Month: July 2014

Deconstructing a dream home, decade by decade

Deconstructing a dream home, decade by decade

by : Jenny Higgons

Story Highlights
1970s decks had a 25-year lifespan before needing serious upgrading or replacement.
Upgrade 1990s manually programmed thermostats
Beware of asbestos, out-dated electrical systems, single-paned windows, and fake stucco.

Westchester, Rockland and Putnam counties are filled with houses that were built more than 100 years ago. We also have a lot of houses that are, quite literally, being finished as you read this.

Whether you’re considering buying a historic Colonial or a turn-key contemporary, homes from every era have their charms — and quirks — along with some features unique to each that need to be carefully considered before you buy. Materials like lead paint and asbestos, for example, were considered standard in the 1920s and ’40s, but no homeowner wants them today.

As desirable as original features may be — like that expansive back deck on a 1970s’ era split level you’re considering — they should be looked at closely for aesthetic and safety reasons.

Starting in the 1920s and going decade by decade to the 2000s, we asked three experts for things that homeowners should look for in homes of each period: John D. Fry of the American Institute of Architects, Paul Coombes of Mr. Inside Out Home Inspections, and Bruce Elton, a licensed and bonded designer and home builder.

The 1920s:

Many home styles were popular in the 1920s including bungalows, Craftsman, neo-Tudor, neo-Colonial and the American Foursquare.

Lead: Lead ended up being that decade’s main enemy. It was in the paint on the walls, and perhaps because covering the paint was more common than removing it, under wallpaper. Many of the main water supply pipes in homes built in this era were also lead.

Mortar and stone work: The mortar used in stone and brick foundations in homes built during this period might now be deteriorating and allowing water and moisture to seep into unfinished basements, which, if unfinished, can spawn mold and mildew. The home’s interior walls are also vulnerable. Black mold is especially dangerous to your health.

Good to know: “You also have to think about the fireplaces in homes from the 1920s,” says Fry. “They worked well back then because they tended to have good draw and the houses leaked air by default. But many of the windows in homes from that era have been replaced and are more air-tight. They could also have a new heating and air conditioning system with a return-air vent system. Those factors influence the natural draw of a fireplace and produce indoor smoke, so you need to create an air vent in back of the fireplace chamber to allow the intake of fresh air.”

The 1930s:

The Cape Cod and Dutch Colonial were popular styles through the 1930s.

Attics: That unfinished attic space, commonly found in homes of this era, might look like a great opportunity for a master suite, but zoning codes now require that third floors have sprinkler systems that meet building and fire code regulation. Updated attics also now require an exit window that provides a clear opening and is a certain number of feet above the floor.

If an attic has its original window, it’s probably sloped and doesn’t meet those requirements. You might need to consider installing dormer windows, which are cost effective, attractive, and can accommodate safety-exit and zoning (bulk and height) requirements.

Insulation: Fine-particle material was used as insulation in the attics’ ceilings; it wasn’t very effective. Nor was the newspaper shoved between the space between the outside and inside walls.

Wiring: The knob and tube electrical wiring used in the 1930s’ central wiring systems come up short compared to today’s electrical demands. The oldies’ 60- to 100-amps service could pose a fire hazard, so an upgrade to at least 200 amps is highly advisable.

Good to know: “The electrical system is the most important factor in the house,” says Elton. “Insurance companies want them updated….


Westchester County Second Quarter Real Estate Report Shows Decrease in Sales Compared to Last Year

Westchester County Second Quarter Real Estate Report Shows Decrease in Sales Compared to Last Year

by Wendy Mitchell (Editor) , July 09, 2014 at 11:22 AM


Westchester, Putnam, Rockland and Orange Counties, New York

Closed residential real estate transactions during the second quarter of 2014 slackened in relation to the same period last year. Realtors participating in the Hudson Gateway Multiple Listing Service, serving Westchester, Putnam, Rockland and Orange Counties, reported 3,195 closings in the four counties, a decrease of 9.2% from the 3,519 closings reported during the second quarter of last year. These grand totals comprised sales of single family houses, condominiums, cooperatives and 2-4 family dwellings.

