The real estate bookshelf

Recent works show we never tire of reading about property -- its joys and discontents

Fraud. Architecture. Investment. Scandal. And a bit of celebrity. Those are just some of the themes explored in the real estate books that have hit the shelves recently. This month, The Real Deal looked at what’s being published on our favorite topic, and what the authors have to say.

The list is wide-ranging and includes everything from analysis of the financial (and housing) crisis to emerging international markets to New York’s most famous buildings.

For example, “Triumvirate: McKim, Mead & White,” recounts the internal workings of one of the most famous architecture firms as it designed some of the city’s significant structures, from the arch in Washington Square to the entire Columbia University campus. But lesser-known buildings also garner attention, such as 80 Wooster Street, which is the subject of a book on the co-op’s status as the home and work space of artists such as Andy Warhol and John Lennon.

And authors Sloane Crosley and Meghan Daum remind us that real estate is much more personal than stocks or bonds. Crosley describes her apartment with no air-conditioning, no hot water, and doors that open into bed corners in her most recent book, “How Did You Get This Number.”

Daum, meanwhile, similarly discovers early on in her book “Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House” that finding a reasonably priced apartment in Manhattan is next to impossible, moving from a $700-per-month, mildew-scented, fifth-floor walk-up in Greenwich Village to a “slightly shabby prewar apartment on 100th Street” with two other people.

The serious and the humorous all come to the same conclusion, though: Real estate is much more than four walls, a floor and a ceiling. It is a home, an investment, a career, or a work of art.

New York City real estate

New York City at Night: A Tour of the City That Never Sleeps

Evan Joseph and Marcia Reiss

Thunder Bay Press, Oct. 1, 2010 ($19.95)

Aerial photographer Evan Joseph and New York history expert Marcia Reiss put together a book that combines photos of New York City after dark with detailed captions on its architecture. The book covers everything from New York’s most iconic landmarks, like the Statue of Liberty and the Empire State Building, to the lesser-known corners of Manhattan, including the nightclubs of Greenwich Village and the bank building on Bowery and Canal Street. Joseph, a real estate photographer who specializes in shooting high-end luxury properties, said he particularly loves working at night because it pushes him with technical challenges and creative freedoms. “Real estate really is the primary obsession and occupation and gossip that all of us in New York share,” Joseph said. “Nowhere else in the world can you walk into someone’s apartment and ask what it costs and it be okay.”

Illegal Living: 80 Wooster Street and the Evolution of Soho

Roslyn Bernstein and Shael Shapiro

The Jonas Mekas Foundation, July 1, 2010 ($44.95)

“Illegal Living” looks at the story behind 80 Wooster Street in Lower Manhattan, chronicling how George Maciunas, the founder of the Fluxus international art movement, bought the building in 1967 and turned it into the first successful artists’ co-op in Soho. Through interviews, architectural background and firsthand accounts, the authors reveal how Soho first emerged as a live-work enclave for artists and a new form of residential development was born. The book discusses the artists drawn to the building’s ground-floor space, which hosted film screenings, art shows and performances, including Allen Ginsberg, John Lennon, Yoko Ono and Andy Warhol. It also explores the legal complexities of Soho co-op boards requiring residents to apply to the city for certification as artists (a continued controversy to this day).


Triumvirate: McKim, Mead & White

Mosette Broderick

Alfred A. Knopf, Oct. 26, 2010 ($40)

Architectural and social historian Mosette Broderick weaves together a story of architecture, scandal and society in her new book, “Triumvirate: McKim, Mead & White.” The Gilded Age’s legendary architecture firm, made up of Charles McKim, William Mead and Stanford White, built some of the most recognized structures along the East Coast and associated with some of the most prominent figures of their time. Through a biographical and historical telling of the men’s lives, along with 159 photographs, the book focuses on their celebrated architecture, including New York City’s original Pennsylvania Station, America’s first Roman arch in Washington Square, Columbia University, New York University and many others.

Building Up and Tearing Down: Reflections on the Age of Architecture

Paul Goldberger

Monacelli Press, Oct. 13, 2009 ($35)

Pulitzer Prize-winning critic Paul Goldberger dissects the best and worst structures from the “age of architecture” in a collection of his articles, published between 1997 and 2009 in the New Yorker and Metropolis magazines. Grouped together by subject, including “Buildings That Matter,” “New York” and “Museums,” the articles examine everything from artistic vision to money, and include observations on some of the most prominent buildings in the world. Goldberger showers praise on Mies van de Rohe’s work, which in the author’s opinion is some of the “richest architecture ever created,” and criticizes the Westin Hotel in Times Square, which he describes as “the most garish tall building that has gone up in New York.”

