A Conversation With Steven Rutter, as Published in The New York Times
Posted by VIVIAN MARINO of The New York Times — September 16, 2015
This interview was originally published in The New York Times. View the original article here.
Mr. Rutter, 56, is the director of Stribling Marketing Associates, a division of the Stribling & Associates boutique brokerage firm, which focuses on new residential developments in New York City. Among the projects currently being marketed are 252 East 57th Street, 210 West 77th Street and the Philip House at 141 East 88th Street.
Before joining Stribling in 2006, Mr. Rutter was the senior managing director at the Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group.
Q. How involved is Stribling Marketing in the development projects it represents?
A. We get involved often before the developers have a site. They consult with us on the best use of a site: What they should build, who the target buyer is. We recommend architects, interior designers. We spend a lot of time on the floor plans, to the point where I think architects sometimes have to say, pens down, like in “Jeopardy.” So really from soup to nuts. Often from the time we start selling, we could’ve been working on a project for over two years.
Q. How many agents and brokers are in the division?
A. It sort of comes and goes depending on how many projects we have — probably now working on projects, 20 or so. In all of Stribling Associates, we probably have in excess of 300 right now.
Q. What’s your main role there?
A. In addition to maintaining the relationships with the developers we’re working with and being really involved with bringing in new business and staying up on what’s going on in so many different markets — all the prime neighborhoods of Manhattan and Brooklyn — I’m constantly out there looking at sites and competing projects. Really, for the larger projects, I am part of the team that’s at the weekly meetings.
Q. How involved is Elizabeth Stribling, the founder, in your division?
A. There are a couple of projects that she’s really involved with, where she goes to weekly meetings. And she’s also on call if the developer wants her input. She is also promoting our projects through our Savills affiliations.
Q. So how is business?
A. Business has been great. It’s coming up on nine years, and the first project I started with was the Plaza, which was sort of a trial by fire, but it was really fun and very successful. And we’ve gone through good markets and bad markets. But the last couple of years have been great; the projects that we’ve been opening have sold really well.
Q. Let’s talk about some of the projects you are working on.
A. The largest right now is 252 East 57th, which is with the World Wide Group. That’s 93 apartments. They’re a developer that doesn’t like to give the percentage sold, but sales are going well. Things have really picked up in the last couple of months. We probably will be closing in early 2017.
We’re selling 210 West 77th for Naftali Group. It’s 25 large apartments, and we’re about 75 percent sold. The building is probably about 15 months from completion. And we have another Naftali project, a 57-unit building. We have the penthouse left at 234 East 23rd Street. We’ll probably start closings early next year.
We are selling a project down in SoHo, One Vandam, and we’re 80 percent sold there. We’ll probably start closings by the end of the year.
We have one apartment left out of 32 at a project in Carroll Gardens, at 345 Carroll Street. The building is out of the ground, but it’s still probably a year from completion.
And we’re doing 432 West 52nd Street, where there’s a lot of demand for its studios and one-bedrooms. We’re about 75 percent sold there.
We’re also selling the Philip House, 141 East 88th, and we have two penthouses left and two four-bedrooms.
Q. Are you busier this year than last?
A. Yeah. We have over 20 projects in the pipeline. There’s a lot we can’t talk about yet, but we are very active — really opening projects from now till 18 months from now. It’s given me the opportunity to expand the department with a bigger research team and more project managers.
Q. What is your assessment of New York’s residential market in general?
A. It’s a bifurcated market. If we talk about the 57th Street corridor, where everything is $7,000, $8,000 a foot, that remains to be seen, because I don’t know how many $30 million buyers there are out there. But if we’re just talking about — and I know this sounds jaded — the buyers looking to spend $2,500 a foot, which used to be expensive, I still think there’s not enough inventory to go around. And not everybody is buying three- or four-bedrooms. The problem, of course, is with land costs. Developers feel they need to build big because that’s how they’re going to maximize their dollar per square foot.
Q. What kinds of prices are you seeing on average?
A. We’re working mostly in the $2,000- to $3,000-a-foot range. We’re not doing any in the superhigh end.
Q. Are you selling out faster these days?
A. We got to that first 50, 60 or 70 percent sold much more quickly than we might have a couple of years ago. That last 25 percent or so is still selling at a steady rate, but as new projects come on, the buyers want to look at the new thing. But I think over all, the absorption rates are much healthier than they were even three years ago. In some buildings with under 50 or 60 units, we’ve sold them out in under six months.
Q. What exactly are buyers looking for?
A. Buyers have the ability to be a little bit more choosy, so they are looking for not the laundry list of amenities, but for the amenities that they really use. In a lot of our buildings, we have gotten away from the typical kids’ rooms and have done rooms that are more appropriate for tweens, and even adults use them. We’ve also put in half-court basketball courts.
Location is still the most important thing on their list, but they want good layouts and good finishes.
Q. What’s been the biggest transaction so far this year?
A. The most expensive was PH-N at 508 West 24th Street, which closed for $11.4 million.
Q. Where would you like to see the division in the next few years?
A. I’d say a slow expansion, but a smart expansion. Because we’re privately owned, we actually have the ability at times to say no to a developer if we don’t think it’s the right fit — we have a couple of times. It doesn’t happen often.