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.”

 

Rising Mortgage Rates

graphic by Chris Butterworth

NBC News quoted me in Mortgage Rates Just Hit 5 Percent: What Does That Mean for Homebuyers and Owners? It opens,

Mortgage rates crossed the 5 percent line on Wednesday for the first time since 2011, marking a new era for a generation of Americans raised on super-low borrowing rates and highlighting the downside of a burgeoning national economy.

Strengthening economic growth, near-record low unemployment, inflation rates and policy moves by the Federal Reserve have all contributed to move the needle beyond the psychological 5 percent barrier.”It has only been in this decade that they have fallen below 5 percent, rates not seen since the 1960s,” said David Reiss, an expert in real estate law and professor at the Brooklyn Law School.

From 1971 through early October 2008, the average rate for a 30-year mortgage was 8.1 percent. The day before Halloween 1981, the number spiked at 18.44 percent, according to data from Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage rebundler.

Psychology aside, there’s a real money impact as well. Every increase of 10 basis points, or 0.1 percentage point, means another $6 per month per $100,000 of mortgage, said Danielle Hale, chief economist for Realtor.com.

Over the last year, the mortgage on a typically priced home of $295,000 has increased by $115 to $120 a month.

Growing monthly payments are just one of the factors contributing to tougher times for many buyers. House prices also have been on the increase, and potential homeowners must contend with the loss of the so-called SALT deductions in last year’s tax cut legislation, which complicate things in high-tax states.

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.”

Buying after Bankruptcy

Realtor.com quoted me in Buying a House After Bankruptcy? How Long to Wait and What to Do. It opens,

Buying a house after bankruptcy may sound like an impossible feat. Blame it on all those Monopoly games, but bankruptcy has a very bad rap, painting the filer as someone who should never be loaned money. The reality is that of the 800,000 Americans who file for bankruptcy every year, most are well-intentioned, responsible people to whom life threw a curveball that made them struggle to pay off past debts.

Sometimes filing for bankruptcy is the only way out of a crushing financial situation, and taking this step can really help these cash-strapped individuals get back on their feet. And yes, many go on to eventually buy a home. Only how?

Being aware of what a lender expects post-bankruptcy will help you navigate the mortgage application process efficiently and effectively. Here are the steps on buying a house after bankruptcy, and the top things you need to know.

Types of bankruptcy: The best and the worst

There are two ways to file for bankruptcy: Chapter 7 and Chapter 13. With Chapter 7, filers are typically released from their obligation to pay back unsecured debt—think credit cards, medical bills, or loans extended without collateral. Chapter 13 filers have to pay back their debt, only it’s reorganized to come up with a new repayment schedule that makes monthly payments more affordable.

Since Chapter 13 filers are still paying back their debts, mortgage lenders generally look more favorably on these consumers than those who file for Chapter 7, says David Carey, vice president and residential lending manager at New York’s Tompkins Mahopac Bank.

How long after bankruptcy should you wait before buying a house?

Most people applying for a loan will need to wait two years after bankruptcy before lenders will consider their application. That said, it could be up to a four-year ban, depending on the individual and type of loan. This is because lenders have different “seasoning” requirements, which is a specified amount of time that needs to pass.

Fannie Mae, for example, has a minimum two-year ban on borrowers who have filed for bankruptcy, says David Reiss, professor of law and academic programs director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School. The FHA, on the other hand, has a minimum one-year ban in place after a bankruptcy. The time is measured starting from the date of discharge or dismissal of the bankruptcy action. Generally the more time that passes, the less risky a once-bankrupt borrower looks in the eyes of a lender.

Selling Yourself When You Have A Broker

image by Russellprisco

Realtor.com quoted me in Selling Your House Privately If You Have a Listing Agent: OK or a Big N-O? It opens,

So your home is for sale, and you’ve signed a contract with a real estate agent, but you were actually able to nab a buyer through your own efforts. Maybe it was through word of mouth or your aggressive push on Facebook (you should really apologize to your friends for posting so many pictures of your house!), but someone is writing you an offer and really wants to buy your house. Having found a buyer on your own, are you still legally obligated to pay real estate fees or commission? Here’s how to know if you’re on the hook.

Read your listing agreement

In most states, a seller and an agent draw up something called a listing agreement. The listing agreement details the rights and responsibilities of the seller and the broker, and usually outlines the circumstances when a broker is due a commission.

“If it is an open listing or an exclusive agency listing, the seller can sell the property and not have to pay the broker a commission,” says David Reiss, professor of law at Brooklyn Law School
.

Things get tricky if the listing agreement confers an exclusive right to sell. This means the real estate agent has the sole right to sell the property. All offers must go through him or her, and for any sale, you’re obligated to pay the agent the commission spelled out in the contract, according to Marc D. Markel, a board-certified Texas attorney in residential and commercial real estate law. Agents rely on these exclusive listing agreements to avoid putting in what can be months of free work without seeing a payoff. For this reason, the agreement outlines the many ways an agent earns a commission, including what happens if the seller breaches the exclusive agreement.

The loopholes

If the sellers do find a buyer on their own, despite having a contract with an agent, they may be able to negotiate a reduced commission with the agent. But the sellers should be up-front about their potential to find their own buyer when drawing up the exclusive-right-to-sell listing agreement, says Markel. Maybe they know of a friend of a friend who is looking for a house, or they plan on marketing their home on social media.

