National real estate journalism contest winners announced
The National Association of Real Estate Editors (NAREE) announced the winners of its 69th Annual Journalism Awards, recognizing excellence in reporting, writing and editing stories about residential and commercial real estate.
Prashant Gopal of Bloomberg News received NAREE’s Platinum Award for Best Individual Entry.
The President’s Gold Award for Best Freelance Collection went to Jon Gorey, freelance writer for the Boston Globe.
Max de Haldevang, Quartz, won NAREE’s Ruth Ryon’s Best Young Journalist Award.
NAREE presented the awards June 28 at its 53rd Annual Real Estate Journalism Conference at the Hyatt Regency Austin. A panel of expert judges from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University selected all winners. Medill’s Ceci Rodgers chaired the panel.
NAREE’s 2019 winners with judges’ comments:
SECTION I: INDIVIDUAL AWARDS, ALL MEDIA Single Byline
PLATINUM WINNER – BEST OVERALL INDIVIDUAL ENTRY:
PRASHANT GOPAL, Bloomberg News. Collection includes: “Small Time Bankers Make Millions Peddling Mortgages to the Poor”
Judges’ comment: Anyone who has ever disparaged business stories as dull hasn’t read a story by Prashant Gopal. The Bloomberg Businessweek journalist distinguishes himself through stylish writing, in-depth reporting and quotes that are gems. Gopal explored little-known corners of the mortgage market that exhibit troubling signs of fraud, some of which are reminiscent of the practices leading up to the housing crisis. Even without photographs, readers can picture each of his characters, such as a financier whose “dark widow’s peak is slicked high with gel,” and who “has a Lamborghini on order to go with his Mercedes.” He reaches top experts, gets all the right statistics and writes impactfully on important topics, but it’s these extra touches that make him worthy of the platinum prize.
PRESIDENT’S AWARD – BEST FREELANCE COLLECTION:
JON GOREY, Boston Globe & others
Judges’ Comment: Gorey’s work is impressive and wide-ranging – from economic analysis to reader service stories that give homeowners valuable and actionable advice. His deftly written and deeply reported stories most often appear in the Boston Globe. Gorey shines most with his unique angles on mundane topics, such as his story about home tax breaks and how they have shaped architectural trends over the centuries. He writes conversationally and with humor when appropriate, such as in his stories and blog posts about do-it-yourself projects in old homes – including his.
RUTH RYON AWARD – BEST YOUNG JOURNALIST:
MAX DE HALDEVANG, Quartz
Judges’ comment: Max de Haldevang impressed the judges with his story about the search for the true owners of Sherlock Holmes’ residence. The twist is that it wasn’t really a historical story about Holmes, but a crime mystery about corrupt money flowing into Britain. A gifted writer and dogged investigative reporter on the global economy and geopolitics, de Haldevang seems able to quickly master the intricacies of many complicated issues.
Category 1: Best Collection of Work by an Individual Covering Residential Real Estate
NANCY SARNOFF, Houston Chronicle, “In the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey”
Judges’ comment: The well-reported trio of stories about the effects of Harvey on various neighborhoods detailed what the natural disaster means for sales, prices and rents in those areas. The stories used data to convey and explain what happened, as well as maps that made it easier for the reader to get a sense of the scope of the disaster.
SILVER WINNER (TIE):
STEFANOS CHEN, The New York Times, “To Understand New York Real Estate, Follow Fido”
Judges’ comment: Chen surprises his readers with stories they haven’t seen elsewhere. He also comes up with unique ways to look at the real-estate market. For example, for his piece on understanding New York real estate, he “follows Fido” and looks up every canine registration in the city. The top dog: the Yorkie, followed by the Shi Tzu. In all the stories in this collection, he writes with flair.
