The next installment in the “Building Strange Weather Blog” series by producer/engineer and studio owner Marc Alan Goodman. Click to start at Step 1: Finding A New Home; Step 2: Design; Step 3-4: Waiting For Permits (Part 1) and (Part 2)
WILLIAMSBURG, BROOKLYN: The last three months have been a series of stops and gos unlike anything I could have imagined. I look back to a year ago, just before I became a property owner myself, and I can remember walking past vacant storefronts and wondering “how in god’s name can anyone afford to have a space remain vacant in this city?”
Little did I know that 10 months and seven days later I’d still only be imagining work on my own place. I’ve had to do some serious soul searching to figure out if there’s anything I could have, or rather should have done better, but when I look back on all the details I’m ultimately happy with how far we’ve come. The fact that we’re starting construction this week certainly helped…
Building a recording studio in Brooklyn…I knew going into it that there are certain things that would take longer than anticipated. I was told by a number of respected friends to plan for the build-out to take 3x as long as I would have expected. It turns out that I needed to double that — I’ve been delayed twice that long just getting started.
Everyone knows Brooklyn’s bureaucracy is like a black hole, so I understood that permits would take a long time. Contractors notoriously run behind schedule. But what’s really dictated the speed of work has been organization — more specifically any organization or lack of organization that I’ve been responsible for myself.
Communication seems to be the variable that’s both most critical and most time consuming. It only took a few months to get the plans for the ground floor, but I had to wait until I had them in my hand to take them to the structural engineer and other architect so they could begin work. As soon as the architects got working I left them to themselves and focused on the next most pressing problem: funding.
If I’d been in a rush, having someone around to manage the architects would have helped a great deal. As it turns out months later, when the money was finally in place, I had to get everyone to match each others’ plans. There goes another three months.
Actually getting that money in place was a mission in itself. I got a good deal on the building because I was able to make it happen fast, which meant dealing in cash and getting a mortgage retroactively. Every banker I spoke to prior to the purchase told me that this wouldn’t be a problem so I went ahead with the deal. However when I went back to those same bankers to start the procedure they all told me that there is a Fannie Mae / Freddie Mac restriction preventing them from backing a mortgage until the property has been “seasoned,” or simply owned for six months.
Once again I was told “Come back in six months and this will be easy!” Six months later I get a lot of “Great, let’s start the paperwork” responses. But once the paperwork started there were more holdups.
Due to the recent falling out of the American mortgage industry all of the major banks have closed up their mixed-use property departments. So the residential specialists would say they can’t deal with it and send me to commercial. Then the commercial specialists would try to send me back to residential. After going through this two or three times I got smart and asked what was going on.
They weren’t authorized to work on a loan for me, but the mixed-use department didn’t exist anymore and there was nowhere to send me! On the occasion when I did speak to someone who seemed interested, the current status of the property would come up.
The big backers have no interest in a building that is partially vacant as collateral. In order to fix up a vacant property one would need a construction loan, which few banks still consider for businesses looking for less than three million.