Ghosts of New York City Real Estate: Hard to Spot, Harder to Bust

Ghosts of New York City Real Estate: Hard to Spot, Harder to Bust

New York City is a beautiful, historic city with some of the most lovely and desirable neighborhoods in the country. But the Big Apple also has a ghost problem. In the always-desirable New York housing market, behavior at each end of the economic spectrum illustrates why New Yorkers looking for a place to live can face considerable difficulties.

First up: Ghost apartments. Not literally haunted, ghost apartments are units that are owned by a wealthy person (or a shell company) that, for the most part, remain unoccupied.

Why is this a concern? There are multiple reasons but, primarily, it’s the hidden costs associated with the empty apartments that contribute to the overall housing challenges in New York. Starting with the most obvious impact—there’s no one living in the apartment. That means that a costly piece of real estate has been purchased or rented, but no money is flowing into the economy on that street. If no one lives in the apartment, there is no one shopping at the corner store, eating out, joining the neighborhood gym or even grabbing the occasional cup of coffee.

The math is pretty simple. Fewer housing units mean fewer people, less foot traffic, and not as much need for local goods and services.

There’s a second major impact on the housing economy when wealthier residents rent an apartment, rather than purchasing a single-family home—taxes. Single-family homes in New York are taxed at a higher rate and produce more tax revenue than a single rental unit generates.

Finally, there’s the cost to the average New Yorker—time. When “ghost apartments” become common, residents may move further away from their place of employment, or areas that are familiar socially. Walking is replaced by long commutes, and employers have less ability to hire hyper-locally.

So, what’s an average New Yorker to do?

Some choose to go off the books and become ghost tenants, another not-so-supernatural phenomenon. Ghost tenants are people (adults) living in an apartment without being on the lease, or having any formal status as a tenant. According to a 2016 article in Slate, which focuses on public housing, “Although 400,000 people officially live in New York City’s traditional public housing units, it’s estimated that as many as 100,000 to 200,000 more reside there secretly.”

The market rate for a one-bedroom apartment in New York, in 2015, was $3,100. In the Slate article, the Ghost Tenant “Gigi” was sharing a mid-town apartment, with her parents, in a public housing project that rented for under $1,000.

If “caught” the whole family can be evicted from public housing. In both public and privately owned buildings, more tenants mean more wear-and-tear on facilities which can lead to hazardous or unpleasant living conditions. At best, the rent will increase based on the income that’s brought to the household by the ghost tenant, which is hardly helpful in reversing the problem. 

Then there are communication and safety concerns. If a ghost tenant has a P.O. box and no official street address, they are harder to find, by, say, a school or employer, if needed. If there’s a problem in the building—a gas leak, a fire–emergency responders won’t know to look for the ghost tenant.

When it comes to real estate, it’s best kept balanced and affordable when the appropriate amount of tenants live in an apartment, and when the owners of said apartments actually live there. But eradicating these ghosts is easier said than done, and productive solutions remain few and far between.

It’s clear that ghost apartments and ghost tenants are part of the New York real estate landscape, and one the Ghost Busters can’t solve. These issues, present on both ends of the economic spectrum, must be addressed by developers focusing on building, refurbishing, and maintaining housing units that are affordable by the average New Yorker who lives in the wonderful city so many call home. 

When Two Bookstores Close, Another Opens in Cobble Hill

When Two Bookstores Close, Another Opens in Cobble Hill

When one door closes, another opens, and though this is not always the case for bookstores, the adage is holding true in Cobble Hill—to some extent, anyway.

The Brooklyn neighborhood recently suffered the news that BookCourt, a Cobble Hill staple, would be closing after 35 years in business when its owners retire at the end of the year. This news came not long after the neighborhood’s chaotic but lovable bookstore, aptly called Community Bookstore, was cleared of its unkempt stacks.

Luckily, another independent bookstore is in the works, and in a world where it sometimes seems bookstores big and small are losing business, it will be a welcome addition.

The new store, called “Books Are Magic,” is set to open on or around May 1. While the name may seem a little trite, most bibliophiles can agree that books are magic (if not actually, then certainly metaphorically). The new store is a business venture by Emma Straub, author of novels such as Modern Lovers and The Vacationers, and a former employee of BookCourt. According to her website, “A neighborhood without an independent bookstore is a body without a heart. And so we’re building a new heart.”

The store will be located on 225 Smith Street between Butler and Douglas, not far from BookCourt’s old location. As she’s been preparing for the opening, Emma has shared her journey on social media and with the press. She’s even hinted at collaborations with neighbors including Warby Parker and the cheese shop Stinky Brooklyn. Books, glasses, and cheese? Sounds like Brooklyn alright.