SILVER WINNER (TIE):
JON GOREY, Freelancer, The Boston Globe, “Borderline Behavior”
Judges’ comment: This collection of thoroughly reported and well-written stories both entertains and informs the reader on topics, particularly two of them (weird borders and what real-estate agents do when they’re in the middle of a family dispute during a sale), that aren’t typically covered. All three stories are well sourced.
BRONZE WINNER (TIE):
MICHELE LERNER, Freelancer, The Washington Post, “The New Boomtowns”
Judges’ comment: This collection of stories addresses what happens when home price gains outstrip incomes, from where to live (think Sacramento and Nashville) to downsizing baby boomers calculating whether to rent or buy. Data-driven but tied to real people, these stories compellingly reflect the zeitgeist of the day.
BRONZE WINNER (TIE):
JASON HIDALGO, The Reno Gazette-Journal, “Rock wall failures in Reno”
Judges’ comment: Hidalgo dives into data and neighborhoods to provide well-written and in-depth stories that reveal the motivations and consequences of poorly conceived laws. Detailed, thorough and important watch-dog reporting.
DEVON THORNSBY, U.S. News & World Report, “What Limits Can Your Landlord Put on Gun Possession?”
Judges’ comment: The story collection tackles two subjects often written about – pets and what to do when your rent is raised – but takes a fresh angle on both. The story about what limits landlords can and can’t put on renters who possess guns was insightful, with information not seen in other stories.
Category 2: Best Collection of Work by an Individual Covering Commercial Real Estate
$250 – GOLD WINNER:
JONATHAN O’CONNELL, The Washington Post, “Do posh waterfronts make a city world-class? D.C. is betting hundreds of millions on it,” “The unspoken factor in Amazon’s HQ2 hunt,” and “Trump’s interest slows FBI HQ project.”
Judges’ comment: O’Connell’s collection of stories includes some unique angles on widely reported stories, such as an in-depth and nuanced exploration of the waterfront project in SW Washington, D.C., that traced the evolution over more than two decades and remains controversial. Beautifully written and deeply reported.
NOAH BUHAYAR, Bloomberg News, “Opportunity Zones”
Judges’ comment: This collection shines a light on the fine print in IRS rules for the Trump administration’s opportunity zones, including that the biggest breaks go to Goldman Sachs and other large investors, while the intended recipients of the breaks — investors in disadvantaged neighborhoods – get frozen out. Colorful maps vividly drive the point home.
JACOB ADELMAN, Philadelphia Inquirer, “Malls of Vacant Halls”
Judges’ comment: A trio of informative and entertaining stories, with the best of the bunch being how Namadar Realty Group in New York is buying dying malls and making them worse instead of improving them. This collection includes original data and analysis from the Inquirer, making it all the more unique.
LORETTA CLODFELTER, Institutional Real Estate Americas, “All about that bass”
Judges’ comment: Data and well-placed sources drive these three stories about how real estate investment is and can be used in today’s 401(k)s; the use of technology in the real estate industry; and how investors can make money and do well by investing in affordable housing.
Category 3: Best Real Estate Column
BECKIE STRUM, Dow Jones / Mansion Global, “Over-Customizing a Home May Lead to Trouble Selling it.”
Judges’ comment: Strum uses vivid examples to make her point about homeowners’ eccentric touches hurting resale value. Guns ‘n’ Roses guitarist Slash added a stripper pole and a 36-foot skateboard ramp to his home (and ended up needing to cut his price by $2.3 million), and Bulls star Michael Jordan built a mansion with 15 bathrooms and a regulation-size basketball court. Strum’s wealthy readers learn good lessons from her “show, don’t tell” efforts.
LOIS WEISS, Freelancer, Bisnow, “The HQ2 Search Is a Sham. Jeff Bezos Already Knows the Winner.”
Judges’ comment: Weiss is either clairvoyant – or a veteran real-estate journalist who admirably knows her turf. In her January 2018 piece, she declared (correctly, as it turns out) that Jeff Bezos already planned to choose the D.C. area for his second headquarters. She uses numbers to make her point, citing the Amazon chief’s $23 million purchase of two side-by-side mansions there in October 2016. Coincidence? She thinks not.
