The priciest co-op sale so far this year occurred on the Upper East Side, as several more big closings took place throughout New York in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.Many of the deals that closed in May were in contract before the coronavirus pandemic struck in New York, or came together quickly before the lockdown and avoided the disruptions in the real estate industry brought on by sheltering-in-place rules.The full-floor apartment, at 4 East 66th Street (a.k.a. 845 Fifth Avenue) was bought by the financier and philanthropist J. Christopher Flowers and his wife, Anne W. Flowers, for $43 million, marking the city’s most expensive sale in the month of May. (The record price for a co-op was set in 2015, with the $77.5 million sale of a duplex at nearby 834 Fifth.)At the ultra-pricey 220 Central Park South, two sponsor units were acquired by a single anonymous buyer for a total of $28.6 million, though both sales had been in contract long before the pandemic surfaced.There were a few luxury townhouse purchases as well, including a newly constructed manse in the Lenox Hill neighborhood and an Upper West Side brownstone bought by the “Hamilton” choreographer Andy Blankenbuehler and his wife, Elly Blankenbuehler, a physician assistant.Also last month, Alexandre de Betak, a fashion-show and events producer, sold his co-op loft in SoHo to Dick Costolo, the former chief executive of Twitter, and his wife, Lorin Costolo.ImageThe financier J. Christopher Flowers and his wife, Anne W. Flowers, bought a co-op taking up the entire eighth floor at 4 East 66th Street.Credit…Andrea Mohin/The New York TimesThe Flowerses’ co-op, on the eighth floor, was purchased from a trust set up for Ezra K. Zilkha, an Iraqi-born financier and investor who died last fall. It was an off-market deal, so few details about the residence are available. Most of the units in the limestone building on Fifth Avenue and 66th Street are around 7,500 square feet and occupy full floors. They have high ceilings, grand galleries and direct Central Park views.Mr. Flowers, a former partner at Goldman Sachs who runs his own private equity firm, has been an active player in Manhattan’s high-end market. In 2006, he paid $53 million for the Harkness mansion on East 75th Street, which at the time was a residential townhouse record. (He ended up selling the building five years later to the art dealer Larry Gagosian for $36.5 million.)The couple’s new apartment house, designed by James E.R. Carpenter and built in 1920, has been home to a number of notable people, among them Paul G. Allen, a founder of Microsoft, and the socialite Veronica Hearst.
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Mortgage rates may be appealingly low, but people shopping for a new home this spring face a challenging market.Demand, which was pent up during coronavirus stay-at-home orders, and a dearth of homes for sale are keeping prices high and setting off bidding wars in some areas as states continue to reopen for business. Some buyers may also find it tougher to qualify for mortgages, as lenders require higher credit scores and bigger down payments in response to higher unemployment and economic uncertainty in the pandemic.The situation is different from the economic downturn in 2008, when home prices fell sharply as a housing bubble popped.“We’re still seeing a huge sellers’ market,” said Colsie Searcy, an agent in Colorado Springs.Nationally, the median price for a home, excluding new construction, was about $287,000 in April, up more than 7 percent from a year earlier, the National Association of Realtors reported.Housing supply was already tight in recent years, especially for first-time buyers, because of the sluggish pace of new construction, said Danielle Hale, chief economist for the listing site Realtor.com. Then uncertainty because of the pandemic gave buyers cold feet, leading some sellers to pull their homes from the market.Home sales in April were down about 18 percent from a year earlier. Declines were particularly steep in the West. But Realtor.com reported this week that there were signs of improvement in May, “setting the stage” for continued recovery over the summer.Now, with many states lifting restrictions on home tours, the housing market is reawakening. Shoppers are feeling more comfortable visiting properties: About two-thirds of people who attended an open house within the past year said they would attend an open house now “without hesitation,” a separate survey from the Realtors association found.
If anyone is happy about our being stuck at home, it’s our pets. Owners who previously left for work every morning have become constant companions to pets during the pandemic, providing scratches, treats and walks throughout the workweek. This writer’s own skittish rescue cat has become increasingly playful and willing to accept a pat or two as the lockdown has stretched on.According to reports from shelters across the country, people have been eager to foster pets recently, so while we can infer that pets are happier with us around, it’s clear that humans have been leaning into the opportunity to experience their companionship. In fact, it wasn’t long after the lockdown began that The New York Times started reporting on the hunger for puppies and providing advice on topics like grooming and planning for a pet’s care should their owner become ill.But how does our resurfaced love affair with furry creatures affect how we buy and sell homes? A recent study by the National Association of Realtors compiled more than 15,000 responses to surveys of its professional membership, recent home buyers and sellers, and randomly chosen, geographically diverse households. The findings show that a pet’s needs are important to buyers, though only a small percentage will actually make a move to accommodate the needs of a pet. Pet-friendly features such as fenced yards and pet doors were among those on many a buyer’s wish list.The survey demonstrated that many people consider their animals members of the family, though it also showed that it’s important to erase evidence of pets when showing homes. That includes removing the pets themselves in addition to their toys, their odors, and any wear they’ve caused. After all, not every buyer is a pet lover, and even those who love their own animals may not love yours.
