The Impact of Design with Benjamin Noriega Ortiz

Enlisting an interior designer to help with your home search makes sense on multiple levels, according to well-known NYC designer Benjamin Noriega Ortiz.

Ortiz said he’s accompanied longtime repeat clients and their realtors on countless showings over the years, but homebuyers that are thinking of hiring a designer for an upcoming purchase would be wise to utilize the search itself as a way to interview prospective designers.

Literary agent and lifelong New Yorker David Vigliano is in the midst of searching for his next New York City Apartment. He’s hired Ortiz in the past, most notably to decorate his Park Avenue property, so he thinks it made complete sense to have Ortiz’ watchful eye during showings.

“He’s able to point things out that I might not consider,” Vigliano said of Ortiz. “As a buyer you have a real emotional reaction to a space. It’s easy to fall in love with some aspect of it and get carried away by that.”

Anyone can look at a designer’s work in a magazine or through pictures online, but Ortiz said that photos are not necessarily the ultimate test and shouldn’t always be the deciding factor when determining who to hire. He said it’s just as important to have chemistry, a connection, and the ability to communicate and get along with your designer.

“You have to remember that you have to deal with the designer very intimately,” he said. “They are going to ask questions like ‘what’s in your night table drawer?’ If you’re not comfortable with a designer, they’re not for you.”

Ortiz helped Debbie and Mitchell Rechler decorate four rental properties as well as a home on Long Island and most recently, their Manhattan apartment.

Debbie Rechler said when she first met Ortiz, he wanted to know about all of her family’s habits – their eating habits, when and where they watch television, where they hung their coats. But now, after collaborating so many times, she said that Ortiz can easily extract what he needs from her and her husband to create a look and a feel that makes their family feel at home.

“It’s like being with a really close friend that knows how you live,” Rechler said. “He gets in our head. He can take things out of my brain and then he can implement it.”

Consider looking at the same place three times with three different designers, Ortiz said. Without giving away all of their secrets, a lot of designers would likely do that for free, considering it an initial consultation.

A lot of brokers might frown upon investing the extra time showing properties to clients and to their interior designers, but Jeff Adler and Marie Espinal of the Espinal Adler team at Douglas Elliman said they would fully endorse an arrangement like that because ultimately, it could help everyone.

“Design is so crucial in real estate,” according to Espinal. “A designer can really lay the groundwork for a vision. Sometimes they can tell a story in a way that a person can’t do on their own.”

“If the designer has a bad feeling about an apartment, we want to know about it,” Adler said.

Ortiz knows some of his repeat clients so well and has earned their trust enough that they’ll ask him to preview apartments with a realtor so he can narrow their search before they even step foot in an apartment. Sometimes, he can immediately dismiss certain spaces. For example, he can tell the client that a unit faces south, and they’ll need blackout shades; he’ll know if a new building is set to go up across the street and will soon block their amazing views; he’ll know if their custom furniture will fit or make sense in a particular space; and he can rule out apartments that don’t have enough flat walls to hang paintings for his clients that are collectors.

“I’ll tell them, you don’t live like this. This is a mistake.” But, Ortiz said, he can provide specific feedback that could actually make the real estate broker’s job easier. “I’ll go to two or three or four apartments with the realtor, and then I’ll say, ‘okay, you can show this one.’ Then the client comes in and says, okay [the search] is done.”


Selling Your Property (Design vs Staging)

Ortiz’ designs tend to be very personal. A client might show him a painting and ask him to convey the feeling of that painting throughout their living space. Always prioritizing functionality, he uses paint colors, artwork, furniture, shapes, and lighting to create the concept his client is looking for. Ortiz said he almost always includes the color green somewhere and you’ll almost always see a circle of some kind incorporated into the design. No matter the outcome, and no matter what he thinks about the look he’s created, only the client can determine if he was successful.

“If the client says it’s good, it’s good, because it’s their place.”