RONDA KAYSEN, Freelancer, The New York Times, “Right at Home – Confessions of an Open House Addict”
Judges’ comment: Kaysen turned her “addiction” into a fun, engaging column about the appeal of open houses. Charmingly, she divides her compatriots into three categories — snoopers, confirmation seekers and aspirational buyers. It’s easy to cheer for and identify with Kaysen, who shuns multimillion-dollar mansions and instead likes to walk into a place where she can imagine a life “about one paygrade” above her own.
LEW SICHELMAN, “The Housing Scene – On Zillow, Some Listings Are MIA”
Judges’ comment: The veteran real-estate journalist reveals that Zillow, in what some agents see as a “money grab,” now requires builders to pay a fee if they want to be listed. He also uses statistics and anecdotes to back up his arguments.
Category 4: Best Economic Analysis – Real Estate
BLANCA TORRES, San Francisco Business Times, “The 7 big ways Prop. 13 has reshaped California”
Judges’ comment: Torres writes compellingly about Proposition 13 and its obvious and not-so-obvious impact on California real estate. This thoroughly engaging analysis includes meticulous data reporting that documents the impact on real estate prices and the coffers of state and local governments, as well as the narratives of impacted homeowners and renters. It’s the kind of analysis that should give voters and lawmakers pause.
LORRAINE WOELLERT, POLITICO, “We know how lucky we are: What happens to the country if the only young people who can buy houses are already wealthy?”
Judges’ comment: Woellert gains unusual access to a well-connected D.C. couple whose famous father’s help ensures they will not be shut out of the American dream of homeownership. In this timely, well-written analysis, Woellert uses their story to connect to the larger economic problem of widening disparities in income and access in the U.S.
JON GOREY, Freelancer, The Boston Globe, “Economists Predict Recession by 2020”
Judges’ comment: Gorey surveys top housing economists and collects local and national data to produce an insightful story about a slowing economy and why it’s not hurting Boston’s housing market. This is a smart analysis that serves the business reader.
PATRICK KEARNS, Inman News, “The essential guide to thriving in a turning market”
Judges’ Comment: This clear-eyed analysis of a slowing housing economy provided readers with the context and practical knowledge to help them make decisions. A well-written and thorough piece that served the publication’s audience of brokers and investors.
Category 5: Best Interior Design Story
CANDACE TAYLOR, The Wall Street Journal, “Home Shark Tanks Are In. Just One Problem: Sharks Make Terrible Pets.”
Judges’ comment: In this jaw-dropping and “Jaws”-evoking piece, Taylor answers the question: Who would install a home shark tank? She tracks down the answer: Lil’ Wayne, Tracy Morgan, “Real Housewives” stars and other rich people with $15,000 to $1 million and room for up to 16,000 gallons of water. It’s an unusual and fun story that raises the larger issue of what kinds of creatures should – and should not – be pets.
JURA KONCIUS, Washington Post Magazine, “Inside Blair House, Where the Presidents’ Guests Get VIP Treatment”
Judges’ comment: Koncius gives her readers an exclusive look inside the 1942 presidential guest house, which doesn’t offer official tours. Charles de Gaulle and Queen Elizabeth II stayed here. So did Donald Trump, the night before his inauguration. The piece is thoroughly researched and reported, with lots of little nuggets: Tiffany gave 150 place settings of its silver flatware; foreign visitors are allowed to smoke indoors. The result is a feast for history lovers.
MIMI O’CONNOR, Brick Underground, “We asked actual children to test-drive some of NYC’s fanciest playrooms.”
Judges’ comment: Who better than 5- and 6-year-olds to test out swanky playrooms? No one. O’Connor comes up with a creative way to tell her story and pulls it off in an example-filled piece. One play spot even includes a mini-electric BMW convertible.
