Last week, I gave you my secrets to making the big bucks in New York real estate. For those who missed it, here’s the refresher course: buy low, sell high. Now that you know the basics, I’ll finish your education by dishing up some pointers on location.
Location will make or break you. So choose wisely.
Oh, you want details? OK – first, buy a nice place in a real neighborhood. Next, move in and let your investment increase slowly over time, growing in the warmth and dark like something your podiatrist should take a look at. Finally, when your apartment is worth a whole pile of cash, sell it. I call this the “fungal growth” method of making money in real estate, and you can read all about it in my bestselling book, “The Wart of the Deal” (sorry, I get one bad pun per annum).
Central to the effectiveness of this brilliant plan is your ability to know how to spot a real neighborhood. As in most things, New York is not like the rest of the country, so just toss your rules out the window and get to know New York City’s many neighborhoods. You
may wish to live in a trendy Manhattan (or Brooklyn) neighborhood — the kind of place that tourists think of as New York City – but you’ll pay. A lot. Your other choice is to sally forth into the kind of area that strikes terror into the hearts of your folks back home. Those are the neighborhoods with potential. Those are the neighborhoods you need. You should buy a co-op or a condo (special note: there aren’t any condos) in one of those neighborhoods, and live there for as long as it takes until you get rich by selling it. Which will happen eventually, because this is New York City.
Basic Dos and Donts
- DON’T buy anything that is more than a 6 minute walk to a subway entrance.
- DON’t buy if the only restaurants that deliver are national chains or local places with no place to sit and deep-fat friers with week-old oil.
- DON’T buy in a high-crime neighborhood. See the sidebar on the crime map.
- DO buy in a working-class neighborhood.
- DON’T buy in evacuation zone 1 or 2 – check out your address here. If you are extra cautious, you’ll want to avoid 3 through 6 also.
- DO check the walkability score. Anything under 95 is going to be trouble. Someday, someone needs to do a sidewalk-width-to-street ratio indicator (hint – wider sidewalks are better).
Armed with these indispensable basics, what do you do next? You need to start spending some time in the neighborhoods you’re considering. Subletting or renting first is always a good idea. Make a list of prospective neighborhoods, then cross off all the names that are listed in this guide. If you need help, this other guide is a lot more comprehensive and realistic.
How to use the New York City Interactive Crime Map
First, pick 2 months to compare – one in winter, the other in summer. Why? Because, for the most part, it’s cold in the winter. Warmth makes all activities, including crime, easier. Next, get the stats for robbery and felony assault. This is at the heart of actual neighborhood safety. Check murder also, just to be on the safe side….a high murder rate is a sign of drug and gang wars. Burglarly is important, of course, but since most people experience burglary on the day they move in and never again afterwards, this isn’t a completely valid guide to overall neighborhood safety (tip: the burglars follow the moving trucks). You can completely ignore grand larceny of a motor vehicle, because you don’t own a car…or, if you do, you can afford to put it in a garage.
Next, go case the joint. Make some mental notes from this fast checklist:
- Is the closest hardware store more than a 4-minute walk away?
- Can you see a Godiva or Coach store?
- Is everyone walking around over the age of 18 and under the age of 45?
If you answered “Yes” to these questions, you are not in a real neighborhood. You’ll need to turn right around and get back on the subway.
If the area passes the first checklist, apply …
Checklist Number Two
- Can you get takeout from a place where no one speaks English very well?
- Can you see guys sitting around card tables playing chess/dominos/cards and eating picnic food (summer only)?
- Can you see grandmas selling pudding out of travel coolers?
- Is there a shoe repair store?
- Would you need to get on the subway to go to the nearest Whole Foods?
- Can you walk to a park?
If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, you’re on the right track.
Last thing on your list…find the starving artists. I’m actually not sure where they are these days, so if there’s a Starving Artists’ Guild, can you get in touch with me? I’m not
talking about expats who get jobs in tech or finance, I’m not talking about trust fund kids trying to live La Vie Boheme. I’m talking about stand-up comics, actors and dancers who are actively auditioning and not just saying they are, digital and physical material artists and writers (content providers to you), and singers / musicians of all types. If you follow the starving artists, you’ll soon find cafes, juice bars, and non-Starbucks owned coffee venues springing up to accommodate them. Before you know it, the neighborhood has been gentrified, my husband is snarling under his breath, and it makes it onto the radar of the type of people who like to say “Williamsburg is RUINED, but have you been to South Ozone Park lately? So retro!” Next thing, you’ll be a know-it-all like me.
Mini-Guide to Apartment Terms
|A Walk-Up||A building with no elevator, 6 floors or fewer. You’ll get a firm physique if move to the top floor of a walk-up, but on the downside you will be a prisoner for weeks if you break a leg.|
|Cold-water apartment||In the old days, you could get a cheap place if you didn’t need to shower. Term is now obsolete – every unit must have hot water.|
|Shotgun Apartment||Each room runs right into the next (you could stand at the front door, fire a shotgun, and have it go out the back wall). I don’t think you can even build those any longer.|
|Railroad Flat||See “Shotgun apartment”|
|Pre-War||Built before World War Two. These are usually much better than post-war, and you won’t hear your upstairs neighbors sneeze through those paper-thin walls. Of course, climate control is a bit iffy.|
|Rent Stabilized||I don’t have time to go into this one, so check it out here|
|Studio||I think you’d call it a “walk-in closet with a stove and toilet” everywhere else.|
|Garden Apartment||A dim cave on the first floor where the light never shines and small children put greasy handprints on your street-facing windows.|
|Illegal sublet||You don’t have the lease – someone else does, and the landlord (or co-op board) wants you out.|
|Key Money||A bribe to get an apartment, and technically illegal. But effective in some cases.|
|Tenement||They’re long gone, but make an effort to see the the museum.|