Who You Know Votes Where

October 18, 2008 Leave a comment

Skeleton of nonpareils by artist, Heather Cox

Today I took a break from work to pop into one of the artist studios participating in A.G.A.S.T., Annual Gowanus Artists Studio Tour. It’s great, it’s one of a kind, and I highly recommend it over a Fox NFL Sunday. Hurry up though, it’s only a two day festival and tomorrow’s the last day. The tour encompasses 28 different studios in the Gowanus Canal area. My friends Mical Moser and Heather Cox can be found at 295 Douglas St, between 3rd and 4th Avenues. I may be biased, but I think you should visit them  first.
 Author's cousins in Vermont

Mical Moser’s Map of Who You Know Votes Where



Annual Gowanus Artists Studio Tour

Oct 18 & 19, 1PM-6PM

Categories: Enjoy It Tags: , ,

Nothing Happened

September 9, 2008 Leave a comment

Park Slope, Corner of Carroll St and 7th Ave.

Police get ready to leave after it was determined that the corner of Carroll and 7th Avenue was safe for pedestrians.

Strange happenings on Carroll Street between 7th and 8th Avenues today.  First, residents woke up to their block lined with orange traffic cones.  People were told by two thugs, with NBC employee badges, that the NBC Muppet Christmas special, Letters to Santa, had reserved the area and that anyone parking their car on Carroll Street between 7th and 8th Avenues would be towed. When a resident pointed out to them that signs posted on the block, by the Mayor’s Office for Film, Theater, and Broadcasting, clearly stated that parking was to be restricted only on Wednesday, September 10th, he was told that, “the time for talking was over.”

Later, at around 4PM, the police received a call of a suspicious package on the corner of Carroll and 7th Ave.  Several patrol cars arrived and blocked traffic for approximately 40 minutes until it was determined that the black bag left on the corner posed no threat.

Neither NBC nor any of the Muppets could be reached for comment.

Categories: Park It

Fighting for the Right to Drink Beer on His Stoop

September 9, 2008 Leave a comment

Next time you are sitting on your stoop enjoying a cold one, think of this story:

Fighting for the Right to Drink Beer on His Stoop
By Manny Fernandez, The New York Times (September 8, 2008)
URL: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/09/08/nyregion/08stoop.html

Kimber VanRy was sitting on his stoop in the Prospect Heights section
of Brooklyn, drinking a beer and sending e-mail messages on his
BlackBerry, when a police car slowed to a stop on the street in front of

It had been a pleasant evening for Mr. VanRy, 39, who lives in a
four-story, 20-unit co-op building with his wife and two children.  He
had watched Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s speech at the Democratic
convention on television, helped put his sons to bed and washed the

The time was 11:52 p.m., the date was Aug. 27, and the beer, for the
record, was a 12-ounce bottle of Sierra Nevada.

The police officer in the driver’s seat said something to Mr. VanRy.
He left the stoop, walked to the car and, several minutes later, was
handed a small pink slip–a $25 summons for drinking in public.

Mr. VanRy, who is the president of his building’s co-op board and whose
last brush with the law was about 12 years ago, when he got a speeding
ticket in Pennsylvania, was shocked to learn that drinking a beer on his
stoop was unlawful.  He said that he and his neighbors in the building
have for years gathered on the short stoop, talking and drinking,
without officers from the 77th Precinct ever showing up.

“I think this is a real gray area,” said Mr. VanRy, an international
sales manager for a supplier of stock film footage, video and music.  “I
don’t think I was doing anything wrong.”

In Brooklyn, the borough of the brownstone, few spaces are more sacred
than the stoop, the place where the city goes to watch the city go by.
Mr. VanRy’s summons, news of which has spread on Brooklyn blogs, message
boards and in a community newspaper, The Brooklyn Paper, has stirred
debate about the legal status of stoops and stoop drinkers.

New Yorkers who enjoy drinking wine or beer on their stoops are indeed
violating the law, according to the police.

The city’s open-container law prohibits anyone from drinking an
alcoholic beverage, or possessing and intending to drink from an open
container containing an alcoholic beverage, “in any public place.”  The
law defines a public place as one “to which the public or a substantial
group of persons has access, including, but not limited to,” a sidewalk,
street or park.

Exceptions include drinking at a block party or “similar function for
which a permit has been obtained” as well as premises licensed for the
sale and consumption of alcohol.  The punishment for violations is a
fine of no more than $25 or imprisonment of up to five days, or both.

Paul J. Browne, the Police Department’s chief spokesman, said in
statement about Mr. VanRy’s summons: “The officer observed a violation.
The subject has a right to dispute it.”

Mr. VanRy will contest the summons at a court appearance in November by
pleading not guilty.  He questioned the notion that his stoop is
considered a “public place” as defined by the law.  Besides, he pointed
out, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg was photographed by The New York Post in
May sipping a glass of wine at Brooklyn Bridge Park.

“It’s one of those laws that a lot of people know it’s there, but how
heavily it should be enforced is a question,” Mr. VanRy said.