VERONIKA BONDARENKO, Inman News, “Latest Fad? Tossing Out the Furniture”
Judges’ comment: Proponents of furniture-free living think it promotes being less sedentary, among other things. There’s even a #furniturefree hashtag. The author, whose family sleeps on floor beds that require more exercise than high beds when it comes to getting up, coaches readers on how to get by with little more than a couch.
Category 6: Best Real Estate E-Newsletter by an Individual Journalist
JOHN ELLIOT, Dow Jones / Mansion Global Daily
Judges’ comment: This e-newsletter knows what its wealthy readers want to know. It runs Mansion Global stories and highlights from other places. Interestingly, as one of its stories points out, changes in the less liquid, more volatile luxury real-estate market, which slows down sooner, can be a sign of what’s to come for the rest of the market. It also uses data to let its readers know key trends: Wilmington, Delaware, and Rochester, New York, are heating up. Who knew?
KATHERINE FESER, Prime Property, Houston Chronicle
Judges’ comment: This e-newsletter tells its local readers what they want to know, such as how prices stack up in Houston compared to elsewhere, how a four-year renovation on a monster house is frustrating residents and how one in five Houston millennials is living at home with mom.
EILEEN WOODS, Real Estate Address, The Boston Globe
Judges’ comment: This e-newsletter gives its readers snapshots of what they need to know about open houses and listings but also includes special tidbits about properties in this historic town. (A woman accused of witchcraft in 1692 lived in one restored home.)
Category 7: Best Architecture Story
MARK ELLWOOD, Bloomberg News, “Forget Tiny Houses: The design-obsessed now want homes in miniature”
Judge’s comment: This story about dollhouse-like houses — replicas of wealthy homeowners’ full-size ones — is a “Wow! I didn’t know that!” piece. Ellwood tracks down the people who make and order these miniatures, helping readers understand how they’re created and why they’re commissioned. (Sometimes they’re even thank you gifts for major museum donors.)
ALISON STATEMAN, Commercial Observer, “Rethinking School Design in the Age of the Mass Shooter”
Judges’ comment: Two decades after Columbine, the author explains simple, and sometimes surprising, ways architects are re-imagining school design. Floor-to-ceiling windows are safer than solid walls because students and staff can see and be aware of danger earlier. Planters can create an attractive environment — and a good place to hide. This piece is well reported and explained.
JON GOREY, Freelancer, The Boston Globe, “Tax Shelters: As the Filing Deadline Looms, We Look at Uncle Sam’s Hidden Contributions to Architecture”
Judges’ comment: In a story full of historical gems, Gorey lays out the case for people designing and decorating their houses to avoid paying extra taxes. For example, from 1712 to 1836, there was a tax on printed wallpaper — so families used stencils instead. And Gorey and his wife installed rooftop solar panels and got a 30 percent tax credit.
JOSH BARBANEL, The Wall Street Journal, “What’s 8 Feet Wide and Has an Elevator?”
Judges’ comment: This story about fancy, ultra-narrow homes in New York City offers plenty of surprises. The widest room in a four-story place listed for $5 million is just 10 feet. These teeny townhouses are basically scraps, left over from large construction projects. Barbanel includes interesting historical details. (Margaret Mead lived in a Greenwich Village place just over 9 feet wide.)
SECTION 2: INDIVIDUAL AWARDS- NEWSPAPERS, PRINT OR DIGITAL, SINGLE BYLINE
Category 8: Best Residential Real Estate Story – Daily Newspaper
MARK COLLETTE, Houston Chronicle, “Flood Games: Manipulation of Flood Insurance Leads to Repeat Disasters”
Judges’ comment: This investigation and analysis found that because officials weren’t honest with Houston-area residents about how much their properties had been damaged by floods in financial terms, people and homes were allowed back in vulnerable places where homes could flood again. Collette’s analysis used government data to find property losses that could have been avoided had guidelines and requirements been followed. The story is a must-read for any Houston resident whose property has been damaged by floods.
