Luxury Rental Turned Into College Dorm

photo by Ann Larie Valentine (no changes made) https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/

Realtor.com quoted me in ‘Help! My Luxury Rental Was Turned Into a College Dorm’. It opens,

Finally! After years of scraping by in cramped apartments in sketchy neighborhoods, you’ve made it—into a luxury rental with a doorman, concierge service, gym, bike room, and other posh amenities. It seems perfect.

Then you meet your neighbors, sunning themselves on the roof deck. Topless.

Sound like the opening to a Skinemax flick? On the contrary, it’s a reality for residents at The Azure, a new high-end apartment building in Brooklyn, NY.

“There were girls sunbathing topless up there,” one tenant with a child told the New York Post. “My wife was, like, ‘WTF?!’ There are a lot of families [here].”

You see, The Azure was facing significant vacancies, so the management company decided to rent out 30% of its units to King’s College, a liberal arts school in lower Manhattan. The result? Families who paid top dollar to live in a building with a business center, cold storage space for grocery deliveries, and other luxe features suddenly found themselves in what felt like a college dorm. A “dormdominium”! And you know what that probably means: late-night parties with eau de weed wafting through the halls and, um, some awkward bump-ins during rooftop barbecues with bikini-clad (or unclad) residents. And noise. Lots of noise.

“We bought into the luxury experience of the nice rooftop,” another tenant lamented. “We didn’t expect it to be packed with 18-year-olds.”

When luxury apartments turn into dorms: Why it happens

This rude awakening for well-heeled renters isn’t as unusual as you might think. It’s just what many luxury developers may find themselves doing now that the high-end rental market is softening, leaving empty apartments that must be filled to make ends meet.

“Building owners stuck with vacant properties will try to rent them to whoever they can within reason,” says Aaron Shmulewitz, a real estate attorney with Belkin Burden Wenig & Goldman in New York City. “When the economy goes bad, building owners have to scramble.”

Part of the problem is that a few years ago, the housing market was going so strong, developers got bullish on building—only to find themselves in a more sluggish market once their structures were complete.

“Opening a residential building is a many, many-year process,” says David Reiss, research director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School. “You have to acquire the site, you have to get financing, perhaps you have to get zoning approvals, you have to get your plans approved … then you have to build it and then you have to market it. You’re talking about years of work.”

Many of these builders were likely banking on the possibility that rental demand would just keep going up and up—but they bet wrong.

“We have a large amount of supply that came into the market within a fairly short period of time,” says Edward Mermelstein, a real estate attorney with One and Only Holdings in New York City. “At the same time, the demand has waned substantially.”

How do college kids afford a luxury rental, anyway?

While luxury rentals in any other city might be hurting right about now, New York is well-positioned to solve this problem, thanks to its high student population and limited dorm space.

“Renting to college students in Manhattan or Brooklyn has always been a trend, as there’s a total of almost 250,000 active students on this small island,” says Michael Jeneralczuk, a real estate agent with REAL New York. “With that said, luxury apartments are usually outside of student budgets.”

While a luxury rental might be outside of any individual student’s budget, a larger group of students can make it work. According to the Post, the King’s College students are paying a combined $6,000 per month for a two-bedroom apartment housing four people, which comes to $1,500 per person. This is more affordable than trying to rent alone; even a studio apartment at The Azure starts at $2,399 per month, according to the building’s website.

Meanwhile, the nonstudent rate for a two-bedroom apartment at The Azure starts at $3,391 per month. So by renting to King’s College students, the building is also making almost twice as much per apartment. So, at least for these two parties, it’s a win-win.

“It’s an opportunity to fill vacant apartments and collect rent,” says Becki Danchik, a real estate agent with Warburg Realty in New York City.

Given that the luxury rental market is slowing down nationwide, does this mean renters across the country might expect college-aged neighbors soon, too?

According to Reiss, it depends on development levels. In Los Angeles, construction has stalled, so apartments are filling up. Seattle, on the other hand, is facing similar issues as New York City.