You’ve planted the vegetable garden; the beds are increasingly full. But before you check that task off the list, take a closer look. The cilantro and lettuce are trying to tell you something: Once is almost never enough.There will soon be vacancies, as some crops — those that are quick to mature or don’t tolerate heat well, or both — pass their prime.Tomatoes, eggplants and peppers are generally planted just once. But other crops need sowing again and again to keep producing. Are you ready with more seeds — or better still, a homegrown supply of fresh transplants selected for summer right through fall harvest — to plug into every precious bit of available real estate?This is succession sowing, an advanced level of vegetable-garden math.The introductory lesson simply required calculating when it was safe to sow or transplant certain crops outdoors. Once you’ve mastered that, you need to learn which crops lend themselves to resowing, and how often, to insure a steady supply of vegetables over the longest possible season. You’ll also need to estimate how much available space there will be and figure out how to assign various plants to those empty spaces in an ongoing planting plan.[embedded content]Friends who were working on their crop plan one long-ago winter taught me this. As farmers, their livelihood depends on maximizing every square foot of ground under cultivation. For each portion of a field — the equivalent of a garden bed — they made a simple chart, identifying three or four possible uses and assigning each planting an approximate date. Where the April-sown spring peas came out, the bush bean seeds could go in, followed in late summer by a fall root vegetable like beets or carrots.If you don’t have a 2020 succession plan for your own vegetable garden, there is still time to retrofit one.ImageI don’t harvest greens from my properly spaced beets, so all their energy is directed into developing roots. But a block or row of closer-sown ones (including the dark-leaved Bull’s Blood variety) provides a supply for salad or sautéing.Credit…Margaret RoachThe Goal Is the Same EverywhereGetting the most out of the space is your goal, no matter where you’re gardening. But dates and plant choices vary in regions with shorter or longer frost-free seasons, or with extreme summer heat, which might be inhospitable for something that works farther north.In the Hudson Valley, I sow successions of bush beans from mid-May until late July. If I were in North Carolina, I could sow from mid-March until mid-June, and then again from August until mid-October. Calendars and other guidance, with an emphasis on the latest possible season-extending plantings in climates as varied as Maine and Florida, are rounded up here.Survey the Real EstateNote what is likely to vacate space — also, how much space and when. Write it down, bed by bed.Make a Wish ListList your wished-for crops, matching choices to any found spaces.What can be planted in succession? In my Northeast garden, the possibilities, even well into summer, might include arugula, basil, bush beans, beets, braising greens (mustard, kale, collards, Asian greens), broccoli rabe, carrots, chard, chicory, bush cucumber, collards, dill, kale, lettuce, radishes, peas, scallions, spinach, bush summer squash and turnips. Broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower that I started in flats in May could be transplanted at about a month old. Many annual flowers can also be succession-sown for late summer and fall display or bouquets.Check the Seeds on HandCompare your wish list to seeds you already have — or place another order quickly. It’s unlikely that local garden centers will have transplants in stock, but they may have seed packets and seed-starting mix.ImageTo have a later harvest of broccoli than my spring planting provides, I sow more in late May or early June, for transplanting outdoors in a month or so.Credit…Margaret RoachUse a Mix of TacticsThe best possible succession system uses various tactics. The most straightforward way to produce more cilantro, chard, bush beans, arugula or lettuce, among other possibilities, is by repeatedly sowing a small amount in a dedicated area.In spring, I set aside space that could accommodate a few successions, but sow just the first, in a portion of that row. Two (or, for the beans, three) weeks later, I sow the second stretch. By the time I sow the third, I’ll probably be harvesting or even pulling the first, and could reuse the first space for a fourth sowing or for planting something else.In other spots, I follow one crop that’s ready to be pulled with a different one. So my plan would call for growing early spring spinach to harvest before the tomatoes are transplanted there, and planting garlic in that space in October after pulling the tomatoes.Here’s a sort of hybrid of the first scenario: Sow two or more varieties of the same vegetable at the same time, choosing ones with a different number of days to maturity listed in their descriptions — for instance, baby carrots (about 50 days) alongside a larger carrot (around 75 days). I do this with peas, giving part of a 20-foot row to Sugar Ann, which produces about 10 days earlier than the taller snap peas that get the rest of the row, then yield longer. I repeat the planting in July for fall harvest.But even a single variety can do multiple duty. That pea planting, for instance, could be extended to include a section of seeds sown more thickly, intended for harvest at four or five inches high as pea shoots, for salads or stir fries, with the left rest to mature to pods. A portion of a row of kale could be harvested as baby-leaf for salads, and the same with lettuce, with that section resown for more of the extra-fast young version of the crop.Pay Attention to Heat- and Cold-ToleranceWhen you’re seed-shopping, make sure to scan the descriptions for mentions of heat- and cold-tolerance and match the variety to the season you plan to grow it.Some spinach varieties were bred for improved summer performance, and Batavia or summer crisp lettuces generally stand up well compared to others. With cilantro, there is actually a variety named Slow Bolt that resists the urge.For the fall harvest at the far end of your growing plan, seek varieties that can take a little cold. (But also have a piece of insulating row-cover fabric nearby, just in case.)ImageSwiss chard, including varieties with vivid midribs