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The Real Estate Philosopher


Seinfeld, the Real Estate Philosopher, and NYC, Oh My

Mar 14, 2021

Alas, I am not as famous as Seinfeld (at least not yet), but we said the same things about NYC only a few months ago, and it is starting to look like we have a solid point.
 
To start out by being just a bit of an apologetic humbug, I will note that I have been writing non-stop about the strength and power of NYC as the place to invest in – and lend on – real estate:  

Indeed, I was touting NYC in December 2019, right before Corona, and throughout, I never lost faith.   Back in December, before COVID, I wrote:
 
“New York is not dead yet for real estate.  There are a lot of negatives for real estate in NYC – as per my prior article – but people will be surprised how well real estate continues to do in The Big Apple.  This is for the simple reason that (talented) people want to be here more than anything because other talented people are here. English is the spoken language, and NYC is still the world center of commerce and becoming the world center for many different things (including technology, education, and maybe soon life sciences).  Even if NYC has some troubles for the real estate industry taking it on the chin, it is still a much better place for people and capital than anywhere else.”
 
Finally, n my most recent article, I wrote (January 2021):
 
“New York City will Boom:  It will be amazing what will happen.  Almost overnight, deserted streets, boarded-up retail, dead restaurants, empty offices, and closed entertainment venues will burst into action.  And what will be astonishing will be the speed with which it will happen.  Everyone will not be there until everyone is there, and once everyone is there, everyone will realize things are amazing in NYC like they have always been.  Personally, I just can’t wait to walk down those vibrant NYC streets and look around me and feel the excitement again.”

Now I read recently – with a smile admittedly – articles like, “Flight to Florida? Data show few Manhattanites moved permanently”, or “Wall Street elites who fled to Florida amid COVID-19 want to return to NYC.”

So what is the point of my article?  Am I just saying told ya so? 
 
Okay, yes, I can’t hide that feeling, so sorry, but there is a lesson to be learned here.  Actually two lessons:
 
The first lesson is that the media can be useful, of course, but only if you take the intellectual time to distill the facts surrounding the spin. 
 
The news articles that say “most people are nervous or annoyed about taxes and politics and stuff like that but will stick it out in NYC because their friends are there” is not news.  These articles were never written because they are boring and not newsworthy. 
 
The news articles that effectively said, “Billionaire Toby Tepper says he has had enough of [insert word] in NYC, so he is pulling up stakes and moving to Florida,” wow, that is news.  And those articles were written for the obvious reason that they provoke interest, comment, fear, and other emotions. 
 
As an investor, lender, or other real estate player, you would be foolish to just listen to the second news article.  Instead, you would logically consider whether the bad news is being overplayed, and that may be creating a buying opportunity?  Of course, this is a judgment call as sometimes bad news is really bad news.  And other times, it is how people get to buy low and sell high. 
 
And now the “news” is that it doesn’t look like people are leaving NYC after all, while the statements that they are in fact leaving is no longer “news,” i.e. the pendulum is reversed.  So you have to take that with a grain of salt too.
 
To be mathematical, it seems like the media will push extremes, and asset values, further in both directions – negative and positive – and an astute investor could profit from this realization. 
 
I mean was it really surprising that “Retail Sales Fall Record Amount” in 2Q of 2020 when by law all of the retail outlets were closed?  Did that mean the death of retail, or was it just an obvious statement that when stores are closed people don’t shop in them?
 
Similarly, does the fact that right now most office buildings in NYC are mostly empty signify the death of office in NYC, or nationwide? 
 
Ultimately, as long as you don’t believe what you read is accurate, the media can be your friend as an investor or lender.
 
The second lesson is that it makes no sense to try to time the markets.  I have written about this before.  Those who didn’t buy in 2009 missed out on making a fortune for the next 11 years.  And those who didn’t buy last year – or right now – are probably going to have the same fate.  I believe that the way to outperform on a long-term basis is to keep looking for deals, and when you find one that meets your standards, you buy it, and you don’t overthink whether or not the market will go up or down since you really have no way to know.  In the short run – and on an individual deal basis – the overall tides of the market may help or hurt you, but in the long run, this will smooth out, and you will outperform the market timers.
  
And to end as I began.
 
Go NYC – I love you!!
  
Bruce Stachenfeld aka The Real Estate Philosopher™

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As the Chairman of Duval & Stachenfeld – a law firm in mid-town NYC known as The Pure Play in Real Estate Law – I am inviting you to join The Real Estate Philosopher™. This will consist of my thoughts and also thoughts of friends and colleagues.

It will not be published in any traditional media – it will go only to friends of our firm. The purpose here is very simple – to put forth thoughts in the real estate world that are different, provocative, and challenging of accepted wisdom. Hopefully, nothing said here will be mainstream thinking.

You may be wondering how I am qualified to write on these topics since I am “just” a lawyer. However, I have an unusual place in the real estate world. As the Chairman of The Pure Play in Real Estate Law (one of the largest real estate law practices in NYC), I interact with an incredible number of real estate players. This ranges from small real estate shops with nothing but a gleam in their eyes, to some of the largest real estate institutions in the world, and everything in between. This gives me a unique and global perspective and allows me to act as an amateur philosopher in the real estate world. This has always been my hobby and it is what I love doing.

Regards,

Bruce Stachenfeld
a.k.a The Real Estate Philosopher™

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