a project under construction

Brooklyn Developer Builds Following on Blog

By Jeff Vandam

The template for setting up a Web site for a new development goes something like this: start with a flashy animated graphic, add a catchy soundtrack and paste a somewhat vague slogan across the page. Then wait for prospective buyers to roll in.
The home page for a 44-unit development on the eastern edge Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, called Third and Bond (slogan: “What really matters”) has all of these things. But instead of stopping there, the Hudson Companies, the project’s developer, decided to venture deeper into the Internet. Since August 2007, the company has blogged nearly every detail of the process of building and marketing Third and Bond at Brownstoner.com, from the routine (facades and fixtures) to the esoteric (the workings of dual-flush toilets).

The blog came about after David Kramer, a principal at Hudson, saw a post on Brownstoner about his company’s announcement of plans for Third and Bond in July 2007. He scrolled down to look at the comments, and while some were inquisitive and others were laudatory, a few were not exactly kind. He called Jonathan Butler, who publishes Brownstoner, with a proposal.

“I said, ‘So many of your postings are so angry and negative and they all think real estate developers are a bunch of nefarious bad guys making decisions in smoke-filled rooms,’ ” Mr. Kramer recalled. His idea was to chronicle his new development from start to finish, with the added benefit that those commenting on the site could serve as a kind of focus group for the project. “Little did I know what a journey it would be,” he said.

The journey has indeed stretched on, as the blog marked its 132nd week in operation on Thursday. Through the years, the results, posted weekly, have fostered an openness about the project that has both shocked and comforted some potential buyers.

“I’ve frankly been really surprised at how transparent it is,” said John Payne, a landscape designer who recently signed a contract for a one-bedroom at Third and Bond. “If something doesn’t go well, guess what, they lay it out there.”

That they do. After Third and Bond received its fifth stop-work order in June 2008, this one for an improperly secured plywood fence, Hudson’s blogger, Alison Novak, a senior project manager, complained that the city seemed to be harping on small problems while failing to crack down on big ones, like crane collapses. The response from Brownstoner’s readers was not exactly sympathetic.

“Boo hoo,” one commenter wrote. “Better to have skipped the week than to post this garbage.”

Another wrote: “I don’t feel sorry for you. A violation is a violation. Fix it and move on.”

Perhaps wisely, the next week Ms. Novak blogged about a mural at the construction site designed by local children. (That feel-good topic produced this comment: “Boring!!!”)

Still, many of the comments on the site have been positive, and some have even influenced aspects of the project. When Ms. Novak posted early floor plans in September 2007, one reader suggested moving the washer and dryer away from the master bedroom to reduce vibration and noise; that change was incorporated, along with a few others. The audience has grown, too.

“I think that once readers realized that David and Co. weren’t just doing this to write puff pieces,” Mr. Butler said in an e-mail message, “the credibility rose and more and more people started tuning in.”

The approach seems to be effective. The project is now 20 percent sold after opening early this spring, said Leslie Marshall of the Corcoran Group, who is handling building sales with a fellow Corcoran senior vice president, James Cornell. Prices per square foot are in the $720 range, with unit prices ranging from $311,500, for a studio, to $1.381 million for a three-bedroom.

The crowd at open houses seems well informed. “I have not found many people who come to Third and Bond who didn’t know about the blog,” Ms. Marshall said.

Model units were staged by a group from the Pratt Institute, all the way down to hand towels with a Brooklyn rooftop theme. It was at a Pratt event at Third and Bond that Mr. Payne, the new buyer, first encountered the project, which he followed online afterward. The project’s open attitude persuaded Mr. Payne, an Afghanistan war veteran, to try using a loan from the Department of Veterans Affairs to buy a unit there after unsuccessful attempts elsewhere. (It worked.)

“Their openness to laying it all out and their openness to dealing with us probably are linked,” Mr. Payne said.

Although Mr. Kramer and Ms. Novak did not definitively say whether future developments would come with their own extensive blogs, they did say blogging at Third and Bond would continue at least until the first move-ins late this summer, and perhaps beyond. What is more, Ms. Novak, a graduate of M.I.T.’s city planning and real estate development programs, has spoken to her alma mater about perhaps publishing the blog’s contents as a case study, or perhaps elsewhere as a glossy coffee-table book for “Brooklyn aficionados or design geeks,” she said.

“This may not be the best time in the world for publishing,” Ms. Novak said, “but I think there’s a lot of meat there.”


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