like Ruby, can be resown monthly for a continuing supply.Credit…Margaret RoachMake Adjustments for Late SowingsFor later sowings, choose faster-maturing varieties and adjust the expected time to harvest for the shorter day length. Days will be gradually decreasing as the latest-sown crops mature, meaning slower growth and longer time to harvest.My identical row of spring-sown peas will probably mature faster than the one I sow in July for fall picking. I calculate when to sow them by adding about two weeks to the expected days to maturity listed on the packet, hoping not to bump into fall frosts. Some varieties won’t work; I wouldn’t choose a big 70-day radish up north as my latest sowing, but rather a small one that matures in half that time or less.A note about days to maturity: Nobody interprets this exactly the same way, so it’s solid guidance, but not a guarantee. With some crops, it’s an estimate starting from germination after direct-sowing in the garden; with others, from outdoor transplant time of a seedling that you may already have invested four or more weeks in. It’s helpful for identifying fast-maturing varieties over slower ones, and as an approximation of how much time to figure each garden space will be occupied by a particular crop.Watch the SunTake into account the direction the sun moves: Avoid planting on the shady side of tall plants like tomatoes or a trellis of pole beans, unless it’s a strategic move meant to give heat-haters like lettuce a bit of afternoon shade in the hottest months.Start With FlatsFor the most efficient use of space, start seedlings in flats. Because their infancy doesn’t take up precious square footage, transplants are in the garden a shorter time than direct-sown plants and are more space-efficient.Plus, sowing seeds in hot, dry garden soil can be challenging. With those you plan to sow directly, like radishes, beets and carrots (because root crops generally don’t transplant well), have a piece of burlap at hand to keep the moistened seedbed from baking before germination.Keep at ItKeep picking, keep watering, keep weeding. No matter how genius your schedule, neglected, stressed-out plants will never perform optimally. Pea, bean, cucumber and summer squash plants will yield over the longest period if they are picked regularly.Another BonusPlanting crops in succession can sometimes outsmart vegetable pests and diseases. With any crop vulnerable to common garden pests like cucumber beetles or squash bugs, I always make two sowings a few weeks apart, and not right next to each other. One or the other planting will hopefully miss the peak moment in the insects’ feeding cycle, especially if I remove the eggs they lay (usually underneath leaves) every morning, and also get rid of any adults that manage to find the plants.ImageI sow bush beans several times a season, and pole beans at least once (they take longer to produce, but do so over a longer period). My must-have is Aunt Ada’s Italian Bean Seeds from Turtle Tree Seed; the pods are tender even when the beans plump up inside, the ideal time to pick them.Credit…Margaret RoachYou Can Cheat (a Little)Cheating sometimes is acceptable. I have been known to steal space for a short row of baby lettuce or arugula between tomato cages before my transplants grow in, or even to plug in one kale or broccoli transplant over here and one over there when small pockets open up, long before I have space anywhere for multiples.Don’t Forget Cover CropsLeave room in your plan for soil-building cover crops (sometimes called green manure), like field peas and oats, or winter rye.Like the plants you select and the timing of your succession plan, the choice of which cover crop to use and when is region-dependent. Your Cooperative Extension office website can probably help — and may be able to point you to a locally appropriate succession-sowing calendar.This article was adapted from a column on awaytogarden.com.For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here. Follow us on Twitter: @nytrealestate.
The warm weather of spring usually ushers in a flurry of real estate activity, as buyers and sellers begin plotting summer moves. But this year, with different parts of the country on varying degrees of lockdown, and the coronavirus putting the kibosh on many open houses, some sellers may be hesitating to list their homes.According to the National Association of Realtors, the number of existing-home sales across the country in April was down 17.8 percent from March, and 17.2 percent from a year earlier. And the number of listings, particularly in New York City, was way down as well. For the four weeks that ended May 24, new listings nationally were down 22 percent compared to the same period in 2019. “Some buyers and sellers decided to take a pause,” said Jessica Lautz, the group’s vice president of demographics and behavioral insights. But “overwhelmingly, our members are expecting that these buyers and sellers will come back into the market.”For those who were getting ready to list a home for sale, that pause provides a little extra time to ensure properties look their best.Dr. Lautz and others in the industry recently shared thoughts on which maintenance items and improvements are most likely to provide the greatest return on investment and facilitate a quick sale.ImageBEFORE AND AFTER: To update a home in Washington before it was sold, Curbio took down a wall between the kitchen and dining room and added simple, universally appealing touches like subway tile, white cabinets and new stainless steel appliances.Credit…Courtesy of CurbioImageCredit…Courtesy of CurbioFocus on the Little ThingsIt’s easy to get carried away thinking about elaborate renovations to kitchens and bathrooms, but there are many small improvements and maintenance items that are equally important. They don’t cost much, but they can help make buyers feel comfortable with a home and reduce the chance of red flags during a home inspection.Sellers “should sweat the small stuff,” said Kathleen Kuhn, the president and chief executive of HouseMaster, a home inspection company based in Somerville, N.J., with franchises across the United States and Canada.That includes burned-out light bulbs, which should be replaced. “Otherwise, it’s a question mark,” Ms. Kuhn said, because a fixture that won’t turn on may make a buyer wonder if there’s a problem with the wiring.Eliminate unnecessary