Steve Wasserman, a lawyer with the criminal practice of the Legal Aid
Society, questioned the wording of the law, adding that legal arguments
could be made that a stoop is not a place that a “substantial group of
persons” can gain access to.

“This is an open question,” he said of the law.  “There’s also a larger
constitutional question, if a piece of your private property were being
treated as if it were a public place.  You couldn’t get arrested for
drinking that beer in your kitchen.  Now you’re sitting on your stoop.
The stoop may be more like your kitchen than your sidewalk.”

Richard Briffault, a professor at Columbia University Law School and an
expert in property and local government law, said Mr. VanRy’s summons
illustrated the thin line between private and public property.  “It’s
quite possible to be on private property and in public at the same
time,” he said.

Indeed, last year, a State Supreme Court justice in the Bronx ruled
that an apartment building lobby qualified as a “public place” in
relation to the open-container law.  A police officer had confronted a
man who was drinking a beer in the lobby of a building on the Grand
Concourse, and Justice Joseph J. Dawson ruled that the officer had
probable cause to arrest him.

The details of Mr. VanRy’s tale have fascinated his friends, neighbors,
the four lawyers who sent e-mail messages offering advice and
Brooklynites who read about the incident on local blogs.  The officer
who gave Mr. VanRy the summons asked him, for example, what brand of
beer he was drinking.  “I thought it was strange why it mattered,” Mr.
VanRy said.

Mr. VanRy’s stoop does not have a gate and is set back from the
sidewalk by a few feet, and the officer told him that if he were behind
a gate on his stoop, he would not have received a ticket.  In Mr.
VanRy’s posting that night to a message board at http://www.brooklynian.com/, he
made a point of mentioning the other officer in the police car, who, Mr.
VanRy wrote, “was playing Tetris on his iPod the whole time.”

Mr. VanRy’s building on Sterling Place is in a gritty but gentrifying
part of Prospect Heights, and Mr. VanRy knows neighborhood residents who
have been mugged.  “The question that sort of lingers in my mind is,
given all the other kinds of things that are constantly going on and how
little I see of police in the neighborhood, that this was the best use
of their 20 minutes of time?” he said of the two officers.

He has already made up his mind about whether to risk drinking on his
stoop again.  “Absolutely,” he said.

The Secret

August 26, 2008 Leave a comment

An Open House in Park Slope Brooklyn

Fig 1-5, An unidentified broker documents his time at a recent open house.

Pssssst. Hey you. Yeah you: Mr. Buyer. Want to know a secret? Come over here. A little closer. Closer. Clooooser. Now listen carefully. We are not very busy. No- scratch that, we are not busy at all…OK, it’s dead out here. August is always dead. Really dead. Our open houses are poorly attended. Our blackberries aren’t buzzing. Our sales figures are down. Our sellers are not happy, so we are not happy. Our sellers are worried. We are worried. Our sellers want to make a deal. We want to make a deal.

Are you still listening? This is an opportunity for you. Here’s a suggestion: this year, why don’t you and your brethren close up the beach house early and, instead go shopping for a real estate bargain?

Here’s another secret: about two weeks after Labor Day, everything changes. Things pick-up, office phones ring, websites get hits. More of you go to our open houses. More of you make offers. And more of you actually purchase a home. How do I know? Just like August is always slow, September is always better.

So make a deal while you can – the Brooklyn Real Estate Sale ends September 14th!

E. 17th Street

August 21, 2008 1 comment

A nice house in Ditmas Park Brooklyn

Click for Google Map of E. 17th Street in Ditmas Park BrooklynYesterday, I arrived early for an appointment and so decided to take a stroll down E. 17th Street. This neighborhood was once known as Flatbush and is now called Ditmas Park. It was such a nice walk that I had to share it with all of you. This block is full of detached Victorian style homes, all in pristine condition and most with front porches.  The sidewalks are pleasantly lined with oak, maple, and various fruit trees. I understand that many of you are familiar with this area, but believe me, even by Ditmas standards, this block is something special.

When you have a moment and before the summer is over, please take in E. 17th Street, between Newkirk and Dorchester…and if you have another moment, let me know how it went. Thanks for reading.

What Happens Now?

July 17, 2008 4 comments

Often after someone has either made or accepted an offer, I’m asked, “what happens now?” Below is a chronological list of how things should proceed after an Accepted Offer.  

