New York City

The Last Fuel Station

It’s not the last fuel station on the island of Manhattan, but the last operating station below 23rd Street in the city. The area south of that gas station covers 4.2 Square Miles and includes some of the densest streets in the city.

Area Map Lower Manhattan

The South of Manhattan’s popular neighborhoods include the Financial District, Battery Park City, Tribeca, Chinatown, West Village, Alphabet City, parts of Chelsea, Meatpacking District…with all the cars, delivery trucks, TAXICABS, two tunnels and two bridges…no place to fuel up until you get to this Mobil Station on West 13th Street and 8th Avenue.

Who owns this place? One can speculate based on what you find on ACRIS, but there’s one Curbed article that gives us a clue about him here. I walked into this gas station on a Sunday afternoon and chatted with a gentleman at the counter who identified himself as an owner. For starters, he’s not selling, he made sure to tell me that. He’s also not into all the questions and I can understand why–his fuel station sits on a lot that could bring in a good sum to an owner who’s willing to part ways with it, he receives offers routinely.

Here are a couple shots of the station and its surroundings:

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The property is zoned a C1-6 which is a commercial district, but there is a residential equivalent that would expand the structures’ height from an FAR (Floor Area Ratio) of 2.00 as a commercial structure, to an FAR of 3.44 or more as its residential district equivalent of R7 (if you want to read about these zoning codes, go here).

I’d like to cap off this post with my reflection that this station serves so many so well. The place is busy and it offers all the conveniences of a traditional gas station with an air pump, ice machine, ATM and cheap snacks in a neighborhood where this is nearly nonexistent. For as long as it remains, people will reflect on this station fondly.

Its likely though that high property taxes, the oil industry’s steady decline and the city’s ongoing anti-congestion policies will eventually squeeze into the profits of this gem. Leaving me to wonder whether its a constraint of excessive debt, a series of bad fuel leases or some other factor that’s got this shop holding out for the long run.

I spent the better part of the afternoon walking the neighborhood and test shooting with a new friend who convinced me to take this shot, it was my favorite of the day.

IMG_8749 v

Loveday 31 Astoria, Queens

Astoria is a popular residential neighborhood north of Long Island City in Queens, New York. Its a few train stops out of Manhattan on the N and Q train lines, but I rarely make it to that side of town because the retail landscape hasn’t drawn me in. Largely made up of auto-body repair shops, local distributors, business services and food establishments, I was surprised when a friend invited me vintage shopping there, and found the most special shop nestled between blocks around the 31st Street stop.

Here are some notable reports on the real estate front:

  • Does a 2 Bed Condo at $489K sound like a good price? Street Easy has a great neighborhood highlight on Astoria–see the neighborhood and residential availabilities here on Streeteasy
  • Want to see what developers are doing with small lots? See the specific project listing by clicking on this Yimby Link
  • And lastly, Hallet’s Point. It’s the largest development in Queens, at a $1.5 Billion cost, 2000 apartments and new retail. Its faced some setbacks from the phasing out of the 421-A program. See the drama here on Curbed.

To satisfy my fashion  craving that weekend, I focused on the accessories and found the most fun gold jewelry I could get myhands on; from studs with gold accents, necklaces with vintage pendants, as well as gold rings and bracelets. As an aside, my rule is one ring either on the ring or middle finger for most occasions; and three rings dispersed between hands (displayed above) when you really want to make a statement. I wouldn’t generally recommend any variations from that rule!

See a more detailed  post on the fashion end, from my friend at One Creates Oneself  here.

Deal Book 44-46 Purves Street

In 2012 during my time in Grad School, the university let me play Real Estate Developer for the first time and sent me off in the world to try and make a deal. This is the first time I sought out my own development site, researched zoning, determined the highest and best use, sourced construction loans, talk through the deal with brokers and created a full development deal book that was reviewed by industry experts brought in by the University.

This was the cover photo of my investment memo, for a deal I named Thompson Lofts at 44-46 Purves Street in Long Island City. 44-46 Purves Street Marketing Photo

This site was on sale in the spring of 2012 at $130/buildable SF. I was going to create a project that would bring a unique residential loft product to this market at prices affordable to those who were working as local artists or at Silvercup Studios.  Not super luxury, but a great location, and no subsidy needed from the city. 57 units, and a total development cost of close to $13 Million, $387/SF after construction cost (yes, I realize now, that number was not realistic) .

But alas, most investors do not take on the risk of ground up development for mediocre returns to satisfy a social mission, without some incredible incentives or upsides. Which is why I believe the current owners waited out the LIC market, and will now deliver this product at rents 20% higher than what I proposing.

