The Home Buying Guru

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When we first wrote about Eve Levine, nearly 20 months ago, the Corcoran real estate agent was celebrating the first anniversary of Home Buying for Hipsters, the free how-to seminars she holds in bars for New Yorkers interested in purchasing a home. Back then, the subprime mortgage crisis was starting to really hit the nation; a few months later, the fallout would hit in earnest, as the country’s largest investment banks went bankrupt or were bailed out by the government.

The housing market, of course, has changed drastically since then, but we figured there was one thing that hadn’t: people’s desire to buy a home. So we once again approached Levine, this time to get some insight into purchasing, post-housing boom.

How does the local housing market look to you these days?
The market has been in flux for a while. Between September and January or February, in many ways sales stopped. People were losing their jobs, the banks stopped lending–there was a lot of panic going on. And we’ve seen that loosen up a lot. Banks have loosened up somewhat, and the general panic has definitely lifted. I’ve certainly been extremely busy for the last several months.

Would you say that now’s a good time to buy?
The market is good for the average person at this point. People that were priced out before, there’s opportunity there. And even though interest rates did just go up, they’re historically low. In the eighties they were in the double digits. They’re 5, maybe 6 percent now, which is incredibly low. And there’s a lot of inventory, a lot of choice for the buyer. So it is a good time to buy if you can get the money.

Is that part still a challenge?
It is a challenge. It used to be very easy to get a loan. That’s completely changed–the loan process is very invasive now. Banks are shying away from new construction and buildings that are not more than 50 or 70 percent sold. So that’s a big deal, especially in a neighborhood like, say, Williamsburg, where there’s a whole lot of construction.

Are you seeing a lot of first-time buyers now?
There’s a whole lot of first-time buyers, because there’s an $8,000 government incentive for them. I’ve actually seen articles where they’re talking about extending it–it’s only supposed to go through the end of the year–or upping it to $15,000. Say someone is interested in buying an apartment at $300,000–that’s a significant savings. That could be your closing costs.

What about people wanting to sell? Is now a good time for them?
It’s a good time to sell if you can be realistic about your price. It’s generally going to be lower than it would have been a year or two ago.

Are there any specific neighborhoods in Brooklyn that have experienced a significant drop in value?
Williamsburg certainly saw a meteoric rise in price per square foot, and that’s done a fair amount of correcting. But I’m not really seeing 50 percent drops or anything like that in Brownstone Brooklyn. It’s property that’s traded a number of times, so that adds to the confidence factor for the buyer.

What would you tell someone who might be skeptical of buying in this market?
When prices were going up, it was like buying New York City real estate, you couldn’t lose. The buyers were winning in some ways, and the sellers were winning. Now that’s not the story everyone’s telling anymore. But I still think it’s a fantastic investment. I still believe this is a great city and people still want to live here. Buying a piece of property is not only a great investment–you’re buying a home.

Sent by Nicole. Text by Nina Pearlman. Photo courtesy of Eve Levine.

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