Property Tales

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As long as the dog and kitty are all right living so closely with each other, Liorah and I are
really content to live in a place where we can just reach out and touch each other.

—Josh Plaza, 32, film sales/p.r. rep

Three years ago, Josh Plaza came to New York
to find Liorah Singerman, a girl he’d known since high school.

“It was after I’d graduated from film school in Boston. A friend rented
me half of the living room of his Inwood apartment for $515 a month, and I was happy with the arrangement,”
says Plaza. “It’d been seven years since I’d seen Liorah. At that time, I’d been involved with another
woman, but that relationship didn’t last, and I found myself dreaming about getting together with
Liorah. I couldn’t get her out of my mind. I’d heard she was working as a waitress in Manhattan, and
I was determined to find her.”

No such luck. Liorah wasn’t listed, and she no longer worked at the several
restaurants mentioned by Plaza’s friends. Nobody had her forwarding address.

“I was busy working, and time was passing quickly. I hadn’t exactly given
up on finding Liorah, but figured that if I couldn’t—if it wasn’t meant to be—New York
was filled with fascinating women, and I’d eventually meet someone who measured up to her.”

But it was meant to be.

“A year and a half later, I was at the 59th St. subway station, standing
on the downtown 1/9 train platform. It was morning rush hour, and a sea of people wearing dark colors
was whirling around me. Out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed someone wearing a bright yellow coat
and turned to look at her. It was Liorah! She turned to face me, and our eyes met. My heart started pounding
and I was breathless, speechless—but I managed to say ‘hello,'” says Plaza. “We were both
heading for 28th St. We talked all the way, catching up. I tried to find out whether she was married
or engaged—but I was too afraid to ask directly. We agreed to meet for lunch later that week,
and before we parted she gave me a quick, nervous kiss on the cheek—which I interpreted as
a signal that she was free and interested.”

Two months later, they were living together in Liorah’s studio coop
on W. 57th Street.

“I couldn’t bear to leave her to go back to Inwood. So, I moved in with Liorah
and her English sheep dog, Bilbo Baggins, and her cat, Vashti. We’re in one room, 250 square feet
in size. There’s our bed, then the kitchen’s one wall, the loveseat’s the living room and a bedside
computer is our office. Everything’s in one room, but that’s okay, because we love each other,”
says Plaza. “At first, we thought we’d like more space. Liorah found a one-bedroom on the East Side,
and we moved.

“But we found it too big. When we were in different rooms from each other,
we each had a feeling of emptiness. We missed being able to reach out and touch each other.”

After three months, they decided to move back to Liorah’s coop, which
hadn’t yet been sublet.

“We were in financial panic. We had to find someone to take over the apartment
lease, or would’ve had to cover the $1600 monthly rent, as well as studio maintenance fees. Someone
rented the one-bedroom a week before we moved back home,” says Plaza. “We joke about the one-bedroom—when
Liorah goes to the other side of the studio, she’ll call out, “Honey, I’m in the kitchen.”

Closeness isn’t all they like about the studio.

“The location is great, and it’s affordable. Liorah got a great deal.
She paid $65,000 for the coop that’s quadrupled in value. We split the $600 maintenance and other
expenses. We’re saving for our future,” says Plaza. “I’d say we’re investing in our careers, rather
than in our living situation. Liorah’s waitressing, but studies guitar. I’m putting my resources
into developing my film career. As long as Bilbo and Vashti can coexist in the studio, Liorah and
I are ecstatically happy here.”

Property Tales

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The judge was yelling at us. She thought it was absurd that we were two rich parties fighting over
a couple thousand dollars, and I agreed. We had no business being there, and she had more serious
cases to hear. I was the victim of a cavalier coop board who think they’re so powerful they can do anything
with impunity. While I waited for them to decide on a proposed settlement, I watched the judge hear
another case, one where an indigent man was being evicted because he couldn’t pay his rent. The judge
took a completely different tone with him, treating him with respect, dignity and kindness. I volunteer
for Coalition for the Homeless, and respected that she stayed his eviction for a few weeks, giving
him a chance to get himself together. He was one paycheck away from homelessness.

—Victor Ozeri, 51,businessman and philanthropist

On Dec. 30, multimillionaire Victor Ozeri
found himself in Housing Court, defending himself against eviction. At issue: approximately
$20,000 in maintenance charges, late-payment fees and co op-imposed surcharges for his subleasing
of the park-view one-bedroom apartment he owned in a building on Central Park West. Furthermore,
his $670,000 sale of the unit was being delayed by the lawsuit.

“It wasn’t about money; it was about principle. The coop board was wrongly
wielding its power,” says Ozeri. “I had to oppose them.”

Ozeri first rented the one-bedroom unit in 1978 for $575 per month. At
the time, the building was a residential hotel with a huge lobby and hotel services. Most of the apartments
were studios and one-bedrooms occupied by elderly women or single young professionals.

In 1986, the building went coop and Ozeri bought the apartment for $86,000.
Then, while living abroad for several years, he used it as a pied à terre. He loved
the building, thought of it as a wonderful New York microcosm community.

In 2001, while legally subletting his one- bedroom, Ozeri paid $1.5
million for a second apartment—a two-bedroom plus studio—in the Alden.

“Soon after I moved in, a new coop board took over. Their policy changes
created dissention in the building. I gave a party to reunite everyone, but it didn’t work—the
new board president stopped talking to me, and life at the building became difficult. The board
issued a five-year assessment for improvements—that’s unheard of! Assessments are usually
for one or two years. Then, they decided to charge owners for subletting, imposing surcharges of
$15 per share, equaling about 25 percent of their rental income. Except, preferential lower surcharges
were imposed for owners intending to combine two small apartments into one large unit.”

Ozeri thought that was an unfair move intended to squeeze out smaller-unit
owners.

“I wanted a larger apartment, but decided against reinvesting in that
building. In 2003, I found a buyer for my two-bedroom—a perfectly respectable single woman,
a childless widow with $15,000,000 in the bank and a seven-figure annual income who was paying cash
for the apartment. The board rejected her without even granting her an interview, but wouldn’t
tell me why. I was furious. Several weeks later, the board reluctantly approved another buyer—who
actually had fewer credentials. I sold for $1,550,000—a $50,000 profit—and moved
to a three-bedroom penthouse on East End Ave.”

Ozeri still owned the one-bedroom, hoping to keep it for his children’s
eventual use, but the coop’s new sublet surcharges convinced him to sell. He gave his tenant notice
to move, but the board billed him for subletting. He refused to pay. The board returned his maintenance
checks and added late fees.

“We wound up in court. The board, indemnified by the building, doesn’t
mind wasting resources on legal fees,” says Ozeri, who represented himself. “Adamant that we settle,
Judge Laurie Lau suggested we donate the difference—some $6000 in surcharges, late and
legal fees—to tsunami-victim relief. I agreed… The one-bedroom is sold, and I am
happy to have moved on.”

Property Tales

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Often, people don’t realize the potential of the space they’re living in. But after I’ve
“staged” their apartment, they fall in love with it and feel sad about putting it on the market. They
say, “Oh, Carlos, I don’t want to move, now that I see what my place can be.” By then, though, they’ve
already committed themselves to moving to another place. I feel sorry for their regrets, but must
admit some gratification—because I know I’ve done my job well if I’m able to sell the apartment
to the sellers. Sometimes, as it’s turned out, my “staging” clients then rehire me to design the
interior of the new apartment they’ve bought. That’s also a very gratifying indication that you’ve
done a good job. I feel I’m helping people live better.

—Carlos Ortiz-Quiles, 49, interior designer

For the first 20 years of his professional life, Carlos Ortiz-Quiles
designed and decorated office interiors for large nationwide and multinational corporate clients.

His degree in architecture, advanced studies in the hospitality industry
and management, experience as a theatrical set designer on Broadway and as a prop-maker for elaborate
corporate events gave him a unique approach to his work. Ortiz-Quiles’‚ great design flair
brought tremendous success.

Before Sept. 11, he was employed by Prudential Securities, happily
designing and decorating the corporation’s office interiors nationwide. Due to post-tragedy
downsizing, and Wachovia’s subsequent acquisition of Prudential, Ortiz-Quiles lost his staff
job. He started freelancing, taking private clients—one of whom lead him to “staging,”
a new phase in his career.

“A real estate broker who sold an apartment I’d designed for one of my
private clients asked me if I’d be interested in ‘staging’ some condos that weren’t attracting
enough interest from potential buyers. I’d heard about the concept of staging, but I hadn’t tried
it—and I didn’t know anyone who was doing it at the time. It just wasn’t a commonplace practice
in New York, although it was already an important marketing tool among West Coast real estate brokers,
especially throughout California.”

In the past year, though, staging has become more popular in New York
“because it’s so effective,” says Ortiz-Quiles. “The idea is simple, really—to give an
apartment a quick makeover that makes the most of the available space and shows the potential of
the place.”

It’s a different process than interior design. “Staging” is meant to
be temporary, while an interior design is intended to last.

“You want to show potential, not make a defined statement. Potential
buyers usually want to put their stamp on the place,” says Ortiz-Quiles. “As stager, my objective
is to whet their appetite by revealing the best in a place.”

Ortiz-Quiles begins by clearing away the clutter.

“When people occupy a place, they don’t see clutter. They need someone
to tell them what should stay or go,” he says. “I remove clutter, assess the space and arrange furniture
to make the place look as large and welcoming as possible. Lighting’s a key factor. I hate overhead
lighting because it shows every flaw in a place and can make it look dreadful. I prefer lighting that’s
dramatic, that creates good ambience and a welcoming atmosphere. It’s all about lighting, like
in department-store windows—we want people to walk in and buy. I like cheerful colors to
brighten a place. And, it should look pristine: no cracked walls, peeling ceilings, stained floors.
I may rent furniture, buy pillows and other props, or suggest painting, floor sanding and appliance
replacement—but the idea is to prepare for market quickly and cheaply, not make it move-in
perfect. It’s common sense, but most people don’t know how to do it—so they hire me.”

Staging makes a big difference in property value, and the spaces not
only sell for more but also faster.

“Quick sell is a big benefit,” says Ortiz-Quiles. “After I staged a 2nd
Ave. and 57th St. apartment, it sold in two weeks. It’d been on the market three months.”

Staging costs vary with apartment size and condition. Ortiz-Quiles
charges $150 for the first hour (basic consultation), plus $125 each additional hour. Prop purchases,
furniture rental, painting and other improvements are extra.

Property Tales

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“Family’s very important to me, and my living situation shows just how much that’s true.
I’m very fortunate that I come from a family-oriented family. We believe in helping each other and
being there for each other. Once that’s established as the basic premise, working out details isn’t
very difficult.”

—MLP, 34, banker

When MLP was younger, he couldn’t wait to leave home. At age 18,
he left his mother’s Washington Heights apartment and moved to a college dorm. Then, he lived in
a series of sublets and short-term rentals.

In 1997, when he married, MLP and his wife bought a house in Hempstead,
where they lived for three years—until their divorce in 2000.

Following the split, MLP sublet a one bedroom in Riverdale, taking over
the lease and paying $850 per month in rent. It was a good deal. He liked the apartment and location,
but when he was offered a new two-year lease for about $900 per month, he declined—and decided
to move back home with mom instead.

“I’d been on my own for a long time, but moving home was an easy decision
for economic and other reasons. I wanted to go back to school and finish my business degree, then
go on to prepare to become an elementary school teacher, which is my long term goal,” says MLP.

“Although I have a good day job as a banker, I couldn’t cover tuition and
rent, while supporting my former wife and our six-year-old daughter. My mother wanted to help me,
but she couldn’t afford to pay my tuition. So, she said I could live with her. I figure I’ll be staying
with her for the next couple of years.”

MLP’s mother, at age 68, is a retired factory worker and baby sitter.
She’s occupied her large Riverside Drive one-bedroom, rent-stabilized apartment for about 30
years.

With her son in residence, she pays the $550 monthly rent, and MLP, who
sleeps on a fold-away in the living room, covers other household expenses—gas, electric
and cable—and contributes to food costs.

“My share comes to about $200 to $300 a month. That’s a lot less than renting
my own place would cost,” says MLP.

But, the arrangement is a good one for other reasons, too.

“I’m enjoying spending time with my mother. It’s precious time,” he
says. “She’s getting older and is in poor health. I feel it’s important that I be there for her, too—to
help her when she needs me.”

MLP says the biggest issue in moving back home is privacy.

“My mother’s a very private person—and so am I. I’m conscious
of having to respect her and her space. I don’t invite people over, except friends who’ve known her
a long time,” says MLP. “Actually, our routines complement each other. During the week, she mostly
stays with my brother and sister in Connecticut. She comes home on weekends to go to church.

“I’m in the apartment weeknights, but often go away—or stay with
friends—on weekends. It just happens to work out that way, so we do have privacy. But I’m always
careful anyway, just in case she comes home unexpectedly during the week.”

Although it’s not his main purpose for living there, MLP’s presence
in the apartment firmly establishes his right—as next of kin—to eventually become
the primary tenant.

“It’s a great apartment—really huge, and with a great view. I
grew up in it, and I have an attachment to the place. I hope to take it over eventually,” says MLP. “I
don’t foresee any problem with doing that at some time in the future. The building managers and everyone
else in the building knows me, and I’ve been accepted back without question. Of course, the building’s
been gentrified recently. Free market rent for my mother’s apartment, one of the smaller units,
is about $1,500 a month, but I’d hope to preserve the rent-stabilized status and rent. Meanwhile,
when I’m finished with school, I’ll rent or buy my own place. I’m thinking of finding an apartment
on the West Side, Washington Heights or Riverdale as my next stop.”

Property Tales

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The thing is, people can’t believe it’s happening to them. But there’s an epidemic. Lice
are everywhere. You can be rich or poor, dirty or clean. It doesn’t matter. They don’t discriminate.
So, if you wake up in the morning with a bite and it itches, you’ve probably got them. My advice: call
an exterminator immediately. The faster you get rid of them, the more likely you are to be protected
from them in the future. The extermination’s a terrible mess, and very expensive. But if you get
them right away, they’re gone. And, if you don’t get them right away, they multiply very quickly.
So don’t wait.

—Nicky C., 60s,volunteer, Habitat for Humanity

Nicky C., a lady of means, lives in a West Side luxury condo. She
adores her immaculate, always tidy retreat. Recently, her life’s been disrupted—by bedbugs.

“I thought the bites I was getting on my legs were just hives. But then
I remembered I’d been helping my friend—another West Side lady of means—put her apartment
back together after she’d been fumigated—for a fourth time—for bedbugs. I’d borrowed
some books from her. So I thought: hummmmm, maybe there were some bedbug eggs in those books. But
I didn’t see any bugs in my apartment, so I didn’t do anything about it,” says Nicky. “Then I went on
vacation. When I returned home, my son, who’d been apartment sitting for me, said ‘Look what I found’—and
showed me a bug he’d captured under a glass. I called exterminators. They said, ‘Yep, that’s a bed-
bug—full of blood.'”

The exterminator informed Nicky that NY has a serious bedbug epidemic,
and 95 percent of the calls he receives are for bedbug infestations.

You can introduce them into your home on your shoe soles, overcoats,
in paper bags or books—which was apparently what happened to Nicky.

After the exterminator identified the bug-under-glass as a member
of the insect family Cimicidae, the exterminator assessed Nicky’s apartment (cost: $113) to determine
the extent of infestation. He found one bedbug, hiding in a light switch near Nicky’s bed.

“Apparently they hide anywhere near your bed—in the seams of
your mattress, or behind pictures or in the frames, and in the cracks in the floor or in clothing,
upholstery or raw wood. Always near your bed, because they’re bloodsuckers, like ticks. They hibernate
by day. At night, attracted by the carbon dioxide you breath out while you sleep, they come and getcha,”
Nicky says.

Bedbug basics: About one-fifth of an inch long. Oval-shaped flat bodies.
Rusty red or mahogany in color. Hard to see—except when they’re engorged with blood. Bedbugs
take up to six times their weight in blood, and go without feeding for 80-140 days. Females lay 200-500
eggs. The cycle from egg to adult takes five weeks to four months, depending on temperature. Adults
live for about 10 months. There can be three to four bedbug generations per year.