The second quarter closings largely reflected listing and showing activity that took place during the early months of the year. Many data providers and analysts, including the National Association of Realtors, ascribe at least some of the slowdown in sales here and nationally to exceptionally difficult winter weather conditions that discouraged prospective purchasers from getting out and researching properties of interest. The lower Hudson region undoubtedly experienced some of that effect, but in our case there may also have been an equal or even larger effect from a simple market correction of the fast pace of sales in 2013 and the first quarter of 2014.

Westchester and Orange Counties experienced the largest percentage year to year falloffs in sales at 12.0% and 12.2% respectively. In Westchester the slowdown was concentrated in the single family house sector, 13.5%, followed by condominiums, 10.1%. Orange County’s single family house sales were down by 12.1%. Putnam County sales were down by just 2.9%. Rockland County stood out from its neighbors with an actual overall increase of 6.2%.

Overall inventory registered with the multiple listing service at the close of the quarter (June 30) amounted to 12,383 units, an increase of 8.8% from the same date a year ago. Westchester weighed in to that total with an increase of 3.0%, to 6,342 units; its single family house inventory increased by 5.7% to 3,913 units. Orange County, whose real estate market is only about one third of Westchester’s, closed the quarter with 3,023 single family houses listed, an increase 19.9% from last year. Orange County’s recovery from the recession has been hampered by the need to work through a supply of distressed properties as well as short sales that take longer than average to process, both factors that allow inventory to accumulate.

There was a mixed picture on prices in the Hudson Gateway region by the end of the quarter. Westchester posted a median1 sale price of $651,250 for single family houses, an increase of only $1,250 or 0.2% from last year, though still well above its medians for 2011 and 2012. Its condominium sector picked up, however, with a 5.5% increase to a $363,750 median.

Also gaining in price were Rockland County single family houses, with a 4.8% increase to a median of $408,750. Rockland also did well with condominiums, 3.5% to $222,500. Putnam and Orange counties posted decreases, however. Putnam’s single family house median decreased by 8.2% to $285,000, and Orange’s decreased by 3.0% to $232,500. Again, Orange County’s market is constrained by its relatively larger supply of problem properties compared to the other properties.

The pause in price gains and sales volumes in the Hudson Gateway region is not severe but it is a bit of a surprise in that there are no obvious external factors that drove it, other than bad winter weather, an assertion that is likely but cannot be proved. For example, mortgage interest rates have remained low, ranging from an average 4.6% on a conventional 30-year loan made during the winter months, to about 4.2% at the close of the second quarter. Admittedly, tougher lending criteria have made it harder for…

Harlem is the new Midtown South

Harlem is the new Midtown South, says office developer

Janus Property Company believes Harlem could be the new Midtown South.

Days after tapping Cushman & Wakefield to market its 300,000 s/f Taystee Building at 450 West 126th Street, Janus principal Scott Metzner told Real Estate Weekly that he sees similarities between West Harlem and Midtown South, and hopes to attract tech companies — among others — to the property, the third building in the company’s partially state-financed Manhattanville Factory District, a three acre development between 125th and 128th streets and Amsterdam and Convent Avenues in West Harlem.

The 150,000 s/f Mink Building and the 50,000 s/f Sweets Building are fully leased to tenants that include media, arts and tech firms such as Reflective X-ray Optics LLC, a company founded by a former research scientist in the Columbia Astrophysics Laboratory.

Metzner said that, much like Midtown South, the neighborhood has old-time charm, great subway access lots of small restaurants and bars.

“There is very, very strong demand for office space in the neighborhood,” said Jonathan Fales, the Cushman & Wakefield leasing executive who is leading the assignment with Myles Fennon and David Itzkowitz. “Between Columbia University’s expansion to the north and City College’s expansion to the south, the Taystee Building is uniquely positioned to attract several spin-offs from both universities.”

Construction on the Taystee Building is set to begin later this year and the building should be ready for occupancy by mid-2015.

The property is being built on the site of a former bakery on West 125th Street. Designed by LevenBetts, it will also offer 20,000 s/f of retail space.
Metzner said the project has already received “a lot of interest” in terms of both leasing and finance.

In December, the New York Daily News reported that the Harlem Brewing Company was rumored to be a prospective tenant, but so far no agreement has been reached. The paper also reported that Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center had initially showed interest in moving in, but later backed out.

Holley Drakeford, a broker with Giscombe Realty Group who specializes in Harlem, considers the Taystee Building a “very viable project” – not just because of Harlem’s cheap rents. “Once Columbia finishes its expansion, all the office space in the area will become wanted property,” he explained.