If the sellers feel as if they are doing all the work, they might also be able to modify the existing agreement and add a termination if the broker doesn’t meet certain obligations, like selling the home within a certain time frame, says Sandy Straley, a real estate agent in Layton, UT. Other obligations for the listing could include organizing open houses, creating and distributing printed materials, and even the posting of videos shot by drones, says Markel.

Mortgage Pre-Qualification vs. Pre-Approval

photo by Steve Spinks

Realtor.com quoted me in Mortgage Pre-Qualification vs. Pre-Approval: What’s the Difference? It opens,

When buying a home, cash is king, but most folks don’t have hundreds of thousands of dollars lying in the bank. Of course, that’s why obtaining a mortgage is such a crucial part of the process. And securing mortgage pre-qualification and pre-approval are important steps, assuring lenders that you’ll be able to afford payments.
However, pre-qualification and pre-approval are vastly different. How different? Some mortgage professionals believe one is virtually useless.

“I tell most people they can take that pre-qualification letter and throw it in the trash,” says Patty Arvielo, a mortgage banker and president and founder of New American Funding, in Tustin, CA. “It doesn’t mean much.”

What is mortgage pre-qualification?

Pre-qualification means that a lender has evaluated your creditworthiness and has decided that you probably will be eligible for a loan up to a certain amount.

But here’s the rub: Most often, the pre-qualification letter is an approximation—not a promise—based solely on the information you give the lender and its evaluation of your financial prospects.

“The analysis is based on the information that you have provided,” says David Reiss, a professor at the Brooklyn Law School and a real estate law expert. “It may not take into account your current credit report, and it does not look past the statements you have made about your income, assets, and liabilities.”

A pre-qualification is merely a financial snapshot that gives you an idea of the mortgage you might qualify for.

“It can be helpful if you are completely unaware what your current financial position will support regarding a mortgage amount,” says Kyle Winkfield, managing partner of O’Dell, Winkfield, Roseman, and Shipp, in Washington, DC. “It certainly helps if you are just beginning the process of looking to buy a house.”

Renovating Among The Stars

Justin Theroux, photo by David Shankbone

Realtor.com quoted me in Justin Theroux’s Renovation Drama: What Went Wrong? It opens,

Actor Justin Theroux might have many admirers (including his wife, Jennifer Aniston), but apparently the “Leftovers” hunk inspires more than his share of haters, too—including his Manhattan neighbor Norman Resnicow. Apparently their feud started two years ago, when Theroux decided to renovate his apartment; Resnicow lives one floor down.

As anyone who’s lived under, next to, or anywhere near a demolition site knows, home renovations can get noisy—which is why Resnicow, a lawyer, felt it within his rights to ask Theroux to do the neighborly thing and install soundproofing to muffle the ruckus. There was just one problem: According to the New York Post, the requested soundproofing would cost a whopping $30,000 and make it difficult for Theroux to preserve the original flooring in his place, which he was keen to do. So he refused.

That’s when things got ugly. According to a lawsuit filed by Theroux, Resnicow embarked on a “targeted and malicious years-long harassment campaign” to derail those renovations and just make life unpleasant for the actor.

  • Resnicow accused Theroux’s contractors of damaging the marble in the building’s entranceway, and demanded they make repairs.
  • He halted Theroux’s roof deck renovations by arguing that the fence separating their portions of the deck encroached on his property.
  • Then, for good measure, he cut down the ivy lining the fence purely because he knew that the site of the foliage made Theroux happy.

Theroux now seeks $350,000 from Resnicow, alleging nuisance, trespass, and all in all “depriving Mr. Theroux of his right to use and enjoy his property.”

But Resnicow remains resolute, telling the Post, “I have acted for one purpose only, which remains to assure my and my wife’s health and safety.”

How to balance renovations with neighbor relations

As Theroux’s predicament makes painfully clear, few issues can ruin a neighborly relationship like noise—particularly if you live in an apartment building or other tight quarters. Problem is, homeowners also have a right to make home improvements. So at what point does reasonable renovation ruckus become so loud it’s a legitimate nuisance? That depends, for starters, on where you live, as noise ordinances and other regulations vary by area.

New York City’s Noise Code prohibits construction noise that “exceeds the ambient sounds level by more than 10 decibels as measured from 15 feet from the source.” (And in case you have no clue how to figure that out, the city uses devices called sound meters; you can also download sound meter apps to take your own measurements.) Volume levels aside, most areas have limits on when you can hammer away; in New York, work is typically limited to 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday.

The third variable to consider is the co-op, condo, or HOA board that governs your building or community, which may place further restrictions on hours or even the type of renovations you do. Yet if a homeowner like Theroux is following these rules, odds are he’s in the clear.

“In New York City, they say ‘hell hath no fury like an attorney dealing with noisy neighbors,’ but as long as you have the proper permits, then construction noise created during normal business hours is generally allowed, with the understanding that it will only be temporary,” says Emile L’Eplattenier, a New York City real estate agent and analyst for Fit Small Business. “As long as he isn’t running afoul of his building’s rules—which is doubtful—then his neighbor has little recourse.”

Still, if you’re a homeowner about to embark on a renovation who doesn’t want to drive your neighbors nuts, what can you do? For starters, keep in mind that even if the sounds don’t ruffle you, people’s noise sensitivities can vary.

In the words of David Reiss, research director at the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship at Brooklyn Law School, “One person’s quiet hum is another’s racket.”