One independent bookstore replacing two may not be ideal for residents used to having their choice of store, and the “two out, one in” is annoyingly reminiscent of the Trump Administration’s regulation policy. With Barnes & Noble just a short walk down Court Street, too, it seems the community’s dedication to books (or magic, if you will) will live on.

And who knows? Maybe another overstuffed literary treasure trove will pop up to fill the hole left by Community Bookstore, too. Stranger things have happened in Brooklyn.

Springtime in New York City: Events to Look Forward To

Springtime in New York City: Events to Look Forward To

New York is finally starting to thaw out from a nasty, wet, snowy winter. The days of warm afternoons and late sunsets are upon us again, and that means that plenty of fun happenings are taking place, whatever you’re into. Here are some exciting events where you can best take advantage of the turn of the season.

Governor’s Ball Music Festival

For the young and the young at heart, there’s nothing like an outdoor music festival to make the best of the warm weather. This year’s Governor’s Ball (June 2-4) boasts a star-studded lineup with headliners including the red-hot Chance the Rapper, perennial indie favorites Phoenix, and the return of 90s rock legends Tool to the NYC area after 11 years. Not to mention an undercard of over 60 bands representing every genre from dance-pop to experimental hip-hop, rock and soul. Single-day tickets are available too if you don’t feel like making a weekend of it.

Hanami Cherry Blossom Festival

Long a favorite destination for Brooklynites, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden pulls out all the stops at their yearly Sakura Matsuri Cherry Blossom Festival (April 29-30). The stunning cherry blossoms promise to be in full glorious bloom while you stroll through the picturesque grounds taking it all in. The Festival also includes several exhibitions of historic Japanese culture including Taiko drummers, samurai sword displays, a Japanese tea room, and art gallery. There’s also a flea market so you can take a little bit of the celebration home with you.

Affordable Art Fair

Whether you want to pick up something to class up your apartment or just enjoy the scenery, the Affordable Art Fair (March 29-April 2) has something you’ll enjoy. Over 70 artists from Buenos Aires to Tokyo will be there to exhibit their works, with prices a touch cheaper than the usual art-world fare. Even if you’re not the type to drop more than $100 on some museum-quality artwork, feel free to grab a cocktail and take a stroll through the gallery. At $18 a ticket, it’s cheaper than a trip to MoMA. Workshops for kids are also available, so feel free to bring the whole family.

Five Boro Craft Beer Fest

The NYC craft beer scene is one of the most robust in the country, and the vendors at the Five Boro Craft Beer Fest (May 12) will be more than happy to show you why. Beer mavens from local breweries ranging from the renowned Brooklyn Brewery to up and comers like Long Island City’s Big Alice Brewing will be at the Bushwick fest to meet and greet and, most importantly, imbibe. All-you-can-drink 2 ounce tastings, a home brew contest, and live music make this an event no beer lover will be willing to skip.

NYC Taste of the Nation

If you’re looking to give back a little while you enjoy yourself, you can indulge while helping a great cause at NYC Taste of the Nation (April 24). Benefitting No Kid Hungry, a national charity devoted to ending childhood hunger, this festival brings together over 50 chefs and bartenders to curate a wide-ranging culinary experience. Sample different dishes as well as unique attractions like the Candy Carnival and Donut Derby. You won’t leave hungry, and your ticket will help ensure that kids around the city won’t be, either.

Is the Bronx the New Brooklyn?

Is the Bronx the New Brooklyn?

Some real estate professionals say there’s no doubt north is the way to go.

With only Manhattan separating them, is it time for the Bronx to admit that it has more in common with Brooklyn than previously thought?

According to some real estate professionals, the answer is a resounding yes. Even if the idea of the Bronx being a great place to live or invest raises eyebrows from hipsters to former-hippies now comfortable in their Manhattan apartments.

Consider this bit of history. When the Sex and the City character, Miranda, announced she was moving to Brooklyn the idea was so abhorrent to Manhattanites that the New York Post ran an article listing all the (real-life!) hip spots that Carrie and Miranda could frequent.

Now, only a decade later, Brooklyn’s average rent for a one-bedroom apartment runs between $1,600 and $2,900, depending on the neighborhood. It costs about $790,000 on average to buy a home, and well into the millions in trendier neighborhoods.

What’s a dedicated middle-class New Yorker to do?

Manhattan? Probably not with rents running $3,000 and buying about a $2 million endeavor.

It may be time to head north.

First, there’s the basic premise that Brooklyn prices are continuing to go up, so the Bronx is a more affordable option given the average rent of $1,200/month.

But consider the other benefits of the Bronx, like great transportation. The subway and other public transportation options are excellent—and traveling from midtown to the south Bronx is a fairly short commute.

