Gregory J. Heym
Executive Vice President, Chief Economist
By CHRISTINE HAUGHNEY
David Walentas — a Brooklyn developer solidly entrenched in the testosterone-dominated real estate world — is having a hard time making sense of the streams of women passing through his sales office at 110 Livingston Street in downtown Brooklyn.
In the last five months, single women spent more than $30 million out of the $100 million or so in sales in the 299-unit condominium. In fact, single women bought 72 of the first 165 apartments sold. Spending by these women far surpassed that of single men, who accounted for $19 million. Married couples accounted for about $45 million in sales, and investors $5 million.
Mr. Walentas has done so well that he has been able to raise his prices twice. He also sees more married women writing the $60,000-to-$100,000 deposit checks. “It’s the women’s checks,” he said. “It’s not like a dual account — Joe and Suzy. It’s Suzy. I’m amazed.”
As the overall New York City housing market slows down and buyers are far more cautious about making deals, the one segment that is still buying feverishly appears to be women. While Manhattan developers say they are seeing more female buyers, the highest concentration seems to be in Brooklyn.
Brokers say that women are betting that even if they buy in a declining market, the values won’t drop as much as they would have spent on rent. They’re more comfortable buying in the same neighborhoods and buildings as their friends do. By purchasing condominiums that they could eventually rent out if they needed to move, they’re also hoping that they can hold on to these properties until the market improves.
“A woman will say, ‘I’m still saving money in the long term.’ ” said JoAnn Schwimmer, an associate real estate broker at DJK Residential. “They’re able to see the bigger picture, while a guy says, ‘I have to get the best deal.’ ” She said that her female clients who bought four years ago have male friends still waiting for prices to drop.
Erica Besikof is one of the women who decided that now was the time to buy at 110 Livingston. Ms. Besikof and her husband, Dan Besikof, who currently live in Manhattan in the financial district, put down a 10 percent deposit on a $600,000 apartment. As self-professed Food Network addicts and aspiring chefs, they were sold on the unit’s Viking range and Sub-Zero refrigerator.
Ms. Besikof was so enthusiastic about the purchase that she tried to persuade a half-dozen female friends and their husbands or partners to buy in the same building. Her candidates included a college friend, a high school friend, her husband’s former co-worker, a current co-worker and the co-worker’s former roommate.
So far, only Melissa Sussberg and her husband, Matthew Sussberg, have followed her advice and bought an apartment, a $765,000 two-bedroom. But there’s still time for the Besikofs to turn more acquaintances into neighbors: they don’t move until spring.
The impact of female buyers may be most pronounced in the Brooklyn condominium market, because properties are less expensive than they would be in Manhattan and the deposits are as low as 10 percent of the purchase price. That means that more women who are first-time home buyers can break into the market more easily and that women who own apartments in Manhattan can sell and buy larger apartments in Brooklyn.
Women’s interest is good news for Brooklyn developers, who are beginning to see the same troubling market conditions that are hitting Manhattan and the rest of the country. Brooklyn has 5,888 condominiums under construction and another 11,634 units planned, according to data gathered by Halstead Property.
While average sales prices have not dropped in Brooklyn, apartments are taking far longer to sell. Apartments in Dumbo, Williamsburg and Brooklyn Heights sat on the market for an average of 111 days last quarter, compared with 62 days in the corresponding period in 2005.
Across the nation, female buyers have been major contributors to the home-buying boom. Single women made up 22 percent of the nation’s home buyers in the last year compared with 14 percent in 1995, according to the National Association of Realtors.
New York City real estate brokers say that many of these sales originate from friends talking to friends. “Word of mouth kind of seals the deal for them,” said Sarah Burke, the vice president for sales and marketing at the Developers Group, a Brooklyn real estate company.
Ms. Besikof said that her husband would have been happy to postpone buying an apartment. But she convinced him that they could stop paying a lot in rent and live closer to their favorite beer bar, the Downtown Bar and Grill, and their favorite Thai restaurant, Joya.
“He’s more nervous about the market and if we’re going to make a profit,” she said. If the couple hadn’t found an apartment at 110 Livingston, “he would have been fine renting,” she added.
While Ms. Besikof encouraged her friends to check out the building, she said she never pressed them to buy. “Everyone, I guess, has to make up their mind to take their own risk,” she said.
Ms. Besikof and Ms. Sussberg were in the same sorority at the University of Wisconsin but graduated in different years. It was a mutual friend who encouraged them both to move closer to her in Brooklyn. Ms. Sussberg, a 28-year-old Chanel sales executive, said that she and her husband, Matthew, a 30-year-old advertising sales executive for the Huffington Post, a political Web site, wanted more space than they currently have in their Upper East Side apartment.
Now that the Besikofs will live on the third floor and the Sussbergs on the fourth, both couples look forward to hanging out together. “It will be fun to have a social life in the building,” Ms. Sussberg said.
