ain’t easy keeping track of Manhattan loft sales, and getting harder

the behemoth’s business model runs over Manhattan Loft Guy’s

If I had to select one thing as the most publicly beneficial thing that Manhattan Loft Guy has offered the general public since March 2006, that Most Best Thing would be my Master List of Manhattan Loft Sales, currently between $500,000 (ha!) and $6 million (my original upper limit was $5 million, but that’s so 2014). You’ll see a bunch of information for every downtown Manhattan loft sale that I could find, from sale date and price, to size (if I have a reliable size, then price per foot), to dates on the market and in contract (if all there, then Days on Market), to original price, and past sales of the same loft.

I’ve broken my Master List up chronologically to keep the size of the file from being too unwieldy, but the current iteration is here, from 2014 to present. The ‘current’ iteration still says “resales a/o 7.23.16” even though there are resales as current as September 29, which is a long story. Brace!

Longtime readers of Manhattan Loft Guy know that the source for most of this data has been StreetEasy, sometimes supplemented by or contradicted by the inter-firm data-base (particularly as to prior sales from the distant past, or size). To say that StreetEasy has been indispensable to my effort is an understatement. But their business model no longer includes making it so easy for for me, or for anyone else who wants to stay really current on recorded sales on any gross scale, to track new information while it is fresh.

Two things:

1 Damn.

2 And, they don’t owe me anything and, of course, they can run their business any way they see fit. But I’m not sure they appreciate the impact of what is (probably) a simple change on their part to how they manage and present data. Any chance this is reversible? Let’s find out…. And one more thing:

3 Damn.

4 OK, one more: as notable a real estate data nerd (meant in the most complimentary way possible) as The Miller was surprised and (reading between the tweets) disappointed by this change by StreetEasy.

for fans of ‘inside baseball’, Manhattan Real Estate Industrial Complex edition, only

In the old days (as you may know fi you ever used the wonderful facility to search Recorded Sales), if you were on the “Sales” side of the StreetEasy home page there was a button to search “Recorded Sales”. You could search by neighborhood, by price range, by property type, and by two types of date ranges (sale date, or date the deed was recorded). For both the date ranges, you had a wide range of options, from “last 7 days” to much longer and, critically for my usage, you could specify “any” in one date range and customize the date range in the other.

My standard search, performed every Saturday when I was a really diligent Manhattan Loft Guy, used the price range $500k to $6mm, neighborhood “Downtown Manhattan”, sale date “any”, and a custom record date that selected the dates of the last seven days. (The benefit of specifying the dates instead of selecting”last 7 days” in the dropdown menu is that if I didn’t finish my review the same day I started it the search results were fixed; using “last 7 days” ran the risk of the results changing if the page refreshed.)

As I’ve said before when describing my method, the results from this search were very over-inclusive, and I relied on my knowledge (intuition?) about which addresses were “lofts” and ignoring those that were “apartment” buildings. Not a prefect system, but there was none better that I was aware of.

Again, the benefit of searching by “recorded” date was that I picked up all sales that had recently passed through the City’s ACRIS data, whenever the sale actually took place. As you probably know, deeds filed in a given week may be for sales the closed as recently as ten days or as long as … whenever. Many sales don’t get recorded for a month, and some take ridiculously long to hit the public record (I’ve seen deeds filed more than a year after the sale).

In this system, the only reason I would miss a downtown Manhattan loft sale was if I didn’t recognize an address as a loft building (of course, I often checked the listing when I was uncertain). And every search with a different date range for “recorded by” would have no overlap with any other search; this made the process pretty efficient, if time-consuming.

In a given week, the entire data set was usually between 40 and 100 sales, which might yield as few as ten loft resales, rarely more than 20. Which I manually enter (address, unit, date, price, etc.) on the Google Drive spreadsheet that I’ve made ‘public’ so that anyone can see it. The current Master List begins on January 1, 2014 and has well more than 1,500 downtown Manhattan Loft resales and (on Sheet2) more than 300 new development sales, and counting ….

I’ve been Zillow’d

If you’ve paid any attention at all to the data side of Manhattan residential real estate, chance are that you’ve used StreetEasy hundreds if not thousands of times. And you know that the folks who created StreetEasy left over time after StreetEasy was acquired by Zillow. Possibly even that Zillow acquired the former Buyfolio product, only to end it. (No one has ever presented a better consumer-facing agent communications interface, alas, which suggests there’s no [big] money in such a product. Alas.) Well, not “only to end it” (Buyfolio); most likely, the smart folks at Zillow wanted the smart folks at Buyfolio on their (new) team for StreetEasy.

Zillow is, as you probably know, a national site with ambitions to rule the consumer search industry, with a revenue model (it seems to me) heavily dependent on advertising and other fee-for-services from agents and brokerage firms. Let’s leave most of that alone for the moment and focus on “national”. National data firms need national standards for data collection, presentation, and search. (Economies of scale, blah blah blah.)