extension cords for similar reasons, Ms. Kuhn said: While you may have added them for convenience, they can raise concerns about the electrical system.You should also repair any windows and doors that don’t open and close easily, she said, and fix loose or leaky faucets.If there’s a stain on the ceiling from a toilet overflow, repair the drywall and paint in that area so buyers won’t worry that there’s a leaky pipe. “That stain on the ceiling raises a lot of questions,” Ms. Kuhn said. “We can test and verify that it’s dry, but it will still loom in the buyer’s mind.”At the end of the day, she noted, a long list of little issues can look like a big problem: “You want your home to come across as well maintained, both in the inspector’s eyes and the buyer’s eyes.”ImageBEFORE AND AFTER: New wood floors, light gray paint and a new fireplace surround dramatically changed the appearance of a living room Curbio renovated.Credit…Courtesy of CurbioImageCredit…Courtesy of CurbioWatch Out for Home StrainHippo Home Care, a home-maintenance service provider that is part of the Palo Alto-based home insurance start-up Hippo, cautions people to watch for “home strain” during lockdown. The company has recently been providing free “telemaintenance” phone calls and videoconferences to guide homeowners through simple repairs, said Andrew Wynn, the director, who has seen a surge in requests.“We’re spending a lot more time in our houses than we were before,” Mr. Wynn said. “This is really accelerating the use of a lot of appliances and systems, and thus reducing their life span.”If you don’t want to have to replace such things before selling, he advised, take good care of them now.Consider the dishwasher. Before the lockdown, it may have been used, at most, once a day. But with so many people eating all their meals at home, some dishwashers are now being used twice a day. If that’s the case in your home, Mr. Wynn said, the filter needs to be cleaned twice as often, to prevent problems.Heating and cooling systems are also facing increased demand. “As we get into the summer, we’re starting to use our air-conditioners all day rather than just in the evenings and early mornings,” he said, so those filters also need to be changed more often.And if you have a washing machine that’s being used more than usual and it connects to supply lines with rubber hoses, now might be a good time to upgrade the hoses to stronger, braided stainless steel, Mr. Wynn said, to protect against leaks.ImageBEFORE AND AFTER: For presale renovations, Mr. Rudman recommended sticking to simple materials and colors, as Curbio did in this kitchen in Germantown, Md.Credit…Courtesy of CurbioImageCredit…Courtesy of CurbioImprove Curb AppealWhen you’re selling a house, curb appeal is important. But at a time when buyers may be looking to limit the number of house tours they take, it is especially crucial.Mr. Wynn suggested tackling the simple things that many people forget: Clean the gutters, touch up cracked and peeling paint, and trim unruly trees and shrubs.And if your lawn is patchy and brown, fix it.“The biggest return on value is generally on yard projects,” Dr. Lautz said, rather than interior renovations. “We have seen that things like just seeding and re-sodding the lawn is very attractive to a potential buyer.”A 2018 report by the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of Landscape Professionals, for instance, estimated that a $375 standard lawn care service, including fertilization and weed control, could boost a home’s sale price by as much as $1,000.“People are relying on virtual showings, virtual tours, virtual listings, even virtual open houses,” Dr. Lautz said. “So having something that looks beautiful with photos and videos is even more important right now.”ImageBEFORE AND AFTER: “If you want to get the best price and attract the most buyers,” Mr. Rudman said, “you want it to look fresh, modern and move-in ready.”Credit…Courtesy of CurbioImageCredit…Courtesy of CurbioEnhance the InteriorIndoors, a few key changes — new paint, kitchen updates, bathroom updates, and new or refinished wood floors — can often increase the value of a home, said Rick Rudman, the president and chief executive of Curbio, a company based in Potomac, Md., that undertakes presale renovations across the country.But be careful with your design choices. “There’s a caveat to all these,” Mr. Rudman said. “They can’t be too personalized.”The goal is to have “a very simple and clean design, and a neutral color palette,” he said. “Where people start to go wrong is when they start looking at bright or dark paint, or when redoing a bathroom or kitchen, looking at luxury.”A fresh coat of white paint is a relatively inexpensive improvement that can substantially enhance the look of a home, and one that many homeowners can do on their own.Refinishing wood floors can be a pain, but if the home is empty, it may be worthwhile. Or maybe not: The 2019 Remodeling Impact Report prepared by the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of the Remodeling Industry estimated the average floor-refinishing job was a financial wash — a $2,600 job could potentially boost the sale price by the same amount.The value of kitchen and bathroom renovations is far less certain. Sellers might recoup only $20,000 of an average $38,300 kitchen upgrade, the associations estimated, and $20,000 of a $35,000 bathroom renovation.Of course, some kitchen and bathroom renovations are more appealing than others. Renovations completed by Curbio, Mr. Rudman said, regularly earn more than they cost. That’s because his contractors focus on using simple, inexpensive materials that will appeal to the broadest group of buyers possible, he said — like white subway tile and white Shaker-style cabinets.“It’s stuff that may not be somebody’s dream kitchen or dream bathroom,” he said. “But what they do say is, ‘Hey, I can live here for three, four or five years, and I don’t have to do anything.’”Homes with extremely outdated, unappealing kitchens and bathrooms stand to benefit the most from such renovations. So if your kitchen and bathrooms are generally acceptable, focus on cleaning and decluttering instead.“If you want to get the best price and attract the most buyers,” Mr. Rudman said, “you want it to look fresh, modern and move-in ready.”For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here. Follow us on Twitter: @nytrealestate.