Here are some photos of my ideas:


This is what actually happened:

Fast forward a year, and the site is purchased, allegedly by an investor who plans a hotel. Deal goes quiet for a couple years, I research online every once in while and found nothing promising.

In 2015, the same owners scratched their hotel plan (LIC was completely over saturated with this product type), and envisioned a residential building that gave some honor to my my original idea. They’ve modified the plan to include a retail space on the Thompson street side, and fit about 33 residential units with a Purves Street lobby.

44-46 Purves Street

Looking Back

Now that I have solid experience with these deals, there are many aspects of my original proposal that I would change. Here are a few:

  • Construction costs at about $210/SF, they would realistically be upwards of $400/SF at that time
  • Operating expenses, too low, would bump them up to 45% of stabilized revenue
  • Exit cap rate today would conservatively land at 5.5%, and this would have balanced the increases above and leveled the returns.
  • Rents underwrote them at an average of $46/sf/yr, for a high end product they are likely upwards of $55/sf.

I’m excited to see the Jewel Liton, LLC venture develop this site, I cannot wait to report on the construction as it develops.

Want to see this student project and related return metrics? Link below:!AohDHQmdRqtshgHsu4VfJtlL2vRE




Business School Career Panel

Steven L. Newman Hall

Where it all started, with a Lilly Pulitzer vintage dress that accents the bronze details of this building.

This past week, I was invited to speak at a career panel for graduate and undergraduate students of The Zicklin School of Business at Baruch College. Most students were in the MBA program majoring in Real Estate, and others are in Finance or Accounting, looking for the opportunity to transition to the real estate sector at some point.

Personally organized by Margo Weaker of the Newman Real Estate Institute, I was joined by four equally accomplished panelists from Arbor Realty Trust , CBRE , Kimco Realty  and The Lefrak Organization.

Summarizing the input and advice from all the panelists, here are some recommendations from various industry perspectives:



  1. Lending–understanding appraisal methods, the basics of loan sizing as well as sharp excel modeling skills. Its a good starting place to eventually transition to capital markets, private equity or other aspects of real estate finance.
  2. Valuation and Advisory Services–if you’ve owned or invested in real estate on your own, having that transactional experience coupled with a formal business degree will help you break into this field. Traveling all over the country valuating investment opportunities will give you well-rounded industry experience to move on to become a real estate entrepreneur or educator.
  3. Affordable Housing–you may initially enter this field through compliance or policy related background but it covers a wide range of professionals that include property managers, accounting and finance or private equity investment. Its requires an understanding of regional and federal housing policy and can grow into a career in housing development, acquisitions or specialty consulting to the industry.
  4. Retail Leasing–obtaining a real estate license and starting in retail sales or leasing is a good entry point for those who are just starting out in the field. A business school education can land you in a larger firm where there are additional opportunities in commercial asset management or corporate real estate.
  5. Property Management–a career in property management requires a solid understanding of building mechanics, property-level accounting, and a talent for managing clients and tenants. Its a great field for students with backgrounds in brokerage or business management, and transitioning to corporate real estate is a likely path for those who have this type of experience.

Career Panel

My last takeaway from this event is that everyone on that panel didn’t just fall into this industry by chance, but rather through diligence in their focus on finding the right opportunities. This focus is fueled by a passion for the physical real estate and a commitment to growing their respective real estate businesses. One panelist described his work as “a rush”, and I couldn’t agree more.

A Lesson From China’s Urban Villages

Urbanization on the outskirts of Shenzhen, China.

Urbanization on the outskirts of Shenzhen, China.



In China, the issue of affordable housing is deeply connected to the rapid urbanization of cities in the past 20 years. Rural inhabitants are flooding cities like Shenzhen or Guangzhou and as a result these cities end up with these incredibly dense neighborhoods (pictured above) right outside of their central business districts.

The characteristics of those areas are generally referred to “handshake architecture”, buildings constructed so close together that someone can reach out and shake hands with the person in the next building. And while there are issues with this type of urban plan, it serves the cause of affordable housing in the following ways:

  1.  Instead of directly subsidizing housing developments, the government can spend tax dollars on funding energy efficient retrofits, better quality management systems for those developments and reducing the burden of rising operating costs for landlords as an incentive to maintain rent levels.
  2. Since the government owns the land, they can regulate pricing in awarding those parcels to developers. This allows for lower development cost and thus more economic feasibility.
  3. Where there are limits in residential building heights, this type of plan creates more housing units per block than would be allowable in traditional urban planning scenarios.

Similarly in the US, the idea of bending building codes to allow for micro-units as affordable housing apartments in central business districts will allow for many more housing units, while minimizing the amount of direct subsidy that the government must place into those projects.