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The Flatiron: The New York Landmark and the Incomparable City That Arose With It

Alice Sparberg Alexiou

Thomas Dunne Books, June 8, 2010 ($26.99)

Alice Sparberg Alexiou, the granddaughter of Abraham Braun, a man who once co-owned the Flatiron Building, shares the history of one of New York’s first skyscrapers. She examines the triangular building’s construction (it went up in 1902), its owners and tenants, and the happenings there at the turn of the century. Though critics hated it at first and the public feared to walk by it, the Flatiron has become one of Manhattan’s most recognizable pieces of architecture. Alexiou writes, “To me, this building embodies the very essence of our city.”
Market and investment

Emerging Market Real Estate Investment: Investing in China, India, and Brazil

David J. Lynn with Tim Wang

Wiley, Oct. 12, 2010 ($60)

Institutional real estate investor, strategist and portfolio manager David Lynn provides an all-encompassing look at real estate investment opportunities in the emerging markets of China, India and Brazil. The countries represent three of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies, accounting for a combined gross domestic product of over $12 trillion. “Emerging Market Real Estate Investment” guides private and institutional investors through the ins and outs of the markets and submarkets in each of the three countries, along with the economic, institutional and political environments. Some big-name New York City real estate firms have caught on to the investment opportunities in these countries, including Gale International, in Brazil and China; Tishman Speyer, in Brazil and India; and Vornado Realty Trust, in China.

All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis

Bethany McLean and Joe Nocera

Portfolio, Nov. 16, 2010 ($32.95)

Business journalists Bethany McLean (of Vanity Fair) and Joe Nocera (of the New York Times) team up to examine the financial crisis in “All the Devils Are Here.” The book provides a history of American homeownership, Wall Street, and the legislation that failed to prevent the collapse. After looking at the motivations of everyone from Wall Street traders and CEOs to politicians and anonymous lenders, McLean (who also coauthored the 2003 book “The Smartest Guys in the Room,” about the Enron scandal) and Nocera conclude that the crisis was not about finance — it was about human nature. Among the “devils” discussed in the book are Hank Greenberg, former AIG CEO; Stan O’Neal of Merrill Lynch; and Franklin Raines of Fannie Mae.
Real estate and me

How Did You Get This Number

Sloane Crosley

Riverhead, June 15, 2010 ($25.95)

In a series of personal essays, Sloane Crosley details her globe-trotting adventures, from Paris to Portugal. After encounters with Portuguese clowns and a grizzly cub in Alaska, she makes it back to her home and work in New York City, where she relives memories of finding an apartment after college graduation, sorting through suspicious listings and living with a variety of strangers. Crosley observes of New York City real estate: “Doors opened into bed corners more often than not. … Showers in kitchens, toilets in living rooms, sinks in bedrooms. It was as if Picasso were born a slumlord instead of a painter. Nothing was where you thought it would be, which would be eccentric in a mansion but was disarming in an apartment.”

Life Would Be Perfect If I Lived in That House

Meghan Daum

Alfred A. Knopf, May 4, 2010 ($24.95)

Author and Los Angeles Times columnist Meghan Daum recounts her obsession with real estate and her quest to find the perfect place to make a home. Her memories take shape, however, as an “imperfect life lived among imperfect houses,” when she bounces from property to property. During her time in Manhattan, Daum notes, “You haven’t lived in New York City until you’ve thrown up out the window of a taxi or wanted to put a bullet in your head because you’re so envious of someone else’s square footage.” In a humorous telling of the hours spent looking at real estate listings on Craigslist to her countless moves, everywhere from Nebraska to Los Angeles, Daum explores the idea that everything in life will fall into place if she can just get her hands on the perfect piece of real estate.

Unlocking the Gate: Power Marketing for Luxury Real Estate

David Michonski

Stonesong Press, Nov. 15, 2010 ($49)

David Michonski provides an inside look at the market for luxury realtors. With the May 2009 closing of the New York City firm he cofounded, Coldwell Banker Hunt Kennedy, Michonski said he finally had the time to put together 20 years of accumulated notes and writings to finalize the book. “Unlocking the Gate” is a how-to guide for agents looking to gain access to luxury markets and thrive within them, with information on finding buyers, learning from auctions and getting higher commissions. Michonski said of his book, “If you are going to do real estate, why not focus on getting to the place where the movers and shakers are, where the headlines are made and heads get turned: the luxury market?” This month, Michonski is set to publish the consumer version, called “Getting the Highest Price.”
Upcoming Books

Attorney Adam Leitman Bailey has written a guide for prospective home-buyers, “Finding the Uncommon Deal: A Top New York Lawyer Explains How to Buy a Home for the Lowest Possible Price,” that is scheduled for release by John Wiley & Sons in April.