“Seattle has had a construction boom, which means there are a lot of empty apartments,” says Reiss. “You face a similar situation where landlords are going to look to find some way to rent those out and make their money back.”

 

Cities With the Worst Rent

photo by Alex Lozupone

Realtor.com quoted me in Cities With the Worst Rent: Is This How Much You’re Coughing Up? It opens,

Sure, rents are too dang high just about everywhere, but people living in Los Angeles really have a right to complain: New analysis by Forbes has found that this city tops its list of the Worst Cities for Renters in 2018.

To arrive at these depressing results, researchers delved into rental data and found that people in L.A. pay an average of $2,172 per month.

Granted, other cities have higher rents—like second and third on this list, San Francisco (at $3,288) and New York ($3,493)—but Los Angeles was still deemed the worst when you consider how this number fits into the bigger picture.

For one, Los Angeles households generally earn less compared with these other cities, pulling in a median $63,600 per year. So residents here end up funneling a full 41% of their income toward rent (versus San Franciscans’ 35%).

Manhattanites, meanwhile, fork over 52% of their income toward rent, but the saving grace here is that rents haven’t risen much—just 0.4% since last year. In Los Angeles, in that same time period, rent has shot up 5.7%.

So is this just a case of landlords greedily squeezing tenants just because they can? On the contrary, most experts say that these cities just aren’t building enough new housing to keep up with population growth.

“It is fundamentally a problem of supply and demand,” says David Reiss, research director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School. “Certain urban centers like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York are magnets for people and businesses. At the same time, restrictive local land use regulations keep new housing construction at very low levels. Unless those constraints are loosened, hot cities will face housing shortages and high rents no matter what affordable housing programs and rent regulation regimes are implemented to help ameliorate the situation.”

Gen Z Eying Real Estate Trends

photo by Thomas Tolkien

The Washington Post along with its content partner National Association of Realtors quoted me in Eye on the Future. It reads, in part,

The suburbs as we know them are in flux. Many of the country’s bedroom communities have traditionally been known for their single-family homes and a lack of walkable public spaces. That’s changing as condos, sprawling townhome complexes and apartment buildings now dot areas where single-family homes would have been built.  Developers are building walkable public spaces to accommodate young families leaving cities but still seeking urban-like amenities.

 Another wave of change is expected in the next five to 10 years. That’s when members of Generation Z-those born on the heels of millennials-will become homeowners. Experts say they’ll transform areas that are sandwiched between major cities and suburbs into districts with an urban feel and amenities, without the hefty price tags major metros demand.

That transformation is already starting to happen. “Many of our ‘suburbs’ are actually neighborhoods in Los Angeles, particularly the San Fernando Valley,” said Kathryn Bishop, a real estate agent with Keller Williams Realty in Studio City, Calif. and member of the National Association of Realtors. “In the Valley, many neighborhoods have become mini ‘cores.’ Sherman Oaks, Encino and Woodland Hills have office towers, good restaurants and night-life business creating their own city areas.”

It’s no surprise that the younger generation needs to find an alternative to the sky-high costs of urban living. The Economic Policy Institute noted in 2016 that folks who live in San Francisco face a cost of living that’s 52.9 percent above the national average. For New Yorkers, living costs were 49.4 percent higher. The country’s least-affordable place to live was Washington D.C., where residents faced costs 63.5 percent higher than the national average.

*     *     *

“Since the financial crisis there has been an increase in multigenerational households, driven in large part by financial limitations and insecurity as well as by marital status and educational attainment,” said David Reiss, professor of law and research director at he Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School.  “Young adults are more likely to live at their parent’s home in recent years than they have been for more than a century.”