Apart from Columbia’s $7 billion expansion, West 125th Street has seen a flurry of developments recently. A 100,000 s/f retail center has sprung up at 301 West 125th Street, just two blocks from the Manhattanville Factory District. Danforth Development Partners is planning two 26-story towers above the Victoria Theater at 235-237 West 125th Street, set to house a 201-room hotel and a 230-unit apartment tower.

Bill de Blasio Appoints Buildings Commissioner

Bill de Blasio Appoints Buildings Commissioner

By Will Bredderman

Seven months into his administration, Mayor Bill de Blasio today named four appointments to key agency posts.

Mr. de Blasio announced that he was making Hunter College’s assistant vice president of facilities Rick Chandler commissioner of the Buildings Department, civil rights attorney Richard Emery the new chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board and former judge Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick and former New York Appellate justice Barry Cozier the chair and vice chair of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on the Judiciary, respectively.

Mr. Chandler was part of the Buildings Department teams that inspected structures surrounding Ground Zero following 9/11 and damaged buildings after Hurricane Sandy. Mr. Emery was part of the successful 1989 lawsuit that abolished the Board of Estimate and led to the current city charter. Ms. Beauchamp is a 20 year veteran of the New York State Court of Appeals, and Mr. Cozier has served on the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on the Judiciary since 2006.

Mr. de Blasio praised the new officials and defended taking so much time to appoint them.

“Everyone has observed our approach, and we’re very proud of our approach. We work very diligently to find what we want, and we don’t settle,” the mayor said.

See the full press release below:


Mayor de Blasio today named Rick Chandler as the Department of Buildings Commissioner, Richard Emery as Chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board, and Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick and Barry Cozier as Chair and Vice Chair of the Mayor’s Advisory Committee on the Judiciary, respectively.

“From protecting New Yorkers inside our buildings to protecting their rights as they walk on our streets, the leaders joining our administration today have the skills and experience to deliver for the people of this city,” said Mayor de Blasio. “These folks know the city and know how things operate, are committed to serving New Yorkers in every community, and will work to build a stronger, safer, and fairer New York.”

Rick Chandler is a professional engineer and Assistant Vice-President of Facilities at Hunter College, and brings years of large-scale management experience and deep expertise in the building code and zoning resolution. He has a record of harnessing technology to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of government operations on housing-related issues. Chandler served as a Borough Commissioner of Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx from 1995-2002. As Commissioner, he will be tasked with ensuring the safe and lawful use of more than 975,000 buildings and properties in New York City by enforcing the Building Code, Electrical Code, Zoning Resolution, and state labor law and multiple dwelling law.

“I could not be more humbled to join Mayor de Blasio’s administration as the head of the Department of Buildings,” said incoming Department of Buildings Commissioner Rick Chandler. “The stakes of this work are incredibly high. We’re there to make sure New Yorkers’ homes and workplaces are safe. We’re there to help get more affordable housing and job-creating construction underway. We’re going to advance those priorities safely, responsibly and fairly for all New Yorkers.”

Richard Emery has had a distinguished career fighting for civil rights on behalf of New Yorkers.

As Chair of the CCRB, Emery will be responsible for leading the agency’s efforts to investigate complaints by New Yorkers against allegations of misconduct involving NYPD.

“I am honored to continue working to protect New Yorkers’ rights, ensuring everyone is treated fairly,” said incoming Chair of the Civilian Complaint Review Board Richard Emery. “We will tirelessly work to safeguard our collective values of justice and mutual respect.”

Carmen Beauchamp Ciparick is…

A reminder – the deadline for filing your annual Rent Registrations is July 31, 2014.

A reminder – the deadline for filing your annual Rent Registrations is July 31, 2014.

Accordingly, please remember that The New York Homes and Community Renewal Agency (HCR)/Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR) now requires that Owners and Managers of Rent-Stabilized Properties file their Annual Rent Registrations On-Line. Please note that there are no exceptions to this edict. The On-Line Process is now mandatory.

Regarding the process of Notice of Apartment Deregulation Pursuant to High Rent Vacancy, please note that Apartment Owners and Managers must keep in mind that a new form is now required to be filed with DHCR and sent to the new tenant within thirty (30) days after the new tenancy commenced, or after the signing of the lease by both parties, whichever occurs first.