In the middle of March, as Americans retreated to their homes to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, Rachael Quinn Egan discovered how long her family could live without a functioning washing machine.When the family’s 6-year-old machine broke down, Ms. Egan, a writer in Montclair, N.J., did what any reasonable person would do in such a situation: She told her children — ages 12, 14 and 21 — to wear their clothes until they started to smell. “The kids were like, ‘Wow, maybe we don’t even need to shower?’” said Ms. Quinn, 52. “We can live with this.”Ms. Egan didn’t want to bring a repairman into her house and risk contracting or spreading Covid-19. So she decided to delay the repair. She wasn’t the only one.In March and April, handymen and other home-repair providers saw a sharp drop in business as homeowners delayed all but the most urgent jobs. Stay-at-home orders allowed for essential home repairs, but not all states defined which problems qualified as essential, leaving contractors and homeowners to make those judgment calls. In many cases, unless the roof was leaking or the basement was flooded, homeowners opted to wait it out.In May, as the lockdowns began to relax, calls from homeowners started coming in again. Now handymen, repairmen, plumbers and electricians are gearing up as homeowners start tackling months of deferred maintenance.Homes, particularly ones that are getting more use than normal, need tuneups. Appliances break. Drains clog. Air filters need to be changed. An April survey by Hippo Insurance found that a third of Americans needed home repairs while sheltering in place.“You’re using everything a lot more and so naturally you’re going to have more problems in the house,” said John Kitzie, chief executive of HomeServe North America, which sells home-repair protection plans. Boredom also plays a role: Wash your hands 20 times a day in the slow-draining bathroom sink, and it’s hard to ignore the problem.For Ms. Egan, the “wear it, don’t wash it” laundry plan didn’t last long. So she and her husband, Mark Egan, who works in finance, descended into their unfinished basement and lifted the lid on an unused 50-year-old Maytag washing machine left by the previous owners. (The broken one was in a second-floor laundry room.) The Maytag was black with dirt inside, and centipedes crawled out of the soap dispenser, like a scene from a horror movie.“It was so revolting, I was screaming,” Ms. Egan said. “It seemed like it had started its own personal ecosystem.”Mr. Egan cleaned out the machine and turned it on. Surprisingly, it worked, although the clothes came out with a musty odor. But by the middle of April, the upstairs machine began leaking water from the back, even though it wasn’t in use, and the house began to smell of mold. Ms. Egan decided she’d had enough.In early May, she called a local appliance company and ordered a new washing machine. The deliverymen arrived wearing masks and gloves. Ms. Egan asked them to spray their shoes with disinfectant. Carrying a heavy washing machine up a flight of stairs is hard work, and Ms. Egan worried about all the heavy breathing. “I felt badly for them, too,” she said of the workers. “I don’t know if we should be putting other people at risk.”But once the washer was installed, and no one fell ill, Ms. Egan was relieved to have her laundry room back in working order.Many contractors have put protocols in place for safely entering a home. Ron Potesky, who owns a Mr. Handyman franchise in Springfield N.J., with his wife, Christina Langdon, sends workers into homes with gloves, masks and disposable booties over their shoes. They also sanitize their van, tools and work area with a peroxide-based cleaner.On the day of the job, Mr. Potesky asks the homeowner if anyone in the house has been sick recently. And his workers stay home if they feel unwell. He suggests that household members stay in a separate room and leave a clear path with doors open for workers. Homeowners should also open windows in the rooms where work will be done to increase ventilation, and wipe down surfaces that were touched after the service call.“We have to think about the customer, but we also have carpenters who may be in their 50s. They’re as worried about going into homes” as customers are about them coming in, Mr. Potesky said. Despite the persistent anxiety, call volume from potential customers is now back to about 80 percent of normal, he said, after it “fell off a ledge” in March.Sometimes, homeowners just need advice. Can the drip wait, or will it cause lasting damage? Or, what is that strange clanging noise in the walls, and can anything be done to make it go away? So just as telehealth has replaced the doctor’s office, some home repairs have gone virtual, too.HomeServe and Hippo have set up free virtual house calls available to anyone, not just current customers. In March, two Harvard Business School students started Dwelling, a website where homeowners can get a free diagnosis of their issue by uploading photographs and descriptions of the problem for a technician to review. And Streem, a virtual platform that connects contractors with homeowners remotely, has experienced “exponential growth” since stay-at-home orders were enacted, according to Ryan Fink, the president of Streem, which is owned by the home-protection plan provider Frontdoor.“When Covid hit, it was all hands on deck,” Mr. Fink said. “In order for these contractors to stay in business, they need a solution like ours to go virtually into the home.”Over a video call, a contractor can look at the dials on a water heater or at the inside of a dishwasher and potentially diagnose a problem, maybe even giving the homeowner enough information to fix it without needing an in-person appointment.A few weeks after stay-at-home orders were enacted in New York, Jeff Lai started paying closer attention to a small leak in a screened-in porch in the Dobbs Ferry house he shares with his wife, Emily Wood, 39, and their two children. For the past year, the roof of the porch had leaked whenever it rained. But Mr. Lai didn’t pay much attention until he was home every day during a particularly wet spring. “It’s one of those problems that are so easy to ignore or procrastinate” about, he said.Mr. Lai, 41, a graphic designer, texted and called a few contractors who’d previously done work on the house, which was built in 1865. “We’re begging people to help us, to take our money,” he said. But no one responded to his messages. A co-worker suggested he call Hippo’s hotline.Over a video call, the representative referred Mr. Lai to local contractors who could repair the porch roof. But since the problem isn’t urgent, Mr. Lai hasn’t called any of them yet, as he is worried about how to safely let workers onto his property. “We’re motivated to fix it,” he said, but with so much uncertainty, it’s hard to know when or how to take the next step. “It’s not so easy to plan.”For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here. Follow us on Twitter: @nytrealestate.
New Yorkers have been in coronavirus lockdown for more than two months, long enough to develop an intimate relationship with the shortcomings of their homes. Once places to spend mornings, evenings and nights, they’ve become offices, gyms, classrooms and day-care centers with hyperactive kitchens. But even the best advice on efficient pantry storage can lead to the realization that more space is needed.According to Nancy Wu, an economist at StreetEasy, a recent survey suggests as much. Conducted among those actively seeking to purchase a new home in New York City, it found that more than half of respondents indicated extra space was a priority as a result of spending more time at home. Seventy percent of the survey participants planned to move within a year (30 percent of them within six months), and cited natural light and in-unit laundry as important features.So what if your budget is as maxed out as your space? Chances are there’s a neighborhood where you can afford more space while paying the same amount or less. This week’s chart, drawn from a separate StreetEasy study and additional data its analysts provided to the Times, shows the top 10 neighborhoods by borough with the most square footage per dollar.For our chart, the median 2019 purchase prices in neighborhoods with at least 100 completed sales were taken into account, and a theoretical budget of $700,000 (close to the city’s median sale price of $670,000) was used to help compare the neighborhoods. (Staten Island was omitted for lack of data.)