Based on the exterminator’s assessment, Nicky had one room of her apartment—her
bedroom—fumigated (cost: $230).

“It was a judgment call. Having the whole apartment done would have been
extremely expensive. But cost wasn’t the only deciding factor. The process is really difficult—because
when you’re fumigated, everything has to come out. All clothing, or I should say everything made
of cloth has to be laundered or cleaned. Then, after you spend several hundred dollars at the Laundromat
and dry cleaners, you have to put everything away again,” she says. “It’s like moving. No, worse.
Because when you return home after they’ve sprayed everything, your place looks like the Hells
Angels moved you. It’s total chaos. And it stinks of insecticide.”

The process took several days. Nicky slept at a friend’s house.

She hopes all the bedbugs are dead and gone.

“It’s my own fault,” she says. “How foolish was I to borrow books from
someone with bedbugs? Ironically, before I knew about them, I sent one of the books to my brother-in-law
in California. I called and said, ‘Stuart, get rid of that book.’ But he likes it. So, he’s putting
it in the freezer. I sure hope that works.”

Property Tales

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At the end of the day, when you’ve paid your rent and your student loans, you have nothing left
to spend on enjoying yourself. I couldn’t go with my friends to restaurants because I couldn’t afford
it. I had to choose between going out to dinner or going to the movies. New York is a city for people
with good, high-paying jobs. If you’ve got a six-figure salary, it’s the best place in the world.
If you’re a struggling artist or writer, it’s going to be hard. You’re going to have to select the
nights you go out, what you do, who you choose as friends, who you date—everything.

—L.B., 28, freelance writer

After four Big Apple years, L.B.’s leaving town. He’s heading
for Chicago—where he hopes life will be equally productive and much sweeter.

Real estate’s played a part in his decision to move.

“The gist is that I’m being out-priced. Since May 2003, I’ve shared a
$2400-per-month East Village railroad apartment with two roommates. I pay almost $900. The place
is on 7th St., near First Ave.—a quiet block in the middle of mayhem. My roommates are great.
The building’s good. Best, we have a backyard where we have barbecues and parties. But our rent’s
being jacked up, and I’m nervous about the future. I could wake up tomorrow at 35—and still
have roommates. I could either take a dumpy apartment in East Bushwick or move to another city. As
a freelance writer, I can work from anywhere, as long as I have the internet and a phone,” says L.B.
“Most people come to New York to see and do it all, but this city’s making me claustrophobic. I want
to see what other cities can offer.”

L.B. arrived in New York in 2000 to begin a two-year master’s degree program
at Columbia University.

“I couldn’t get student housing, so I had to find someplace to live. This
was during the dot-com boom, and rents were crazy. Through newspaper ads, I found a $1000-per-month
studio in a brownstone on 107th St. and West End Ave. It was perhaps the smallest studio apartment
in Manhattan: a former closet. I had a fold-up futon, tiny desk and minuscule kitchenette. That
was it. But, I’d viewed other apartments, and this was best,” he recalls. “I liked the other tenants—couples
mostly, law students or PhD candidates. Their apartments were larger than mine, but not by much.
I’d invite people over, and when they saw my apartment, they’d say, ‘Holy shit, you live here?'”

After his Columbia years, L.B. took a short-term Brooklyn sublet, then
moved to his East Village digs.

“My room’s not much bigger than my studio was. I’ve enjoyed sharing.
When I was studying, I needed to live alone. While I was freelancing and doing odd jobs, I liked having
roommates. Now the pendulum’s swung the other way—I want my own space,” says L.B. “I know
I’m giving up great camaraderie, a nice apartment in a great location, great friends, good work
contacts, good career opportunities. But now I want to have a dog, car, more space, more light, cheaper
rent. I can’t have these things in NYC.”

Is L.B. riding the crest of a trend?

“I don’t think there’s a wave of people following me to Chicago, but I
do think there’s a wave of people moving away from New York. I think there are two reasons: First,
New York’s so pricey, you can’t afford to live here. Second, I suspect New York’s influence is waning.
Is New York always going to be the place you must be to be successful? I’ve done what I came to New York
to do—finished graduate school, got good freelance jobs writing for magazines, even for
the New York Times. I’ve met a lot of great people and will keep in touch with them. But I’ve
also met a lot of people who are leaving New York. I think that they, like me, have found that New York
has so much opportunity, you can’t keep up with it,” says L.B. “I’m looking forward to going to a new
city and seeing what’s out there.”

Property Tales

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The capitalist food-chain model really works when applied to the real estate market. Larger
fish always move in after independent artists have pioneered and transformed the city’s rundown
or marginal neighborhoods. Then, pushed out of their living and working spaces, artists have to
find other areas to settle in. That means New York City’s cultural landscape is constantly in a state
of flux, geographically speaking.

—Aaron Beall, 40, impresario

 

 

When Aaron Beall thinks real estate, he thinks theater.

“Clever landlords understand that when they bring theater into a transitional
neighborhood, it jumpstarts gentrification,” says Beall.

“We’ve seen it repeatedly, starting with Café Chino in the West
Village during the 60s, La Mamma in the East Village during the 70s, and P.S. 22 in Long Island City
during the 80s. Next in the continuum: the complex of theaters on Ludlow St. on the Lower East Side,
which we established during the 90s. They were pushed out by bars and restaurants, which are now
being displaced by larger economic entities.”

In 1988, Ludlow St. landlords recruited Beall to transform an empty
space into a theater—Theater Club Funambules—and work there for a year, rent-free.

“We pioneered crossing Houston St. because East Village rents were
too high. After a year, we began paying rent—under $1000 a month. But as theatrical culture
blossomed on Ludlow St.—with the opening of House of Candles, Expanded Arts, Surf Reality
and the Collective Unconscious—rents rose. We were constantly inventive to survive,”
says Beall. “From 1988 to 2000, we produced 2500 shows, presenting three different performances—at
7:30, 10:00 and midnight—nightly. In 1991, we changed our name to Nada—because that’s
what artists start off with—nothing. In 1995, under shamanistic advice, I changed the name
to Todo Con Nada.”

Beall, helming Ludlow St.’s theater movement, staged a Hamlet
festival—presenting 31 different productions—in 1993, followed by 1994’s OBIE-winning
Faust festival—with 43 productions. In 1997, he helped create NY International
Fringe Festival, opening four more Ludlow St. theaters. In 1998, he added Nada 45, on 45th St.

“I foresaw a tide…of change in real estate. I felt it prudent to
open a bunch of theaters to get them into history books, making sure Ludlow St. theatrical culture
and the 90s Off-Off Broadway movement would be documented. Those theaters closed by 2001, after
glorious runs,” says Beall. “I moved to Times Square, turning the 18,000-square-foot second floor
of Show World, the sex emporium, into several theaters called Todo Con Nada Show World, presenting
the Yiddish Theater, and other projects. I left there in 2002, amicably and with a severance package—the
owner realized he’d earn more with a nightclub. It’s now the Laugh Factory, a national chain.”

Beall’s in the process of archiving the Ludlow St. theater documents,
and is currently without a theater—but that’s likely to change soon.

“I’m thinking of opening two six-seat theaters in my small midtown apartment.
I’ll present a play in my room, and a stand up comic in my roommate’s room. The kitchen between will
be the lobby,” Beall says. “We’ll call it the Mouse.”

For larger venues, Beall sees potential downtown.

“Artists are being encouraged to move to the Financial District—until
the World Trade Center is completed. I figure we’ve got a decade before we’re kicked out. Meanwhile,
the boroughs are opening up, too. Culture used to be Manhattan-centric, but it’s becoming citywide,
with pockets of intense artistic activity in Brooklyn and Staten Island. That’s a good thing. The
ultimate goal would be for artists to own places—something that’s rundown but redeemable,
perhaps a disused city building or one donated by a foundation. You’d need funding to run it, though.
What we did independently on Ludlow St. would take hundreds of thousands of dollars—or maybe
a million—to run now. But funding is potentially dangerous if you want complete artistic
freedom,” according to Beall.

“New York City’s the best place in the world for artists, but it’s becoming
more difficult to survive here. As the economic tide rises higher and higher, artists just have
to be more ingenious. Ingenuity is our bread and butter.”

Property Tales

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With the market what it is today, it’s hard to know what to advise people who are looking to
buy studios. Prices for one- and two- bedroom apartments seem to have stabilized somewhat, but
because so few studios are available, there are serious bidding wars driving prices way up. The
bubble is bound to burst sometime, but who knows when? I guess I’d say if you don’t need a place immediately,
you’d best wait to buy. But if you do need a place—as I did when I bought—you should bid
as much as you can the first time around—because you may not get another shot at it.

Bill Muraskin, 60, college professor

In spring of 2004, Bill Muraskin and his wife were divorced.
She bought him out of the two-bedroom Upper West Side apartment they’d shared for 17 years, and Muraskin
went apartment hunting for a studio in which to begin his new life.

In two months, Muraskin looked at every studio he heard about—some
50 in all. He liked several enough to bid on them, but he wasn’t able to actually land a place until
July 2004.

“Finally, I got lucky. I found my studio through a realtor friend who
told me about it the same day—or, should I say, the same minute?—it was listed. I was
the first person who saw it. It has a wall of windows overlooking a park. I loved it and immediately
bid as much as I possible could to make sure I’d get it,” says Muraskin.

That was about $50,000 over the asking price for the 550-square-foot,
fourth-floor Lincoln Towers studio.

Why bid so much higher than the asking price?

“That’s a lesson I learned from experience. I’d bid considerably more
than the asking prices on several other places, and lost out. For example, I wanted to buy a similar
apartment of the same size in the Schwab House. They were asking approximately the same price as
for my studio, and I bid the same amount as I did for my studio—but I didn’t get it. I didn’t even
get a chance to bid for it again, because I wasn’t even in the top-bidding group. So, I wasn’t totally
crazy to bid way above what I thought my studio might go for—because I knew there was a good
chance I’d miss it,” says Muraskin.

“At the time, the market for studios was insane. Prices were going up
15 percent every few weeks. There were so few studios available, people were bidding aggressively
against each other for places they wouldn’t ordinarily consider worthwhile—or, quite
frankly, weren’t very nice.”

Muraskin found himself consistently outbid by wealthy people buying
studios for use as New York pied-à-terres or as first apartments for their grown
children. Instead of paying several thousand dollars a month for rent, they might as well pay the
same amount to buy a place as an investment.

“As long as interest rates were so low, it made good financial sense for
them,” says Muraskin. “But I found it somewhat humiliating. Here I was, willing to pay all I could
afford for a primary residence where I would spend the rest of my life, and I was bidding against people
who were just buying a little something extra—and I was losing out to them.”

Muraskin thinks he overpaid for his studio.

“I had to. And, for the time being, it hasn’t proven to be a bad investment.
In the six months since I bought the place, the asking price has risen to what I paid for it, which means
that if I were buying it now, I’d have to bid another $50,000 more—and who knows if I’d get it
for that?

“Of course, if interest rates go up—as they’re bound to—fewer
people will be buying places, and prices could plummet. I went through those kinds of ups and downs
with the value of my former apartment. But, in this case, it doesn’t really matter that much to me,
because I intend to live in my studio for a long time.”

Property Tales

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Everyone has their own taste in trees. Once, I sold a tree that was cut in half lenghtwise,
from top to bottom, when the delivery truck went under a bridge. I thought nobody would buy it. But
someone thought it was perfect—because it could stand right next to the wall.

—Todd Snyder, 40s,

Christmas-tree vendor

During the weeks before Christmas, NYC sidewalks are ruled
by commerce. Along major thoroughfares from Battery Park to Inwood, Christmas-crazed consumers
rush from vendor to vendor to stock up on stocking stuffers and other stuff.

Among the largest items—in size and price—on the block
are Christmas trees. Hundreds—no, thousands of them. You can’t miss them. They’re all over
the place.

“New York City has a very old law saying you don’t need a permit to sell
Christmas trees on the street during December, as long as you have the permission of the business
you’re selling in front of,” explains Todd Snyder, who for the past 10 years or so has manned a big
Christmas-tree stand located on Broadway between West 79th and 80th Streets, in front of First
Baptist Church and H&H Bagels.

“We have their permission,” says Snyder. “I think we give the church
some big trees for their decorations and maybe some money, and I’m pretty sure we have a standing
contract with the bagel store. But those deals are made by Kevin Hammer, who owns this stand and—well,
I’m not sure of exactly how many—but I’d say he has at least 80 more stands all over the city.
I just sell trees, and sometimes deliver them to buyers.”

The stand’s set up several days after Thanksgiving; it’s torn down on
Christmas Eve. Snyder figures he sells roughly 1000 trees during that period. Prices range from
about $40 to $120, depending upon the size, shape and fullness of the tree. He also sells wreaths.

“We sell three kinds of trees. Fraziers are the most expensive because
their needles hold better, but they don’t smell as nice as the Douglas firs and Balsams,” says Snyder.
“Most of our trees are from Nova Scotia. They’re hauled down from Canada on huge flatbed trucks.
We get deliveries at night, several times a week. Sometimes we have so many trees—well, it
can be a problem if the sidewalk gets congested.”

Stacked 10 deep against racks built at curbside, the pines await selection
by someone who’ll decorate and adore them for their brief window of seasonal service. Cumulatively,
their scent is so sweet that pedestrians don’t seem bothered by having to elbow their way along the
sliver of sidewalk accessible between trees and building facades.

“People are in a good mood.” says Snyder. “It’s fun to sell trees to them.
And, for some, the trees we sell them are just about as close as they ever get to nature. So, I feel I’m
doing [a] good thing.”

The money ain’t bad, either. Snyder, who works during the year as an itinerant
laborer—picking blueberries in Maine or planting trees in Virginia—won’t reveal
what he earns from his annual December-in-New York job, but the buzz among neighborhood street
vendors is that Christmas-tree sellers make about $5000 for the month.

“We’re paid at the end of the season—like a Christmas bonus,”
says Snyder. “The amount varies yearly—depending on sales and, I guess, on expenses. You
know, the price of gas, and whether the dollar is strong when Kevin buys trees in Canada.”

While in New York, Todd rents a room at Hayden House, a hotel on West 79th
Street, close to his stand. He says many of the other vendors are Canadian or European. Everyone
arranges their own housing—some rent apartments, others stay in vans.

Do pedestrians ever express dismay that so many trees are chopped down
to celebrate Christ’s birth?

“No, I never heard that,” says Todd. “These trees are farmed for Christmas.
In nature, trees don’t grow this perfectly.”

Last Christmas Eve, Todd had 80 unsold trees, which he left in the street
to be picked up by garbage collectors. Of course, come January, that’s where all the trees that were
sold are dumped, too.

Property Tales

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I’m all about being legal. I’m absolutely intent on doing things the right way, because you
can get in a lot less trouble that way.

Karen Jacobsen,

35, singer/songwriter

SO FAR, Karen Jacobsen’s New York real estate story
has two chapters.

Since arriving in town in 2000, Karen’s lived in two apartments on 49th
Street. The first was near Second Avenue. The second’s a short bus ride across town, near Eighth
Avenue. But, as Karen sees it, they’re worlds apart. In making the move from one to the other, she
feels like she’s conquered the world.

But here’s the tale from the beginning:

“I grew up on the other side of the world, in Australia. At age 31, I had
a very comfortable life, was making great money. I owned a large apartment with great views, doorman,
all the bells and whistles, and a car parked in my own garage space. But I was drawn to New York—which
is understandable. I’m a musician, New York is the locus for creative people. I needed to be here,”
says Jacobsen.

To bankroll the move, Jacobsen sublet her apartment and took a loan against
the property.

She arrived in New York on July 4—her “personal Independence
Day”—with two suitcases and a dream.