Signs You Are In A Bubble

photo by Jeff Kubina

Trulia.com quoted me in Signs Your Local Real Estate Market Is A Bubble. It reads, in part,

If you were burned in 2008, the last time the housing bubble burst, you’re probably (and understandably!) gun-shy about jumping into the housing market again — especially if you think your local area could be experiencing another bubble. If you buy during a bubble, overpaying for your home, you might be forced to sell for less than the property is worth — either that or stay put longer than you’d like until you build up enough equity to sell. So if you’re thinking of buying, it’s important to have a sense of the signs that point to a real estate bubble. Here are five of them.

1. Shaky loans are common

As we learned from the 2008 recession, subprime lending (lending to anyone with a pulse) is not sound practice. And we have made changes. “Credit remains relatively tight,” says Jonathan Miller, CRE, CRP, and president of Miller Samuel Inc., a New York, NY, real estate appraisal company.

Yet the U.S. government still backs loans that some might consider risky, particularly ones that require only a 3.5% down payment, which the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) offers. Before you get too alarmed, keep in mind that the FHA has been helping people become homeowners since 1934. The underwriting standards are higher with FHA loans than with some of the subprime low-down-payment products offered in the early 2000s, explains David Reiss, professor of law at Brooklyn Law School in Brooklyn, NY.

2. There’s lots of leverage

When you take out a mortgage, you’re leveraging your money — the smaller the down payment you make, the more you have leveraged the deal by using the lender’s money to make the purchase. “A bubble means lots of leverage,” says Miller. “And this [current] cycle has been remarkably devoid of leverage.” Miller cites New York City as an example. “About 45% of the transactions are cash. And for the price points below half a million dollars, the average person puts about 35% down.”

3. Home prices are rising faster than salaries

When housing prices are rising and your salary isn’t, you’re left with two options: continue to rent, or buy a house you can barely afford. If you think your market is in a bubble, you might want to wait to buy, especially if you’re really stretching to make ends meet.

“I would review the mean income levels and employment levels compared to real estate prices for signs of discord,” says Michael Kelczewski, a Pennsylvania and Delaware real estate agent. “Indicators of a local real estate bubble are asset values exceeding the local market’s capacity to absorb prices.” Reiss says that when home prices rise faster than salaries, “It could be the sign of froth in the market.”

Miller agrees that a “rapid run-up in prices that don’t match wage growth leads to discussions about bubbles.” But he says that as long as credit conditions from bank lenders are tight, you won’t have runaway price inflation. In New York, prices aren’t rising like they were, but they aren’t falling either. Miller says they’ve leveled off and are “stuck on a high plateau.”

So what do you do when affordability isn’t improving in pricey markets like New York, NY, San Francisco, CA, Los Angeles, CA, or any other high-cost urban market? Buy in the burbs. Miller notes that for New York, the market is booming in the outlying suburbs.

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When there are no signs

Of course, you might think your market is (or isn’t) in a bubble, but you could be wrong. “The problem with bubbles is that we don’t know them when we see them,” says Reiss. He explains that San Francisco, CA, for example, a hugely unaffordable city for most people, isn’t in a bubble just because prices are high. “Bubbles do not refer to rapid price appreciation. They refer to unsustainable rapid price appreciation. [The market] is unsustainable because fundamentals do not support the appreciation.”

The bottom line is, it’s difficult to know whether it’s really a bubble. “If homeowners buy a house that works for their family and that they can afford over the long haul, they will have made a decision that benefits them every day, even if real estate prices drop significantly,” says Reiss. But heed his warning: “If homeowners instead buy a house that is a financial stretch in the belief that it will appreciate down the road and fund their retirement, there is a good chance that they have set down a road to ruin.”

Advancing Equitable Transit-Oriented Development

photo by David Wilson

MZ Strategies has posted a white paper funded by the Ford Foundation, Advancing Equitable Transit-Oriented Development through Community Partnerships and Public Sector Leadership. It opens,

Communities across the country are investing in better transit to connect people of all income levels to regional economic and social opportunity. Transit can be a catalyst for development, and the demand for housing and mixed-use, walkable neighborhoods located near quality transit continues to grow. In some places like Denver, Seattle, and Los Angeles (to name just a few) land prices and rents near transit have increased substantially creating concerns with the displacement of small businesses and affordable housing.