  1. Pick an attorney.  It’s pretty tough, in New York, to complete a real estate transaction without an attorney. It is also pretty tough to get on their calendar. So, I highly recommend that you do this before you put your home on the market or before you start shopping for a new one. A good lawyer is your advocate throughout the transaction and if you are a buyer, often the only person who has your best interests in mind.  I personally would not buy or sell real estate without one and you shouldn’t either. Rules for picking a lawyer are the same as they are for picking any professional: get a recommendation if you can and pick someone you trust and feel comfortable with. 
  2. Start the attorneys communicating.  The person on the other side of this transaction will have an attorney as well (if they don’t, good luck getting into contract). You’ll want to insure that both attorney’s have each others contact information. What good agents and brokers usually do is give each attorney a one page Deal Sheet. The Deal Sheet contains the contact information for the buyer, the seller, their attorneys, the sales price and the escrow down payment (this is usually 10% of the purchase price and is different from your down payment for financing). If you are not working with a broker, then just put you’re your own deal sheet together.  You should send the deal sheet to each lawyer within a day of the accepted offer. A well organized Deal Sheet will save a busy lawyer time and get you to contract sooner rather than later.
  3. Seller’s attorney will send out a contract to the buyer’s attorney. The attorneys will probably negotiate a bit on some of the details, but they usually come up with a document that they will let their clients sign. You really want to make this happen within two weeks  -before the person on the other side of this transaction changes their mind.
  4. Sign the contract. You will meet with your attorney who will advise you about the specifics of the contract.  You should ask any questions you have here and if all goes well you’ll sign the contract. If you are the buyer you will also write out a check -usually 10% of the purchase price- which will be deposited in an escrow account. 
  5. Choose a mortgage broker or bank (buyers only).  Like picking an attorney, this is something I recommend you do before you even start shopping for a place. Most lending institutions will issue you a pre-qualify letter which will state that you are capable of borrowing up to X amount of dollars. This is a good way to prove to a seller or broker that you and your offer should be taken seriously.
  6. Appraise the Property.  When you boil it all down, banks only judge a transaction by two criteria.  Will the buyer pay back the loan? And is the property worth enough to justify the loan? To determine the latter, the bank or mortgage broker will hire a licensed appraiser to estimate the value of the property.  
  7. Bank issues a commitment letter.  After the bank has done its due diligence on the buyer and the property, it will issue a commitment letter. This is the letter that says the buyer is approved for the mortgage. It states the interest rate, amount, and term of the loan (among other things).  Once this letter is received you can schedule the closing.
  8. Schedule the date of the closing. The seller, the buyer, their attorneys, the bank’s attorney, and a title insurer, will all break out their date books and figure out the best day to finalize the transaction (be patient, this can be harder than seating your relatives at a wedding).
  9. Close.  This is where the rest of the money exchanges hands and the buyer gets the keys.  Essentially this is how the money will be distributed:
  • a) The seller’s attorney will write a check to the seller from her escrow account. This will be equal to the check the buyer wrote when he signed the contract.
  • b) The buyer’s bank will write a check to the seller for the amount that the buyer is borrowing from the bank. (That’s right; the buyer never gets his hands on the money.)
  • c) If after steps a) and b), there is money still due to the seller, the buyer will write a check for this amount.In addition to all of this, with your attorney’s help, you will sign half a ton of documents(buyers, you will actually sign a ton and a half). Once you are done you can …
  1. …Move!  In or out, depending on who you are. And you can almost always do this immediately after you close.

Feel free to forward any questions my way.  Thanks for reading, Jim.

Categories: Buy It

Take Five

April 6, 2008 1 comment
Thinking about real estate in Park Slope Brooklyn

The author demonstrates the Take Five method

People often solicit my opinion about a given neighborhood. “Is it safe?”,they ask. “How is the area? What are the locals like?”, etcetera, etcetera,… I flat out try to evade these questions and I have my reasons. For one, I’m very fond of the neighborhoods I work in and don’t feel capable of answering objectively (It would be like bad-mouthing a family member to an outsider). For two, other than the number of times I’ve been fleeced by the Department of Finance (see How to Park It), I don’t worry all that much about crime in my neck of the woods. And three, the locals question? I don’t even want to know what people are getting at there. So I don’t answer any of these questions. But this is what I do say. I say, “because everyone has a different comfort level when it comes to these things, you need to explore the neighborhood yourself. That means more than just a cursory look. You need to take five extra minutes with some of the residents and get to know them. Doesn’t matter how you do it, but you need to engage a few locals. Ask for directions or the best place to get coffee. Say good morning or good afternoon. Whatever it is, just talk to people. If you do this, I guarantee, that if you really do this, you will see the neighborhood and you will see the entire city of NY in a very different light.”

I can hear the collective moan coming over the big T1 line in the blogosphere. You are out of your mind Jim. This is New York City! You can’t just talk to people on the street. You’ll scare them, or they’ll be suspicious, or they’ll get mad. My experience has taught me otherwise. When I first started exploring Crown Heights, I would stop random people on the street and ask them what they were paying for rent. If anyone asked why, I would simply say that I was thinking of buying a three family building in the neighborhood and wanted to know what I could lease the apartments for. And you know what? People talked to me. They were friendly. They were nice. They were very helpful. I even got invited into someone’s apartment to have a look. I couldn’t believe it either, but I learned a valuable lesson about my city. Nowadays, I almost always say hello, good morning, and good afternoon and my neighbors usually say it back.

So you want to know about a neighborhood? Take five extra minutes and get to know its residents. Thanks for reading, Jim.