It’s a designer’s job to appeal to an individual’s or a couple’s very specific set of tastes. They want to love the space they live in. But when someone is selling their property, appealing to a much larger audience is the obvious priority. Even though interior design and staging are two completely different things, Ortiz said that good staging is “really a work of art.” He regularly sees brilliant staging in New York City where a good stager can properly convey scale (so people know that their furniture will fit) and the stager can use a non-threatening pallet to make a space look beautiful.

The good news for property sellers, according to Ortiz, it doesn’t take much to make a very personal space much less personal. “Sometimes all you need to do is change the paint and immediately it becomes less personal.”

The Impact Design Has on the Way We Feel

New York City moves fast. Its residents are always on the run and so many of them have demanding high-stress jobs. Like most interior designers, Ortiz said a person’s living space can have an amazingly positive impact on their personal well-being.  Spending time thinking about the environment you live in is “crucial” and as soon as you walk into your living space, you should be able to catch your breath and it should feel like home.

“You have to be able to wake up and feel happy,” Ortiz said. “And that feeling can guide you through your day… [and] through your life.”

Ortiz said it’s entirely possible to create those feelings through interior design no matter where you live, whether it’s a 5,000 square foot home or a tiny studio apartment, your living space should also be diverse and accommodating. “Sometimes we want to feel active… Feel sleepy… Feel fun,” he said. “In a house or an apartment, you can do all of that.”

Marie Espinal, Benjamin Noriega Ortiz, Jeff Adler


Trump’s Tax Reform and New York City Real Estate

 The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed by President Trump on December 22, 2017, has initiated numerous changes to how residential property owners can write off their local taxes and mortgage interest payments on their federal tax returns. It caps state and municipal property tax deductions on federal tax returns at $10,000, reduces mortgage interest deduction caps from $1.1 million to $500,000, and prohibits such deductions on second homes.

But what does this really mean for the Manhattan and Brooklyn real estate markets? Well, we’re here to ask the experts just that: does this new tax law have any effect on the real estate market here in NYC? Initial views on this were mixed, and current market trends reflect those prognostications.

The fourth quarter of 2017, when New York buzzed with a mix of suspicion and sanguinity about its native President’s impending tax overhaul, saw Manhattan housing sales activity at its lowest fourth-quarter total in six years, Douglas Elliman and Miller Samuel reported. This included a 12.3% sales volume softening from Q4-2016 to 2,514 closed sales from 2,868 in Manhattan real estate, an average sale price drop to $1,897,503—the first below-$2M figure in two years—and a 13.2% increase in luxury listing inventory to 1,439, the first increase in nine consecutive fourth quarters. To circumvent the lack of tax-write-off incentives for homeownership the Act would create, cash buyers purchased 51.2% of all co-op and condo units sold.

But why? These trends were due largely to the market cautiousness the Act’s reduction of tax benefits provoked in the minds of many buyers, Miller Samuel’s CEO Jonathan Miller told The New York Times in January. Our very own Steven James echoed this sentiment to Bloomberg and Newsweek: “The buyer is very worried about overpaying.”

The Brooklyn market fared a bit better, perhaps due to its up-and-coming status in New York’s higher-end real estate market compared to Manhattan’s long-established one. Brooklyn’s Q4-2017 closed with 2,627 sales, a 1.7% increase from 2,582 in Q4-2016, causing a 23.1% reduction in inventory over the past year. Brooklyn’s $948,706 average sales price was up 0.1% from Q4-2016’s $947,553, and its median sales price rose 2.7% from $750K to $770K over that period. Its luxury median sales price, however, went down 1.9% to $2.4M over that time frame.

Now let’s dive into the 2018 numbers. Elliman and Samuel’s Q1-2018 reports generally indicated continuation of these cautious trends. Manhattan’s home sales dropped 24.6% from 2,892 sales in Q1-2017 to 2,180, which included a 24% fall in luxury home sales. The average sales price dropped from $2,104,350 in Q1-2017 to $1,933,198 (slightly better than the Q4-2017 showing, however). Brooklyn’s market growth slowed its pace but remained strong: the average sale price reduced from $993,955 to $982,093. Then we have the luxury sales, where the median sales price fell 4.7% to $2.425M.