In addition, as per the instructions from DHCR, the owner must send and certify to the tenant a copy of a Registration Statement (i.e., Annual Registration) for such housing accommodation filed with DHCR indicating the Exempt/Deregulated Status and the last Legal Regulated Rent. It shall be sent within 30 days after the tenancy commences, or the filing of said registration, whichever occurs later.

These dates are important to keep in mind because this form is new as of April, 2014. It must be completed, filed and served on the new tenants for all deregulated apartments that were previously either subject to the Emergency Tenant Protection Act (ETPA), Rent Stabilization in New York City, or Rent Control.

Page 1 of this document provides a form for setting forth the calculation of the new “Free Market Rent” with areas to detail all of the various increases and how the Owner arrived at the new rent. Page 2 of this document provides a form for setting forth all of the Individual Apartment Improvements (IAI’s) that were completed in the relevant apartment and contributed to the increases in the rent and the claimed deregulation.

Owners and Managers should be careful when filling this document out and should remember to keep all supporting documentation on file as the Tenant Protection Unit (TPU) will probably review these submissions and request supporting documentation related to the increases listed.

Please refer to the DHCR Website and/or the Notice of Apartment Deregulation Pursuant to High Rent Vacancy Form for a complete set of instructions on filling out this form. The web address is

Avoiding Legal Blunders

Avoiding Legal Blunders

A Crash Course Before You Crash
By Anne Childers

Much like corporations and charity organizations, condos, co-ops and HOAs across the nation are helmed by groups of residents who volunteer to serve their communities, and who are elected to their post by their neighbors. This is of course the case in New York, where hundreds of thousands of residents live in either co-ops or condos across all five boroughs. Given how driven, results-oriented and particular city denizens can be, it’s perhaps not surprising to find many individuals volunteering for board positions in their communities.

While many board members are either in or have retired from successful, demanding careers that may impart terrific insight into how to manage their building or association, there are many situations in which a co-op, condo or HOA’s board of directors may need an expert’s advice in law, finance, or corporate administration. New York laws, as well as co-op and condo bylaws can vary a great deal from one community to the next, and certainly aren’t always intuitive. These inconsistencies and intricacies can lead a perfectly well-meaning board to make a decision with serious legal ramifications, putting the board at risk for lawsuits both within and outside the community.

Getting On Board

The profile of an individual attracted to a volunteer board position is generally an intelligent, energetic, and outgoing personality—someone wanting to make a difference. (Not so different from the stereotypical New Yorker, perhaps!) Even when board members are elected by the community, there is no compensation for the time and effort a volunteer job of this magnitude involves.

Whether a board member is still working full time, or has retired from a successful career, there are times a board may need an expert’s advice. The fields of law, insurance, and accounting are specialized and varied; one size does not fit all. Having a CPA on the board, or an attorney, or an insurance adjuster does not mean a board can always forgo hiring an expert consultant.

The overall lack of specific experience or knowledge may lead a perfectly well-meaning board to make a decision with minor to serious legal ramifications, putting the board at risk for lawsuits both within and outside the community. Honest mistakes are going to happen no matter how careful or conscientious a board approaches the various duties involved in running a community.

Be Proactive

The most common reason a board may commit a legal blunder in the course of dealing with community issues? “Failure to be proactive,” says Stephen W. O’Connell, an attorney and partner with the law firm of Smith, Gambrell & Russell LLP in Manhattan. He jokes about some HOA documents not being updated “since the flood”—as in the one with the Ark—but O’Connell knows it is no laughing matter. “Boards need to make sure they are current.”

It is not unusual for association bylaws to contain restrictions and meeting provisions that may have been superseded by the state statutes or arbitration and/or court decisions. Failure to note these revisions or keep up with new ones can invalidate a board’s decisions and perhaps even expose a board to liability. When the updating process is an ongoing endeavor, a board shouldn’t hesitate to seek legal clarification for the community’s individual needs and requirements.

Liability and risks are complex issues; running a community is like running a business with a multi-thousand dollar budget. “Part of the business of doing business is to be proactive; don’t be penny wise and pound foolish,” says O’Connell. “Call the association attorney when needed.”

Knowing when to place a call for legal advice is sometimes difficult in itself. It is equally important for a board to realize what they do not know. Fear of incurring legal expense unnecessarily may stop a board from seeking specific legal counsel, but ignorance of the law is not defensible and ignorance…