For example, it’s only a 24-minute subway ride from Radio City Music Hall to Yankee Stadium. The residential areas just north of the stadium are considered up-and-coming, and affordable, according to multiple sources.

If driving is a must, it’s actually possible in the Bronx. I-87 along the west side of the borough is far easier to navigate than, say, the lower east side or Time’s Square.

For the more green-minded commuters, the recent opening of the historic High Bridge (New York’s oldest standing bridge, originally used to transport water from the Croton River to New York) offers a quick, convenient pedestrian and bicycle route from Highbridge to Upper Manhattan. 

Not only are the rents in the neighborhood still reasonable, but the apartments are often in renovated historic buildings, originally constructed in the 1920s and 1930s.

For even more gorgeous, historic, architecture the buildings along the 5-mile stretch of the Grand Concourse are an excellent option. While this area, originally inspired in the early 1900s by the Champs-Elysees in Paris, fell into considerable disrepair in the 1970s and ‘80s, an $18 million restoration and landscaping initiative in 2008 revitalized the neighborhood.

Further north still is Fordham Heights, which is flanked by both the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden, and much more affordable than the real estate near Central Park.

Continuing north (no worries, not Niagra Falls!) recent re-zoning along Webster Avenue has created spaces now open to residential development that is working and middle-class friendly.

While these areas are not all a short commute to the culture and delights of Manhattan, they are still within close enough proximity (about an hour on public transportation) for trips into the city, business meetings, or even daily commutes.

Plus, culture and great food is already a part of the Bronx! In addition to the Zoo and the Garden, multiple colleges and universities offer music, dance and theatrical events.

The food scene? Solid—and growing.

Many New Yorkers believe that the Bronx is home to “real” Little Italy. Practically disdainful of catering to tourists, Arthur Avenue in the Belmont Neighborhood is still lined with Italian shops, markets and restaurants that have been there since Italian immigrants settled the neighborhood in the 1950s.

For the real “foodies” of New York, it’s good to know that there’s a culture of food that’s diverse enough to bring Anthony Bourdain to the Bronx.

In 2014, CNN aired a Bronx episode of Bourdain’s show “Parts Unknown.” Bourdain sampled Arthur Avenue’s Italian offerings, but dove whole-heartedly into Puerto Rican, African and Caribbean dishes.

“If the Bronx were a neighborhood in Manhattan, sort of shrunk down, you’d have hipsters crawling all over this place.” Bourdain quipped.

Affordable, easily accessible by public transportation, and with vibrant neighborhoods and ethnic diversity–in a New York minute the Bronx may beat Brooklyn as the place to live.

Apps to Avoid Crowds in New York City

Apps to Avoid Crowds in New York City

In a city of eight million, you’re never alone. But with ever-emerging technology, some apps aim to be the cure for New York City agoraphobia. Some are useful for avoiding the Big Apple swarms, whereas some provide a respite from social media overload. If you need a break from the New York minute(s), you should consider downloading these innovative apps.

1. Density

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At its core, Density is a sleek, savvy foot traffic detection system.

Density, more a black cube or block than an app, works when businesses attach it to their door frames. Density then uses infrared distance sensors that can detect when someone enters or exits. What’s great about Density is that it counts traffic, not identity, so those entering and exiting stay anonymous through the process.

The device, which is being sold to startup companies in great numbers, is already being used in California and is expected to roll out soon in other cities, including New York by the end of this summer.

The hope is that places like grocery stores, the DMV, and trendy bars will use the device, giving business and users a more accurate gauge of the numbers inside an establishment at any given time.

2. Anti-Social

In this era of tweeting, checking-in to every destination, and Facebook-posting every moment in your life, it can be hard to disconnect. The barrage of social media games, ads, posts, comments, and photos make for a crowded afternoon. In other words, our lives are physically and virtually crowded. That’s where Anti-Social comes in. Though not a crowd-ridding app, Anti-Social de-clutters us from too much social media. With the plugin, Anti-social allows you to set blocks of time where you can turn off notifications from your friends on social media sites for up to eight hours.

3. Avoid Humans

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Austin, Texas’ SXSW drew a crowd of nearly 90,000 last year. In response to those masses, an Austin ad agency rolled out Avoid Humans to help ease the anxiety of attendees. Though the app is currently Austin-specific, it should be offered to other cities soon. The app works to manage crowding in different categories like food, nightlife, and coffee with color-coded clever prompts of overcrowding danger: Green is good and Red means avoid at all costs.