These reports painted quite a different picture from Dezeen’s rosy reportage that Manhattan’s high-end residential real estate market was “booming, thanks to President Donald Trump’s economic policies and tax cuts for the wealthy,” with a reported overall 27% sales volume increase by the beginning of March. Whatever truth those findings hold may be partly attributable to the downward pressure the market’s highest end was already under, pricing-wise.

Prices in the over-$8M+ market have dropped significantly over the past 18 months, possibly to move inventory faster in light of the Act’s diminution of homeowner tax benefits, even though many of these sales involve cash purchases that make the lowered interest expense write-off irrelevant. (In fact, 90% of Q4-2017’s over-$5M sales were cash transactions, Elliman reported.) To boot, some buyers are actually using Trump’s tax reforms to bargain down home prices so they hopefully won’t get socked with higher taxes once the sales are closed, The New York Times reported in June.

Manhattan’s individual neighborhoods varied in RE market sales percentages over the first half of 2018, most showing incremental increases. Downtown consistently held the largest share of the borough’s market, 36% in January and 40% by May. The East Side carried 19% in January and 20% in May. The West Side went up from 18% to 20%, Midtown increased from 16% to 20%, and Upper Manhattan dropped from 7% to 4%.

Brooklyn’s market softened slightly as well. Q2-2018 sales were 5.7% down from last year’s second quarter, from 2,845 to 2,683, the first such decline after ten consecutive year-over-year gains, though sales increased 11.3% from Q1. Inventory rose 18.5% from Q2-2017’s 2,257 to this second quarter’s 2,675, which was up 30.9% from Q1. This significant inventory expansion followed 11 consecutive quarters of year-over-year depletions. Median and average sales prices both dropped from Q2-2017—$997,654 to $984,047 and $795K to $780K, respectively—with very minimal differences from Q1.

With all of this data being enough to make your head spin, what does this mean to our buyers and sellers who are uncertain about the effects of Trump’s new tax law on the NYC real estate market? The answer is, of course, nuanced, like any complex market. Because of the multiple up-and-down pressures the real estate market must weather consistently, assigning responsibility to any individual cause, trend or force wouldn’t be fair and/or accurate.

“External influences outside of the vibrant city economy such as rising mortgage rates, the potential impact of the new federal tax law, and an unclear direction of the national economy have continued to remain a concern of market participants,” Miller reported in the Q2-2018 Elliman Report on Manhattan sales. Another external influence could be a predicted mass exodus from New York to lower-tax states like Florida, where “you can save a million [dollars] a year,” our own Richard Steinberg told The Real Deal.

So there you go. No omens of a recession or bubble-burst are on the horizon, but cards are being played cautiously in NYC real estate investment, yet with hopeful signs that Brooklyn could be a worthy “Trump” card for the homebuyer or investor. Looks like we’ll have to stick around and see what happens in Q3 and Q4.


The Jolliest Christmas Trees in NYC

It officially feels like the holidays! Snowflakes are falling, Starbucks’ famous red cups dot the City streets and holiday window displays bring out a sense of childhood wonderment this time of year. As we, ourselves, soak in the holiday magic, we couldn’t help but wonder where all the best Christmas trees were in the City! Yes, of course the Rockefeller tree comes to mind but collectively (Jewish teammates too!), we wondered where the most festive trees could be found! And so the below list was born…We put together a list of our top places to find the jolliest of Christmas trees in New York City!

South Street Seaport
This 60 foot-high Borway spruce is sure to amaze with gold, white and silver ornaments topped off with a giant star! Enjoy the holiday market, on-site Santa and more festivities throughout December 24th.

Washington Square Park
With a towering 45-foot high tree with Fifth Avenue and the Empire State Building in the distance, this may be one of the most picturesque photos you can take. In the heart of Greenwich Village, you can stop by the tree on Christmas Eve for a night of public holiday caroling!

New York Public Library
Framed by an archway in Astor Hall in the Stephen A. Schwarzman Building, this may “literary” be the most unassuming place for a Christmas tree. As you enter the iconic library, you are greeted by wreaths throughout the building and a personal annotated copy of “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens!