“I slept on the couch at my friends’ Chelsea apartment. We’d serendipitously
met halfway up the Eiffel Tower in Paris in 1992, and kept in touch. It was great staying with them,
but after a month, I longed for my own space,” she says. “I had 30 phone numbers for friends of friends,
and called all—asking for help finding a place. At a party, I met a guy who had a room for rent.
There was one drawback: You had to walk through his bedroom to get to yours. But the $500 monthly rent
was affordable, so I took it. It was closet-like really, about eight by 10 feet, with a window that,
thankfully, showed a sliver of sky.”

The place was a dumpy no-doorman walk-up. But that wasn’t the worst of
it. Her roommate, it happened, had a drug problem. After family intervention, he went to rehab,
leaving Jacobsen to look after the apartment.

“Because of the lease situation, I agreed to continue to pay him the rent,
which he would pay to the landlord. Turns out, he never sent the money in. So, I had to leave the apartment.
On September 9, 2001, I left for Sydney, intending to regroup for a week or so.”

Then 9/11 happened, and Jacobsen wound up staying in Sydney for six weeks.

When she returned to New York, Jacobsen was armed with a work permit and
an apartment lead.

“As I was going to the airport, a New York friend called to say she knew
of a sublet that sounded good. Hoping for the best, I told her to take it for me, sight unseen,” says
Jacobsen. “It turned out perfectly. It’s where I still live.”

The apartment is a railroad flat that’s been converted from one bedroom
to two. It has a kitchen and full bathroom. It’s in an eight-story building with an elevator and doorman,
and laundry facilities in the basement.

“I took the place as a legal sublet, and shared it with a woman roommate
for three years. When the original tenant’s lease was up last November, I signed the new lease, and
my roommate moved. It’s official: I’m here,” she says.

Jacobsen’s rent is $1700 monthly. She recently sold her Sydney apartment
for about 30 percent more than she paid for it, and has been able to pay off her debts. She’s also established
her own publishing company, Kurly Queen, which is based in her apartment and will release her CD
next February.

“It was hard to leave Australia, move here and establish myself. I’m
proud I’ve been able to do it. I’m here to stay,” she says. “Several weeks ago, I sang the National
Anthem at a NY Jets game—in front of 80,000 people. That was a goalpost for me. My next may just
be to own my own apartment in New York. Actually, I’m hoping to accomplish that within a year.”

Chapter three!

Property Tales

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Nothing in life is permanent—not in romance or real estate. And that certainly applies
to my life in New York. When my former partner and I bought our house, I thought it was forever. But
within six years, I found myself being phased out of the house and the relationship. It was very disappointing,
very painful. You have to learn how to be flexible. Life’s a huge learning curve.

W.T., 58, businessman

 

W.T.’S A NEWLYWED. Several months ago, he married the man with
whom he’s shared his life for more than a dozen years. The couple, accompanied by several of their
friends and kinfolk, flew to Toronto, where same-sex marriage is legal, and during a daylong celebration,
they exchanged vows and tied the knot. Then they returned home to New York, where their marriage
is legally recognized, but barely honored in the bureaucracy’s official realms.

“Now, I’m really looking to relocate in a really big way—to the
city where my marriage is fully recognized,” says W.T. “I have a feeling my partner and I might soon
be joining what is becoming an increasing number of people who’re looking north of the border for
a fairer way of life.”

But W.T. has ties to New York real estate, and before he leaves town, he’d
like to take care of several loose ends. “Most of my assets are wrapped up in the four-story West Side
building I bought with my former partner, where we shared the duplex apartment on the ground and
first floors until we split up in 1990. At that time, my former partner, who owns the major share of
the building, kept the duplex, and I moved in to one of the four rental units on the building’s two
upper floors. At first, I lived there full-time—for about two years. But after I met my current
partner and moved in with him, I used my own apartment mostly as my office. And, actually, I’ve barely
used it at all since 2002. It has become sort of a storage space—a very expensive one,” says
W.T. “Now I’d really like to restore the apartment to the building’s rent rolls. But there are several
sticky issues to deal with before that can be done.”

For one thing, the building’s C of O (certificate of occupancy) indicates
there are four—not five—dwelling units. “That’s because we’d financed the property
with an individual mortgage rather than a commercial loan. The rates were much cheaper, but you
couldn’t get an individual mortgage for properties containing more than four units. In order to
qualify, we removed the kitchen from one unit, and officially identified that space as an office
that was appended to the duplex in which we were living at the time. This was done by other owners in
our situation, and it’s perfectly legal,” says W.T.

“But, in wanting to rent the building’s fifth unit, the apartment will
substantially reduce the carrying costs—and so many people out there really need places
to live that it seems unfair to keep the apartment empty. We could easily restore the kitchen to complete
the unit. But, it’s so extremely costly to change the C of O to read five dwelling units, the expense
will more than offset our income gain,” says W.T. “Of course, we could rent the apartment illegally—as
many small-building landlords do, but that would raise serious ethical and practical issues we’d
have to sort out before taking action.”

W.T.’s also concerned about the building’s maintenance.

“When I lived in the building, I was much more involved in its daily maintenance.
When I stopped living there, this maintenance wasn’t continued. My former partner is less engaged
than I was in carrying on this activity. This is a source of irritation. As I said, my share of the building
is my primary asset, so I’d like to see it well-preserved. But it’s very tricky when business matters
are burdened with heavy emotional baggage.” o


Property Tales

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I never thought I’d like living in a luxury building. In fact, I kind of disliked the idea of
new buildings. I felt it wasn’t necessary. But, you know, I’ve found that it’s nice to not have rats
and roaches, and to have heat that works and low electricity bills and nice views. It’s like living
in a hotel sometimes, but that’s not always a bad thing. I like it lot more than I thought I would, actually.
I think it may have jaded me a bit.

Sean Gottlieb, 33, tv writer/producer

 

IN 2003, WHILE living in a West Village walk-up, Sean Gottlieb
frequently roller-bladed in Battery Park, where he spotted construction of The Solaire, a 27-story
“green” residential tower, located at 20 River Terrace, right on the Hudson River.

“It was a building designed and built specifically to protect the environment—or
at least not add to its destruction—and that intrigued me. At the time, I wasn’t actively
thinking about moving, but when I learned about post-9/11 rent abatements available to renters
signing new two-year leases in the Battery Park area, I began investigating possibilities,” says
Sean. “Then, too, my girlfriend and I were talking about giving up our individual apartments and
taking a place together. We finally applied for an apartment in The Solaire on the last day the rent
abatement offer was valid, at the end of May. Application was an easy process, and we took occupancy
of our one-bedroom apartment in August.”

The Solaire is a luxury highrise with exceptional design details and
all the amenities. The building has a two-story lobby, state-of-the-art gym open only to residents
for a $30 monthly fee, rooftop garden, inhouse parking and solar panels that supply power. Apartments,
referred to as “residences,” feature slate floors, marble countertops, floor-to-ceiling windows
with great views, washer/dryers, high-speed internet, multiple phone lines, filtered water,
designer low-consumption lighting fixtures and more.

Rents are high.

“We’d like to have lived on the river- view side of the building, but one-bedrooms
were about $3500 a month. Our apartment is $2800 a month. We’re on the 15th floor, and have very nice
city views. But they’re building five additional towers that, within the next four months, will
block our view, which we knew when we took the place,” says Sean.

“We could commit to the $2800 rent because of the abatement of $500 per
month, and we got the first two months free. That means we’re actually paying $2100 per month for
the duration of our two-year lease. It’s a great deal. We will have saved $12,000 in two years. We
could not have afforded to live in this building otherwise. On the other hand, I wonder whether the
building developers—who received post-9/11 tax abatements as incentive to complete construction—might
not have had to charge lower rents if the rent abatement option hadn’t been made available.”

The way the rent-abatement deal works is that Sean pays the $2800 monthly
rent, then receives a $500 check from the Lower Manhattan Development Corporation, which takes
the money out of its post-9/11 funding for the revitalization of downtown.

The problem is, Sean’s deal ends in June, 2005, when his lease is up.

“The abatement ends for us, and for many other downtown renters in situations
similar to ours. It’s not likely The Solaire will offer to lower rents, because the building’s completely
full and there’s a waiting list to get in. But the five new buildings under construction may flood
the rental market with apartments, and that may lower rents. It just isn’t clear how the situation
will evolve, or what we’ll decide to do,” says Sean.

“Frankly, I’m assuming we’ll have to move, and I’m researching possibilities
on the internet. I like our neighborhood, especially the park and proximity to the river, but we
may not be able to afford to stay. Returning to the West Village is an option, so’s Brooklyn. We might
buy a place. We have several months to decide. Meanwhile, we’re biding our time and enjoying every
minute of our opportunity to experience living in a luxury building at a price we’ve been able to
afford.” o


Property Tales

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I suggest students live in the city if they can. It’s definitely a good growing step for you
to do everything independently, without your parents. You’ve got to cook, and clean, and completely
take care of yourself—without the luxury of your parents doing little things for you. I most
miss my mom’s cooking. Especially because I live next door to a big Italian family like mine who love
to cook, and who have aromas of great food emanating from their apartment.

—Marissa Clemente, 24, Dental Student

MARISSA CLEMENTE has wanted to be a dentist since First Career
Day in kindergarten. When she graduated from college, she applied to every dental school in the
country. She was accepted at one—NYU Dental School. It happened to be her first choice.

“I am very privileged to be here,” says Marissa, now in her third year
of the four- year program. “Dentistry is the new profession for people who want to be doctors.
It promises a better future—you aren’t hampered by HMOs, or the burden of malpractice insurance.
But admission to dental school is extremely competitive, and it’s very costly to pay your way.”

Marissa has taken student loans—$70,000 per year, borrowed
from Citibank—to cover her education. Each year, $54,000 goes for tuition; the rest covers
school incidentals and living expenses.

“I don’t deny myself things I want. While I’m paying off debt at $1000
per month until I’m 65, I want to remember the fun I had,” she says. “But, student debt’s normal. I
don’t see it as a disadvantage—just something I have to do to get where I want to be.”

Eventually that’ll be “back home” in West Nyack, NY, where she’ll practice
with her dentist father and one of her two dentist sisters. Meanwhile, for 18 months until graduation,
Marissa’s sharing an

apartment with a classmate.

“We took a nice-size one-bedroom with a large living room, and constructed
a wall to divide the living room into a tiny shared living area and a rather large second bedroom.
I have the master bedroom, with one window and a closet. My roommate has the converted bedroom with
three windows, and she uses the hall closet. The shared area has a couch, easy chair, tv and coffee
table, but we rarely entertain. We spend most of our time in our rooms, which are furnished with whatever
we need,” says Marissa.

They took the apartment this past August. Each pays $1000 per month,
and that includes free membership to the luxury highrise building’s health club during their first
rental year.

“We have a great deal,” she says. “My roommate and I had just decided to
share a place, when she found this apartment through friends living in the building. It’s the first
place we saw. We took it immediately.”

The apartment is on 25th St. and FDR Drive. School’s on 24th St. and First
Ave., so Marissa walks to class, where she spends about six hours a day. She and her roommate are compatible,
she says, and the arrangement’s worked out perfectly.

Last year, Marissa commuted daily from her parent’s West Nyack home
to NYU—a 34-mile, half-hour drive each way. Freshman year, she’d had an NYU dorm apartment
but, she says, rarely stayed there.

“I moved to the dorm because I wanted to experience living in the city.
But I found my first year incredibly nerve-wracking—I’d waited my whole life to go to dental
school and I didn’t want to screw it up, so I put a lot of pressure on myself. I needed family support
and couldn’t be away from home—and since home’s only half an hour away, I was there most of
the time.

“The dorm cost $1200 a month. My roommate wasn’t a dental student, which
I didn’t like. We each had a tiny, minimally furnished bedroom and shared a kitchen with a two-seater
table, stove and refrigerator. I kept things in my room, but stayed [only] when I was taking tests.
During sophomore year, I lived at home. Now that I’m more confident about school, I’m able to stay
in the city. I’m thoroughly enjoying it.”

Property Tales

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“The good thing about New York is there’re lots of available places to choose from. In Amsterdam,
you’re lucky to find anything. There, I was doing a sublease where I had a purple bathroom, a lilac
kitchen, a blue bedroom. It was an old building in bad condition in a dangerous neighborhood. I could
hear everything my neighbors were doing. I mean everything. My apartment here is nice and quiet.
It’s expensive, though. I spend a larger percent of my income on housing.

—Charel van Dam

tourism marketing representative

IN JANUARY 2004, on the eve of his thirtieth birthday, Charel
van Dam moved from Amsterdam to New York to begin a new job.

“The timing was perfect. I’m young, single—and the most valuable
thing I owned in Amsterdam was a $400 Volkswagen,” says Charel. “I decided practically overnight
to move.”

His new employer, Netherlands Tourism Board, where he’s marketing
maven for the “cool capital” of Amsterdam, arranged a month’s lodging for Charel at Kolping House
on 88th St. between Lexington and Third Aves.

“I’d stayed there for two weeks in December, while visiting New York
to prepare for my job. Kolping House provides cheap lodging for foreign men—mostly Germans.
My room was six by nine feet, with a window facing a blank wall. I shared a bathroom with two dozen 22-year-old
guys with frat-house mentalities. It cost only $700 a month, including Monday through Friday dinners—but
I couldn’t go back. I was turning 30, and doing that frat-house thing would kill me,” says Charel.

Work colleagues suggested he try Macaw House, on 101st St.

“Esther and Sonia—landlady and daughter whose last names I don’t
know—call it a guest house. It’s two buildings on opposite sides of 101st St., with four guest
rooms and two bathrooms per floor. Everyone shares the living room and kitchen,” according to Charel.
“Having the kitchen was convenient, but food was stolen, even though you marked everything. I’m
six-three and Dutch is a guttural language, so you’d think I’d scare the food thieves—but
no, they still took my food.”

Charel’s top-floor walk-up, seven-by-12 room had a single bed, tv with
cable and small cabinet. It had a window facing a blank wall. It cost $1200 per month, was well-kept,
tidy and cleaned daily.

“The residents were a bit freaky—a mixture of Europeans and Americans
who came and went. In the month I lived there, I saw more policemen than I’d seen in my whole life in
Holland. There was always something happening. For example, one guy had been using a former resident’s
credit card to donate money to charities—so he’d get invited to fancy parties,” says Charel.
“I’m glad it was so weird, though, because it motivated me to find my own apartment quickly—just
to get out of there.”

But as van Dam notes, several obstacles face recent arrivals when it
comes to finding dependable housing.

“It takes about eight weeks for you to get a social security number, without
which you can’t have a bank account or a credit card. You’ve got money from cash advances, but renters
want your credit history. Luckily, I discovered American Express would transfer my credit history
from Holland.”

Working with brokers, Charel saw 30 apartments in three weeks. He wouldn’t
settle for a small room with one window facing a blank wall. He worked hard, was diligent. Eventually,
a web listing led him to his nice, $1600-per-month top-floor one-bedroom on E. 81st St.

“I wanted the West Village, but it’s too expensive. Brokers were pushing
me into apartments I didn’t like—just to get their commissions. For me, with housing, if
it feels right, that’s the place. I walked into this apartment and I knew immediately it was right.
Sixteen hundred dollars is expensive, but it’s worth it. I like having my own place. If I want to run
naked from the bedroom to the kitchen, I can do it without shocking anyone.”

Property Tales

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SAGITTARIUS

NOV. 22-DEC. 21

I heard that, following the presidential election, hits on immigration
websites (especially those for Canada, Australia and New Zealand) increased exponentially.
Sites offering (foreign-citizenship-conferring) marriage to Americans sprang up all over the
place, as sympathizers outside of the States offered to help the disillusioned disenfranchised
escape their divided nation. Recent personal decisions you’ve made have parts of yourself running
for the borders, or simply jumping ship. It’s hard being so torn, and understandable that even though
you feel like you made the right decision, you can’t help simultaneously cringing about its potential
consequences. Sadly, right or wrong, this one can’t be undone. Forgo regret. It’s time to marshal
your resources and just make the best of it.