In response, multi-sector coalitions are forming in a number of regions to advance Equitable Transit-Oriented Development (eTOD), which aims to create and support communities of opportunity where residents of all incomes, ages, races and ethnicities participate in and benefit from living in connected, healthy, vibrant places connected by transit. These transit-oriented communities of opportunity include a mixture of housing, office, retail and other amenities as part of a walkable neighborhood generally located within a half-mile of quality public transportation. This white paper pulls together emerging eTOD best practices from four regions, and highlights opportunities to use federal finance and development programs administered by US Department of Transportation to create and preserve inclusive communities near transit. It offers lessons learned for other communities and a set of recommendations for the Federal Transit Administration to better support local efforts by transit agencies to advance eTOD.

Achieving eTOD involves an inclusive planning process during the transit planning and community development phases. This entails long-term and active engagement of a diverse set of community partners ranging from local residents, small business owners, community development players, and neighborhood-serving organizations located along the proposed or existing transit corridor, to regional anchor institutions and major employers including universities and health care providers, to philanthropy, local and regional agencies and state government partners.

Equitable outcomes require smart, intentional strategies to ensure wide community engagement. Successful eTOD requires planning not just for transit, but also for how this type of catalytic investment can help to advance larger community needs including affordable housing, workforce and small business development, community health and environmental clean-up. (1, footnote omitted)

The report presents e-TOD case studies from Minneapolis-St. Paul; Los Angeles; Seattle and Denver.  These case studies highlight the types of tools that state and local governments can use to maximize the value of transit-oriented design for broad swathes of the community.

 

Walkers in the City

photo by Derrick Coetzee

The Center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at The George Washington School of Business has released Foot Traffic Ahead: Ranking Walkable Urbanism in America’s Largest Metros for 2016. The Executive Summary opens,

The end of sprawl is in sight. The nation’s largest metropolitan areas are focusing on building walkable urban development.

For perhaps the first time in 60 years, walkable urban places (WalkUPs) in all 30 of the largest metros are gaining market share over their drivable sub-urban competition—and showing substantially higher rental premiums.

This research shows that metros with the highest levels of walkable urbanism are also the most educated and wealthy (as measured by GDP per capita)— and, surprisingly, the most socially equitable. (4)

This strikes me as a somewhat over-optimistic take on sprawl, but I certainly welcome the increase in walkable urban places over a broad swath of metropolitan areas. The report’s specific findings are that

There are 619 regionally significant, walkable urban places—referred to as WalkUPs—in the 30 largest U.S. metropolitan areas. These 30 metros represent 46 percent of the national population (145 million of the 314 million national population) and 54 percent of the national GDP.

The 30 metros are ranked on the current percentage of occupied walkable urban office, retail, and multi-family rental square feet in their WalkUPs, compared to the balance of occupied square footage in the metro area. The six metros with the most walkable urban space in WalkUPs are, in rank order, New York City, Washington, DC, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Seattle.

Economic Performance: There are substantial and growing rental rate premiums for walkable urban office (90 percent), retail (71 percent), and rental multi-family (66 percent) over drivable sub-urban products. Combined, these three product types have a 74 percent rental premium over drivable sub-urban.

Walkable urban market share growth in office and multi-family rental has increased in all 30 of the largest metros between 2010-2015, while drivable sub-urban locations have lost market share. The market share growth for 27 of the 30 metros is two times their market share in 2010. This is of the same or greater magnitude as the market share gains of drivable sub-urban development during its boom years in the 1980s, but in the reverse direction.

Indicators of potential future WalkUP performance show that many of the metros ranked highest for current walkable urbanism are also found at the top of our Development Momentum Ranking—namely, the metros of New York City, Boston, Seattle, and Washington, DC. This indicates that these metros will continue to build on their already high WalkUP market shares and rent premiums.

There are also some surprising metros in this top tier of Development Momentum rankings, including Detroit, Phoenix, and Los Angeles.