4. Avoid The Shopping Crowds

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Many of the apps designed to avoid crowds were in response to holiday shopping; Avoid the Shopping Crowds is one such app. Designed to keep the noble holiday shopper from the swarms during the holidays, Avoid the Shopping Crowds partners with Facebook, Foursquare, and Twitter to monitor posts, check-ins and tweets. The app then monitors where all the people are converging, and updates users where not to be. Updates on the locations where you want to shop feature prompts like “calm”, “busy”, and “forget it”. The app is available in the Netherlands but similar apps are already developing in the U.S.

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5. Last but not least: Google.

Like Avoid the Shopping Crowds based in the Netherlands (but more robust), Google has introduced a live app that helps you avoid the bars, restaurants, and other businesses with lines around the corner (which are a lot of places on a Friday night in New York City).

Google’s unrivaled algorithms and live analyses are the main component of how the tech giant determines the numbers of people who are visiting the establishment you are interested in visiting. Piggy-backing off its Popular Times tool, which updates you on when a business is at its busiest, Google’s latest iteration determines how crowded the neighborhood is within the hour specified. The tool collects data based on a  business’s historically popular peak hours with stored info on Google’s servers.

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The monitoring tool can also find a similar business in proximity to your original pick for you to patronize instead.

In New York, there are a few things that people cling to: a stolen Indian summer day, a great pizza, and a little patch of peace and quiet. People who want to avoid crowds range from people who want to avoid getting run over on Black Friday to people who are just a bit shy and need to de-stress and disconnect. We live in an age and a city where every part of our lives involves interactions with our devices or other people. It’s not surprising that apps, plugins, and tools are popping up all over the world to solve the issue––and users are lining up to download them all.

 

Food Trucks Going Digital in New York City

Food Trucks Going Digital in New York City

Digitally savvy equals success for trucks and foodies alike.

Hot dogs, pupusas, kebabs, bamboo rice sticky bowls, fried chicken, falafel, bulgogi, and tacos made from any and all of the above. That’s “Food Truck Food,” New York City style. Every type of ethnic, fusion and fabulous food, prepared fresh daily, in food trucks on every block and in every borough.

Officially there are 4,235 food vendors in New York City, but unofficial estimates (which include non-permitted vendors, as well as rented and black market licenses) are at least double that number.

Entrepreneurial, fun, and, with a rapidly growing market, food trucks are beyond popular. But, it’s also a competitive market so it takes more than wonderful waffles, like the Belgian awesomeness of Wafels & Dinges, to keep customers coming back and to turn a profit.

It takes technology—starting with the right dongle.

No, a dongle isn’t a type of donut fusion with some exotic glaze. It’s the small credit card reader that attaches to phones, tablets and laptops so people can pay using a card.

Square has been the popular choice for this task since at least 2011, according to an article in Mashable. It, and digital tools like it, “make running a mobile business much easier and more efficient, since you don’t have to waste time counting cash or getting change from the bank.”

Square also has services to track sales, set up price lists (including specials!) and manage inventory. Square charges, on average, about 2.75 to 3.5 percent of the sale which makes them affordable on a lean budget. Other, similar, merchant vendor devices and services are offered by PayPal.

Once a food truck has the ability to accept payment in all forms, the next step (a daily step!) is to let customers know they’re open and ready for business.

This requires social media, including Twitter and Facebook, as well as membership with a mapping and food truck-tracking website and app.

Why the need to have multiple, facile, platforms and apps?  

The most obvious reason: food trucks are mobile. With traffic, construction, protests and parades trucks need to be able to adapt to ever-changing landscape of city—yet still let people know where to find the food.

Social media lets food-truck-fans follow digitally so that following the path of favorite trucks literally is easier. Also, in order to make ends meet many trucks offer catering and delivery—usually via-online-ordering.

That’s where joining up with a site like RoamingHunger really comes into play. The company has been around since 2009 and has maps of multiple cities where all the best food trucks are listed, mapped (with time as well as place!) and tracked.

Based on the site’s list of popular trucks, including Korilla BBQ which won the Rookie of the Year Vendy in 2011 and is still going strong, connecting to a website like RoamingHunger is mandatory for mobile eateries. It effectively gets the word out and brings customers in.

For those on the other side of the counter, the food-truck-foodies, technology makes finding new options and old favorites easy. In addition to RoamingHunger, FoodTrucksIn offer location and contact information for food trucks (if the truck has “checked in”) as well as a sort feature for hungry foodies to look for the exact type of food in which they’re interested.

Of course, for calorie-free enjoyment there’s always Pinterest and Instagram. Many food truck vendors use these sites to highlight their really “wow” menu items.

Though you may still be uncertain which food trucks to visit for lunch as the weather gets warmer, one thing is for sure: food trucks and technology may both be mobile, but as a pairing they aren’t going anywhere.