Affordable housing is a topic that is tossed about in local politics all over the united states, as a social policy to address the rising cost of living for those on the edge of poverty. Its also a way to allow everyone across the economic spectrum to have access to major cities where there is better access to jobs and education. Here in the states the government moves that agenda along in the following ways:

  1. The Federal Government (IRS) issues a certain amount of tax credits to each state. Developers are awarded those credits and then sells them to investors to fund their projects, in return, the rents remains capped at a certain level.
  2. Housing developers can apply for a HAP contract through the Federal Government (HUD), where the government sets your rent, gives the landlord a  guaranteed payment  monthly, and tenants pay only a portion of that amount.
  3. Local Governments can also build their own housing (often referred to as the Projects), which is also subsidized through a contract with the Federal or State governments.
  4. Lastly, in the case where the Government owns the land, they may decide to give it away to developers for very little money, or lease the land at a low rate, and in return, the rents on some of the apartments remain capped at a lower level.

In Sum, there is almost no scenario where you can find low income housing in the CENTER of major cities like New York City, Chicago, San Francisco, without the help of some government subsidy. The economic feasibility just doesn’t work because land is so expensive in those areas.


A better way to implement affordable housing in city centers is to implement a similar strategy for increasing density in central business districts in the form of what we are seeing as today’s micro-units. In our cities most desirable economic centers,  why not increase the number of micro unit developments, which will bring more low income households to those neighborhoods.  More units per square foot equals more revenue for the landlord and less direct subsidy from the government.

Ensure quality of those units by setting design standards, monitoring occupancy limits, creating a supporting infrastructure of public safety, schooling and community resources as a means to enhance the standard of living at the same time.

Buddha beads and traditional Chinese retail store the size of one of NYC's micro-units.

Picked up some Buddha Beads, in a Chinese retail store as small as one of the city’s micro-units

Coming Up on the Lower East Side

Hotel, Residential and Mixed-Use in the pipeline

Hotel, Residential and Mixed-Use in the pipeline

Have you been to the Lower East Side recently?  There’s a little neighborhood sandwiched between the south side of East Houston Street and the north side of Delancey Street, full of the most fascinating development activity.

Residential Rehab Site

Residential Rehab Site

The uniqueness of this area, I suspect is driven mostly by the large inventory of apartment buildings still very heavily under rent stabilization and the mom-and-pop feel of the retail spaces, many still available under $125/psf/yr.

So the price of land for development is still within feasible measures compared to neighboring Soho or Tribeca. A few development listings found through Cushman & Wakefield and Besen & Associates, came in within $400 and $900 per buildable square foot. These typically include certain FAR bonuses for exclusionary housing or low income housing tax credits.  This seems hardly like a bargain, from a neighborhood that has been transitioning in price and investment activity for years–but finally, has caught up as any new development will likely cost as must as most competing NYC neighborhoods. The value here is in the existing stock of real estate, both residential and commercial where the inventory of older spaces are abundant enough to offer a thriving economic environment for up-and-coming businesses.

Retail Landscape in LES

Retail Landscape in LES

Lastly, there’s a cool factor in LES that I have not yet seen replicated in other NYC neighborhood; it’s colorful, busy, full of style and hustle. The shot below was taken by a local butcher on a cigarette break outside of a graffiti-clad market, who volunteered to capture me in this scene because he could not stand to see such an artistic opportunity go to waste for my lack of a personal photographer. This sort of thing only happens in a place like this.

LES Graffiti Art

Reclaimed Land

Downtown Manhattan from the Hoboken waterfront. Vintage Skirt from Another Man's Treasure

Downtown Manhattan from the Hoboken waterfront. Vintage Skirt from Another Man’s Treasure

The Discovery Channel has this amazing series named Mega Structures, where they cover construction projects with the most extreme engineering challenges. I happened to catch the series on the Kansai International Airport in Japan, built entirely on a man-made island filled in with debris from a nearby mountain, in the middle of Osaka Bay. I was instantly fascinated and started looking for examples of these occurrences in my part of the world. The “Land Filling” process is a centuries old practice and is a great way to create land for human activity, where there otherwise would be a shortage.

Case in point, it turns out all of Battery Park City in New York was made entirely of land that was infilled to artificially expand the downtown Manhattan shoreline. While BPC is just a fraction of the size of lower manhattan (at .207 miles), it has allowed NYC to pick up another 13,000 residents (as per 2010 Census) and growing due to its proximity to the World Trade Center and surrounding financial and economic hub of lower Manhattan.

Battery Park- WTC West

Battery Park- WTC West

Link to the map showing the landfill of BPC is below:

Battery Park City Landfill

BPC started as a concept back in the 1960’s and was developed and funded over various Mayoral administrations for residential and commercial development. The LandFill itself was completed in the 1970’s, with the first residential developments going up in the late 1980’s as the first World Financial Center was being constructed.

