Research Notation

There are various methods that an author can use to cite his or her sources. The most commonly used methods are those developed by the Modern Language Association, the American Psychological Association and the University of Chicago, respectively known as MLA, APA and CMS formatting. While these methods include much of the same information, each style places emphasis on different attributes of a source, which can contribute to making one style more suitable than another. Various disciplines have adapted one of these three styles as their preferred method of notation.

The CMS style is the most flexible of notation methods, as  it allows writers to choose between footnotes or in‐text citations. Furthermore, the author‐ date system highlights a source’s publication date, which is imperative information to know when analyzing real estate data. In real estate research and reporting, it is recommended to use the CMS formatting because of the combination of footnotes and the emphasis on dates. The Chicago Manual of Style can be accessed through the following link:


Not all sources should be treated equally. It’s important for students to identify and use information from reputable sources when conducting research. Determining the validity of a source however can be a challenge, especially when dealing with information obtained from the internet. To help weigh the credibility of a source, students can use the CRAAP test13.

First developed by the California State University, Chico library, CRAAP is an acronym for Currency, Relevance, Authority, Accuracy and Purpose. Students should answer questions regarding each category of criteria to determine whether a source should be used. Examples of questions that are recommended as part of the CRAAP test are outlined below14:

Currency: The timeliness of the information.

  • When was the information published or posted?
  • Has the information been revised or updated?
  • Does your topic require current information, or will older sources work as well?
  • Are the links functional?

Relevance: The importance of the information for your needs.

  • Does the information relate to your topic or answer your question?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • Is the information at an appropriate level (i.e. not too elementary or advanced for your needs)?
  • Have you looked at a variety of sources before determining this is one you will use?
  • Would you be comfortable citing this source in your research paper?

Authority: The source of the information.

  • Who is the author/publisher/source/sponsor?
  • What are the author’s credentials or organizational affiliations?
  • Is the author qualified to write on the topic?
  • Is there contact information, such as a publisher or email address?
  • Does the URL reveal anything about the author or source? examples: .com .edu .gov .org .net

Accuracy: The reliability, truthfulness and correctness of the content.

  • Where does the information come from?
  • Is the information supported by evidence?
  • Has the information been reviewed or refereed?
  • Can you verify any of the information in another source or from personal knowledge?
  • Does the language or tone seem unbiased and free of emotion?
  • Are there spelling, grammar or typographical errors?

Purpose: The reason the information exists.

  • What is the purpose of the information? Is it to inform, teach, sell, entertain or persuade?
  • Do the authors/sponsors make their intentions or purpose clear?
  • Is the information fact, opinion or propaganda?
  • Does the point of view appear objective and impartial?
  • Are there political, ideological, cultural, religious, institutional or personal biases?

The CRAAP method recommends that users apply a point system to reach a conclusion regarding the validity of a source. Each of the 5 categories can receive up to 10 points with the total possible points being 50. A score of 45‐50 points in considered an excellent source, 40‐ 44 is considered good, 35‐39 is average, 30‐34 is borderline acceptable and below 29 is considered unacceptable. It is recommended that research students review the CRAAP criteria to gain an understanding of the elements that make up a reputable source.

Presentation of Research

The presentation of your research can take on a variety of formats depending on the purpose, audience, means of delivery and desired outcome of the research. This section of the report will detail important considerations for a presentation of real estate research; whether that presentation be a written report reviewed internally, a feasibility report, an RFP response, an oral presentation or reporting to investors (amongst others).

The purpose of the research should remain at the forefront of a presentation. What is the problem or question that you are trying to solve for? This should be clearly stated at the beginning of a presentation (whether that be written or oral), and clearly answered by the end of the presentation. It could be as straight forward as what is the IRR of a project, or as nuanced as what are the potential risks of a development in an emerging market? This purpose will essentially drive the entire presentation and serve as a thesis for the project.

