Stephen G. Kliegerman
President of Development Marketing
How the borough's blogs have changed brokering
By Katherine Dykstra
When 55 Berry, a converted loft building in Williamsburg, came to market in 2005, it had problems. Buyers weren't materializing, so the developer switched sales agents, then cut prices. When that didn't work, there was a second remarketing — and prices were chopped again. Bloggers seized on 55 Berry's troubles, tracking them, often mockingly, online. Curbed.com alone had over a dozen posts related to 55 Berry.
The task of selling 55 Berry eventually fell to the Barak/Blackburn Group, run by Prudential Douglas Elliman's Lior Barak and Christine Blackburn. Despite what Barak deemed "negative" blog coverage, including items on basement leaks (since fixed), the two sold the building's remaining 31 units in nine months. Afterwards, they sent a thank you — to the bloggers.
Their note, posted on Curbed in October, 2007, said, "We want to exclusively thank Curbed and its commenters for their help. We couldn't have done it without you!"
Although Barak attributes their feat to the fact that both he and Blackburn live and work in Williamsburg and know the buying demographic well, he said the blogs deserve some credit for drawing attention to the building.
"There was a lot of bad press. People said that the bedrooms are small, the ceilings are low, but there were 13-foot ceilings!" he noted. "But when you can bring so much attention to a building — even if it's bad press, if it's [truly] a good building, it's not bad."
Over the last few years, the number of local Brooklyn blogs has multiplied exponentially; May's Brooklyn Blogfest drew more than 100 bloggers, and some have even begun to call Brooklyn, 'Bloglyn.'
"I think people in Brooklyn have very strong feelings about their neighborhoods and [a] greater sense of empowerment. In Brooklyn, you can say something and make an impact," said Jonathan Butler, the creator of Brownstoner.com, which with Curbed is one of the real estate industry's most-readblogs. "When I lived in Manhattan, it never occurred to me that I could fight the man, but in Brooklyn if you stomp your foot about something it might make an impact."
Stephen Kliegerman, executive director of development marketing at Halstead Property, agreed. "You have a lot of activists who don't like change and who are potentially freelancers, so they have more time on their hands." Kliegerman's firm is selling Fort Greene's Rockwell Place, among other Brooklyn properties.
For the bloggers, though, this is not just filling time — it's about having a say in the development of the borough.
"It's community building and transparency," said Butler. "We're hopefully building a place where Brooklynites can share info and have conversations they might not have offline. We're calling people out, raising the bar for the quality of information provided and the truthfulness of it."
This "calling people out" has created a love-hate relationship between the bloggers and the blogged about. On one hand, many in the industry depend on the blogs for up-to-the-moment information, but developers also fear the blogs' expanding influence — and the comment sections of these sites, where rumors can flourish.
One Brooklyn broker who did not want to be identified said blogs have personal vendettas against developers and their projects. He said he'd been victimized by commenters who implied he was "on drugs" and was "scared of these guys and what they can do."
Curbed, which covers all five boroughs, and Brownstoner, which covers Brooklyn exclusively, are the biggest and have become required reading for the real estate industry. Newer and smaller, more localized blogs including Gowanuslounge.com, which was spun off by Curbed's Rob Guskind; BedStuyBlog.com; ClintonHillBlog.com; Bushwickbk.com and BrooklynHeightsBlog.com, are typically more focused on community matters. There, real estate is covered alongside local politics, crime, the opening of new cafés and subway service problems.
"I think that Curbed pays attention to a lot of different sources bringing in things you wouldn't see otherwise," said Michael Kaye of Douglaston Development, which is developing One Brooklyn Bridge Park in Brooklyn Heights. He noted that he reads Brownstoner and Curbed daily. "They're scanning other blogs and media outlets, getting a lot of disparate information in Cliff Notes form."
Some have argued that Brownstoner and Curbed's links to newer blogs are helping land lesser-known neighborhoods on the map.
Highlyann Krasnow, executive vice president of the Developers Group who is marketing dozens of buildings in Brooklyn, including Clinton Hill's Green and Grand, said, "I think it's helping emerging neighborhoods by showing that there are enough people there who care about the neighborhood to blog about it."
Butler described running into a prolific Brooklyn developer on the street.
"He said, 'I've got to thank you. You made me a lot of money,'" said Butler. "He had owned tons of apartment buildings in areas that used to be considered fringe and that are more mainstream now, and he was saying that our coverage of areas like Bed-Stuy had been critical in broadening their appeal."
But are buyers paying any attention to these blogs?
"I think people who need to buy and sell are doing what they always did," said Kaye. "The decisions that you're making are based on personal things: Where do you want to live? How do you want to live? What can you afford?…Things buyers can only discover by actually shopping."
Still, there's evidence that buyers are well aware of what's being said on the blogs.
"We had someone back out [of a deal] last week," said David Maundrell, CEO of Aptsandlofts.com, of a potential buyer for a unit at Warehouse 11, a 120-unit condominium on the Williamsburg-Greenpoint border. Not long after construction began on the project at 11th Street and Roebling, oil was found on the site, and the local blogs quickly picked up on it.
When the buyer dropped out, "in their e-mail, they sent us a link to Curbed," Maundrell said, noting that the "environmental issue" has since been "cleaned up."
Developers have to decide whether or not to change course after negative blog coverage.
Brownstoner coverage of Time Equities' proposal for 110 Amity Street in Cobble Hill portrayed the community's adverse reaction to the development under the headline "Amity Street Horror." That nickname was then picked up and propagated by Gowanus Lounge. Not long after, Time Equities decided to rework the project, eliminating a mews component in favor of a more traditional design. "Mostly we went by feedback from the formal meetings [community board, etc.], but we try to take all input into consideration," said Francis Greenburger, CEO of Time Equities. "Whether or not we agree, we consider everyone's point of view."
Karl Fischer, an architect with dozens of projects being erected in Brooklyn, has taken the opposite tack. He said he has no interest in what the blogs have to say, despite being arguably the most regularly blogged-about Brooklyn architect. Curbed calls him "Hot Karl" and has dubbed the section of Bayard Street adjacent to Greenpoint's McCarren Park "Karl Fischer Row," for the number of Karl Fischer-designed buildings (four) rising on it.
"Sometimes my assistant, if she sees something, will send it to me. Or another developer will say, 'Hey did you see that one?' But I don't go specifically on the Internet to read the blogs," said Fischer.
"I don't really want to be influenced by it … if you always listen to the gossip, you don't do anything," he said.
"As an architect, when you do a project, you know when you're doing a good project, and you know when you're not doing a good project," said Fischer. "But there are ulterior reasons for why things are getting done a certain way. Some of it is economic, but the blogs don't know it."
Most brokers and developers said blogs have no impact on pricing.
"The only thing that affects pricing is absorption of units and buyer feedback," said Kliegerman.
Still, the speed of blogging means always being ready for the spotlight.
"The blogs have affected our timing; we know if a [building's] sign goes up, it's going to be on a blog right away," said Krasnow. "When we release renderings, put up signage, we have to make sure we're ready to be covered by the blogs."
Tuesday, July 01, 2008