Bryant Park
Just a short stroll from the NYPL, there is no place more festive than Bryant Park! This entire park is transformed into a Winter Village complete with a skating rank, open air-market and winter-themed restaurant! With the huge Norway spruce, garlanded with thousands of lights and ornaments – it will surely keep you in awe.

Metropolitan Museum of Art
Perhaps the most intricate, the Met’s 20 foot high blue spruce tree has a base setting that intricately displays an Italian Nativity scene. With ornate Neapolitan angels and delicate lights, this tree is one that must be on your list to see this year!

American Museum of Natural History
Continuing the museum route, the American Museum of Natural History goes all-out with a nondenominational holiday tree! Decorated with none other than origami animals! With over 800-plus folded paper critters, this year’s theme is “Origami Dinosaurs Among Us”. A fun and festive tree for all ages!

Park Avenue
Although not home to a single Christmas tree, Park Avenue displays over 104 of them! Running from 54th Street to 97th Street, the Fund of Park Avenue sets up these beautiful white-lit fir trees continuing on a tradition that began in 1945 honoring fallen WWII veterans.

Wishing you the warmest holiday wishes and a bright New Year!


2017 Gift Guide

The Rockefeller tree is lit and you know what that means…the winter holidays are in full swing! If you haven’t “gobbled” up Black Friday deals or Cyber Monday specials – we thought we would bring you a holiday gift guide that will surely keep on givin’! This list doesn’t include Garrett’s popcorn or socks your Uncle Milton gives you every year, but a list that will make you a superstar at any holiday party. You can thank us later.

Fossil Fitness Watch – $295

Fossil Smartwatch

We are in the tech age and these smartwatches are a must! The Q-hybrid smartwatch notifies you of incoming messages, stats and of course interchangeable bands to fit your style!

Apple TV – $149-$199

Apple TV

This is an Apple update, that won’t pester you! Get the latest Apple TV that incorporates Touch and Siri control making your TV experience, even easier. Pass the popcorn!

Amazon Echo – Alexa – $180

Amazon Echo

Adios Siri! Busy washing dishes and noticed you are out of soap? Ask Alexa to order it for you! Get updates on the weather, play Jeopardy, turn on music or even turn your lights off. This hands-free Amazon Echo will make life just a bit simpler and possibly sweeter. Hint: The Echo Dot is a smaller version and is more affordable.

Hatchimals – $70


This is THE #1 holiday gift for kids this year! Famed for the most popular toy at the 2016 Toy Fair, your child will have to take care of the egg long enough to hatch the cute little combo-animals! It will even get to a point in “life” where they will sing “Happy Birthday” to you…yes, that is a fact.

Podo Camera – $49

Podo Camera

No selfie-stick here! If you haven’t mastered that selfie, don’t fret – the Podo camera is a handy stick-on camera that will attach to almost any surface and their app will live stream the footage to your smartphone. Preorder them for 2017!

Selfie Mic Music Set – $20

Selfie Mic

If Uncle Milton loves sending you videos of himself singing Taylor Swift songs (off pitch of course), you may want to give him this selfie-mic that attaches to his smartphone! But then again…that may not be the best idea…this brings karaoke to a whole new level.


Still undecided? Here are some of our team’s favorite subscription packages that may be the perfect gift for your toughest gifter.

Traditional Home Magazine – Townhouse Cocktail Event

Margolis Team Cocktail Event

Last night we hosted Traditional Home Magazine and guests at our stunning Townhouse listing at 319 E. 51st Street.  Our impeccable six floor Townhouse listing was the perfect backdrop to host Senior Editor Designer, Tori Mellott, and her esteemed guests for a mid-summer cocktail party!  The infamous and always fun, Monkey Bar provided delicious hors d’oeuvres from tuna tartare to, our team’s favorite, homemade mini chocolate ganache pies! The specialty cocktail of the night was The Bandito – a jalapeno-infused tequila (get the recipe below).