How’s that compost coming?If you live in a New York City apartment, it may be on hold, because the city has suspended its composting program (although there are workable alternatives). But if you’re lucky enough to have a garden of your own, there’s no time to lose.“The answer to so many gardening questions is, typically, ‘compost,’” said Daryl Beyers, the author of “The New Gardener’s Handbook,” published this year. “Whether you’re adding it to help improve fertility or water-holding ability: Compost, compost, compost. Until people truly grasp the importance of building healthy soil, they will struggle in the garden.”Encouraging new gardeners to foster healthy, productive soil — and to recycle kitchen and garden waste into compost, as the crux of that effort — is Mr. Beyers’s favorite part of the class on gardening fundamentals that he has been teaching at the New York Botanical Garden for 10 years.ImagePit composting, step by step: In spring, dig the first pit, maybe four by four feet, and two feet deep, in a spot where there is room for two similar pits alongside it. Pile the excavated soil to the side to use as inoculant.Credit…Bryan GardenerMr. Beyers, who preaches the virtues of soil science in his class and in the free Zoom question-and-answer sessions he has been holding on Mondays at 6:30 p.m., admits there is a certain irony in that. When he took the soil course in college, it didn’t go so well. “I did really badly, and almost failed,” he said. “And then it turned out to be the most important thing.”He shared some basic composting advice, as well as his favorite system: pit composting, which doesn’t require buying or building anything, but rather digging a series of holes in the ground.Lesson No. 1: Compost Is Not FertilizerIt is decayed organic matter, or humus, that improves soil structure and promotes fertility when added to the garden. It does this by making nutrients and water more available to plants, while creating a living soil hospitable to all the essential organisms whose (mostly unseen) job is to recycle.“Humus happens — composting is going on in every field and forest in the world,” Mr. Beyers said. “To support our garden soil, we just have to learn to mimic that process.”ImageStep 2: As raw material is produced, add it in alternating green and brown layers, with a sprinkling of soil each time. Shredded paper — recycled household or office waste — is a great “brown” ingredient.Credit…Bryan GardenerThe Recipe Is Simple, but a Little ConfusingIn short: Mix green with browns, in roughly equal measure. Green is shorthand for nitrogen-rich materials like fresh grass clippings or the lettuce plants about to bolt. Brown represents those higher in carbon, like dried leaves or twiggy prunings.Of course, it’s not always so obvious, Mr. Beyers acknowledged.“One of most important lessons is to start to understand what’s a green and what’s a brown,” he said. “The way I explain it to my students: If you let it sit on your kitchen counter for a week, does it start to rot? It’s probably green. If it dries up, it’s brown.” (A list of ingredients.)[embedded content]Don’t put all of the green — or a mass of any single ingredient — in one big lump. Layer it, and alternate. When Mr. Beyers adds a bowl of kitchen scraps, he tosses a handful or two of shredded paper on top, and then a sprinkling of soil.You’ll know the balance is wrong if compost isn’t happening fast enough. Then try adding green. But if there is a funky odor or you see flies, add brown.Animals may take an interest in a compost pile. A shovelful of soil and some dry leaves or shredded paper on top of food waste is a deterrent, and tumblers (see below) are the most animal-proof device.Don’t Include EverythingAny organic — in other words, living or formerly living — material can be composted, but some of those materials should be left out of home systems.Don’t add meat, dairy, eggs or oily foods. Composted manures from herbivorous farm animals like chickens or cows are welcome; those of carnivorous domestic pets are not. Eggshells and fish bones are neither green nor brown, but they are mineral-rich and can be added.Mr. Beyers does not add diseased plants or weeds with rhizomes that might re-sprout. “I do compost weeds with seeds,” he said, “because the heat of the process makes the seeds unviable.”He also composts uncoated black-and-white paper, like newsprint, junk mail or computer paper, and corrugated cardboard (all considered browns), shredding or tearing it up first.Coffee grounds — a popular additive among kitchen wastes — are doubly confusing. They’re brown in color and don’t decay if left sitting out, but are actually a green, rich in nitrogen. As Mr. Beyers said, it takes a little homework.ImageStep 3: From summer into fall, when the contents of the first pit are a foot above soil level, start a second pit alongside it. Keep adding materials according to the green-brown soil recipe.Credit…Bryan GardenerThink SmallAny material will break down faster if it’s added in smaller pieces. A whole tomato vine will eventually break down, but cut up first, it moves along faster.Other Key IngredientsAir and just enough moisture are also essential to get microbes working. Sunshine provides the heat.Site your composting setup “in a place that’s not superhot and sunny, but also not dank and shady,” Mr. Beyers said. During periods of little or no rain, moisten the compost slightly with the hose.Don’t Be Fooled Into Buying Compost Starter“Inoculate your pile or bin for free with an occasional shovelful of garden soil, loaded with the microbes that do the work,” Mr. Beyers said. “Later, use some of your finished compost.”ImageStep 4: In fall or early winter, dig a third pit that will carry you through to spring. This time, add the excavated soil on top of the middle pit. Keep filling in the second until its contents are a foot above grade. The first pit should be ready for harvest in spring, and then can be used again for incoming debris.Credit…Bryan GardenerDifferent Gardens (and Gardeners) Need Different SystemsThe tumbler suits urban gardens, or those with limited space. The downside: You can’t just keep adding fresh material, or you will never get to harvest anything.