Monday, August 13, 2007

The Times ignores its own clips in favor of cheerleading for the local real estate market

Real Estate sections in daily newspapers come perilously close to being advertorials: there's usually a series of listings masquerading as actual editorial content combined with some warm and fuzzy articles about how nice it is to live in such and such a area...all surrounded by paid listings, real estate agency ads, and the like. This is true in the Times's Real Estate section as much as anywhere else, although the Times does do a better job of putting lipstick on this pig than most.

Don't get me wrong; I like my real estate porn as much as the next guy. I'm not, however, much of a fan of disinformation, which is what you oftentimes end up getting come Sunday. I've noticed this most often in the Times's weekly "Residential Sales Around the Region" feature, a full-page blowout that lists sales from Manhattan to Connecticut and New Jersey and includes a couple of lines of info per property sold, including listing price, sale price, and time on market. This page does as much to spark interest in local properties as anything else in the paper -- imagine you're looking for a place to live only to find out that everything on the market is selling within a couple of months, and for close to asking.

Unfortunately, the information contained therein is often, how I say this? Oh yeah: completely false. Take this week's run down: there's a posted sale of 60 De Koven Court, a 100-year old Victorian in Midwood, Brooklyn, for $1.275 million. The property, according to the Times, was listed at $1.35 million and had been on the market for 13 weeks, which would mean it went on the market sometime in late April (the actual closing date is listed as being July 20) and sold for about 94% of asking.

Both of these pieces of information are wrong. For one thing, by the time it sold, the house was actually listed at $1.310 million, as the website of Mary Kay Gallagher, the property's broker, shows. What's more, that 13 weeks on the market is about 200 percent, as a quick perusal of the Times's own archives will show you: the paper featured that exact same house in its "On the Market" feature on November 12 (which, for those keeping score, is approximately 38 weeks ago) for $1.6 million* (which, for those of you still keeping track, means it only sold for about 80 percent of its initial asking price). (Quick digression: "On the Market" is shockingly advertorial-esque: the paper's list of "pros" and "cons" often is little more than an encapsulated summary of the actual listing itself and rarely includes relevant information. In the De Koven property, for example, pros include "leaded glass windows," a "back staircase," and its location on a a cul-de-sac, all of which were also listed as "special features" on the Mary Kay's site.** The Times does not mention that that cul-de-sac is the result of the house being about 100 feet away from an exposed subway line that is audible from everywhere in the house; needless to say, another missing item from the "cons" list was "The house is ridiculously overpriced." Instead, the only negative is "Midwood Park is a 30- to 40-minute subway ride to downtown Manhattan," which is pretty much the same as saying, "This house is located where we say it's located.")

Since it first went on the market -- when its owners moved out of the country -- 60 DeKoven's price has been dropped at least four times. I went to one of the Open Houses in December, when, if I remember correctly, its listed price was down to $1.395 million, having already been dropped once before. The house is truly a nice one, and plenty of people aren't going to be bothered a whit by the nearby subway. From the little I know about property values in that neighborhood, $1.3 million is also about right for a sprawling three-story with nice detail, front and back yards, and a two-car garage...and if it had been listed at $1.3 last October when it first went on the market, I'm sure it actually would have sold within a month or so. But it wasn't, and it didn't. Although that's not with the Times would have you believe.

* In fact, the house was actually on the market for at least two-and-a-half weeks before the Times's initial item, as this post in Brownstoner shows. The hoi polloi that populate the Brownstoner comments section also realized almost immediately how overpriced the property was, quickly concluding that it was actually worth about...$1.3 million.

** Another note: none of this is a knock in any way on MKG, who is, in fact, our all-time favorite broker ever. In fact, it makes us sad that she doesn't work in PLG -- every neighborhood could use a cheerleader as charismatic, energetic, and appealing as she is.

1 comment:

Bob Marvin said...

It is a shame that MKG doesn't work in PLG, especially since she lived in Lefferts Manor many years ago, before moving to Victorian Flatbush. (She told me that 30+ years ago when we both attended meetings of the old Brooklyn Brownstone Conference for our respective neighborhoods).