CAPRICORN

DEC. 22-JAN. 19

Capricorns evidently possess an extra sense that most other people lack:
ethical vision. It doesn’t seem like much of a superpower, though; it actually resembles a handicap
more than a boon, as it seems to occasionally keep you from doing things that your friends do without
a second thought, like downloading pirated music, or grazing the produce section at the grocery
store. Fortunately or unfortunately, you’re likely to encounter your own personal kryptonite
this week, freeing you from the burden of always seeing such stark rights and wrongs. However, I
hope you don’t take up shoplifting or insurance fraud just because you can’t see a victim. In these
cases, there may be no obvious victim, but there still is one: you, or at least your long-term self-respect.

AQUARIUS

JAN. 20-FEB. 18

When you were a kid, you were an expert at playing your parents off each other.
Mom would say one thing, Dad another, and with a couple of strategic maneuvers on your part, you’d
soon fly beneath the radar while they argued. You have a similar opportunity now—only Ma
and Pa have been replaced by more current figures of authority. You could easily take advantage
of the conflict that’s brewing between them and reap great personal reward (if you don’t care about
the tricky moral issues of this kind of opportunism). Or you could stay out of it completely. Your
choice. I wouldn’t exercise option three (coming between them), however: You’d simply be crushed.

PISCES

FEB. 19-MARCH 20

Help people unlearn their fear. Fear’s got a tight grip on the world. It’s
used to steer people, like cattle, all the time—it got Bush reelected, for example. You can
help cure this epidemic of taught terror, because many Pisceans are curiously immune to it. You’re
afraid of things, yes, but they’re almost never the things you’re instructed or encouraged (by
parents, politicians or the nightly news) to fear. Help those around you see how much harm and how
little good their carefully inculcated anxiety is causing. It’s hard to become fearless—maybe
even too hard, for now—but I think it’s possible to learn (and teach) the distinction between
real and present dangers and unlikely, conjectural ones.

ARIES

MARCH 21-APRIL 19

This week you may be presented with a gift that’s the equivalent of 17 stunning
white ponies. There’s no denying the generosity of such a gesture, but there’s also no avoiding
the fact that you simply can’t afford to accept it. Where would you keep these beautiful beasts?
In your apartment? How could you feed them, or care for them? You can’t consistently keep your houseplants
alive, let alone several tons of magnificent horseflesh. No matter how shell-shocked you are,
don’t be stupid enough to say yes. This offer is more than you can handle, and you know it. Do the right
thing and say: “Thanks, but no thanks.”

TAURUS

APRIL 20-MAY 20

Snow is sensual, esthetically beautiful, pure, even luxurious in some ways.
You can see why some people despise it, but most Taureans love the stuff—even the hard labor
and disruption of routine it precipitates doesn’t bother you like those lazy, heat-seeking Leos,
for example. So I’m confused why the person who’s recently entered your life has gotten such a bad
review from you. Try to think of him or her as snow; the description certainly applies, as s/he’s
beautiful, limited, inconvenient, disruptive, messy, and ultimately exactly as good or bad as
the weather—in other words, it all depends on your perception.

GEMINI

MAY 21-JUNE 20

The Moon waxes full in your sign this week, making emotions—especially
those directed toward you—bigger than you’re generally comfortable with. Tough shit.
This isn’t a bad thing, it’s just bewildering. Embrace it, if you can, rather than resisting it.
Think of this as your chance to channel and express all the melodrama and pathos of a chick flick or
ancient Greek tragedy, without anyone batting an eyelash, as it will all seem to be perfectly appropriate,
even called for. That’s right, you get to be a drama queen without earning the label. Most people
would jump at the chance. Can’t you at least give it an enthusiastic try? Sobbing, screaming, ranting
and raving can actually be quite fun, satisfying activities. You’ll see.

CANCER

JUNE 21-JULY 22

You’re in for a refreshing break, a long stretch of calm internal oceans,
with a strong, steady wind at your back. In other words, a quiet, low-key period in which you can make
a surprising amount of forward progress, without the struggle that usually entails. The only danger
lies in the possibility that you might fuck yourself by overcomplicating things, by suddenly adding
more to your plate. Stick with the original plan and it should all go swimmingly. Modify it now and
you could get stuck in a Bermuda Triangle of your own ambitions, and might even sink the entire ship.

LEO

JULY 23-AUG. 22

Some people just have really bland palates. They can’t tolerate food that’s
the least bit exotic or spicy. They’re into familiar meat and potatoes and bread; anything that
diverges too far from that well-trod territory might as well be poison. Face it, Leo. You are
spicy food.
You’re a little exotic. Therefore, you’re not for everyone, or just anyone. So
quit trying to ram yourself down the throats of those who wrinkle their noses at non-processed cheese;
you’re simply too much for them. You may be convinced, like a well-meaning parent, that you’d be
good for them, that they might even love you, if they could just be compelled to take a taste. But that’s
not your call. Let them know you’re on the table and available for sampling. Then leave them alone.

VIRGO

AUG. 23-SEPT. 22

Virgos love deadlines, secretly. They work for you, whether you admit it
or not. Without them you’re a little lost—so much so that you often make arbitrary ones for
yourself, even for tasks that aren’t especially time-sensitive. Nevertheless, external cut-off
dates always work better than imaginary ones, so here’s one from the planets: Get your five most
important short-term goals done before the 29th, when Mercury goes retrograde and starts to fuck
with you, big time. Not sure what your top five immediate objectives are? Well shit, you have your
work cut out for you then, don’t you?

LIBRA

SEPT. 23-OCT. 22

Your fantasy world is about to intersect with your real life. Sadly, I don’t
mean that Jennifer Aniston or Brad Pitt plans on visiting your bedroom this evening. Actually,
it’s a bit more negative than that, as whoever you’re fucking is likely to uncover one of your deepest
darkest sexual or romantic secrets. This could lead to some seriously tense moments and profound
embarrassment for both of you. But if you stay calm, own your (ultimately minor) perversions, and
work it out, you could get what you’d never before imagined: actually living out your desires, instead
of just imagining them.

SCORPIO

OCT. 23-NOV. 21

You’re an entire rhumba of rattlesnakes this week. With both Venus and Mars—the
two sexiest planets—on your side this week, you’re more than just one lethal creature; you’re
a whole horde of them. This is not a strike against you by any means—being more dangerous only
makes you more attractive. Advertise it. You’ll see. You’re a quiver of cobras, a shiver of sharks.
Wear a sign, make bold declarations. People will run. Some of them will flee (from your cocky arrogance
as much as any danger). But most of them will be sprinting toward you, not away.

Property Tales

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Things don’t always go as you’ve planned—or would ideally
like them to be. Improvisation is part of life, and you’ve got to handle it—establish priorities
and make life decisions accordingly. For me, right now, living close enough to my daughter to see
her regularly and really be part of her life is most important to me. That goal really determines
my living and working arrangements.

—A.E.K., 40s,

musician and musical director

A.E.K. OWNS A one-bedroom apartment in the West 70s, and he lives
and works in a rented room in the West 90s.

“When I rented the room seven years ago, I intended to use it as a workplace
only. At the time, my wife, daughter and I were living in my apartment—which I’d occupied
since 1977. The apartment was too small, too cramped for me to work there. I needed a place for my musical
scores and synthesizers, where I could coach singers, and work without disturbing or being disturbed
by my family. A friend knew someone who was renting out a room in her big, rent-stabilized West End
Ave. apartment. The place was affordable and perfect for me as a studio. She worked during the day,
when I used the studio most—but there were no time restrictions on my use of the place, and
I had access to the rest of the apartment, too. Actually, at first I wasn’t there much because I was
frequently on tour,” he says.

“Fortunately, our agreement was that I could live there if necessary.
So, when my wife and I separated three years ago, I moved to the studio, while my wife and daughter
stayed in the condo. That arrangement was formalized in our divorce, which specifies that my ex-wife
can stay in the condo—which we now co-own—until our daughter is 18.”

That’s in seven years, and A.E.K. hopes to keep the status quo for that
long—although the situation is sub-ideal for several reasons.

“It’s costly, for one thing. My ex-wife pays $500 a month for the apartment—basically
that’s the amount of interest payments on our home-equity loan. We could rent the condo for quadruple
that amount if she would move. But she likes the location—and I’m not pushing her out. I could
use the extra income, but the fact that my daughter is just 20 blocks away and I can see her daily is
extremely important to me,” he says. “In seven years, if my ex-wife stays, she’ll have to pay market
rent for the condo, and if she moves, we’ll split the profits from renting or selling the place.”

Meanwhile, A.E.K. says his rented room suits his needs. It’s big enough,
has sufficient closet space and a private bathroom with a huge tub. He pays $600 per month for the
space, while earning $1200 to $1500 or more per month from music arranging, coaching and preps he
does there. But he’s concerned that the situation is a bit more tenuous than he’d like it to be.

“For one thing, I’m not sure the sublet to me is legal. So far, the building
management has been laid back. They’ve seen me coming and going for years, and never said anything.
I’m hoping that doesn’t change, but with real estate so high profile now, you never know,” he says.
“And another thing is that my roommate’s boyfriend has moved in. This hasn’t really impacted my
working situation—although I’ve stopped touring so I can be here for my daughter, and I do
most of my work in my room. Fortunately, it’s close to the apartment’s front door, so I guide most
clients into the studio without going through the rest of the place. When I coach children, their
chaperones wait in the living room, and my roommate’s boyfriend leaves the room. He’s a nice guy.
We’re all good friends. But my rent hasn’t changed, although there are three of us sharing the apartment.
I’m uncomfortable with that. My roommate disagrees. She’s told me if I don’t like it, I can move.
We’re at a stalemate, but I have to keep my priorities straight: Being near my daughter comes first.”
o


Property Tales

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“I wanted to establish my life in my own place.
I didn’t want to be 35 and living with roommates.”


Face reality. The moment you find a place that’s good enough, take it. Craigslist is fruitful
for leads. If you’ve got good credit, apply to a multi-building management company. They’ll list
you for apartments in all their buildings. Ferret out a bunch of management companies and apply
to them all.

—Barbara Lilie, 29,
book publishing

BARBARA LILIE moved to New York in 1998, planning to share a Manhattan
apartment with a friend. After two weeks of hustle and bustle, the friend decided New York was not
for her. Lilie had to find her own place.

“I couldn’t afford Manhattan. Brooklyn seemed reasonable, but I didn’t
know which neighborhoods were safe and convenient. In the Yellow Pages, I found a real estate agency
with ‘Brooklyn’ in its name. It was in Bay Ridge. So, not realizing how far it is, I took a place in Bay
Ridge—the first of my five apartments during the last six years,” says Lilie.

She paid $600 per month for a just-renovated studio in a private home.
The owners were darlings.

“They were an Italian family. They had a Virgin Mary statuette in the
front yard and invited me to barbecues in the backyard. They treated me like family, but eventually
I tired of having noisy kids around and of living in a studio—which was too small, especially
after my boyfriend moved in with me,” says Lilie.

So, after a year and a half in the studio, Lilie took another Bay Ridge
apartment.

“It was newly, tastefully renovated—1200 square feet, two bedrooms,
high ceilings, tons of closet space. I loved it,” she says. “But the express bus to Manhattan took
an hour and a half. The commute was a pain in the ass. My friends lived in the city. I felt isolated.
I decided to move.”

By then, Lilie’s boyfriend was working and living on Long Island. Lilie
spent weekends with him, so opted for a workweek pied à terre in Manhattan. She found a Gramercy
Park two-bedroom share with a friend of a friend.

“My room was tiny, but I could walk to work and to Union Square and the East
Village, where I met friends,” she says. “But, after six months, the leaseholder moved and the landlord
decided to renovate. I’d been paying $1100; the new rent was $3500. I couldn’t afford it. I had to
move again, frustrating as it was.”

Still spending weekends with her boyfriend, Lilie sought another temporary
share. She mass-emailed friends asking for leads.

“I found a three-person share in a gorgeous four-bedroom duplex in Brooklyn
Heights. I paid $800 for a big, airy room—the leaseholder was there long enough so the rent
was super-cheap,” says Lilie.

However, shortly after she moved in, the leaseholder moved out. Lilie
interviewed for a new roommate.

“We found someone we liked and signed a new lease. I lived there for two
more years. Eventually, after breaking up with my boyfriend, I wanted to establish my life in my
own place. I didn’t want to be 35 and living with roommates,” says Lilie. “I had a job, good credit.
I wanted Manhattan, newly renovated, a junior one bedroom.”

Lilie saw at least 30 apartments in six months.

“I couldn’t commit. Eventually I realized Manhattan wasn’t happening
for me. I was about to give up, but one day was randomly checking Craigslist and saw an owner’s posting—no
broker’s fee!—for a studio five blocks from where I was living. A guy was breaking his lease
in a management-company-run building, and needed someone to take over,” says Lilie.

“It wasn’t newly renovated, wasn’t one bedroom, wasn’t Manhattan.
But the place had a good feel, great character. It was 500 square feet, with a bedroom alcove I could
screen off, and full-size appliances in a small kitchen and a bathroom with stylish old black and
while tile and a nice sink. The rent was reasonable—it increased to $1250 when I moved in,
but is now rent-stabilized. It’s a nice building, three blocks from the Promenade, and close to
the subway. So, I thought what the hell, and took it.”

Property Tales

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Regardless of whether I need a place at the moment or not, I ask people if they know of an empty
apartment or of anyone who’s moving. If they do, I follow up. I’ve found apartments for myself, and
for 10 other people that way. Just by asking the question. Ask at parties. If you’re polite and casual
about it, people are willing to share whatever they know. If you’re rude or pushy, they blow you off.
Avoid brokers—they’re too expensive for bad attitude and little else.

—Michael Scully, 30,

architect’s business manager

WHILE MOST PEOPLE find NYC apartment hunting a struggle, Michael
Scully has been fortunate—and smart—enough to amble into a series of appealing living
situations without much effort.

“I can’t say I’ve apartment hunted,” says Scully. “I’m presented with
opportunities too good to pass up.”

Scully’s run of luck began in 1996, when he returned to the New York area
from college.

“That summer, I stayed with my parents in New Jersey and commuted into
Manhattan when I got a job. I was saving to move into the city. I didn’t think I could afford my own place,
so asked everyone I met if they knew anybody looking for a roommate. Someone introduced me to a woman
who wanted to share an apartment she knew of. We met, decided we could get along. Next day, we saw the
apartment and took it.

“It was in Park Slope—big living room, three bedrooms—one
for each of us, and a guest room. High tin ceilings, 800 square feet. No broker’s fee. We each paid
$600 per month. The landlords were my roommate’s cousins, so they were nice to us.”

That lasted 11 months.

“I felt that my roommate was invading my social life. She assumed she
was invited everywhere I went. We were living together as roommates—I didn’t want to spend
every waking moment with her.”

So he moved back with his parents, and again began asking friends for
leads.

He and two pals almost took a nice three-bedroom in Windsor Terrace,
but one friend backed out. Good luck for Scully. As it turned out, the other friend’s current roommate
moved, leaving a spot for Scully in a terrific three-bedroom in Brooklyn Heights. For $600 per month,
Scully shared the 1200-square-foot apartment. He had a huge bedroom with private porch.

Then, a friend asked him to apartment sit his East Village condo for a
year, while paying the $975 mortgage payments.

“It was 800 square feet, high ceilings, huge living room and bedroom—all
to myself. The market rent would be $3000. I couldn’t say no,” says Scully. “But my Brooklyn Heights
situation was too good to relinquish, so I sublet my spot—which worked well because I was
careful about collecting rent, then paying it myself. I didn’t charge extra rent because it wouldn’t
be fair.”

In September 2001, Scully moved back with his roommates in Brooklyn
Heights.

“After living alone for two years, the roommate scene was rough. When
a friend moved in with his girlfriend, I took over his $900-per-month two-bedroom in Cobble Hill.
The place was charming but annoying. The roof slanted. The floors were so warped, my bookcase stood
at a 45 degree angle until I propped it up. The windows didn’t close. It was small. But it was mine.”

Then a friend with a rent-stabilized apartment in Chelsea went to London
for two years, and offered Scully a sublet.