My guess is that the way Recorded Sales now work on StreetEasy is the same way they work on other Zillow sites across the US. And that StreetEasy, overall, is losing the Manhattan-specific things that the founders struggled with, and found solutions for. I’d bet you a quarter (my typical limit; I’m cheap, not uncertain) that in “America” deeds get filed on a timely basis, and staying current with The Market on a date-sold basis is pretty easy.

The fact that ‘New York is different’ is a multi-faceted problem for Zillow, whose geography-based ‘Zestimates’ tend to rely a great deal on a given house being surrounded by houses that are more or less similar, instead of an environment in which the same block might have condos and coops with widely varying amenities and values. That’s a discussion for another day, but for today the point is that Zillow probably sees it as important for data to be collected, presented, and searched in similar ways across all platforms in all markets it serves. (You don’t see “Zillow” in New York because they recognize that the StreetEasy brand is too well-known to abandon, at least for now.)

old man Guy wishing for The Good Old Days

Nothing stays the same (especially not in New York ForCryingOutLoud!). The old StreetEasy was really good at some only-in-NY things, with a management team that was pretty visible and, I would add, transparent about the challenges of presenting NYC residential real estate data. New management is relatively unconcerned about explaining changes. To take the current example, I found nothing in the StreetEasy blog or other social media streams referring to the removal of Recorded Sales from the Sales home page. Instead, I bounced a question via Twitter on July 31 after being unable to do that which I’ve always done to update my Master List (alas) “is it possible you’ve removed the NYC Search Closed Sales function?? or, am I missing it on yr homepage?”; the reply came next day “See it via comp report on closed listing pages: Registered agents via Recorded Sales Hotshots“.

The Comp Report is kinda sorta hidden in StreetEasy. I have no idea what the pages look like for a non-subscriber civilian, or if there’s a quicker route for me, but in my paid StreetEasy account I get to the Comp Report through home -> Your Account -> Settings -> Comparables. The tortured route is just a small indignity, but indicative of a StreetEasy belief that this is not a very important tool. Alas.

If you get to the same sort of page that I get to, you see you can search by (1) Neighborhood / Address / Building / Key Word or by a list of addresses or by a custom boundary, (2) by Sale or Rental, (3) by property type(s), (4) by price range, including “any” at either or both ends, (5) by bedroom, bath, and square foot counts, and (ta da!) (6) by “Show recorded sale from the last …”, where the choices range from 30 days to a year.

The results show up in various categories relevant to doing a traditional “comps” report (a) Active listings, (b) In-contract listings”, (c) Unavailable listings, and (d) (ta-da!) Recorded sales. While you can toggle off any of these categories, these are the defaults. Most critically, the data hits reported in any category is limited to 100; after all, who would do a comps report with more than 100 data points??

Not to be selfish, but to use my search effort as an example, running my standard search ($500k to $6mm, downtown) with the smallest possible date range (last 30 days) generates something more than 100 results in each category, so that doesn’t work. (And I don’t care at all for any category but Recorded sales.) Doing it today by the same neighborhood but changing the dollar ranges yields less than 100 Recorded sales if I use $2mm to $6mm, from $1mm to $2mm, and from $500k to $1mm, but that’s not very useful to me, as there are almost certainly a significant number of sales older than 30 days with a deed that was recently filed. I could play with dates, but my working assumption is that I need at least “past 90 days” to be reasonable assured of being reasonably comprehensive.

Alternatively, I could search by smaller neighborhoods, in my regular price range, using “past 90 days” as the sale date. That’s what I did yesterday, generating fewer than 100 Recorded sales in Tribeca (yay!), which I’ve now added to the Master List. I’m halfway through Flatiron. That leaves me only … 13 other neighborhoods downtown (without counting sub-neighborhoods such as West Chelsea or NoMad).

Trial and error will lead me to discover which combinations of neighborhoods will most efficiently get me close-to-but-not-reching 100 Recorded sales results, but for now … 13 neighborhoods to go. Then, if I stick to updating the Master List weekly (as in The Good Old Days), my repeated search will likely have only a few new records, but I will have to cross-check frequently to be prudent.

What used to take me an hour or two on Saturday, and yielded a very high certainty that I found all the newly filed loft sales, will take me some serious multiple of that, with a much lower certainty that I will have found all the newly filed loft sales (because of the 90-day limit).

First World Problems, perhaps. But a huge pain in the butt, nonetheless.

I’m an eternally optimistic fellow Guy. Perhaps I can convince StreetEasy that there’s merit in adding a “Recorded By” field to the Comps functionality, with limits either customizable (yay) or much shorter than 30 days. A Guy can dream ….

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  1. […] break down that multi-bite mouthful. In my October 6, ain’t easy keeping track of Manhattan loft sales, and getting harder, I described the changes that StreetEasy made to the way they present data and permit it to be […]

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