I don’t own many nice suits. Usually, I simply wear the jacket of the first one I ever purchased. It was for my college graduation, nearly 12 years ago. An old gray two-button job with a faint stripe, it looks good enough with a pair of jeans. Occasionally, I start to feel a little self-conscious about my lack of business attire, but whenever it comes up, I quickly remind myself that it’s my charisma and intelligence that have taken me this far. So, before I throw away any clothes, I should really try being nicer to people and spend more time reading. Just the other night I was hit with the urge to wear something sharp, but then realized I was headed to Williamsburg. “Shit, am I overdressed?” I wondered. Will the kids call me different? How do you dress for a broker party in Williamsburg?
I usually head to the neighborhood to forget about my job, not for it. Not coincidentally, I’ve spent a good portion of time there this past month. On my last outing, however, I was in full broker mode and attending the opening party for The North 8 Condo development. I wasn’t sure exactly where the sales office was and decided to follow the only other suits up Bedford Avenue. At the corner of North Sixth, a photographer was framing a shot through a storefront window of a couple admiring a kitchen sink. This was clearly the place.
When I entered the sales office there were already about ten other people mulling around the small space. I grabbed the complimentary canvas tote bag, which held a price sheet of available units. The sales staff was busy and only moderately helpful. I couldn’t help feeling that had I worn a better jacket, I would have warranted more attention. I slipped through virtually unnoticed, but I did hear that the building was already close to 25 percent sold. Not bad for its first week. But with only 40 units, it meant that they had contracts on about eight.
In my mind, you can only spend so much time looking at a stainless steel kitchen. Ditto for the model bath. These are by now standard in new constructions and a bit tired. How about chrome kitchens? The new construction boom boasts some impressive numbers but not a lot of creativity. The real selling points of North 8 are the location, along the waterfront, and the generous amount of square footage in each unit. Also impressive are the private townhouses, but as they are basically set up for families—and with million dollar price tags—you may find a warmer, more convenient neighborhood in which to raise children, unless of course, you are planning on raising little Sids and Nancys.
Judging from the website (Williamsburg. All Grown Up.), and the poster on the back wall of the sales office, the new owners are mostly happy white people with oversized heads and an affinity for hanging out with butterflies in fields of yellow flowers. Yet the question remains: Who are these potential buyers? You would have to be stable enough to afford them and colorful enough to appreciate the neighborhood. It’s a good thing for the developer (Toll Brothers Inc.) that New York has no shortage of 27-year-old finance kids, just crazy enough to buck the system and finally rebel at something, even if it’s living in the East Village. I can picture the momentous occasion: “I’m through being a corporate lackey … at least when I’m not working. For the six hours a day I’m not in the office, I just want to be me. Give me a contract, I’m buying in Williamsburg!”
I left the sales office with these images (including the huge heads on the poster) still on my mind and a few unanswered questions. What separates this building from the slew of others that look and feel just like it? About 22,000 new units are coming on the market in the next year and a half, so says the Real Estate Board, and this comes as the market finally admits it’s turned down a bit. The result of this kind of appetite is that there doesn’t need to be anything remarkable, special or even mildly unique about a new residential building anymore. With space at such a premium in this town, developers will build anywhere they can and without regard for neighborhood integrity, demographics or any kind of cultural reflection what so ever. It’s simply not what developers do. They don’t have to.
A cocktail party followed the sales office tour. Free drinks, good food and crazy broker stories all around. I even met a potential buyer there, and he more or less fits the description. A young guy who works hard, he’s been in the market for over a year and knows his buildings. He liked what he saw, digs the neighborhood and can afford it. A good sports bar on the corner would have closed the deal. It may, after all, be a good fit for him. He wasn’t wearing a suit either.