Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Local brokers offer opinions on state of real estate market

by Robert Lebowitz
Riverdale Review 09/18/2008

Against the backdrop of a faltering economy and a community development boom, neighborhood residents flocked to the Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel this past Sunday morning for a forum on the state of real estate in Riverdale.
The panel consisted of five brokers from local real estate agencies and one bank: Norma Gordon of Koppell River Realty, Vasco DaSilva of Halstead Property, Brian Scott Cohen of Wells Fargo, Ellen Feld of Susan Goldy, Barbara Jurist of Sopher Realty, Linda Justus of Robert E. Hill, and Fred Levy of Halstead Property. Each of the panelists, who prefaced their statements by noting that they were also Riverdale residents, weighed in on several important topics close to the hearts of the audience.
The first question posed to panelists solicited their opinion on the market trend of Riverdale real estate. The consensus was that there is still a healthy interest in homes here, even if, as Halstead agent Vasco DaSilva pointed out, prospective buyers are taking longer to Òpull the triggerÓ and make a decision. The high cost of Manhattan living, along with the easy commute to the city and the new condominiums, are attracting many young families, added SopherÕs Barbara Jurist.
Ironically, the panelists agreed, it is the often grueling and invasive nature of co-op boards resented by so many that have protected Riverdale from the foreclosures that have taken place in other parts of the country: because co-op owners are forced to disclose their finances to prove that they can afford the purchase, there have not been defaults on payments.
Panelists responded in a similarly optimistic way to an audience member's asking how the construction of new condominiums has affected the market. Agents concurred that most of the new buildings, such as Solaria and Riverstone, are of very high quality and will attract residents of high caliber who will only add positively to the community. Agents also scoffed at the fear that the new buildings will exacerbate RiverdaleÕs parking problem. ÒParking is an issue but not because of the condos, stated one broker. ÒThese buildings can accommodate parking. The parking issue, however, is one that should be addressed by local elected officials.Ó
Joe Korff, the developer of Solaria, added from the audience that his luxury high-rise has Òmore than adequate parkingÓ and that Riverdale is still considered Òone of the hot spots of New York City.Ó
DaSilva added that RiverdaleÕs accessibility is a key to its desirability, as are recent additions such as the new Starbucks on Johnson Avenue, where, he noted, he brings clients to discuss things after taking them to view a property.
Other questions were quite pointed. One woman in the audience asked about the fate of empty storefronts, such as the recently vacated Paperbacks Plus on Riverdale Avenue. HalsteadÕs Fred Levy stated that only the owner of the spaces knows the answer, leaving everyone else Òin the dark.Ó
Another Riverdalian elicited laughs when he asked whether agents are willing to cut their commissions so as to help people afford to buy homes here. Agents were quick to defend their commissions as deserved, given the expertise and knowledge they bring to the table, but several agreed that even commissions are negotiable.
A final question was for panelists to name the best five co-op buildings in Riverdale, factoring location, value, and quality. While several agents replied that it was impossible to answer such a questions without knowing the priorities of the buyer, Barbara Jurist rattled off a few of her top picks, which included the Whitehall, the Solaria, 555 Kappock Street, and several buildings along Palisade Avenue near Metro North.
Panelists encouraged audience members to contact them at their offices for more information, and concluded on an optimistic note.
ÒRiverdale does not reflect the national news and is fairly resistant to market trends,Ó said one broker. ÒWeÕre warm, not cool, going into 2009.Ó