Rental Panel’s Advice: Buy!

The beer list started with $3 PBR, but there was no advice on the menu for a PBR demographic at Thursday night’s Curbed/92YTribeca rental panel.

“What should you be paying for your place?” asked the event’s promotional materials, promising a discussion of “the fast-changing New York City rentals market, with an eye on new buildings, hot neighborhoods, how to find deals and strategies for coping and staying sane during the apartment search.”

But the evening’s primary piece of advice to curious tenants: Don’t rent, buy!

Curbed founder Lockhart Steele, moderating a conversation with appraisal guru Jonathan Miller and Prudential Douglas Elliman CEO Dottie Herman, opened by saying that they would be taking the evening in a somewhat different direction than originally promised. Using Mr. Miller’s Thursday “Three Cents Worth” Curbed post as a jumping-off point, they would consider the intertwined relationship between rentals and sales—a process facilitated by Mr. Miller’s rental reports, which debuted in July as the latest in the stable of formidable market analyses he does on Elliman’s behalf.

Mr. Miller said that he hoped to bring transparency to rentals, and to make rental/sales comparisons a matter of “apples to apples.”

But after some general reflections on the state of the market—first-time buyers have incentives; leases of small apartments lag—the panel seemed to serve only a glancing analysis of the New York apartment renter’s lot in life. They discussed instead the woes of developers, the challenges of the foreclosure market, and the timing of a potential rebound. “We’re in the sixth or seventh inning of the game,” Mr. Miller said.

Rentals are just throwing your money out there. – Dottie Herman

So—what to do? Ms. Herman said that even with falling rents, she advised people staying in the city more than a year or two to buy. Leave a standing offer if your bid is accepted; buy cheap in an area priced high—surrounding properties will pull your value up. “Rentals are just throwing your money out there,” she said.

During the closing Q&A with the audience, a self-described “potential first-time buyer” asked whether emerging markets like East Williamsburg and Bushwick were worthwhile. Mr. Miller said that they were more volatile. The first-time buyer pressed: What if you could only afford to buy in an emerging market? Would it be better just to rent in Manhattan?

“I would buy,” Ms. Herman said. “Get in the game.”

She later recalled her father advising her to buy real estate instead of traveling to Europe.

Ms. Herman wore a white suit printed with roses, a pink scrunchie on her wrist, and a gold “D” necklace. Jonathan Miller, in business casual, was a jovial, avuncular presence; and Lockhart Steele, looking like a Google programmer in a button-down shirt, was  far less menacing than his badass, super-villain name would suggest.

Mr. Steele said that he hoped to host similar events in the future, and solicited audience members’ advice. After all, a panel like this represented a real-world version of blogosphere dialogue for Curbed’s devoted and interactive readership. He said that they had presold 50 tickets, but admitted that the recent Eater panel with Top Chefs was probably a bigger draw.

But what of the renters who can’t hope to buy? Was there anything to offer them?

“Find someplace fun,” Ms. Herman said after the panel. And then, she said, consider buying with friends.

mfischer@observer.com