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Unsustainable

In a recession, does green development sell?

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Since 2005, buildings certified for their environmental cred have risen from Battery Park to Harlem. Whether rentals or condos, they’ve been positioned as the guilt-free alternative to standard-issue construction, filled with green features both basic (compact fluorescent lightbulbs) and advanced (on-site renewable-energy sources). You could argue about how planet-friendly some of them actually were, but the market spoke clearly: They sold at least as well as most new condos, and in many cases a lot better.

Not so anymore. Sales figures in the first four months of this year show that when it comes to real estate, the economy has trumped the environment. According to statistics compiled by New York and Streeteasy, sales are at least as sluggish, if not more so, in ecofriendly condos as in other projects since January. (Streeteasy notes that the sample size is small and contract data is self-reported.) Battery Park City’s Visionaire and Riverhouse (pictured) have the most encouraging numbers, with a total of 24 units going into contract from January to May. (Perhaps significantly, these two buildings are the greenest of the bunch, having received high-level leed certifications.) The Toren, a Downtown Brooklyn tower that was selling briskly last year, had a lethargic first quarter, though it has revived somewhat, moving three apartments in the last three weeks. At the Laurel and the Lucida, both on the Upper East Side, there are no takers, per Streeteasy. Ditto at the Edge in Williamsburg. The nearby three-unit Metropolitan Green had no buyers until last week, when one apartment finally sold.

“It’s about the stalling of new development [in general]. Being green doesn’t provide insulation in the current situation,” says appraiser Jonathan Miller, who thinks that though some consumers pick only green, most condo buyers consider sustainability a nice fillip rather than a deal-maker (or -breaker). “People thought, If you build it, they will buy, but what about the consumer? They’re worried about their jobs, their compensation, and the economy.”

Corcoran’s Susan Singer, a certified EcoBroker, says, “If buyers think they’re going to be paying more to go green, then they won’t buy,” but once they find they could save as much as a third on monthly utilities in energy-efficient projects, they’re more willing to take a closer look. Comparatively few buyers are doing that research, however, and, as Gita Nandan of GreenHomeNYC puts it, “minus the market, you need an educated buyer.” Given the increasing interest in sustainability, Miller suggests that in the long run, green condos might hold their value better than their conventionally built counterparts. Somewhere down the road, insists Don Capoccia, Toren’s developer, buyers will begin by asking, “Is it green or not green? That’s the next boundary.”


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