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Mentioned in this Article:
Mindy Diane Feldman

Mindy Diane Feldman
Eastside Office

Stephen G. Kliegerman

Stephen G. Kliegerman
President of Development Marketing

The Real Deal

Tracking New Projects From The Ground Up

Some brokers have devised surefire ways to pinpoint development before it happens

By Jen Benepe

Keeping on top of fast-paced residential development in New York City is no easy task, but brokers have learned the many ways to skin the proverbial cat in order to cash in on the ultra-competitive market.

Some brokers and information gatherers are so good at this game they can sniff out a new building when it's merely a twinkle in the developer's eye.

Even if you are an independent battling the giants, you too can gain a toe up even before the cement is poured. Check out these tips from the experts The Real Deal spoke to:

Know your beat

Ondel Hylton, who prepares the new condo development list for PropertyShark.com, said that when he concentrates on a particular neighborhood, he scouts for "relatively new buildings, construction sites or boarded-up lots." Any change is bound to lead to something, he said.

Get to know your neighborhood, said Mindy Feldman, a sales associate at Halstead Property who focuses on the Upper East Side. If you see a row of shops suddenly sporting "Out of Business" signs in their windows, that could mean a developer has bought them out and plans to build on the block.

That information is essential not only to buyers, who could find themselves face-to-face with a wall, but also to current sellers, who may have to adjust their price down the road. And a sharp broker will get ahead of the advertising rush for the new development.

"Developers have begun pre-marketing as soon as they have gone to contract on the land," said Feldman.

Use the media

The media has been using you for a long time, so why not turn the tables for once? Many experts say they turn to the New York Times, the New York Daily News, the New York Post, Real Estate Weekly, Crain's and, of course, The Real Deal, for any and all stories, advertisements or briefs trumpeting new developments or even rumors of same.

Property Shark founder Matthew Haines and several brokers said they use The Real Deal's monthly lists, several-times-a-year editorial spreads and the yearly Data Book for information.

John Cole, the assistant vice president of research at the Real Estate Board of New York, said he uses more than 16 newspapers and magazines regularly.

"A good broker will use as many resources as they have at their disposal," noted Feldman, who also reads high-end glossies like Gotham magazine, New York Living and Quest.

Bloggers ride the first wave

Almost all brokers interviewed also use real estate blogs such as Curbed and Brownstoner for those Web sites' inside tips about new developments.

Lisa Rae Castrigno, who headed up research at REBNY until she was recently hired away by Halstead, said she uses real estate bloggers for tips on specific neighborhoods.

Forums such as Wired New York are also a big source of information.

Hylton pointed to SkyscraperPage.com, where several writers offer listings, photos included, of planned and current construction in New York and around the country.

Local forums, like Brooklynian.com for Park Slope, Prospect Heights and Crown Heights, provide excellent information, added Brendan Aguayo of brokerage Aguayo & Huebener.

People, people, people

For those brokers who need to know about a development even before an architect has been hired, contacts and referrals are the number one way to earn the coveted job of marketing and brokering an entire new complex.

At Halstead, executive director Steve Kliegerman said much of the firm's business comes from previous relationships and the referrals that they generate. "[Some developers] will call us even before they are considering a site," he said. Often that call can result in Halstead performing a feasibility study of the site, and later snagging a marketing and brokerage contract.

Cole of REBNY said the powerful trade organization often gets information on new projects from any one of its 11,000 members. "There are so many things in flux and projects occurring with the changes in the market," he said. "It's a never-ending process to try to keep up to date."

Feldman of Halstead, a former investment banker, also keeps abreast through mailings, phone calls, party invitations and marketing info she receives on a regular basis from contacts that she has established. Developers, architects, other brokers and even her own clients can be a source of information, she said.

Using public information

Like Feldman, Hylton often surveys neighborhoods on foot, looking for change.

"After taking photographs of whatever I found, I'd look up the site info first through the city Department of Buildings database [Building Information System], and then through Google, which occasionally leads me to other 'discoveries,'" said Hylton.

The BIS is available online though it does not contain ownership information.

The DOB's weekly and monthly permit sheets, available online in Excel, are an also an essential part of Feldman's weekly info search. She checks them for new permit requests, and can track most of the developments in her head, from first permit request, to building approval, even renewals. "As you follow over time you see packages going together," she said.

When he wants to cross reference specific information, Cole uses ACRIS, the city Department of Finance's online system that identifies a property by the owner's name, block and lot number. His office also regularly accesses permits filed by county from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Property Shark combines information from the Department of Buildings and Department of Finance, and offers a condo development report. (It also more recently began offering a "beta" report that identifies co-op sales, owners, and the prices they paid using the city's newly public co-op sales information as a source.)

Although some of Property Shark's information is subscriber-based, much of it is free. A searchable condo development database is currently in beta as well.

The offering plans for new condo projects, which require approval from the New York State Attorney General's office, are another source of data.

Castrigno said she has established an ongoing relationship with the real estate division of the Attorney General's office located at 120 Broadway in Lower Manhattan. After years of submitting Freedom of Information requests (FOILs) to the AG's office for copies of recently approved condo offering plans, she has a system whereby she submits requests on a regular basis -- a process that can be time-consuming and costly at 25 cents a page, since many of the plans are into the hundreds of pages.

But the process tells her when a condo conversion or new development has been approved for sale, an essential moment in the race to sell property.

Some brokers like Feldman also avail themselves of smaller real estate company reports, such as Massey Knakal and Eastern Consolidated's newsletters and real estate listings. "I am looking in general for large enough small buildings that someone might take over and convert -- or they are packaging and amassing a bunch of them," she said.

Developing a database

Although some people shun the process, Castrigno culls information from all of the sources available to her and maintains a database for Halstead. It's an amalgam of manually collected information, city and state data, as well as some initial proprietary information that she receives from Yale Robbins Construction Pipeline, and the Dodge Report.

REBNY uses an ACCESS database that they designed specifically for keeping information collected by their staff, said Cole. The information is then provided online to members in a PDF format. "We don't know how dependent [our members] are on it, but we have received an enormous amount of positive feedback," he said.

Cole said REBNY also prepares an offline planned construction report for Manhattan and Brooklyn that in addition to the mainstream information provides information that the association sometimes can't verify, such as rumored sites and developments.

Some databases also take advantage of technological bells and whistles. At Halstead, brokers can set up client searches on their internal listing system using key criteria such as address, size of property, and type of property, and an alert will come either to their desktop, their PDA or their phone, said Feldman. Each alert can be specifically programmed by type of alert, timing and delivery.

Brokers who don't have the benefit of a large company listing can set up RSS (Real Simple Syndication) commands on the Internet that will alert them to news and information using key words or subjects, and send an e-mail to their inbox. That too can be programmed to appear on a PDA or cell phone.

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Friday, September 15, 2006