Although Battery Park City has now developed every available plot of land, landlords in this neighborhood have to pay a land lease to the Battery Park City Authority, as the land fill that the buildings stand on are fully owned and managed by this agency.

As we think of the challenges that our planet and our species will face in coming generations with scarcity of land and overpopulation, it is somewhat relieving to know that we’ve successfully developed a method to create new land to meet our agricultural and housing needs.

We monitor and learn better methods of filling land by evaluating the effects of extreme weather–earthquakes, typhoons, hurricanes–like the effect of super storm Sandy on lower Manhattan, or the effects of earthquakes on the Kansai Airport. Leading to more efficient engineering on future reclaimed land projects, but most importantly more supply of fabulous shoreline real estate that we can invest in with more confidence!

The Grand Hotel Deal

Grand BudapestBy far, my favorite movie of this year has been Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel. Besides having a captivating story and hilarious bits at nearly every scene, it is focused around an amazing piece of Real Estate. The Grand Budapest Hotel, a luxury hotel retreat nestled in snowcapped mountains of Europe.

Its quite unfortunate that the property is itself is fictional, as I would have loved to report on its ownership history, changes in the hotel management, along with an analysis on its current market value. Where else have I seen a hotel with beautiful landmarked features and a guest history as fascinating as that of the subject fictional property…here in New York City? Next blog post, stay tuned….

ROI on Fashion

So these past weeks, it’s become increasingly difficult for me to focus on highlighting properties for the blog, because 100% of my spare time is being dedicated to the two real estate valuation classes I am completing at Baruch this semester. However, I had an opportunity to snap some photos today (a much less time consuming endeavor), and the weather is finally cool enough to debut my favorite tapestry print coat.

While I’m no professional fashion blogger, I do find the task of tracking down pieces that inspire me and putting them together in a creative way, is a challenge that really helps me maintain my sense of individuality as a woman in the corporate world. Sharing it on this particular platform further pushes me to excel at it.

All about print Tapestry Print hp 12c




In fact, every minute and every dollar I invest in this endeavor yields benefits in my quality of life; some immeasurable aspects like the high I get when I find something I’ve been searching for months, or the pride I feel when others appreciate the personal collection that reflects my inner artistic expression.  But more importantly your consistent and passionate investment in an appealing look can yield real $$ back in your pocket in the following ways:

1. You appear interesting and confident, and this makes you more approachable. At work, at a conference or in a networking event, people want to connect with you, allowing you to grow your business or your brand.

2. If you are active in  your network, the increased reach will equal = access to information. And THIS is where your world can open up.

This is what inspired me today, and this idea drives my passion for fashion.

On another note, the valuation class is focused on appraisal methods, and I spent the past days learning to master the functions of the HP 12C financial calculator required for the course. The HP 12C has not changed much since 1972, and according to my industry colleagues, its the one true timeless vintage piece that belongs on the desk of any serious real estate professional. Glad its mine now.

Take Me To The Bronx

This is what the city is calling the “Lower Concourse” area of the South Bronx; it includes the north side of the Mott Haven and the South Side of Morrisania.

Inspired by the Bronx

This 30 block area of the South Bronx was recently part of the New York City Department of Planning rezoning plan. Due to its proximity to the waterfront, this area has traditionally been zoned for industrial and warehousing use. Most of the current residential housing stock in the lower Bronx was built in the 1970’s and 80’s when the city attempted to recoup population loss in this area, however development has slowed since most available lots were not currently zoned for residential…until 2009.

Check the rezoning plan here

Check the NYCEDC South Bronx initiative here

Currently there are several development sites planned for this area and it was recently announced that a site at 335 Grand Concourse (at 140th Street) with nearly 30,000 SF of buildable space is under development as a planned luxury hotel. It would be the first of such development for this area, and is meant to be an accommodation alternative to serve the court/business district of Grand Concourse as well as nearby Yankee Stadium patrons.

335 Grand Concourse335 Grand was on sale for $800,000, so about $26/buildable sf, great price. So decided to run some very basic numbers to see how juicy a deal like this could be. Here are my assumptions:

Lets say say it costs an additional $50/sf to remediate the environmental issues of the site (and there are a few see here) and $300/sf to develop so $376/sf in all, total development cost would be $11,280,0000.

ADR (Average Daily Rate) for the Bronx as of today for a mid-range hotel was estimated at $200/night for the 75 planned rooms on the site.

Vacancy rate 20%, Operating Expenses about 40% of GPI (Gross Potential  Income).

In its SIMPLEST form, assuming a cap rate of 6.5% at the end of the 1st year of stabilized income, we are looking at a potential value of $33 Million.

I love the idea of bringing deals like this to South Bronx, there is so much potential there…