“You add material and tumble, and add more and tumble, but you don’t harvest until you’ve been tumbling a full unit for a few weeks, with no more additions,” said Mr. Beyers, who recommends a dual tumbler, or two tumblers. “You fill one up, start tumbling, and then start filling the second.”Closed bins, also called composters, are another small-garden option. But don’t put a bin or a tumbler in all-day sun or the heat buildup will harm the microbes.Open bins, made of wire, wood slats, pallets, concrete blocks or straw bales, are often set up as three compartments, allowing several stages of decomposition. Turning each periodically speeds breakdown. The downside: Unless you’re using concrete blocks, you will have to rebuild every few years.Don’t Want to Look at the Pile or Use a Bin?Then compost in a pit. Mr. Beyers started pit composting as a renter, worried his landlord would object to a heap of debris visible to neighbors.Then he thought, “Why don’t I just dig a hole?’” he recalled. “And it ended up working so well that I’ve re-created it at my own home.”Choose a spot where three pits or trenches of equal size can be dug alongside one another. Start with one, perhaps four by four feet, and two feet deep. Pile excavated soil beside the first pit. Begin adding wastes, like kitchen scraps, dry leaves and soil, then fresh weeds, shredded paper and soil, and so on.“I continue every time: green, brown, soil; green, brown, soil,” Mr. Beyers said.Start a second pit when the material in the first is about a foot above ground.The average process in Mr. Beyers’s Northeast backyard: “If I start Pit 1 in April, and it’s full by July, I dig Pit 2,” he said. He fills that until about September, but more material is still to come, and Pit 1 isn’t ready yet. “So I dig Pit 3. I fill Pit 3 throughout the winter, and by spring, Pit 3 is full, I harvest Pit 1 and start filling it again. And so on.”The method isn’t as fast as a pile you turn or a tumbler, but it can be made smaller or larger as needs change, and it isn’t an eyesore.“Plus, the soil that you dug out is a whole pile of compost starter,” Mr. Beyers said.ImageThe reward: Finished compost, of which gardeners can never have enough. Layer an inch or so onto root zones of key plants, or spread in areas where the soil needs improving.Credit…Bryan GardenerThe Laziest Way of AllPile things up in an open heap — or, more passively still, do sheet composting or sheet mulching. In recent years, sheet composting has become known as lasagna gardening, but it’s an old technique, modeled on the way trees’ leaves drop and degrade slowly into the soil. Simply place the compostable material in existing or new beds — again, alternating greens and browns.The Payoff: Using Your Finished CompostUnless you have a very big garden and a very big system, demand for compost will exceed supply.“I’m very particular about who gets the compost,” Mr. Beyers said, as even his three-pit system doesn’t yield enough homemade stuff. “I’ll top-dress my vegetable plants, my dahlias and other flowers, spreading an inch thick around the root zone of each.”He happily harvests whenever finished material is ready. “It could be spring, which is great,” he said. “But it could be July, and I put it on then, too, focusing on problem areas, where I want to improve soil over time.”For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here. Follow us on Twitter: @nytrealestate.
Hoping to take advantage of wreckage in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, investors are preparing to snap up commercial real estate at rock-bottom prices.Long before states and cities closed businesses and issued stay-at-home orders, many real estate funds were stockpiling cash and waiting for a buyer’s market. Some have raised billions of dollars in the last several weeks.As a result, Blackstone Group, Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors, Starwood Capital Group and other investment firms are sitting on roughly $300 billion of equity ready for deployment, said Douglas M. Weill, a founder of Hodes Weill & Associates, a global real estate capital advisory firm in New York. By comparison, property sales totaled $570.6 billion in 2019, according to Real Capital Analytics, a commercial real estate researcher that tracks deals of $2.5 million and up.“It’s a staggering amount of dry powder,” Mr. Weill said. “Institutional investors are defensively looking after their own portfolios, but they’re beginning to look around for opportunities.”This is the second time in the last dozen years that investors have anticipated an onslaught of big property discounts; the 2008 financial crisis also fueled a surge of distressed funds. Yet many that ramped up during the Great Recession fizzled because the expected depth and breadth of distress never materialized.Will this time be different? Just like the last crisis, when government intervention, loan modifications and other measures “kicked the can down the road” until real estate values rebounded, lenders and regulators hope to buy time using similar measures, including injecting trillions of dollars into the financial system.In many cases, lenders are trying to accommodate borrower requests to suspend loan payments for 60 to 90 days with an eye toward making long-term modifications later, said Jay M. Sakalo, a lawyer in Miami who specializes in financial restructuring.As of April, more than 5,000 borrowers, representing 17 percent of $583.8 billion in commercial mortgage-backed securities, had asked to explore forbearance or other relief, according to credit rating firm Fitch Ratings. Unlike loans held by banks and insurance companies, commercial mortgage-backed securities are pools of real estate loans that are carved up by risk and sold to investors.“The idea is that if we can press pause, we’ll do less damage than telling borrowers, ‘You have to pay, no matter what,’” said Joe McBride, head of commercial real estate finance for Trepp, a research firm in New York. “There’s not a lot of upside to mass foreclosures.”ImageMr. Sigal expects to collect about 57 percent of his May rent from tenants across some 70 properties in California, Colorado and Illinois.Credit…Elizabeth Weinberg for The New York TimesStates and cities did not shut down economy activity during the financial crisis, however, and most tenants still paid rent. But that’s not the case this time. Some 38.6 million people have filed unemployment claims, according to a Labor Department report released Thursday, and millions of small businesses and restaurants are expected to permanently close.The retail and hospitality industries are suffering the most. For example, Macerich, a shopping center owner based in Santa Monica, Calif., collected 26 percent of its April rent, it said in its latest financial report. Early rent collections for May dropped to 18 percent. And although hotel occupancy has rebounded in recent weeks, it was still roughly 56 percent lower in mid-May than a year earlier, according to STR, a hospitality research organization in Hendersonville, Tenn.The situation is one that tenants and landlords likely never anticipated, and for many businesses, the ability to survive remains a question.