“It was $800 for a one-bedroom in a great location. I couldn’t turn it
down. The downside of sublets is they’re for a limited duration. But I got lucky. When my friend returned
from London, he moved to San Francisco. So, I got to sign the lease on this apartment, and it’s mine
for as long as I want it. The rent is $1200—it goes up four percent annually. It’s a great deal.
It’s perfect for one person, too small for two. There’s something wrong with every New York apartment
in this price range, but it’s nicely set up. For the money, I’ve really lucked out.”

Property Tales

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When it comes to living alone or living with roommates, there’s no question about it: Living
alone is the best. When you have your own space, you don’t have any worries about cleaning up after
other people. For me, it’s very worthwhile to work at finding a place where you can live alone—even
if you have to make a lifestyle change to do it. My advice is to start looking for a place as soon as possible,
to keep looking and have a lot of faith. There are nice places out there, so be patient and never give
up.

Karen Ali, 27, public relations

FOURTEEN MONTHS ago, Karen Ali was sharing a three-bedroom luxury
apartment on West 53rd Street with two roommates.

“The apartment was spacious, gorgeous, newly renovated. The building
was in the heart of Manhattan—convenient for my work, for shopping and the other things I
like to do,” says Ali. “My roommates were friends and work colleagues. I knew them before I moved
in, and liked them very much. I should have been content, but I was really quite unhappy. To be honest,
I felt that my roommate situation was coming close to ruining two of my friendships. I decided I needed
to find an apartment I could afford to maintain on my own—to preserve the friendships and
restore my peace of mind. And I wanted to find a place that would cost me less money, too. With roommates,
I was paying about $1500 per month for rent, and I thought that was way too much.”

Ali assumed she’d have better luck finding an affordable rental in one
of the boroughs. She had friends who lived in Astoria and, following their recommendations, began
an apartment hunt in that neighborhood.

“Astoria’s an easy commute to work. I used to walk to my office from my
West 53rd Street apartment. Living in Astoria requires a subway ride, but it only takes about 20
or 25 minutes, the same amount of time it took me to walk,” she says.

“I went to Astoria, walked around the neighborhood, and I was surprised
by how much I liked it. I liked the sense of space, the fact that it’s not so crowded.”

Based on her previous apartment-hunting experiences, Ali decided
to work through a real estate agent.

“In the past, I’d paid $50 or $100 for lists of available apartments,
but I found the lists were useless—scams, really. Friends recommended several real estate
agents with Astoria listings, and I consulted all of them, telling them I wanted one or two bedrooms
and was willing to pay $1000 per month. I figured I could get something decent for that amount,” she
says.

For two weeks, Ali checked out at least two apartments daily, but had
no luck in finding a place.

“The apartments were holes in the wall—tiny, dark, not well maintained,
simply unacceptable,” she says. “I was so frustrated, I questioned whether I should or could move.
But I was so far into the process, it would’ve been difficult to stop looking and slip back into the
roommate mode.”

“One day, I just walked into RE/MAX’s Astoria office and asked for help.
I didn’t know anyone there, didn’t have a recommendation. I’d seen RE/MAX billboards around Astoria,
and decided to try them just for the heck of it. I said I would pay $1200 per month—after seeing
so many bad apartments, my price point went up,” she says. “That afternoon, a RE/MAX agent took me
to see two great apartments, back to back. The first was a large one bedroom, newly renovated, with
hardwood floors. The rent was $1200. I considered taking it, but it had insufficient closet space—you
can never have too much closet space!”

The second was a spacious first floor modified railroad flat with two
bedrooms—one at each end of the apartment. It was sunny, cheerful, had
hardwood floors
and lots of closet space.

“It was ideal, but the rent was $1300. When RE/MAX negotiated the rent
down to $1200, I took it immediately,” she says. “I love Astoria, the apartment, the space, my privacy
and my accommodating landlord.”

Property Tales

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“I’d really like to sell the apartment as quickly as possible and without too much fuss. I’d
prefer not to have to fix it up, because I just don’t want to spend the money or invest the time it would
take to do that. Truth be told, I’m just plain greedy, and I’m trying to figure out how I can get the
biggest chunk of money possible for the place with as little effort as possible. I’m quite sure my
thinking about this isn’t at all unusual.

—Maryann McCann, 53,

housewife and landlord

MARYANN MCCANN and her husband own several properties, including
an East-60s condo that they’ve decided to sell before the market drops—which she suspects
will be fairly soon.

“My husband and I bought the apartment for the insider price of $90,000
in 1989,” she says. “We got a mortgage for the whole price without even having to make a down payment—because
the condo was valued at twice the insider price we were paying for it. That was our first real estate
purchase. We weren’t really crazy about the apartment, and we hadn’t even thought about getting
in to real estate, but the deal was too good to pass up.”

The apartment is a 520-square-foot studio with sleeping alcove, small
kitchen, dressing area and bathroom. It’s on the third floor of a luxury highrise building. There’s
nothing special about the layout, and all the windows are on one wall, facing the brick rear wall
of another building.

In other words, the apartment isn’t a prize. And the McCanns know it.
Still, Maryann’s strategizing to push their price to the highest the market will bear. In order
to do that, she has to make some hard decisions.

“Basically, I’ve got to choose between the two very reliable real estate
agents I’ve consulted—and they’ve each given very different advice,” says McCann. “One
says we should just refinish the floors to make the apartment look lighter, more cheerful and then
should put it on the market as quickly as possible. She says the apartment should sell for about $420,000,
pretty much as is, but with the floors redone.”

The other agent is suggesting that the McCanns really it fix
up: “Install new cabinets, a counter and appliances in the kitchen, retile the bathroom and refinish
the floors, which would require our investing about $5000, at least.” But that would mean a delayed
listing. “Maybe several months from now, depending upon the availability of workers and supplies.
But, that agent says with those renovations, the apartment should sell for around $450,000.”

Trouble is, McCann suspects each agent is promising her a price that’s
too high—perhaps to get an exclusive listing on the condo.

“I figure we can get $375,000 for it after we’ve redone the floors and
regrouted the tiles,” McCann says. “Or, if we go through the ordeal of having new cabinets, counter
and all that installed, we could probably get $399,000. We know other owners in the building were
asking about $400,000 for their newly painted 420-square-foot apartment with a Murphy bed instead
of a sleeping alcove, and they had to lower their price. Finally, an offer came in for around $350,000,
and the condo could sell for $365,000—if they’re lucky. So, I think I’m more realistic than
the agents about what ours will bring. I just have to decide whether it’s worth it to invest $5000
and a couple of months of headaches to raise the price by $25,000, if that.”

Meanwhile, McCann’s not grumbling about her situation.

“Whichever way we go, we will have made a nice profit on our initial investment
of what was, in fact, zero dollars. Except for the brief time when my husband and I lived in the place,
we’ve rented it and made about $400 per month more than our combined maintenance and mortgage payments—so
we’ve cleared about $72,000 during the 15 years we’ve owned the place. And, during that time, we’ve
paid off about $25,000 of our mortgage. So we stand to make a handsome profit when we do sell—even
if it’s only for $399,000.

Property Tales

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When we hold free training seminars at hotels, we get all kinds of people coming in. Look around
and you’ll see what I mean. Some of you come just to have a place to be, and some because this is your
day’s entertainment. But I can see most of you are serious. I’m good at reading body language, and
I see most of you want to learn how to get rich quick from investing in real estate. So, wake up. Let’s
get started.

—Kevin Dagleish,

Russ Whitney Education Group Trainer, New York, August 12, 2004

12:30 P.M. Westin Hotel Times Square, Mezzanine Level. Several
hundred people mill around, anxiously awaiting what they obviously consider to be the chance of
a lifetime. They’re here to attend Russ Whitney’s Free Real Estate Training Seminar and learn how
to get rich quick from real estate investing. Some people jockey for first place in line. Most stand
on the periphery—speaking on cellphones, reading newspapers, eyeing the competition.
Several munch lunch. All of them look hungry.

The demographics are interesting: women and men of all ages, although
most of the women seem to be in their 40s and up, and most of the men seem to be in their 30s. Two-thirds
are African-Americans and Asians, the remainder is Hispanic and white. Most are dressed to impress.
Many have accents indicating they’re not native-born.

When the doors open, the crowd rushes into the meeting room. Militantly,
Russ Whitney’s staffers instruct them to slow down and to proceed single file into the seats, filling
one row and then the next. The throng obeys. These staffers know crowd control.

On a large screen at the front of the meeting room, a promo video blares
a message similar to the one that brought these people to the seminar: Russ Whitney got rich quick
by investing in real estate, and he can teach you how to do it, too.

Most of the people who’ve come to take today’s Whitney seminar met the
self-proclaimed real estate guru and self-made millionaire during the wee hours, when Russ was
touting his training program on late-night tv and they were still wide awake—perhaps because
they were fretting over their finances or engaged in an overnight job too dull to command their full
attention. Either way, they were sufficiently swept away by Russ Whitney’s story to call a toll-free
number and sign up for this free seminar, one conducted around the country on a regular basis.

Whitney himself isn’t present. This roadshow is handled by his staffers
under the leadership of Kevin Dagleish, who proclaims himself Whitney’s partner— another
self-made real estate millionaire. He’s been leading seminars for five years.

Dagleish really works the crowd, involving people by having them repeat
slogans and answer questions. He doles out copies of Whitney’s “best-selling” books to several
who answer correctly.

Talking faster than Superman flies, Dagleish recounts how 25 years
ago an impoverished Whitney began his ascent to real estate wealth with $1000 of OPM (Other People’s
Money, or Whitneyspeak for a bank loan) with which he secured second, third, fourth and fifth bank
loans totaling $5000 in OPM, with which he made a down payment on a rental unit property that gave
him income to “gingerbread” the building and “flip” it at a profit.

Talking of pre-foreclosures, fair market value mortgages, MAI appraisals
and such, Dagleish makes the crowd feel smart: “You can do it if you know technique, strategy and
mathematics.”

Heck, Dagleish virtually guarantees anyone can do it.

And, everyone wants to—so badly that when Dagleish pushes Whitney’s
three-day course for $1790 (it’s $1990 if you register later by phone), people rush to the sign-up
desk. It’s hard to know how many actually register—or whether they’re just picking up free
Whitney pins dispensed by staffers.

One tidbit Dagleish never mentions in his rap is that the Better Business
Bureau of Florida (Whitney is headquartered there) has received 150 complaints within the past
36 months about Whitney’s paid-for programs. o


Property Tales

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I feel that nobody hears me. Even when I show photos of my apartment, or when the inspectors
come. I show them a wall that’s literally hanging between two rooms—that I can put my hand
under and wave to you in the next room—and they say, ‘Oh, it’s an old building, and old buildings
settle.’ But this happened within three months of them removing a wall underneath my apartment
last year. I’ve pleaded with my landlord, reported the situation to city authorities, been to court.
But there are dangerous conditions in my apartment, and nothing has been done to correct them.

—Betty, 42, single mom and
personal assistant

BETTY LIVES in fear that she and her pre-teenage son are going
to fall through the floor of their $1100-per-month Hell’s Kitchen apartment, and nobody seems
willing to do anything to assure her that it won’t happen. In fact, her fears have been substantiated
by an independent architect who assessed the site last December and found conditions so dangerous
he reported them directly to the NYC Commissioner of Buildings. Sufficient repairs have yet to
be done.

Betty’s ordeal of terror—and frustration—began in the
spring of 2003. She was enjoying a peaceful afternoon soak, when the bathtub jolted and suddenly
sank several inches—with her in it. Upon inspection, she discovered the apartment floor
had given way, not only in the bathroom, but throughout her 400-square-foot living space. Not only
were there noticeable gaps between the floor and most of the walls, there were big cracks around
the ceilings, and several windows and the front door to her apartment no longer fit properly into
their frames. Over the next months, these conditions worsened, as did the dispute with her landlord
about what must be done to remedy them.

“My landlord just fills the gaps between the walls and floor with plaster,
and he shaves the door to make it fit. But that’s just cosmetic and doesn’t really correct the problems,”
she says. “He’s put down an extra layer of plywood on the floor to build it up, but according to the
architect the extra weight from the wood just makes the situation more dangerous.”

City inspectors have so far failed to properly investigate and report
the situation, Betty says. “One inspector refused to enter the apartment, but instead just peered
in through the front door and said, ‘everything looks fine here.’ And another inspector who did
come in jumped up and down several times, then said the floor was solid.”

Betty’s been to Housing Court, where she’s been sued by her landlord
for non-payment of about $3000 in rent—which she withheld to cover expenses incurred while
she and her son vacated the apartment to give repairmen access, and to clean up the mess they left.
She counter-sued for repairs to be made properly.

Thus far, she’s spent more than 20 days in court and/or giving access
to inspectors and/or repairmen—causing her to miss work, lose income, even be dismissed
from one job. Her case is supposed to go to trial this month.

Betty appears in court with photos substantiating her claims, affidavits
from architects and an HPD records printout showing 160 outstanding violations in her building,
of which 16 are Class C, the category covering health and safety-impairing issues. Falling floors
are the latest in a series of serious problems plaguing Betty since she took occupancy in 1993. The
rodent problem was so bad that she trapped more than 200 mice during one 10-day period. Periodically,
there were hanks of rope instead of doorknobs on front doors to the building and her apartment. A
recurring leak in her son’s room’s ceiling has caused an ongoing mold problem—which the
landlord covered up with wallboard. And, worst of all, the drain pipes in the tub, toilet, bathroom
and kitchen sinks frequently backed up, spewing filthy water with cooking grease, refuse and feces
onto her floors.

Betty’s landlord wants her to move. Why doesn’t she? “I can’t afford
to,” she says. “Besides, this is my home, and I don’t want to give it up.” o


Property Tales

Written by None - Do not Delete on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.





Real estate in Manhattan is expensive, and that’s a fact. That said, there are still pockets
of opportunity where you can buy a multi-unit building for less than a million dollars. Those properties
might require some additional investment, time and patience to fix them up. But, all things considered,
they’ve got to be considered really good buys in today’s market.
—Shimon Shkury, partner
and broker, Massey Knakal, Northern Manhattan/Bronx office

MANHATTAN’S CACHET and convenience are a great allure. Most
people who move to New York City to pursue dreams and kick-ass ambitions, imagining themselves
in Trump-style digs, are shocked by how much it costs to get so little space with few to no amenities.

Even those with reasonable resources and/or reliable income sources
are stymied. Exorbitant asking prices for condos, coop apartments, townhouses and small multi-unit
apartment buildings can easily scare off first-time buyers seeking a decent place to live at an
affordable cost. As for rentals, month to month or year-long leases are so pricey, many would-be
takers feel forced to flee to the boroughs instead.

Shimon Shkury, Massey Knakal Northern Manhattan specialist, invites
them to reconsider.

“The common perception among potential middle-income real estate
buyers is you can’t find anything affordable anymore. That’s just not accurate. Right now, the
best place to find affordable multi-unit residential buildings in Manhattan is Harlem. More specifically,
in East Harlem. West Harlem, too, has some availability, but west of 5th Ave. is already a mature
market, and prices tend to be higher,” says Shkury. “And, throughout Harlem, you find beautiful
buildings. Historically, the area was an almost suburban enclave for wealthy people, and the architecture
reflects their resources and good taste. Now, some blocks are still a little rough, but the area
is cleaning up quickly, with the opening of many new shops and restaurants adding to the quality
of life.”

Shkury recommends that anyone thinking of buying in Harlem go to the
neighborhood and walk around to get a sense of street life.

“You have to be ready to deal with the fact that some blocks are still marginal.
But that also means that there’s tremendous upside potential for investments in properties on
those blocks as they get bought up and cleaned up, following the current trend for the entire area.”

Massey Knakal’s recent listings in East Harlem include a 16-foot-wide
four-story townhouse on E. 117th St., between 1st and Pleasant Aves. The building’s 3840 square
feet are sectioned into four apartments (one per floor) and an unfinished basement. It’s suitable
for use as a single family dwelling, or for rental of the existing units for a projected annual income
of $60,000. The asking price is $750,000.