The target audience is often an overlooked consideration when preparing and executing a presentation. The messaging, terminology and means of delivery are all dependent on the audience. It’s important to ask the following questions about the contingency of people that  will be reviewing the presentation:

1.           What is their knowledge base of the subject matter?

2.           What is their role in this project or subject?

3.           What information matters most to them?

4.           What are they looking to gain from the presentation?

5.           What means of delivery will they be most receptive to?

Answering these questions before preparing a presentation will give the presenter clear vision and direction that will lead to a more successful product. Consider the clear distinction of presenting site/project research and a feasibility study for the renovation of an 80/20 building in Brooklyn to two very different audiences.

If the audience is an investor, then they will most likely be:

1.           Very knowledgeable about the asset class, key assumptions and the financial analysis

2.           They are a potential stakeholder in the project

3.           They care about the project’s feasibility and return on their capital

4.           They are trying to understand if this project is a desirable investment for them

5.           They will want a full project summary with clear focus on the financials and risks of the project.

If the audience is the tenant association, then they will most likely be:

1.      Knowledgeable about the building itself and their rental history at the site (not about financial assumptions for project feasibility)

2.       They are the residents of the building and the income stream for ownership

3.       They care about the physical condition and management of the building, and their ability to continue to live in their apartment post‐renovation

4.       They are trying to understand what a renovation project means for their future at the building


5.       They will want a presentation that addresses their concerns and questions about work being done on their units, how it will affect their day to day, and the status of their lease and rent post‐renovation.


Thinking critically about your audience will then organically lead you to consider the most effective means of delivery for your research. If the presentation is in written format (ie an internal report or RFP response), then the means of delivery is clear; you will be providing a written deliverable to your audience. Organization, structure and defining the purpose of the research are imperative to a creating this product. If you are answering an RFP or submitting an application, you will want to make sure that you have answered the original request fully and completely, and that you have followed the established format of the request with exhibits as necessary. Key assumptions and sources of information should be clearly summarized at the end of a written presentation.

If the presentation is oral, you will want to be strategic in how the power point (or other visual aid) is written and what information is included in writing versus information that is only communicated through speech. Visual aids should be simple, concise and minimalistic to accompany the spoken presentation. They should complement and support, not distract. Perhaps you will want to provide a written deliverable to accompany the oral presentation that summarizes key takeaways, action items and/or final conclusions. Be sure to allocate sufficient time to address any questions or facilitate discussion at the end of an oral presentation. Perhaps even consider preparing questions should the audience not have any to ensure that important and impactful details of the presentation are underscored again.

The final item to focus on during preparation and delivery of a presentation is the desired outcome of your research. The research you have completed concludes something: it could demonstrate a path forward to create a financially feasible project, an argument to rent versus acquire space, an application to solicit government support for a project, etc. The presentation should clearly lead the audience to agree with this desired outcome and final recommendation. It should be constructed honestly, but persuasively, with sufficient evidence and discussion of risks, sensitivities and alternatives. The goal is the inform and educate the audience, and to organically allow them to arrive at the same conclusion as you – the informed and diligent researcher.

Zoning & Land Use


Zoning is a legal mechanism that enables a local government to regulate development  of privately owned property. In 1916, New York City adopted the nation’s first comprehensive zoning rules and regulations known as the “Zoning Resolution.” The law was prompted by the construction of the 42‐story Equitable Building in Lower Manhattan (see Figure 1, below) that caused concerns regarding height, form of the buildings, and shadows that affected property owners and the value of their property. The Zoning Resolution became the model for future laws and is still the traditional method of land use regulation. The constitutionality of zoning rules and regulations was confirmed in the 1926 United States Supreme Court landmark case Village of Euclid, Ohio v. Ambler Realty Co.

Figure 1 – Equitable Building, Manhattan

New York City’s Zoning Resolution controls the use, density, and bulk of development within the entire city, with the exception of parkland, which does not have a zoning designation.    New York City is divided  into  three  basic  zoning  districts:  residential  (R), commercial (C), and manufacturing (M). The three basic categories are further subdivided into lower, medium, and higher‐density residential, commercial, and manufacturing districts. Development within each residential, commercial, and manufacturing district is subject to use, bulk, and parking regulations. The Department of City Planning oversees NYC’s Zoning Resolution and according to their website:

Zoning is the language of the physical city. It aims to promote an orderly pattern of development and to separate incompatible land uses, such as industrial uses and homes, to ensure a pleasant environment. The Zoning Resolution is a legal instrument to regulate and establish limits on the use of land and building size, shape, height, and setback.