The most walkable urban metro areas have a substantially greater educated workforce, as measured by college graduates over 25 years of age, and substantially higher GDP per capita. These relationships are correlations, and determining the causal relationships requires further research to prove.

Walkable urban development describes trends resulting from both revitalization of the central city and urbanization of the suburbs. For nearly all metros, the future urbanization of the suburbs holds the greatest opportunity; metro Washington, DC, serves as a model, splitting its WalkUPs relatively evenly between its central city (53 percent) and its suburbs (47 percent).

Social Equity Performance: The national concern about social equity has been exacerbated by the very rent premiums highlighted above, referred to as gentrification. Counter-intuitively, measurement of moderate-income household (80 percent of AMI) spending on housing and transportation, as well as access to employment, shows that the most walkable urban metros are also the most socially equitable. The reason for this is that low cost transportation costs and better access to employment offset the higher costs of housing. This finding underscores for the need for continued, and aggressive, development of attainable housing solutions. (4, footnote omitted)

There is a lot of import here. Is there more than a correlation between walkability and the educational level of the workforce and, if so, why? Why don’t more housing affordability studies take into account transportation costs when evaluating the affordability of a given community? What is the trend line of this new direction toward urbanism and how far can it go in the face of decades of investment in car-based communities? This annual study will help us answer those questions, over time.

Living with Nightmare Neighbors

photo by dsb nola

US News & World Report quoted me in How to Avoid and Live With Neighbor Nightmares. It opens,

When Mike Scanlin and his wife moved into an expensive ground-floor condominium within a four-story building in a posh part of Los Angeles 18 months ago,the real estate agent assured him that there were no noise nuisances, like loud dogs or kids.

It did seem that way at first, but as Scanlin discovered, “There is a 9-year-old boy’s bedroom directly above our bedroom. He is, like most 9-year-olds, hyperactive.”

Especially in the morning, and the evening, Scanlin says, when the boy “runs, jumps, screams and makes tons of noise.”

Scanlin has talked to the boy’s mother to no avail. An entrepreneur who works from home, Scanlin also sent building managers complaint letters, who in turn, sent letters to the mom.

“Nothing has worked. It’s getting worse,” Scanlin says. “Sometimes the kid gets up at 3 a.m. and rearranges the furniture in his room, with wood scraping on wood, directly above our bed.”

Scanlin and his wife are moving out next month. They aren’t willing to wait around until the kid grows up or hopefully grows out of his behavior.

They say you can’t choose your family, but you can choose your friends and neighbors. Easier said than done, when it comes to housing. It isn’t easy to move, and for some homeowners, financially speaking, once you do plant your roots, you may not be in any position to go elsewhere. That’s why, if you’re buying a home, it’s critical to have some sense of who’s living next door – or above you. Neighbors are important for renters to consider, too, especially if you’re locking yourself in with a lease.

So before you buy or rent, ask yourself the following questions. Because if the answers aren’t promising, you may like the solutions at your disposal even less.

*     *     *

What to do if there are problems. Unfortunately, there isn’t much you can do, realistically, which is why it’s so important to try and assess the neighbor situation before moving in. When you do have a dispute, “these are always difficult situations, without easy legal answers,” says David Reiss, a professor of law at Brooklyn Law School.

“When you escalate by calling the police or filing a lawsuit, you risk developing a Hatfield and McCoys scenario with nobody getting what they want,” Reiss says. “It’s also important to remember that what you think to be utterly reasonable may not be perceived that way by your neighbor or even by disinterested third parties. What is loud music to you may just be a run-of-the-mill Saturday night party to them.”

True enough, and your neighbors have rights, too – which is, again, why it can be difficult to work out a disagreement.

If you can’t resolve problems with your neighbors, Reiss says, “you can try to determine whether your neighbor is breaking any local ordinances. For instance, loud noise.”

You may want to involve the police and see if they will deal with the problem informally, Reiss adds. “They may or may not,” he says.