Another East Harlem multi-unit residential property, a 23-foot-wide
four-story building on E. 119th St., between 1st and Pleasant Aves., has approximately 7084 square
feet divided into eight apartments (two currently vacant). The asking price is $630,000, and the
actual annual revenue is $65,604.

On 5th Ave. between 127th and 128th Sts., there’s a 19-foot-wide five-story-plus-cellar
building of architectural distinction for an asking price of $950,000. The building has approximately
5000 square feet and awaits customization as residential rentals or condos, or a stately and luxurious
single-family dwelling. The property already has Department of Buildings approval for five floor-through
apartments and a certificate of non-harassment.

Or, in West Harlem, currently listed is a 13.83-foot-wide four-story
townhouse with basement (about 3043 square feet, total) on W. 123rd St. between 7th and 8th Aves.
at an asking price of $675,000. The building is suitable for single-family dwelling or conversion
to four rental units.

And, on W. 136th St., between Adam Clayton Powell and Malcolm X Blvds.,
there’s a 16.5-foot-wide, four-story townhouse shell available for $625,000. The shell contains
approximately 3243 square feet and has about 2231 square feet of air rights. Delivered vacant,
the building is suitable for customization as a single-family dwelling or for live-in with rental
units.

“Those properties are fairly typical of Harlem availability, and they
come to the market fairly frequently,” says Shkury. “But they’re also bought quickly. So, realistically
speaking, it’s necessary for potential buyers to keep searching actively.” o


Property Tales

Written by None - Do not Delete on . Posted in Breaking News, Posts.





The Bronx used to be a haven for double-digit returns for real estate buyers, now will more
likely earn them high singles. But it’s still a hot market. I mean, you can put your money in the bank
and get one percent, if that. Or you can get a maybe negative return in the stock market—versus
six or seven percent in real estate. What are you going to choose?

Marco Lala, real estate broker, Massey Knakal Realty Services,
Northern Manhattan/Bronx office

THINK BROOKLYN AND QUEENS, and trendy communities like Park
Slope and Astoria come to mind. You might not be able to afford them, but their nouveau chic reputation
gives cachet to neighboring neighborhoods.

Think Bronx, and Riverdale comes to mind. But that’s old money in million-dollar
mansions—rather than worn townhouses bought as fixer-uppers and rendered seven- figure-worthy.
Somehow, the posh Riverdale image doesn’t translate into the message, “I can do that, too.”

But Marco Lala points out several reasons why the Bronx is very desirable
for people looking to invest their money in a property where they can reside, while earning rents
that help them pay their mortgage and having additional financial benefits of real estate ownership,
such as building equity and property value appreciation.

“In Brooklyn, they’re asking a million plus for rinky-dink buildings.
That’s not so in the Bronx. There are Bronx neighborhoods where you can still buy two-or-three-
story apartment buildings with two to seven units for about $300,000 to $700,000,” says Lala, Massey
Knakal’s Bronx specialist. “But you have to search hard, because the market’s going crazy due to
low interest rates. Owners are refinancing properties at lower interest rates, then plowing their
return cash in to other properties. If, after refinancing, they put $250,000 in a bank, it’s earning
next to nothing. So, they reinvest in more real estate, getting eight or nine percent—that
beats keeping it in the bank.”

Think of the Bronx as Manhattan North. It’s just across the river, and
most areas are a 20-minute subway commute from midtown. And, many Bronx neighborhoods’ qualities
and demographics are similar to those of northern Manhattan.

“With the exception of the South Bronx and some pockets like Pelham Parkway
and Riverdale, you’re basically looking at areas that are ethnic and cultural melting pots, and
they’ve been that way for years. Riverdale has mansions and Pelham Parkway has fewer subsidized
tenants. Those are considered more desirable neighborhoods. Elsewhere, there’re mostly middle-income
families, where both husband and wife—or both parents—work. For real estate investors,
the primary difference in neighborhoods is that some are more mature than others in terms of price.
Since neighborhoods tend to be similar demographically, it’s really a matter of locating a good
investment opportunity—a property that meets your requirements in terms of space, price
and returns. Wakefield/Williamsbridge, in East Bronx, is showing good opportunity. Especially
in areas on either side of White Plains Road, in the 220s and 230s. You can find affordable smaller
multi-unit buildings, requiring low down payments, with rental units to offset costs. But the
growing demand is already driving prices up,” Lala says.

Most buildings are detached or semidetached, and can be brick or wooden
frame, or shingle-sided. They usually occupy 25- or 50-foot lots.

“Buildings are three to four stories and have two to seven apartments,
with one or two apartments on each floor, and perhaps one basement apartment. These aren’t mixed-use,
but purely residential—and move-in ready,” says Lala. “Apartments have one to three bedrooms,
feature hardwood floors, eat-in kitchens, standard-size living rooms. Some are railroad-type
apartments, but layouts are usually standard, with bedrooms off hallways.”

Although Wakefield/Williamsbridge doesn’t boast bistros and boutiques,
these amenities are a bus ride away in Westchester and Yonkers. Manhattan-bound subway access
is excellent along White Plains Road, and there are express buses to Midtown.

Massey Knakal’s current listings in the Wakefield/Williamsbridge
area include a 25-foot-wide, two-story brick apartment building with three one-bedroom apartments,
one two-bedroom apartment and one one-and-a-half-bedroom apartment. The units are currently
fully occupied. The building’s gross annual income is $59,304, and the asking price is $650,000.
o


Property Tales

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Queens is ripe with investment opportunities of all kinds—in well-developed neighborhoods
and those that are just emerging. You’ve got Astoria and Flushing—both are mature markets
where you can still find great deals in small, livable multi-use buildings. Then, there are Elmhurst
and Corona, which are not as well known, nor as trendy, but are rather rapidly developing into desirable
residential areas. You can get a lot of bang for your buck in Queens.

—Swain Weiner, real estate broker,

Massey Knackal Realty Services,

Queens branch

QUEENS IS THE new Brooklyn. That’s been the buzz, at least, among
real estate bargain hunters for a while now. It’s catchy. But what does it mean?

Not much, really.

Both boroughs have beautiful neighborhoods with great upsides. Brooklyn
still has good buys, while some of Queens’ well-established and notably desirable areas—like
Forest Hills, Rego Park and Kew Gardens—are priced too high for budget-minded and/or first-time
buyers. Investment-wise, the two boroughs offer a similar range of opportunities.

“For investors purchasing multi-unit or mixed-use buildings to become
in-residence, hands-on landlords in either borough, knowing neighborhoods and selecting one
with a profile that matches expectations is essential,” says Swain Weiner, Massey Knackal’s specialist
for the Corona and Elmhurst neighborhoods.

“Throughout Queens, you’ll find that many multi-unit apartment buildings
are on primarily residential side streets, while mixed-use properties are on commercial avenues.
Typically, mixed-use buildings have two—sometimes three—stories, with retailer
space on the ground floor and one or two apartments on the second and third floor.

“In-residence buyers live in one or more of the apartments and rent the
remainder for mortgage-covering income,” says Weiner.

The retailers tend to be mom-and-pops with boutiques, bodegas and 99-cent
stores—rather than chain stores like Duane Reade, which usually look for larger spaces
with attached parking—which means that retail-space renters in these situations are usually
not credit-backed by large corporations. If mom-and-pops default on rent, it can be a costly hassle
to get them out of the space. So, take the renter’s record into consideration before buying.

“Many Queens neighborhoods are rather close-knit and still somewhat
ethnically defined. Astoria is primarily Greek, Flushing is Asian and Corona is largely Hispanic,
for example. Many investors find that this adds to the borough’s charm. If you’re thinking of buying
in Queens, you should really explore several neighborhoods, walking the streets, eating at some
of the local restaurants, doing a bit of shopping and testing your commute to work.”

Many personal-use building buyers seem to think of Brooklyn as a first
choice, perhaps because they perceive the borough as closer to Manhattan.

“Actually, Elmhurst and Corona, as well as Astoria and Flushing, and
Jamaica, have excellent subway and bus connections. There are good investment opportunities
in those neighborhoods. Small multi-unit and mixed-use buildings priced from $400,000 to $1.2
million come on the market with some regularity in Corona and Elmhurst,” according to Swain.

Massey Knakal’s Queens listings currently include two three-story,
seven-unit residential buildings in Corona: Priced at $885,000, one of them contains about 4380
square feet, has two-bedroom apartments and has an actual gross annual income of $76,986 (75 percent
of current market rents). The second, selling for $1,145,000, has some 3150 square feet divided
into a studio apartment, five one-bedroom apartments with terraces and a three-bedroom basement
apartment, and has an actual gross annual income of $98,128 (80 percent of current market rents)
and has a 25-year tax abatement in place, effective until 2021.

Also listed is a mixed-use building with three stories containing about
3300 square-feet divided into one retail space, two five-bedroom apartments and one one-bedroom
apartment with a finished basement. It currently draws an annual income of $80,400 (80 percent
of current market rents) and is selling for $925,000.

Another mixed-use property, with 2432 square feet built out as retail
space on the first floor and in the basement, plus a one-bedroom and a two-bedroom apartment on the
second level, has a projected gross annual income of $42,240 (80 percent of current market rents),
and is priced at $410,000. It’s already under contract for sale.

“Similar properties come on the market with regularity,” says Swain.
“Be persistent and search actively, and you’ll find them.” o


Property Tales

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“There’s a tremendous amount of upside
in Brooklyn real estate. Properties will

continue to appreciate in value. This is a great time to buy in Brooklyn.”

—Ken Freeman, Real Estate Broker,
Massey Knakal Realty Services,
Brooklyn office

BROOKLYN IS KEN FREEMAN’S real estate beat, and he’s bullish
on the borough.

“You’ve got to appreciate Brooklyn’s scope,” he says. “The borough
has so many areas that are so amazingly undiscovered, so underdeveloped. Even when the economy
takes an inevitable downturn, Brooklyn will continue to develop at a rapid pace because there’s
so much land, so many former manufacturing sites, warehouse spaces, shells and other properties
with great development potential in neighborhoods that were once thriving, active immigrant
communities—in the days when our grandparents lived in them—but have recently seen
hard times.”

Although he’s primarily Massey Knakal’s Brooklyn point man for Park
Slope, Carroll Gardens and Red Hook, Freeman keeps tabs on the real estate market borough-wide.

“In the past six months, I’ve seen that the multi-unit and multi-use
properties which would have been bought in the old days by a sophisticated investor to earn money,
are now going to what I call “users”—by couples, young families or singles looking to live
in the property and cover their nut on the mortgage with income from the building’s other units,”
says Freeman. “In general, they’ll pay higher prices because they see tremendous advantages in
ownership.”

Freeman points out that the investment property market is driven purely
by financial considerations, with investors judging properties by whether they’ll earn six or
seven percent. Not so with home seekers.

“If you’re home-hunting, you might accept a three-percent return—to
get a large building for less than a smaller brownstone or two-family would cost. Initially you
may have to live in a small apartment, but can plan to occupy additional space as tenants leave eventually.”

Freeman cites the example of a Carroll Gardens building with seven apartments,
one commercial space and three garages that he now has under contract.

“The buyer paid a million one for a beautiful building with a 5.6 percent
return. For that price, you couldn’t touch a brownstone in that neighborhood,” he says. “The guy
who bought it is moving in with his wife and kid, into a one bedroom, but he’s hoping to take over more
space in the future. When, he is unsure. He’s got rent-stabilized tenants who have rights. So, he’s
taking a chance that some will leave, and that he’ll be able to buy or kick the others out. Eventually,
he’ll have a dream home for a million one. Meanwhile, he’s got their rents to help pay the mortgage.”

That’s a great deal—if you can buy in for a million. If you can’t,
Carroll Gardens may not be your neighborhood. But there are others.

“Lefferts Gardens, near Prospect Park, is hot,” says Freeman. “The
neighborhood’s got charm, beautiful streets, decent subway access and lots of upside. You can
get a beautiful Victorian house for $650,000 to $750,000. Mixed-use buildings can be even less.”
For example, a 6000-square-foot, three-story, six-apartment building with annual revenue of
$35,880 is listing at $415,000.

Freeman also suggests Prospect Heights, slated for residential and
commercial development that will boost property values. But there are still buys. For example,
a 2200-square-foot, two-story building with

two apartments, a store and projected gross income of $50,400 is listed
at $379,000.

“Prospect Park has a way to go, but is coming up fast,” he says. “If you’re
even more adventuresome, try Bedford Stuyvesant, where beautiful turn-of-the-century brownstones
are being snatched up by investors, renovated and sold to young couples. Presently, some blocks
are fine, some are dicey, but they’ll all improve in 10 years.”

Freeman advises that the best way to check out a prospective neighborhood
is to spend time there, strolling around and taking note of for-sale signs.

“Talk with people in neighborhood shops and on the streets, asking about
what buildings are for sale. Walk down residential side streets and main commercial streets. If
you’re concerned about crime, stop at the local police precinct and ask for statistics,” he suggests.
o


Property Tales

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Keep looking for a deal. They’re out there.

—J.A., 47, corporate executive

J.A. AND HIS wife recently entered the real estate market to get
out of a big, burdensome tax bind.

“Last year, we got hit with an incredible tax bill because of the alternative
minimum tax. I’m not an expert, and the tax-law change was complicated, but if I understand it correctly,
you’re no longer allowed to use your state taxes as a deduction on your federal return—or
vice versa. Because that particular deduction was eliminated, you essentially had to pay something
like double for your total taxes. As a result, a lot of people, myself included, were caught having
to pay that much more,” explains J.A.

“So, my wife and I, who together make more than $100,000 per year and file
jointly, had what is essentially a change in our tax status and, because we didn’t own anything—any
real estate, to be specific—that gives us deductions, we had to bite the bullet and pay. It
cost us $10,000, and that’s a lot of money.”

The couple was renting a 1000-square-foot one-bedroom, two-bath apartment
with a windowless home office on the eighth floor of a 15-story building on John St. in the Financial
District for $3000 per month. It was in an old office building that had been converted to residential.
They’d lived there for three years and loved it.

“Originally, we’d moved downtown from midtown because we found we could
get more space for the same amount of money. But we thoroughly enjoyed our apartment and the neighborhood.
There aren’t as many restaurants and shops as there are a few blocks uptown, but it still has a lot
to offer,” says J.A.

“Our apartment was three long blocks from the World Trade Center. We
were at home on 9/11 when the towers fell. We heard and felt the second plane crash like it was a huge
earthquake right outside our windows,” he continues.

“We couldn’t stay in our home for a week after the attacks, and shuttled
around with relatives and friends. Many of our neighbors never moved back home, but we did. Mostly,
they were concerned about air quality—and so were we. But my feeling was, after everything
that other people suffered, if all I have to do personally to fight the terrorists is not leave home,
then that’s a no-brainer—I’m staying. That’s it. Plus, it’s a good neighborhood. That’s
the whole point. It’s a great place to live.”

In fact, when they realized they had to buy an apartment to better their
tax situation, J.A. and his wife looked first for available properties in the Financial District.

“We found very few listings, and those we found were well beyond our means,”
he says. “We figured we could spend $400,000 to $500,000 for a place, but everything we saw advertised
for sale in the Financial District cost a million dollars or more. There was no point in even looking
at those places because we couldn’t afford them.”

So, searching online and scanning newspaper ads, they set their sights
elsewhere.

“We looked at possible apartments in Gramercy Park and on the Upper West
Side. We didn’t have anyplace specific in mind,” J.A. recalls.

Actually, the apartment they chose was the first one they saw. “We bought
on Lexington Ave. and 24th St., near Gramercy Park. Coincidentally, we’re on the eighth floor,
but of a 20-story building. Our apartment’s layout is similar—one bedroom, two baths and
an area for use as a second bedroom or home office. It’s 950 square feet—everything’s a little
smaller than our downtown place. But I knew as soon as I saw it, it would work for us,” he says.

“That same day we saw a pre-war on 110th St. It was a dump, and more expensive.
We realized the first place was probably as good as we could get, and bought it. We’re very lucky.”

It all worked out well, but they miss the Financial District.