The NYC Department of City Planning created a web‐based application that provides the public with up‐to‐date zoning and related information for New York City.  The web‐based application is known as “ZoLa” – the Zoning and Land Use Application – and can be accessed through the following link:

Within this application, one can search a property by address, block/lot, intersection, or place of interest. The results provide the site’s block and lot number, zoning district, zoning map, and historical zoning map. Within these results, there are hyperlinks that provide further information. For example, entering an address that results in an “R8” zoning district and  clicking on the “R8” zoning district links to the NYC Department of City Planning’s website providing additional information about the “R8” zoning district including floor area ratio (“FAR”), building height, and required parking. The NYC Department of City Planning also publishes a “Zoning Handbook” that is available for purchase online and at their Manhattan office at 120 Broadway, 31st Floor, New York, NY 10271. The “Zoning Handbook” greatly assists any user in interpreting the Zoning Resolution, which is estimated almost 1,300 pages.

Zoning is enforced by the NYC Department of Buildings, which holds the primary responsibility for interpreting and enforcing NYC’s Zoning Resolution to ensure the safe and lawful use of buildings and construction sites across the five boroughs.  Much development in New York City occurs as‐of‐right. Once the NYC Department of Buildings is satisfied that the proposed structure complies with all relevant provisions of the Zoning Resolution and the Building Code, a building permit is issued and construction can begin; no further action is required.

Land Use

Land use refers to the activity that is occurring on land and within the structures that occupy it. Types of uses include residential, retail, commercial, industrial, vacant land, and  parks. In each case, where appropriate, the number of buildings and their heights, the number of dwelling units, floor area, and square footage should be noted.

Land Use information and maps can be found on the ZoLa website, under “Show Zoning & Related Data on Map.”  For example:

For more detailed information, the NYC Department of City Planning provides a  database called “PLUTO,” which stands for Primary Land Use Tax Lot Output, and provides data on the following land use types: one‐and two‐family residential buildings, multi‐family walk‐up residential   buildings,    multi‐family   elevator   residential   buildings,    mixed   residential   and commercial buildings, commercial and office buildings, industrial and manufacturing, transportation and utility, public facilities and institutions, open space and outdoor recreation, parking facilities, and vacant land. The website also provides “MapPLUTO” that merges PLUTO tax lot data with tax lot features from the Department of Finance’s Digital Tax Map. The  website can be accessed through the following link:‐data/dwn‐pluto‐

Public Policy

Public policy has a significant role in how a city develops. Policies are shaped by public stakeholders, interest groups, politicians and local community boards; and they are enforced by government agencies. This section outlines prominent agencies, regulations and incentives that directly affect and oversee real estate development in New York City. A majority of the information provided focuses on residential and multifamily development, as housing is the most regulated sector of real estate. Commercial (office and retail) and industrial development is mostly controlled by zoning and land use law as previously discussed in Sections II A and B.

New York State and New York City Development Agencies 

While New York City has an “as of right” building policy3, there are federal, state and city agencies that oversee new development, preservation and sustainability of the City’s buildings and neighborhoods. Some of these agencies are named and profiled in further detail in this section. Contact information is also provided for each of the agencies, as well as details about how to gather information about the actions and policies of a particular agency that may relate to a prospective development site or project. A full list of New York City agencies that specifically oversee housing and development can be found at the following link of the City of New York’s website:‐resources/

We have selected a few specific agencies that are particularly active in the financing and regulation of new developments and preservation projects in the five boroughs. These agencies may have encumbrances on properties, and their approval may be required for the sale of a specific property. Furthermore, these agencies may be responsible for interim ownership and transfer of title of blighted and foreclosed properties throughout the City. They are in essence the “owner” of many sites throughout the City, and take on the role of financier and partner of many private and not‐for‐profit developers. Valuable financing and subsidy programs are provided and administered by these agencies, and may be imperative to the success and feasibility of a project. The term “public‐private partnerships” is often thrown around in regards to urban development and revitalization. It is precisely these agencies that comprise the “public” side of such a partnership. They offer financial incentives to private developers and real estate owners to encourage them to invest private capital and resources in community development and rehabilitation projects. It is, therefore, imperative to understand the role that development agencies play and how to navigate them when considering the acquisition or development of specific NYC sites.

