Do I need a broker to buy real estate in Brooklyn?


I’ve been toying with the idea of writing about Brooklyn real estate for a while. This week I decided to give it a whirl.

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Back in 2011 I had a crazy idea. I wondered if it was possible to sell the loft I owned in Manhattan, and trade up that equity for a townhouse in Brooklyn?

As it turns out selling the coop ended up being its own complicated ordeal. Think of it more like getting a divorce, with all the attendant challenges of ending a long love affair! I may write a longer post about that soon enough, but for today let’s talk about the buying part.

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Do I need a buyer’s broker?

In NYC it seems every real estate transaction is still encumbered by brokers at either end. One for the buyer & one for the seller. The seller will pay a 6% transaction fee & that’ll be divided 3% for each of the teams. But that 3% is further divided, 1.5% to the broker themself, and 1.5% to their firm.

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It’s important to understand who is incentivized & by what. This helps you see motivations, and better discern the “truth” when you’re looking for an answer. Back to the question, do you need one? On the sell side I would say more than likely yes. Unless you are a master seller & even then it’s hard to get by without one. I tried it using Although this put my listing in all the right places (NYT & streeteasy) which brought me plenty of traffic, I still didn’t get many strong offers. Most buyers come with a broker, and they’re likely to steer away from you for fear they won’t get their fee. After all, you’re trying to play outside the system to begin with. Contract or not, it’s very tough. So on sell side I would say yes you’ll need a broker.

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On buy side its different. If you don’t bring a broker, the seller will pay 5% to the single selling broker, so this is great for them. But what about for you? Again understanding incentives really helps. For me this made the time spent using Real Direct a learning experience. I saw the ins & outs of real estate.

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I’m going to call it quits for today. But I have a lot more to write about. Future pieces will include working with NYC agencies, like HPD & DOB, avoiding violations, understanding all the players in a large transaction, from underwriters, bank lawyer, seller & buyer lawyer, mortgage agent, title company & insurance agent.

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I’ll also try to share what I’ve learned about the physical moving parts. The engineering… gas vs oil boilers, roofs, brick vs wood frame structures, cosmetic vs structural renovations, appliances, faucets, fixtures & cabinets, bath & kitchen tiling, decks & outdoor structures, backyards, plants & vegetation, pests & animals.

Until next time!

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How to interview an amazon database expert


Amazon releases a new database offering every other day. It sure isn’t easy to keep up.

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Let’s say you’re hiring a devops & you want to suss out their database knowledge? Or you’re hiring a professional services firm or freelance consultant. Whatever the case you’ll need to sift through for the best people. Here’s how.

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What database does Amazon support for caching?

Caching is a popular way to speed up access to your backend database. Put Amazon’s elasticache behind your webserver, and you can reduce load on your database by 90%. Nice!

The two types that amazon supports are Memcache & Redis. Memcache is historically more popular. These days Redis seems a clear winner. It’s faster, and can maintain your cached data between restarts. That will save you I promise!

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How can I store big data in AWS?

Amazon’s data warehouse offering is called Redshift. I wrote Why is everyone suddenly talking about Redshift?. Why indeed!

When you’re doing large reports for your business intelligence team, you don’t want to bog down your backend relational database. Redshift is purpose built for this use case.

I’ve see a report that took over 8 hours in MySQL return in under 60 seconds in Redshift!

A new offering is Amazon Spectrum. This tech is super cool. Load up all your data into S3, in standard CSV format. Then without even loading it into Redshift, you can query the S3 data directly. This is super useful. Firstly because S3 is 1/10th the price. But also because it allows you to stage your data before loading into Redshift itself. Goodbye Google Big Query! I talked about spectrum here.

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What relational database options are there on Amazon?

Amazon supports a number of options through it’s Relational Database Service or RDS. This is managed databases, which means less work on your DBAs shoulders. It also may make upgrades slower and harder with more downtime, but you get what you pay for.

There are a lot of platforms available. As you might guess MySQL & Postgres are there. Great! Even better you can use MariaDB if that’s your favorite. You can also go with Aurora which is Amazon’s own home-brew drop in replacement for MySQL that promises greater durability and some speedups.

If you’re a glutton for punishment, you can even get Oracle & SQL Server working on RDS. Very nice!

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Does AWS have a NoSQL database solution?

If NoSQL is to your taste, Amazon has DynamoDB. According to . I haven’t seen a lot of large production applications using it, but what he describes makes a lot of sense. The way Amazon scales nodes & data I/O is bound to run into real performance problems.

That said it can be a great way to get you up and running quickly.

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How do I do ETL & migrate data to AWS?

Let’s be honest, Amazon wants to make this really easy. The quicker & simpler it is to get your data there, that more you’ll buy!

Amazon’s Database Migration Service or DMS allows you to configure your old database as a data source, then choose a Amazon db solution as destination, then just turn on the spigot and pump your data in!

ETL is extract transform and load, data warehouse terminology for slicing and dicing data before you load it into your warehouse. Many of todays warehouses are being built with the data lake model, because databases like Redshift have gotten so damn fast. That model means you stage all your source data as-is in your warehouse, then build views & summary tables as needed to speed up queries & reports. Even better you might look a tool like xplenty.

Amazon’s new offering is called Glue. Five ways to get data into Amazon Redshift. This solution is purpose build for creating a powerful data pipeline, complete with python code to do transformations.

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What does the fight between palantir & nypd mean for your data?


In a recent buzzfeed piece, NYPD goes to the mat with Palantir over their data. It seems the NYPD has recently gotten cold feet.

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As they explored options, they found an alternative that might save them a boatload of money. They considered switching to an IBM alternative called Cobalt.

And I mean this is Silicon Valley, what could go wrong?

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Who owns your data?

In the case of Palantir, they claim to be an open system. And of course this is good marketing. Essential in fact to get the contract. Promise that it’s easy to switch. Don’t dig too deep into the technical details there. According to the article, Palantir spokeperson claims:

“Palantir is an open platform. As with all our customers, their data & analysis are available to them at all times in an open & nonproprietary format.”

And that does appear to be true. What appears to be troubling NYPD isn’t that they can’t get the analysis, for that’s available to them in perpetuity. Within the Palantir system. But getting access to how the analysis is done, well now that’s the secret sauce. Palantir of course is not going to let go of that.

And that’s the devil in the details when you want to switch to a competing service.

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Who owns the algorithms?

Although the NYPD can get their data into & out of the Palantir system easily, that’s just referring to the raw data. That’s the data they ingested in the first place, arrest records, license plate reads, parking tickets, stuff like that.

“This notion of how portable your data is when you engage in a contract with a platform is really, really complex, and hasn’t really been tested” – Tal Klein

Palantir’s secret sauce, their intellectual property, is finding the needle in the haystack. What pieces of data are relevant & how can I present the detectives the right information at the right time.

Analysis *is* the algorithms. It’s the big data 64 million dollar question. Or in this case $3.5 million per year, as the contract is reported to be worth!

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The nature of software as a service

The web is bringing us great platforms, like google & amazon cloud. It’s bringing a myriad of AI solutions to our fingertips. Palantir is providing a push button solution to those in need of insights like the NYPD.

The Cobalt solution that IBM is offering goes the other way. Build it yourself, manage it, and crucially control it. And that’s the difference.

It remains to be seen how the rush to migrate the universe of computing to Amazon’s own cloud will settle out. Right now their in a growth phase, so it’s all about lowering prices. But at some point their market muscle will mean they can go the Oracle route a la Larry Ellison. That’s why customers start feeling the squeeze.

If the NYPD example is any indication, it could get ugly!

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