Josh Gipper, who lives in Denver, was considering getting his family a pet. He thought it would be fun for his 3-year-old daughter and 6-year-old-son to watch a creature grow, and he hoped it would also bring meaning and love to their lives. But life has been overwhelming in the Gipper household, as it has for so many families, because of the coronavirus pandemic.“We were thinking about getting a dog, but everything is a little too crazy right now,” he said. “There are so many things going on. We both work from home and the kids are at home, and we are constantly home schooling them.”Mr. Gipper turned instead to caterpillars. Online orders for caterpillars in kits have spiked since sheltering in place orders went into effect, and the kits arrive with everything needed — a habitat for the caterpillar (either a jar or one made of nylon and mesh); food; instructions; and family-friendly guides to metamorphosis.You can order kits that contain live caterpillars or ones that carry a voucher that can be exchanged for a live caterpillar delivery when you are ready. Fancy kits also include packets of seeds you can plant in your garden to attract the butterflies back once they are released. Prices range from under $20 to about $40.The caterpillars don’t look like much, but they are sturdy. Some suppliers guarantee 99.9 percent of caterpillars will turn into butterflies, while others say three out of five will.The insects have caught the imaginations of children, grandparents and even health care workers. Kit owners say it is engrossing to watch the steps it takes for caterpillars to turn into butterflies over the course of several weeks — they stop eating, hang upside down from a leaf, spin into a cocoon and then emerge as a butterfly, which is then released into the wild.Watching the caterpillars go through their life cycle has also reintroduced the concept of time to his household, Mr. Gipper said.“While we are at home, time doesn’t really exist, and this gives us something to anticipate,” he said. “There is a time frame that we know about. We expect something to happen over the next two to three weeks, and we get to monitor it.”Retailers, including one that has been selling the kits for more than 50 years, are hurrying to meet the demand.Insect Lore, a company in Shafter, Calif., that has been making and shipping caterpillar kits since 1969, has seen sales go up fivefold since the pandemic started.“With these caterpillars something new is happening every day for three weeks,” said Marcus McManamna, president of Insect Lore, which sells the kits online and in neighborhood toy stores.ImageNature Gift Store in Bremerton, Wash., has doubled its work force, adding 12 employees, to handle the increase in demand for caterpillar kits.Credit…Naturegifts.comNature Gift Store in Bremerton, Wash., has experienced such high demand for caterpillar kits, it doubled its work force, adding 12 new employees to the payroll, mostly to pack and ship the kits. Most of the new workers “are from the restaurant industry,” said Randi Jones, the owner. “We also have people who are house cleaners and can’t go into people’s homes right now. One is in the massage industry.”Rebecca Puddy, a journalist for ABC News in South Australia, laughed about how much time she spent watching them with her son, age 7, and daughter, 5 (and with a 2-week-old baby in her arms). “Bought my kids a butterfly kit,” she posted on Twitter on April 2, with an eye-roll meme. “Have stalked that caterpillar for two days, and he turned into a chrysalis when we were busy having dinner tonight.”Understanding their entertainment value, nursing homes and hospice facilities are securing butterfly kits for residents who are in isolation during the pandemic. “It has given these residents something to look forward to everyday,” said Brandy Jordan, 34, who works for a hospice company in Pittsburgh and has helped secure kits for 30 facilities in eight counties. “My job is literally to put a smile on as many people’s faces that I possibly can.”ImageLesa Haney, a fourth-grade teacher in Austin, Texas, decided to take in 18 “orphan” caterpillars. Her grandchildren were delighted.Credit…Lesa HaneyLesa Haney, a fourth-grade teacher in Austin, Texas, decided to take in 18 “orphan” caterpillars from a local community theater that originally bought them for a butterfly festival.They came in handy when her grandchildren came to live with her for five weeks (their mother is a nurse in a nursing home and didn’t want to potentially expose them to the coronavirus). “They loved the experience,” said Ms. Haney. “I think the butterflies represent hope in such a difficult time. Every time they see a butterfly on our property now, they say that is ‘our butterfly.’”Among caterpillar owners there is some debate about whether these creatures are even pets.Rowan Minarcin, 26, a chef in Seattle, is considering getting them as a substitute for a furry friend. “I’m currently staying with my girlfriend during quarantine, and her roommate is allergic to cats and dogs,” he said. “I thought it’d make a cute pet for a while since we had to be home anyway.”Krystal Tranby, who lives in Fertile, Minn., said her 4-year-old daughter considers their caterpillars part of the family. “The first thing she wanted to do was send pictures to her grandparents,” she said.But Mr. Gipper feels differently. “They are curious creatures right now, but they aren’t really pets,” he said. “You can’t even name them because there aren’t traits to differentiate them. They are these crawling things inside a gross cup, and they will continue to get grosser and grosser as the weeks progress.”Owners can feel good about the fact that released butterflies are beneficial for the environment because they act as pollinators. But Mr. McManamna of Insect Lore said some families don’t get to that stage. “Our preference is that families release the butterflies into the wild, but we have heard stories of families releasing them into their homes,” he said. “They have flower arrangements to just simply have them stay. It’s because they’ve become attached to them.”For weekly email updates on residential real estate news, sign up here. Follow us on Twitter: @nytrealestate.