US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)

HUD is a federal agency that distributes funding in the form of mortgage financing and rental subsidy to each of the fifty states. The states then allocate these public monies to developers and their individual residential projects. Each state housing agency has their own application process and scoring system to determine how funds are allocated. Funding for HUD programs is determined by the federal budget. The agency has regional offices that oversee a specific geography, or “catchment area”. A list of the regional HUD offices and their respective Directors can be found on the HUD website:

New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR) 

This agency is responsible for allocating and managing HUD funding to the state of New York, and project management for the construction and preservation of affordable housing. HCR is further divided into five separate divisions:

  • HCR Division of Housing and Community Renewal (DHCR)
  • HCR Housing Trust Fund Corporation (HFTC)
  • HCR Housing Finance Agency (HFA)
  • HCR State of New York Mortgage Agency (SONYMA)
  • HCR Affordable Housing Corporation (AHC).

HCR and its subdivisions are important to become familiar with should an owner/developer pursue the development or acquisition of multifamily or SFR rental housing in NYC. Property site research may reveal that one of these agencies is a mortgagor of the property. Often times, HFA and SONYMA loans are assumable for future buyers. Alternatively, the mortgage may have an accompanying Regulatory Agreement that encumbers the property, and may require agency approval to sell.

SONYMA has a first‐time homebuyer loan product to promote homeownership that requires minimal down payment and boasts a low interest rate. There are a variety of similar incentive programs and loan products to promote residential acquisitions by New Yorkers. While some of these are reserved for primary residences, others can be used to purchase a single family or townhome rental property. These programs originate and evolve over time. For the most up to date program information, always refer to the HCR homeownership and rental owner links (below).

New York City Housing Development Corporation (HDC) & New York City Housing Preservation and Development (HPD) 

HDC and HPD function in a similar capacity. They are both financing and development corporations that fund and oversee the construction and preservation of multifamily housing in NYC. HDC was created by the New York State Legislature in 1971 as an alternative means of supplying financing for affordable and mixed income housing separate from the City’s capital budget. Flexibility was built into the agency’s mission, and it has amended its tools and resources over time to now include the issuance of bonds and low‐cost loans, and a variety of subsidy programs to develop and preserve housing.

HPD was established in 1978, and operates in a similar capacity as HDC, with additional responsibilities of compliance monitoring, management and regulation of the City’s housing stock. HPD oversees city government programs to reach specific housing targets (ie Mayor Bill De Blasio’s Housing New York Plan: 200,000 affordable housing preserved or constructed units in ten years). HPD is often a partner of developers and community organizations to ensure that these projects are feasible and in compliance with the City’s neighborhood planning initiatives. Some of the unique functions and development resources offered by HPD include: tax abatements, issuance of tax credits and low‐interest loans. The agency participates in oversight of its projects through issuance of fines and penalties to owners for failure to maintain compliant and up‐to‐code housing. In this manner, HPD is a tenant advocate, proactive neighborhood planner, and ultimately ensures quality, not just quantity, of housing for New Yorkers.

Like most community development agencies, HDC and HPD originate projects through a Request for Proposal (RFP) process. RFP links are available for both agencies.


HPD RFP Link:‐rfq‐

City owned land and foreclosed properties with City mortgages fall under the jurisdiction of these two agencies. An agency may issue an RFP for developer proposals for the new development or redevelopment of a blighted property. The requirements and selection criteria are published in the RFP and made available to the public. The overseeing agency establishes a list of qualified developers to acquire these sites, and to develop them per the agency’s specifications. Through a public‐private partnership structure, the agency assists the developer with assembling the capital stack to realize a feasible and profitable project. The next section discusses public policy in the form of legislation and initiatives that incentivize developers to build in‐demand assets; in New York City, this is almost always housing.

