Stephen G. Kliegerman
President of Development Marketing
By CHRISTINE HAUGHNEY
WHEN dozens of buyers put down payments on apartments in the glassy new condominium tower called the Link at 310 West 52nd Street, they were looking forward to living with features like floor-to-ceiling windows and a meditation garden. But six months after they started moving in, they are still living in a construction site with an unfinished lobby, uncarpeted hallways and no access to the garden that was supposed to help them escape from the city’s stresses.
The Link is one of many new condos in New York City whose owners complain that developers have been slow to deliver what they promised. “People are spending a lot of money and have high expectations,” said Robert Braverman, a real estate lawyer hired by buyers at the Link.
Anger toward developers is coming to a head as a record number of units are nearing completion. Manhattan will have 6,444 new condominiums completed this year, compared with 1,614 in 2005, according to Halstead Development Marketing. In Brooklyn, 3,768 units should be finished this year, compared with 480 in 2005.
About 40 owners at the Link became so frustrated with the developer, El Ad Properties, which is also renovating the Plaza Hotel, that they hired Mr. Braverman in an effort to get an executive at El Ad to meet with them.
Lloyd Kaplan, the company’s spokesman, said that El Ad’s head of construction would meet with owners as long as they didn’t bring their lawyer.
Mr. Kaplan said that the company had tried to address all of the individual owners’ problems and that the builder expected to complete everything by Nov. 15, nine months after the first residents’ arrival.
Mr. Braverman says he was hired because El Ad didn’t meet buyers’ expectations of moving into a finished or nearly finished apartment building. He said a block of unit owners were also hiring an engineer to make sure that buildingwide systems like heating, cooling and plumbing met the quality standards promised in the offering plan and were installed as the plan had indicated they would be.
But Mr. Braverman has told buyers that their recourse is limited. Developers have to deliver only what they outline in the offering plan — the book that buyers receive after putting down a deposit, allowing them to review all of a building’s fixtures and features. He said that beyond this, developers are not obliged to deliver on any promise. “The sponsor can say, ‘We’re building the Taj Mahal.’ ”
This means that buyers who are preparing to move into these condos are finding they have little power to get their units finished when they expect them or in the shape they anticipated.
Carl G. Chernoff, who in February moved into a $1.2 million two-bedroom apartment in the Link, said that for the first month, he and his wife, Rosalind, were unable to take a hot shower or bath. “You shouldn’t have to go through these agonies,” he said.
When the Chernoffs moved in, they called and wrote e-mail messages about several problems, from a chipped shower tile to an ill-fitting bathtub stopper. But they were most upset about not being able to bathe in hot water (they had hot water in one sink). Ms. Chernoff has cancer and did not want to have to shower at the nearby Gold’s Gym where they had memberships.
“Every new building has problems,” Mr. Chernoff said. “She was ill, and they knew it. They knew that all she wanted to do was to come home from chemotherapy and take a warm bath.”
Tim Wright, a 28-year-old stockbroker at Olympia Asset Management, said he was so frustrated with the continued construction at the Link that he sold his one-bedroom apartment for $975,000 four months after he moved in. (He had bought the apartment more than a year earlier for $795,000.)
Mr. Wright said he complained repeatedly to management about construction workers who smoked near his apartment and was frustrated that the building hadn’t installed a vanity mirror in the master bathroom for his girlfriend to use.
“I’m not really the kind of person who complained a lot,” he said. “I was sick and tired of walking in and out of a construction site.”
For some condo buyers, the main difficulty is finding out when they can move into their buildings. Cory FitzGerald, a 25-year-old lighting programmer for productions like the Christmas show at Radio City, thought he would be able to move into his two-bedroom apartment at 606 West 148th Street in Hamilton Heights late last year.
In anticipation, he moved out of his rental last November, had his mail sent to his parents’ address in California, and went off to work on concert tours around the country and in Japan, South Korea and Hong Kong. During that time, he lived out of two suitcases and kept his belongings in storage.
But the completion date kept being delayed. He said that the most frustrating part was not knowing what caused the delays. He searched the city’s Buildings Department Web site for clues.
He considered walking away from the deal because he had included a “drop dead” clause in his contract that allowed him to pull out by March 31 if the developers hadn’t received the temporary certificate of occupancy. But by then, he said, he couldn’t find a similar two-bedroom for the $596,000 he had paid. He was finally able to move in in July, about eight months later than he had expected.
“Until I moved in, there was no end in sight,” he said. “It was like a shot in the dark, and nobody had any information to share.”
Greg Baron, one of the project’s developers, said he did not feel comfortable explaining reasons for delays to buyers who did not have construction backgrounds and therefore would not understand the project’s complexity. But he later told a reporter that the project involved constructing two buildings on one of the steepest hills in Manhattan.
Linda Rubin, the Prudential Douglas Elliman broker handling sales for the building, who is also Mr. Baron’s wife, said she did not want buyers to worry about construction.
Still, she said that developers may have to provide more information in the future — for example, setting up a Web site to explain what is delaying the project. “It’s just not the standard procedure for the developer to give updates,” she said. “But times are changing.”
Some buyers have had to become relentless nags to get problems fixed after moving in. Ethan Henerey and Kate Eales, who moved into a $645,000 three-bedroom condominium in Kensington, Brooklyn, on July 15, have been able to get a lot of problems in their apartment repaired, but still have more that have not been addressed. They had water damage in one bathroom and a leaky skylight, and they still have standing water on their roof deck.
Since they moved in, Ms. Eales and Mr. Henerey, both film editors, worked in shifts to get problems fixed. She devoted a week of vacation to repairs, and Mr. Henerey, who works at night and is at home during the day, can give workers access to the apartment.
“I feel a little bit trapped because many days I’m sitting here waiting to find out if the roofer is going to show up or if the contractors are going to come in,” Mr. Henerey said.
Eddie Hidary, an owner of Gracie Developers, which built the condos, said repairs were delayed because he had trouble getting his contractors to respond as quickly as necessary to all of the units that were closing at the same time.
Mr. Hidary said it took several weeks to figure out the source of the leak, but a new roof has now been installed. He said that his company was eager to fix these problems, especially because this is its first residential project.
Mr. Henerey and Ms. Eales confirmed that the roof no longer leaks and said that Mr. Hidary had been responsive to their complaints. He is still trying to replace a wall damaged by the skylight leak, and the couple have a list of smaller problems that Mr. Hidary has said he would fix, like installing smoke detectors and repairing the air-conditioning in the master bedroom.
“We’re trying to establish a name in the industry,” Mr. Hidary said. “If it costs a few dollars, it costs a few dollars.”
Some buyers, frustrated when they cannot get questions answered, pull out of deals before they move in. Tannaz Simyar, a 29-year-old real estate lawyer, was interested in buying a one-bedroom apartment at 184 Thompson Street, a new condo conversion. But she had read negative blog postings about the building that worried her.
Ms. Simyar had a number of questions that she said the building’s sales representative could not answer when she visited the sales office with her agent, Ben Morales of Barak Realty.
As she described the chain of events, she visited the office several times over about 10 days trying to get answers. After her third visit, she put down a $250 deposit on a $750,000 apartment. But Ms. Simyar said she would not make the $75,000 down payment until the sales representative confirmed that the ceiling height in a section of loft space was six feet, that it could be used as a bedroom and that it would have hardwood floors.
Ms. Simyar said she even had her broker call in advance of that third visit to arrange for a ladder so she could measure the loft herself. But when she arrived, the sales office provided a ladder that was too short.
Several days after her third visit, she heard from the sales representative that the ceiling in the loft space was only five feet high and that the floor would be carpeted. So she asked for her $250 deposit back. She got it only after threatening to complain to the attorney general’s office, she said.
“My gut instinct was that something wasn’t right,” Ms. Simyar said.
Sarah Burke, the vice president for sales and marketing at the Developers Group, which represents 184 Thompson, said that staff members had tried to respond to Ms. Simyar’s questions and to quickly return her deposit.
Hy Chalme, the building’s developer, said in a statement, “We’ve sold 90 percent of the homes in record time to buyers who were extremely happy with the service of our sales team and the quality of the units.”
But not Ms. Simyar. She later put down a deposit for an $860,000 one-bedroom at the District at 151 William Street, where she said the sales agent, Nikki Martin, was quite responsive.
“She answers all of your questions before you even ask them,” she said.
Sunday, August 26, 2007