“We’d like to move back someday, if they develop more condos and coops
that we might buy,” says J.A. “We’d love that.” o


Property Tales

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We’re entrepreneurs and should be treated accordingly. Instead, the city pushes us around,
squashes us like insects. BID (Business Improvement District) regulations favor store owners.
My advice: Don’t become an NYC street vendor—it’s a trap few manage to get out of.

   —Khairy Guirgis, 50, street vendor

 

Khairy Guirgis has been selling wearable art—”batik
fashioned into garments”—on Manhattan streets for 20 years. Since 1999, his “shop” has
been the corner of West 81st Street and Broadway.

“I’ve established my spot,” he says. “If other vendors try to set up,
neighborhood people chase them away, saying this is Khairy’s spot. I love the neighborhood. I have
regular customers, and cater to them, ordering things I know they’ll like or have requested. And,
like any store, I have a money back return policy!”

The difference between Guirgis’ and other stores is that Guirgis’ has
no roof. Instead of monthly rent, he pays a $220 street vendor’s license fee annually. It’s a good
deal, but when it rains, he can’t work.

“I’d much prefer a store,” he says. “Believe me, it’s not fun standing
in heat and humidity or freezing cold, and it’s hard setting up and tearing down every day. But basement
rattraps cost from $3000 per month around here. I average $25,000 a year selling on the street, and
out of that cover expenses—license, taxes, merchandise and trucking everything daily
from my New Jersey apartment into Manhattan. Do the math. There’s no way I could afford rent. I haven’t
been able to establish a store. But it’s my dream.”

During Giuliani’s administration, Guirgis proposed legislation
changes that would help hardworking street vendors upgrade to stores.

“I proposed street vendors pay real estate taxes, like stores do—based
on table or pushcart size and location where we do business. In return, the city would ease restrictions
on street vendor locations, types of merchandise allowed in specific locations and similar limitations
that limit our earnings potential. The real estate taxes would boost city income, and we’d increase
our income,” he explains. “But the plan was rejected.”

Guirgis says current vendor regulations are contradictory, confusing
and so complicated, it’s virtually impossible for vendors to function within the law.

“I guarantee you every NYC street vendor is breaking one law or another.
For example, you must be a certain distance from curbs, a certain distance from building lines,
with merchandise displayed a certain way—general-merchandise tables must be a certain
height, but pushcarts don’t have height restrictions,” he says. “Regulations supposedly prevent
pedestrian traffic jams, but it doesn’t make sense. How does table height affect pedestrian traffic
flow? As for locations, the city permits planters, phone booths and other permanent fixtures in
pedestrian traffic paths—yet vendors are restricted from using those locations. Again
claiming pedestrian traffic reasons, they bar general-merchandise vendors from midtown, but
allow food vendors. In terms of pedestrian flow, there’s no difference selling food or clothing.
Just as many people stop and buy.”

Khairy complains that any city employee, showing ID, can order vendors
to shut down for the day, and they must comply. Police can write summonses at their discretion—and
they’re usually within the law. Then vendors must pay summonses or take days off to fight them. Either
way, it cuts income.

“If police know you’re a good guy, they’re generally lenient,” says
Guirgis. “When I first came to 81st St., they harassed me. But they’ve been fair to me for several
years—until recently, when I moved my table from 81st to Broadway itself to start selling
political campaign buttons—because I wanted to express my opinion that our government’s
war path is the wrong path. Political buttons are First Amendment material, so I can sell them on
Broadway. But, not noticing my merchandise change, police ticketed me for moving to Broadway.
I fought the tickets and won. It’s a First Amendment issue—important enough to fight for.
After the election, hopefully I can sell clothes again and continue as usual.”

Guirgis says the only way street vendors can protect their rights and
improve their conditions is to unionize. That would be difficult to accomplish, but he’s willing
to support the effort. o


Property Tales

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“Real estate is security. Get into the market as soon as possible. The current real estate
situation favors owners. If you’re intimidated by the idea of committing to ownership or feel you
don’t know enough to get into the game, there are plenty of ways to get the basics—browse the
Internet, question real estate agents, read books and be resourceful.”

—Cash Tilton, 51, Wall Street marketing consultant

Cash Tilton owns a 575-square-foot junior one-fifth floor apartment
in a 23-story coop building on E. 14th St., just west of Union Square. He took possession of the place
in May 1996 as the result of a divorce settlement. His ex-wife kept their six-bedroom Ridgewood,
New Jersey house. Tilton was and is satisfied with the arrangement.

“We wanted to keep the divorce proceedings civilized. I think it was
my lawyer who suggested this particular division of assets, and it seemed reasonable, although
the apartment originally belonged to my ex-wife, who purchased it in the mid-80s for about $125,000.
I moved in with her when we married. It’s small for two. Space was tight. But we were honeymooners—so
small was cozy,” says Tilton.

When their daughter came along, the Tiltons bought their New Jersey
residence, an early 1900s farmhouse that was a bit of a fixer-upper.

That was in 1992. They paid about $185,000, put in another $25,000.

“Because New York real estate was down, we kept the apartment, renting
it to cover expenses and make a little extra money. Keeping the apartment was a good decision, financially
and otherwise. When I took title, the unit was valued at about $96,000. When I refinanced it five
years ago, it was appraised at $200,000. I’m not sure of its current value, but similarly sized units
in the neighborhood have recently sold for much more than that.”

Tilton acknowledges that his apartment’s value is somewhat limited
by the physical nature of the building, a post-war early 1960s glazed white-brick boxy structure,
which is well-maintained but lacks some of the architectural appeal that charms buyers into paying
huge sums for smallish apartments.

“I doubt my apartment’s value will skyrocket, although this area seems
to be hot on the real estate map these days, especially since the clean-up and reconstruction of
the Union Square park and plaza, and subway hub,” he says. “We have lots of good new restaurants and
shops that upgrade local lifestyle, and that always enhances real estate value.”

Tilton says it was neither difficult nor depressing to move back into
the nest he and his wife once shared, largely because interim tenants had made significant changes
in the decor.

“It hardly felt like the same place,” he comments. “The most recent renter
had painted the walls a lovely, soothing sage green, and I’ve kept them that color. Little space
is a big concern, however, after having had a big house and expanding into it. I have too much stuff,
but I can’t help it. The apartment’s bedroom is too small for the extra-long king-size bed that my
great grandfather built, so I reposition it periodically, trying to make it fit better. And my dining
room set, which I won on Jeopardy just before I moved in to the apartment, is really too large for the
living room. But I’m sentimentally attached to these things, so I make the space work, or work around
them.”

For Tilton, accepting the apartment in his divorce settlement was practical
and convenient, the path of least resistance in a difficult situation. At the time, he wasn’t as
concerned about who got the bigger award as much as finding a fair solution, and hadn’t really given
much consideration to long-term financial benefits or losses.

“My apartment’s value has increased substantially. My ex-wife subsequently
sold the house for a huge profit. It worked out well.

“I’m comfortable that our settlement gave each of us a sense of security
that comes with property ownership. Divorce is a dreadful experience that leaves you feeling very
insecure. The equitable division of our real estate, with both of us leaving the marriage as owners,
countered those feelings, made the divorce more civilized and enabled us to remain friends.”

Property Tales

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It seems to me it started when Reagan was president. Real estate went crazy. Everyone wanted
to own. So they exchanged affordable rents for mortgages they struggled to pay. Prices rose so drastically,
artists had to move away from New York—to the outer boroughs, suburbs or other cities. When
churches stopped offering free performance spaces, many small but interesting theaters had to
dim their lights forever. The real estate rush undoubtedly made some investors very rich, but at
the same time it impoverished the city itself, because it diverted a goodly measure of New York’s
artistic vitality and abundance. We should try to withstand, reverse that trend.

George Crowley, actor/playwright

 

GEORGE CROWLEY RETURNED to New York seven years ago after a stint
in graduate school in Chicago and a four-month spiritual sojourn in India.

“I moved away from New York because I didn’t want to be rent-poor. I came
back because my family is here, and because I’m in show business. Plus, because I was born in New York,
my ethereal body is probably here,” he says and pauses. “That’s a joke.”

Ethereally and materially, Crowley lives at Dexter House Hotel on W.
86th St. near Riverside Dr., and he seems to believe it was fate that brought him there.

“I was searching for my New York roots. I’d stayed with friends, then
rented a room in an apartment on the way-Upper West Side—Riverside Dr. and 157th St. The room
was nice enough, but I was extremely uncomfortable there because the woman who owned the apartment
was—how should I put it?—rather convent-like. It was the wrong energy for me. I could
have been okay with monastery-like, but convent-like was all wrong.

“I was talking about the situation with friends who put me in touch with
another friend who lived at the Dexter House Hotel, and that person called me the next day to say the
room next to his was available, and if I came there with two months’ rent, he was sure I could move in
immediately. That’s what happened. It was on Riverside Drive and 86th St.! Right near my yoga center!
It was perfect. It is perfect!”

Crowley’s fourth-floor, 10-by-12 room has three large north-facing
windows overlooking a flower-filled courtyard. The room is quiet, ideal for writing.

“I brought in my own furniture: a queen-size bed, refrigerator, chiffonier
and a big desk with a big computer—which is where I spend most of my time when I’m at home. I try
to keep it to essentials, and I have everything I need.”

He shares two toilets and bath with four neighboring single-room occupants.
There are six shared bathrooms per floor.

“It’s not a problem. We’re all clean, and we’re all considerate of each
other. You share a bathroom when you live with family, too. This really isn’t very different.”

Crowley pays less than $1000 per month, but refuses to disclose his exact
rent, because there are big variations in what Dexter House residents pay for rooms, depending
upon the duration of their tenancy.

“For people who’ve lived there for 20 years, the rent is dirt-cheap.
And some residents still get their linens changed because that was part of their original rental
agreement. There are many long-term tenants. People come to Dexter House through word of mouth,
and those who like it stay for a long time,” he says. “About 15 percent of the residents are artists,
many others are caregivers. We have a very international and interesting group. Several rooms
with private baths are let to overnight guests—usually very worldly Europeans.”

Crowley crows about Dexter House’s ambience—which “isn’t quite
retro but is definitely other-era, definitely pre-Reagan. It’s like living in a 1950s movie—where
a struggling actor gets the Broadway break and everyone cheers,” he says. “Management is great—almost
paternalistic toward us. They’ve even been patient when I’ve been short on rent. I think they truly
like artists. They recently upgraded the lobby, very tastefully in a very craftsman-like way.
There’s an always-helpful concierge sitting behind a glass-enclosed desk, delivering mail from
cubbyholes, giving us wake-up calls. It’s perfect.” o

 

 

 


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Find a decent place to live, and don’t give it up. Even if the place is too small, or kept terribly,
don’t give it up. No matter what. Everybody needs a home. I had my reasons, but I regret I left mine.

—P.B., 69, dental assistant,

food services manager,

computer trainee

 

 

SINCE APRIL 30, 2003, when she left her small $389-per-month
room with private toilet in an SRO tucked away on one of the least fancy corners in the Gramercy Park
area, P.B.’s address has been a P.O. box.

“I had my apartment for 12 years—and was harassed by management
the whole time. The place was in terrible condition—paint peeling, roaches everywhere
and broken light sockets that burned me badly. I went to Housing Court many times—there was
stipulation after stipulation after stipulation that my landlord make repairs, but he never complied.
I stayed home waiting for workers, losing a day’s pay, but they didn’t show—or if they came,
they’d make things worse.

“They broke in several times—destroyed my door locks, messed
up my furniture and clothes, even sprayed ‘Flit’ on my food so I got poisoned. I called the police
and the DA, but they said they couldn’t do anything because there were no witnesses. I was living
in hell. Anxiety from the situation gave me high blood pressure and ulcers—my medical records
prove it.”

Saying she’d rather sleep in the street than pay for a place unfit to live
in, P.B. withheld rent for a year. When she owed about $4000, the landlord sued to evict her for nonpayment.

“I knew even if I paid all that money, it wouldn’t change things, and I
couldn’t stand it anymore. So, I left,” she says. “The landlord claims he evicted me, but I chose
to leave. That’s how I became homeless.”

P.B. stuffed all her belongings into an $85-per-month unit in a Harlem
storage facility. She figured she’d stay with friends for several months while searching for another
apartment. But she couldn’t find anything affordable.

“I have social security, but it’s not that much. So if I pay more than $700
a month for rent, I can’t afford food. Finding a place in NYC for $700 per month is nearly impossible.”

Tired of imposing on friends, last November P.B. resorted to a Lower
East Side shelter that sleeps 96 homeless women 10 to a room, dormitory-style. Bathrooms are shared,
but residents have private lockers. According to New York Coalition for the Homeless, there are
currently more than 37,000 homeless men, women and children sleeping each night in the city’s shelter
system. That number is the highest in New York City history. Thousands more sleep on city streets,
park benches and subways.

“I get the same bed every night, provided I’m there by 10 p.m. If I miss
curfew, my bed is assigned to someone else and I have to wait for another to become available,” P.B.
says. “Everyone leaves between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., when they clean. It’s kept very clean, and they
give us three cooked meals a day. Most of the women are clean and respectful. I feel safe, but can’t
stand the curfew. I love walking near Lincoln Center at night, but can’t, because I’d lose my bed.
They turn lights off at 11 p.m., so I can’t even read. But it beats a park bench or Grand Central, where
I’ve slept on occasion.”

P.B. has applied for a Section 8 voucher, which would subsidize her rent—she’d
pay 30 percent of her income; the voucher covers the rest. Alternatively, she’s applied for low-cost
senior citizen housing that she can afford—but, she says, there are few places for many applicants.

“I have grown children who are successful and have nice homes, but I can’t
impose my life on theirs,” she says. “They don’t know I’m homeless. I’m afraid they’d be ashamed
of me.”

P.B. isn’t wasting time sitting around and moping. She’s apartment-hunting
and taking computer classes so she can get a job. She takes good care of herself. If you sat next to
P.B. on the subway, you’d have no idea she’s homeless. Heck, she could be your neighbor. o


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For me, New York is coming home, being home. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s got the best food,
and best pizza, and three airports and a 24/7 mass transit system. It’s the perfect place to be.

   —Alyssa Getzoff, 40,

   computer expert

 

Alyssa Getzoff moved in to her third-floor walkup in a 16-apartment
building in Astoria a month ago, and she’s ecstatic to be home.

“I lived away from New York for work for three years total—first
for a year and a half in Cincinnati 12 years ago and, recently, in Boston. Actually, I enjoyed my Boston
apartment—but the food really sucks in Boston—except for one incredible Japanese
restaurant, a good pizzeria near the airport and Hungry Herb’s in Medford, until the Board of Health
closed it down,” she says. “After a year and a half of bad food, I couldn’t take it anymore. I asked
my boss to transfer me back home, but he said my job would be superfluous in New York. So I quit.”

Now that she’s back, Getzoff hopes never to leave New York again.

“This is where I grew up, where my family lives, where I feel comfortable,”
she says.

Before returning, Getzoff emailed friends for apartment leads.

“I crashed on a friend’s couch while apartment hunting. I spent much
of my life in Manhattan, but decided I no longer wanted to share the same room with my refrigerator—which
meant moving to an outer borough. I’d already lived in Brooklyn and Staten Island, so figured I’d
try a fourth… That meant Queens or the Bronx. I chose Queens because it’s more diverse, with
different foods, culture and immigrant populations.

“Everything I loved about Brooklyn 20 years ago is now happening in Queens,”
she says.

Getzoff heard about a Long Island City apartment with a realtor attached.
She didn’t like that place, but Crest Haven Realty had others to show—in Astoria.

“I liked the realtor—a local Queens boy with local ties—and
loved the idea of Astoria because I’d heard it has great ethnic food—Greek, Italian, Indian,
Brazilian. After having been deprived of good food within walking distance of my nice Boston apartment,
one of the factors I based my neighborhood choice on was availability of good food,” she says.