New York City Development Incentives 

Development incentives are imperative to successful city planning. These incentives provide financial justification for a developer to construct a property that may not necessarily be best and highest use, or one that may accommodate reduced income units (ie affordable or supportive housing). It allows the City to have an active role in creating and maintaining vibrant and diverse communities. This section will briefly discuss some of the major tax‐related incentive programs, as well as 80/20 developments which allow owners to build beyond as‐of‐ right square footage per zoning and floor to area ratio (FAR). As a potential investor or developer in an 80/20 project, or one that has received special tax treatment, it is important to understand the mechanism in place and how it will affect future property tax rate assumptions. It may also become necessary to be in open communication with the City to maintain or extend tax exempt status for a property after you have acquired it.

Tax‐Exemptions: 421a and J51 

The 421a program offered developers a ten‐year tax abatement if they opted to develop multifamily housing on a vacant site. The program originated through the NY State Legislature in 1971. The impetus for this program, amongst others, was to encourage developers to create more housing options throughout the five boroughs for New Yorkers. During the construction period, developers paid no tax (up to three years), which was followed by a ten‐year tax abatement period which reduced by 20% every two years until expiration ten years out. There are several variations of the 421a program that offer additional benefits to owners that develop partially or entirely affordable housing projects, as well as those that convert commercial spaces to residential. The program expired in 2015 with no alternative or renewal in place. At the time this paper was written (Spring 2017), the new 421a Bill was still being debated by state legislature. Debated additions to the Bill include modifying the applicable zones for the program, as well as a contentious requirement for union wages.8 Per the below diagram, it is clear that the program was an effective tool to encourage new housing development through the eighties, nineties and early 2000s. More information regarding properties that receive special tax treatment per 421a, and about the evolving revision of the Bill can be found on the New York City website:‐

Similar to 421a, J51 is a New York City tax abatement program for owners and developers of multifamily residential. However, J51 is and as‐of‐right program that is specific to the rehabilitation (not new construction) of aging and blighted rental housing in the five boroughs. HPD is the agency that determines a project’s eligibility for a J51 exemption and administers the program over the term of the exemption. In exchange for the providing this benefit to ownership, HPD requires that the units be rent stabilized throughout the period of the tax exemption.10 As previously discussed in Section I B, property searches will indicate if a property receives this tax benefit. The City also makes this information available to the public via a compiled and updated list of J51 properties found at the below site:‐

The program includes two benefits: 1) The exemption reduces the taxable assessed value of a property (which is the basis for calculating real estate tax), and 2) The exemption reduces the actual tax that has been charged against a property.11 The duration of a J51 tax exemption is ongoing, so long as the rental units remain rent stabilized and compliant with HPD program requirements. As these programs are evolving over time, it is important to refer to the NYC City website for the most up‐to‐date specifics regarding Tax Incentives:‐

80/20 Multifamily Housing Developments 

80/20 Developments are not unique to New York City, and exist throughout the nation. This development program has become a widely popular and successful means of incentivizing developers to construct desperately needed affordable housing throughout American’s cities and suburbs. In New York City, a developer is able to build beyond the maximum square footage as defined by zoning and FAR for a lot if the project will be housing that offers 80% market‐rate units, and 20% affordable housing units.12 In addition to the ability to build additional rentable square footage, HFA offers tax‐exempt financing for 80/20 developments to help create a feasible project. HFA will require the owner to enter a Regulatory Agreement that will assure rent regulation and compliance for the affordable component. Furthermore, if 80/20 developments are built in specific districts of NYC, additional tax incentives may be available through the City. These developments may take the form of a public‐private partnership to redevelop City owned land and revitalize a neighborhood (ie Battery Park City).

There are a variety of tax‐exempt financing options available for the development and preservation of affordable housing that warrant a discussion beyond the scope of this report. The key takeaway is that when acquiring or developing residential projects in New York City, it is imperative to understand the financing terms, requirements and restrictions of a project, as well as any compliance related matters (related to tenant income and rental rates) should a project have an affordable component. This information is readily available through property searches and City agency websites. The HCR website offers an exhaustive list of the various financing programs available and details their accompanying tax incentives: