments for sale entering the Manhattan real estate market. Pre-war condo conversions such as the Barbizon 63 (formerly a luxury hotel on the Upper East Side) and The Apthorp (an Upper West Side condo that was previously a rental building) have become blockbuster hits on the condo market -- in part because they’re among the relatively few pre-war apartments for sale not in more restrictive co-ops. While it’s not hard to see why pre-war apartment listings are so popular, there is one aspect in which pre-war apartments lag behind their competition -- most have very limited amenities, mostly because few developers or architects thought to set aside space for swimming pools or fitness centers or children’s playrooms during the FDR years.

Post-War Apartment Building

Built between the late 1940s and mid-'70s, most Manhattan post-war apartments have been considerably spruced up since, to the point where only their architectural aesthetics set them apart from new construction condo listings. Given that this period was a comparatively slow one for condo construction in New York City, there are fewer post-war apartment buildings than you might expect -- and not all that many on New Construction Manhattan’s searchable apartment listings, either. The post-war apartment listings you’ll find here, though, are ones that have been renovated into something resembling state-of-the-art new construction condos. Your better post-war apartment listings come packed with amenities like housekeeping, pools, new appliances, gyms, rooftop decks, and valet service.
The apartments for sale at post-war apartment buildings lack the contemporary look of new construction apartment listings, but they're known for their size and flexibility -- and they’re certainly less costly than pre-war apartments.


New Construction Apartment Building

Obviously, we at New Construction Manhattan are not totally impartial when it comes to new construction Manhattan condominiums. But between the later 1990s and today -- which, for our purposes, is how we’ll define new construction apartment listings -- the Manhattan skyline and NYC real estate market have been changed for the better by a host of appealing new construction condo listings. New construction apartment buildings come in many shapes and sizes, but even the most down-the-middle new construction condo listings offer amenities unheard of in previous eras -- not just these fitness facilities don’t just have fancier equipment and bigger pools, they have Yoga and Pilates studios and saunas and steam rooms and so on. New construction condominiums were also, during the construction boom of the last decade, in an unofficial arms race in terms of amenities, which explains the pet spas, golf simulators, full-size basketball courts and super-splashy residents-only lounges you’ll find in many new construction condominiums. And of course new-construction condos themselves are state of the art -- as a general rule, you can expect high ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows (generally energy-efficient ones), open chef’s kitchens and luxuriously appointed baths from new construction condominiums. And in some cases, as with the new architect’s row near the High Line in Chelsea, you’ll find stunning designs that set a new standard for condo aesthetics.



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