Some buyers have made it a point to navigate the boundaries of buying real estate near friends while still keeping a respectful distance. Jen Lee, a 36-year-old director of sales for the Developers Group, bought a one-bedroom in Williamsburg for $440,000 the first day the building at 345 Union Avenue opened for sales in October 2005.
She raved to friends about how her apartment, built by Grand Union Private Development and marketed by her company, had nearly 10-foot-high ceilings, a private roof terrace and lots of closet space. Women have bought four of the building’s 10 units — translating into $2 million in sales, Ms. Lee said. Asked if she was buying at the wrong time, Ms. Lee said she was more excited that she had bought at all. “I wanted to invest in something, and that’s what I’ve done,” she said. “It will always be mine.”
Ms. Lee talked about her purchase so much that in April, her friend and co-worker Shana Bowes put down a deposit on a $600,000 two-bedroom, two-bath apartment directly above hers. Ms. Bowes, 35, thought that having a friend nearby would be ideal because she had never met her neighbors in the three years that she owned an apartment in Manhattan. And Ms. Bowes liked the idea that they would have each other around in emergencies — much to the consternation of Ms. Lee.
“At first, I didn’t want her to buy there,” Ms. Lee said. “I didn’t want a “Friends”-type situation where we are constantly in each other’s houses. I wanted more of a sense of privacy.”
But Ms. Lee has warmed to the idea, and the women now have keys to each other’s apartments. Ms. Lee has turned off Ms. Bowes’s iron and closed her windows during a rainstorm. In return, Ms. Bowes watched Ms. Lee’s cats, Sam and Ruby, over Thanksgiving.
They visit far less than Ms. Bowes had expected. “I actually don’t see her that much,” she said. “Most important for me is to know that she’s there.”
Some women said that they felt their friends were better market indicators than any statistics that point to a downturn.
Roberta Brenner, 62, a former recruiter for consumer marketing executives, had accompanied her friend Jill Montaigne, 48, a media and entertainment consultant, to give her advice on buying an apartment at 70 Washington Street in Dumbo, a two-bedroom that cost more than $1 million.
The women had been friends since Ms. Brenner tried to recruit Ms. Montaigne for a job many years before. After 19 years on the Upper West Side, Ms. Montaigne wanted more anonymity and more space for her 8-year-old son, Schuyler.
While Ms. Brenner encouraged Ms. Montaigne to buy, Ms. Brenner had some reservations about the neighborhood. In the spring, Ms. Montaigne went to dinner at Ms. Brenner’s and encouraged the Brenners to move to Dumbo. The next weekend, the couple checked out the building for themselves.
While women have purchased a smaller percentage of apartments in this building, they still have made an impact. Single women bought about 40 of 200 of the units, including the two penthouses, accounting for about $35 million in sales, according to the executive sales director, Toby Klein. The project is a conversion by Mr. Walentas’s company, Two Trees Management.
“There’s a certain amount of evangelism that goes on,” Ms. Montaigne said. “There are so many people who moved in because they knew someone else who bought in the building.”
By midsummer, Ms. Brenner and her husband, Michael Brenner, had put down a deposit on a $1.2 million one-bedroom. Ms. Brenner said she was now confident that the neighborhood had enough momentum and that apartments in Dumbo would keep their value.
Some women treat buying in a declining market as another stage of friendship, like making it through the college application process. Alexandra Dib, a 33-year-old food and wine consultant and jewelry designer, told friends about her new apartment at her recent baby shower. She and her husband, Said Dib, 45, the managing director of a global apparel firm, bought a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment for $815,000 at 110 Livingston Street.
Several days later, her friend Tiffany, 33, another guest at the shower, and Tiffany’s partner, Jennifer Kaminski, 34, a creative director at an advertising agency, found out they would need more space because Tiffany was pregnant with twins. Tiffany, who asked that her last name be withheld because she is a psychotherapist, and Ms. Kaminski decided to tour the building.
Although she and Ms. Dib had known each other since the ninth grade at Spence, Tiffany called her to make sure it was all right if they became neighbors. The friends agreed it would be ideal to have each other to go through motherhood together — as long as they didn’t live on the same floor.
So Tiffany and her partner put in a $250 reservation for a $770,000 two-bedroom, two-bath apartment one floor below. They now have decided to wait to put down a deposit until they sell their Chelsea apartment. But they still plan to buy in the building. “I’ll have one of my oldest friends there,” Tiffany said. “It will be nice to have that kind of support so close.”
On Wednesday, Ms. Dib gave birth to a baby girl named Leyli. She believes that even if prices drop, she and Tiffany will be better off because they will have more space than in Manhattan and a support network too.
“Even if we’re there for five years, we still have the space and all of the amenities,” she said. “I’m hoping she would feel the same way.”
Sunday, December 10, 2006