Tuesday, November 10, 2009

How To Become a Land Owner

A long time ago Shakespeare said, "I would give a thousand furlongs of sea for an acre of barren ground." Luckily he never had to buy land in the City of New York in the 21st century. Vacant lots are a rare commodity, especially following the recent building boom.  So my search began.  If I was desinted to be a landowner, I would have to fight hard to find the right place.  Would it would be like the land race in the 1992 movie "Far and Away"?  I love an adventure!

I have always loved Redhook and it was to be on the top my list, but I wanted to open up my search to include a few of my favorite neighborhoods in Brooklyn; Vinegar Hill, Dumbo and the Columbia Water Front.

This interactive map outlines the four key search areas.

View Redhook Green Land Search in a larger map

Searching for development sites is nothing like looking for an apartment or house, many lots are not actually listed for sale, and in fact are not actually on the market at all.   It requires a bit of detective work to get a better sense of true availability. In emerging areas like Redhook, it seems like most of the available land is owned by a few significant developers or families who have owned the land for years and are fighting over what to do with it. Either way, it's not easy.

So at this point you might ask, exactly what was I looking for.  Good Question!  I was looking for an empty lot, no less than 20' wide by 90' long, preferably a corner on a quiet street.  In NYC as is the case with many municipalities there are zoning guidelines that govern what you can build, how big and how high.  There are three general groups of zoning here in NYC C=Commercial M=Manufacturing and R=Residential .  I am planning on devoting some large amount of space to garages, workshop and office and could justify the M status.  BTW, M tends to be cheaper than R too ;-)

I started with a street by street search of each of these areas, visually looking for lots wedged in out of the way places, some with for sale signs, others just empty, gathering addresses and other data to begin to ascertain ownership, value and whether they were for sale. I must applaud the City of NY for having amazing web tools to help with this research. ACRIS (Automated City Register Information System) is an award-winning property document online search and registration system with decades of digitized data including deeds, liens, mortgages, assignments, etc. In addition I utilized a subscription based real estate website loopnet.com which helped track down opportunities not easily found on other sites.

Round and round I went, along the way I picked up a real estate agent, a few interesting meetings a good working knowledge of zoning and a few sites that might fit the bill.


Emily (mom) said...

Hi Jay,
Just read your most recent post. Did you find a lot? post a pic! Em

Doug Greene said...

Jay, this is great stuff. Thanks for sharing your process with everyone... good luck.... happy hunting....doug