“My apartment is charmingly old-fashioned. It’s a railroad flat, but
because there’s no next-door building, its kitchen, living room, bedroom and bathroom windows
are sun-drenched. If you lean out the windows you see awesome views of Manhattan. I love the bathroom’s
lavender-colored tiles, parquet floors with dark borders, angular arches, molding like empty
picture frames in the middle of the walls. The building’s well-kept. The super grew up in the building—his
mom lives here. I’m learning Spanish so I can speak with her.”

Getzoff pays $1150 per month. She carpools to her company’s Westchester
offices, driving once a week. Commuting to Manhattan is easy—just four stops on the N or W
trains to 59th St. and 3rd Ave.

“Broadway, one of Astoria’s great food streets, is two blocks away.
I’m trying all the restaurants—looking forward to every bite. The places aren’t very expensive.
For example, at Uncle George’s, one of the best Greek restaurants—with great lemon soup
and lamb—you can get a terrific meal for $25, including two glasses of wine served in tumblers!
And, if you dine earlier in the day, prices can be even less,” according to Getzoff.

“I eat out several times weekly in the neighborhood, but that’ll increase
as I convince borough-centric Manhattanites to join my explorations. Eating out’s an adventure—you
learn about people, their culture, how they handle food, what spices combine well. I’m always hunting
for new good restaurants—or old good restaurants. I’ll sample anything. I’ll travel great
distances to get to fabulous restaurants. But right now I don’t have far to go.”

Getzoff says she exercises a lot, too, to maintain her food habit. She’s
discovered several Astoria bike routes, and likes to stroll through Socrates Sculpture Park showcasing
local artists in outdoor exhibits and the famed Noguchi Museum.

“I plan to stay in Astoria for a long time.” o


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Don’t waste time. Get a really good realtor. Know what you’re willing to live with, what your
red flags are. When you see a red flag, walk away from that place immediately. Be willing to have some
vision about a space, to see what it can become. Dealing with raw space takes much more work than taking
something ready made, but if you’re willing to do that sweat equity thing, you can tailor-make a
good space into a great space that’s exactly what you want.

—Pamela Johnston,

mid-30s, president, PJ Inc.

 

Pamela Johnston’s award-winning public relations company
was headquartered in her 16-room Glen Ridge, NJ, home, until the town decided to shut her down.

“Glen Ridge has an ordinance that only two people—both of them
residents without other addresses—can work from a private dwelling. My company had more
than two employees and, of them, I was the only resident. I applied for a variance. They said ‘Nyuh-uh.’
So I had to move from my home office,” says Johnston, a more-than-full-time working single mother
of two school-age children. “At the time, I was traumatized. But guess what: It turned out to be the
best thing that could have happened.”

Johnston says since moving into Manhattan last year, her business is
well on the way to doubling in size. She’s won new clients and added three employees to her staff.

She finds that being in sun-drenched digs on the 22nd floor of a Midtown,
mid-sized office tower with a private wrap-around terrace and stunning panoramic city views increases
both creativity and productivity for her and her staff. That’s partly because she’s converted
the place into an office home.

“The space was raw, raw, raw when I took it—it didn’t even have
floors or kitchen cabinetry. But it had all my requisites: a location convenient for employee commutes
and client visits—we’re on 8th Ave., right between Port Authority and Penn Station; my own
floor—without creepy hallways from the elevator, sunlight and open space so nobody feels
claustrophobic and enough space—3000 square feet, 500 of which are outdoor terrace—for
us to grow into; an elevator big enough for us to easily move displays and other stuff in and out, and
a 24/7 doorman—I’m a woman and I have women employees and we need to feel safe when we’re working
very late or early hours,” says Johnston. “And I even got a good deal—it’s less than $5000
per month, and they gave me a couple of months for free.”

Johnston challenged Newmark realtor Jason Greenstein—”who
was great because he knew how to listen”—to find suitable space within two weeks.

“In four days, I saw 10 places including some fancy addresses. I took
photos of each, made lists of their cons—not pros—figuring I’d eliminate rather
than select,” says Johnston. “You know, the one with rats was out! I studied the photos, considered
the cons, decided if it was worthwhile. I liked Chelsea Market’s trendiness, but got lost inside
due to insufficient signage—not good for attracting new clients. I loved a move-in-ready
gorgeous 5th Ave. duplex, but it didn’t have doormen. Then I saw this place, and bingo—that
was it.”

Office construction cost Johnston $10,000 and took three weeks.

“Bathrooms were installed first,” she recalls. “I hate office bathrooms,
so went luxe. Pink walls, ornate mirrors, chaise lounge, hand-painted cabinets, beautiful art
and candles everywhere for the girls, and dark-green tones, rattan and wood, artsy mirrors for
the men.

“The super immediately dubbed us ‘the dollhouse.’ Wireless was installed
while floors were laid—we were working here by week two. Construction was perfectly orchestrated—because
I did it!”

Johnston says the neighborhood seems a bit seedy, but likes that she’s
not distracted by tempting shops.

“I didn’t want anything too fancy,” she says, “because I didn’t want
clients to think we were blowing money—perhaps overcharging them. Our building is modest,
our space is magnificent. Clients love dropping by for evening parties where we enjoy the twinkling
New York skyline. We often work al fresco on the terrace. This is PJ Inc.’s home—much more
than my home could ever be.” o


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“There’s talk about Inwood becoming Manhattan’s next hot spot, but I doubt it. Inwood’s architecture—a
mixture of Bronxy Art Deco Grand Concourse-style and faded tan brick seven-story buildings with
fire escapes—doesn’t qualify as charming. People don’t say, ‘Oh, this is gorgeous,’ the
way they did in Park Slope before it was ‘Park Slope.’ And, the neighborhood’s dining and shopping
leave much to be desired.”

Jamie Katz, 53, deputy editor,

Vibe magazine.

 

 

Actually, Jamie Katz doesn’t want Inwood to become a hot spot.
He likes Manhattan’s northernmost neighborhood as is—as it’s been, more or less, since
he moved there in 1977.

“I discovered Inwood from the deck of a Circle Line boat. As you go from
Harlem into the Hudson River, palisades loom before you. A giant rock has a huge C—for Columbia—painted
on it. I saw Manhattan’s northwestern-most apartment building, and thought I’d like to have a corner
apartment there. Several days later, I stood outside that building, gazing up at corner apartments.
Serendipitously, the super asked if I wanted one,” Katz recalls. “I said yes.”

Katz appreciates Inwood’s Manhattan cachet—the coveted 212
area code and 100 zip code that “make you feel like you’re the center of the universe”—as well
as its distance from midtown and downtown.

“Inwood is definitely Manhattan, but sometimes feels more like the
Bronx. It’s very neighborhood. People are friendly. Often, several generations of the
same family have apartments in the same building,” says Katz. “Best of all, Inwood Hill Park has
Manhattan’s last remaining virgin forest. From my windows, I see fields and hillsides and, although
the George Washington Bridge pokes up behind them, I can momentarily sense what Manhattan might
have felt like before it was settled by Europeans and became the Manhattan that we know. Sometimes,
I even hear ducks quacking.”

Inwood’s rich history fascinates Katz.

“There was an Indian settlement, and a hill in the park is made of oyster
and clam shells that Indians discarded as they feasted from the river. It took centuries for this
oyster shell mound to grow. I find that delightful. I love that spot. On school trips, kids visit
Indian caves and remains of a 17th-century Dutch farming settlement, including Dyckman House,
New York’s oldest farmhouse. A plaque commemorates an ancient tulip tree, and it’s said Peter Minuit
purchased Manhattan from local tribesmen at that spot,” he says. “Imagine, if the Indians had deposited
that $24 in a bank, they’d have a trillion dollars today—maybe enough to buy back Manhattan.”

Katz pays about $1000 per month for his one-bedroom, rent-stabilized
apartment. He guesses Inwood’s coop prices have doubled recently.

“I don’t want to put too much shine on the neighborhood,” says Katz. “I
fear skyrocketing prices may cause landlords to force out long-standing residents like myself.
Fortunately, my landlord, Joe Moskowitz, is responsible and responsive. The super and his wife,
Carl and Roberta Busch, are wonderful—like European concierges. They’re really up to speed
with the building. I’m very lucky.”

That wasn’t always so. Katz has been a neighborhood crime victim four
times.

“During the late 80s, early 90s, at the crack epidemic’s height, Inwood
and Washington Heights’ 34th Precinct had the city’s highest murder rate—which was unsettling
if you were raising kids, as I was at the time. My car was stolen, my apartment burglarized and I was
robbed on the subway and in my lobby. That’s an above-average victimization experience for New
Yorkers. It was enraging. But I didn’t think of moving. I wasn’t scared, and I’m not the type of person
to pick up and leave something because it’s not entirely pleasant,” he says.

And, he adds, because there were always plenty of good things in Inwood,
too.

“I complain about Inwood at times, but the community continues to grow
on me. I feel quite rooted,” says Katz. “Many mornings, I go running up into the hills and the sun is
bursting through the trees and the air fills my lungs, and I feel like a colt having a nice little gallop
in the morning. I’m very grateful to be able to experience that in Manhattan.” o


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“I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but sometimes it feels like real estate interests, legislative
and court heads have gotten together and said, ‘You know, tenants have had too much over the years;
we need to shift the pendulum back to the landlords.'”

—Samuel J. Himmelstein,

52, attorney-at-law

 

SAM HIMMELSTEIN knows Landlord and Tenant Court well. He’s appeared
there regularly for the past 25 years.

“I represent tenants, exclusively. I became a lawyer to fight for the
underdog,” says Himmelstein. “In Housing Court, that’s usually tenants. After all, they’re threatened
with the loss of their homes. It may sound radical, but I believe one person shouldn’t have the power
of eviction over another. I believe there’s something inherently exploitive about the landlord-tenant
relationship.”

That was why Himmelstein was reluctant to become a landlord himself
when, six years ago, he bought the other two coops in the three-story, three-coop, Windsor Terrace,
Brooklyn, house in which he and his wife, novelist Amy Herrick, lived.

“We needed more space for our two teenagers,” says Himmelstein. “So
we bought the entire building for $335,000 and had it de-cooped. Then we spent another $20,000 remodeling
the first and second floors into one apartment for our use—removing a kitchen, building
first-floor bedrooms and living space for our children and putting in an internal spiral staircase
from the first to second floor. My wife and I have our bedroom and studios on the second floor. The
kitchen and dining room are on the second floor, too.

“Renting the third floor was essential for covering expenses. But I
was nervous about potential tenant problems. I’d never want to be in a position of having to evict
a tenant—it would be too contradictory to my personal beliefs and law practice. We were careful
choosing our tenant. Fortunately, we’ve had no problems. We like her very much, and have become
good friends.”

Perhaps that’s because Himmelstein’s determined to avoid anything
resembling an exploitive landlord-tenant relationship. Even if it costs him.

“We’re entitled to raise the rent, but haven’t done so and don’t intend
to. We’re not greedy. That so many landlords are greedy is causing real housing problems in our city.
Thankfully, I make a decent living—although, speaking frankly, I don’t make as much as landlords’
lawyers do.”

Which brings him back to the subject of Housing Court.

“It’s almost impossible for tenants representing themselves—and
many can’t afford a lawyer but don’t qualify for free legal assistance—to receive an entirely
fair trial. The playing field isn’t even. Tenants without lawyers can’t possibly navigate the
courts the way landlords with lawyers do. They don’t know the law and don’t know how to present a case.

“Also, Housing Court judges and lawyers know each other—some
judges have practiced in law firms appearing regularly before them. That familiarity can benefit
whomever has the attorney. Mostly, it benefits landlords, because most landlords have lawyers,
while a large percentage of tenants do not.

“As long as you have a system where 90 percent of landlords are represented
by council and 90 percent of tenants aren’t, you’re never going to have an equitable system. The
courts have never held that having an attorney in a landlord and tenant case is a constitutional
right—as in criminal cases, for example. Until that inequity is remedied, Housing Court
will never be a fair place.”

Have there been changes in Housing Court over the years?

“In the mid-90s, the legislature, judiciary and executive branch seem
to have decided—consciously or on an unconscious level—that tenants had too many
rights. Also, the real estate industry better organized itself and it’s lobbying to press for changes.
Since then, Albany has enacted laws designed to streamline the court process. Generally, speed
in Housing Court isn’t a neutral concept. It favors landlords. If landlords seek evictions, they’d
prefer the evictions be fast, not slow. Vice versa for tenants. And, tenants must pay owed rents
sooner, despite temporary economic hardships,” says Himmelstein.

“In my view, courts are increasingly conservative because of Pataki
appointments to the Appellate Courts. Housing Court judges are afraid of having their decisions
favoring tenants overturned. So, life’s harder for tenants.” o


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“At night, in the kitchen, before you put the light on, you hear the rats running around. I
have two young kids. It’s terrible to have to tell them all the time to put on slippers, and not to touch
anything because it’s dirty. Some people think because you’re Spanish, you don’t mind living with
rats and cockroaches. It’s really disgusting.”

—Claudia Castillo, 28,
mother and college student

 

 

LAUDIA CASTILLO, her husband, their two children and her husband’s
father share a rent-controlled two-bedroom apartment on the first floor of a 31-unit building
on 135th St. near Riverside Drive. Claudia’s father-in-law, Diones Castillo Sr., has lived in
the apartment since 1958. Claudia and her husband moved in with him in 1997.

Claudia says the apartment is very nice—but almost unlivable.

“The kitchen stinks from rats and cockroaches and garbage left outside
our windows. There’s a leak in the bathroom ceiling. The plaster over the toilet has fallen down
three times this year. Some floor tiles are missing, and the floors are dangerously uneven. The
landlord doesn’t make repairs—or when he does, the repairs don’t last. The problems come
back, usually worse than they were before.”

All the conditions Claudia mentions—and more—are listed
in NYC Dept. of Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) records, showing 217 building code
violations for the building. That includes 37 class-C violations (potentially health-threatening,
such as peeling lead-based paint, rats, defective toilets and faulty water delivery), 100 class-B
violations (missing smoke detectors, blocked fire escapes, broken windows and the like) and 80
class-A violations (defective window sashes, floor tiles, dripping faucets and such). HPD records
show violations as ongoing for a decade or longer.

“We try everything to get repairs done so we can live decently,” says
Claudia. “We’re withholding rent. We’ve been in Landlord and Tenant Court since 1999, when my daughter’s
blood showed high levels of lead—from paint. The court orders the landlord to make repairs.
He doesn’t. I think he gets away with it because we’re Spanish, uptown and poor.”

Claudia says the building’s ownership has changed repeatedly during
the past several years.

“The landlords own the building for a year or so, then sell it for a profit.
I’m not even sure how many landlords we’ve had since we moved in with my father-in-law, because we
deal with the building agent who tells us when we have a new landlord. But I’m not sure I can believe
him—he might say that just to delay repairs.

“Our current landlord has owned the building for less than a year, and
we’ve heard he’s trying to sell it—for $300,000 more. He wants us and the other tenants out
so he can raise rents, especially for the bigger apartments, like ours. All our landlords have wanted
us out.”

Claudia says most tenants in the building pay $400 to $800 for rent, but
she pays only $280. She knows the landlord could get more—especially since the West Side
from 125th to 160th is rapidly gentrifying.

“Our building and neighborhood are mostly Hispanic, mostly low-income
families. But that’s changing fast, especially after 9/11. Now we see a lot of white people moving
in—students from Columbia University, especially—and there are expensive shops
opening on Broadway,” she says. “We’re benefiting in some ways from the change, but we’re also victims.
Things are more expensive, and we’re under greater pressure to move.”

Now the landlord is trying to buy the Castillos and other tenants out.

“He offered us $10,000 to move. That’s a lot of money to us. My husband’s
a carpenter. He’s still young in his profession, so he doesn’t earn that much. I’m in college. We
have two kids to support. So we could really use that money, but we’d be crazy to accept it. Where could
we go?” she asks.

“Believe me, I’d like to live in better conditions, decent conditions,
especially for my kids. I’d like to own a house, but what he’s offering wouldn’t buy it. It could get
us another apartment, and cover a few months’ rent. But then what?”

So, for the time being, the Castillos are toughing it out.

..