As the guests mingled and received private tours from our team, the talented Craig Hartley played a beautiful set mixing classical tunes with today’s favorites. The 5-piece band’s private show was the highlight of the evening, gathering all of the guests to the Garden Floor as the sunset.

With all of the delightful happenings taking place inside the private event, we wanted to be sure to share some of the excitement with all of you! Therefore, we filmed a short live tour for you to experience the beauty of the Townhouse and the delight of the evening.  You can see it live, here.

We wanted to give a big thanks to all of those who attended the event and who enjoyed an evening with us at our Townhouse listing.  Stay tuned for more updates, coming soon!


The Bandito Recipe

Traditional Home Magazine Event - Bandito Recipe

What Interior Designers Are Seeing Today

Let’s discuss something on a lighter note!  For those of you looking to renovate, stage or merely freshen up your space, we thought we’d share some insight from one of our favorite interior designers/architects Kevin O’Sullivan, of Kevin O’Sullivan & Associates, on what’s been seen in the world of interior design today.

“Its interesting to me that 75 years after “mid-century modern” brought us Jacobsen furniture and Richard Neutra architecture, we are actually seeing their ideas in practice again in New York City homes, but now re-imagined for modern living.

I am increasingly seeing New Yorkers looking for a “downtown-uptown” feel to their homes.  They want functional spaces and designs, with a minimum of undue visual clutter.  That means somewhere they can mentally relax, offering simple lines and calm colors.  Dusty hues are trending, as is black and white.

Lately, there has been a preference for apartments with bigger spaces but fewer overall rooms, rather than numerous smaller private spaces.  Within their space, people don’t want ornamentation for its own sake anymore.  That’s a big change from say 25 years ago.  I suspect improvements in technology are making it easier for people to share spaces without being in each other’s way, and that is reflected in preferences for apartments and designs.”

Kevin O’Sullivan

How to Decorate With Pantone’s Top Colors for Spring all Year Long

As temperatures begin to drop in NYC, most of us are thinking of pumpkin spice lattes, breathtaking colors in Central Park and well…more, pumpkin spice lattes.  But around this time of year, the color authority releases its warm-weather color picks for 2016.  You will “fall” for these vibrant and versatile hues as you kick start your autumn season.

So get your pumpkin spice latte and your snuggie handy, as we walk you through the top hues for 2016:

  1. Buttercup
    • This bold yellow instantly brightens up a room.  With a contrasting color, your guests will surely be inspired.
  2. Fiesta
    • Elle Décor suggests that this fiery red color is the perfect accent in a modern kitchen.  But we also think a neutral living room or office would benefit from small accents in this spicy shade.
  3. Green Flash
    • The Green Lantern has nothing on this hue.  This brilliant green can add a tremendous splash to an entryway or hallway.  Anyone daring enough to paint their bathroom in this striking color?
  4. Iced Coffee
    • This neutral yet soft brown may not seem earthshattering but the color provides a backdrop for a smooth transition season to season.
  5. Lilac Gray
    • This unassuming purple hue is a classic addition to any room and provides a bit of visual interest without an over-the-top statement.
  6. Limpet Shell
    • Sky blue is out and limpet shell is in!  The gentle shade warms up any room in the home and also provides a great neutral color for nursery rooms!
  7. Peach Echo
    • Are you loving the names of these hues – we surely do!  This corel-esque shade brings a sense of Caribbean warmth to your home which is perfect for our Hampton or Sag Harbor homeowners.  We think this accent color would be fabulous with classic white rooms.
  8. Rose Quartz
    • Pretty in pink is back in!  This petal pink goes beyond a little girl’s room and could grace the walls in a dining room, library or even a powder room off the main living room.
  9. Serenity
    • This shade of blue has a slight hint of purple and illuminates any room in the home.  Especially a dining area, powder room and or a playroom for the kids.
  10. Snorkel Blue
    • This deep and rich blue adds a lavish style to your home especially in a formal living room.

Pantone Colors for the blog

For more information on how you can use these pantone colors, click here.