PHILLIP MOLNAR, The San Diego Union-Tribune, “Pushed Out by High Prices, these San Diegans Left for Greener Pastures”
Judges’ comments: This compelling piece looks at how the high cost of living is forcing San Diego County residents to leave the region in droves and move to places such as Arizona and Idaho. The personal stories Molnar tells put a face to the statistics, and graphs that bolster the story.
HIAWATHA BRAY, The Boston Globe, “I Spy: Some homeowners are using their high-tech devices to watch buyers during showings, gaining the upper hand in negotiations”
Judges’ comment: This story about how sellers are using home security devices to spy on potential buyers has an interesting lead, is well written and is a cautionary tale for buyers and sellers alike. One agent found out during a broker’s open house that the seller was watching agents move through the house when, after pulling out a cell phone to take a photo, she received a text message saying no photos were to be taken in the master bedroom.
ARIELLE KASS, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “Annexation Battle Splits Neighborhood”
Judges’ comments: This story details how neighbors were pitted against neighbors when Loch Lomond residents voted to annex this unincorporated area to the city of Atlanta, just one block over. The story has conflict and drama, two characteristics that make it a compelling read.
Category 9: Best Mortgage or Financial Real Estate Story – Daily Newspaper
KENNETH HARNEY, Syndicated Columnist, The Washington Post Writers Group, “Mortgage investors want to make it easier for gig-economy workers to get loans”
Judges’ comment: Harney takes a look at how Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are trying to figure out how to evaluate so-called gig income — income for independent contractors and the like from companies such as Lyft and Uber — when people want a mortgage. With both ride-share companies having IPOs in the spring and with more people turning to “gig income” jobs to help pay the bills, this story was timely. It also details how difficult it is to be fair and evaluate risk when potential homeowners have these types of jobs.
ANDREA RIQUIER, Dow Jones MarketWatch, “Meet the little bank that’s helping immigrants achieve big American dreams”
Judges’ comment: This interesting story is a profile on Quontic Bank in Queens, where 75 percent of its customers are immigrants and its bankers speak a dozen languages, including Urdu. Although their customers have excellent credit, they often have a hard time getting a mortgage because they own their own businesses. The story includes current customers and data from the Urban Institute and other sources, showing that Quontic isn’t a flash in the pan and is worthy of the story.
ROBYN FRIEDMAN, Freelancer, The Wall Street Journal, “Time to Revisit Jumbo Reverse Mortgages
Judges’ comment: Friedman makes a compelling argument as to why jumbo reverse mortgages, which have taken a fair share of criticism, might actually be the right product for certain individuals, such as older individuals with equity in their homes and who don’t want to take on additional debt. Friedman includes tips to consider when looking at these types of mortgages.
Category 10: Best Commercial Real Estate Story – Daily Newspaper
ALISTAIR GRAY, Financial Times, “Rental Powerhouses”
Judges’ comment: An insightful, well written and well sourced story about how Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are investing in commercial real estate, which generates higher income that they say they need to offset affordable housing. Gray used data and public documents to tell a story that neither government agency wanted written. It’s an example of journalism shining a light on a very dark corner.
ARIELLE KASS, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “GDOT work meets ancient Jewish law”
Judges’ comment: An insightful, well-written story about an eruv, a boundary that symbolically encloses a Jewish community and allows them to carry things on the sabbath they normally wouldn’t be allowed to carry. The unusual subject matter makes the story a compelling read. Kass is both explanatory and enlightening in her reporting and writing.
MICHELLE JARBOE, The Plain Dealer, “Big, big money: Legal loopholes help property avoid taxes, fees”
Judges’ comment: A story that does a terrific job of explaining how legal loopholes allow real estate investors to buy an entity that owns a building instead of purchasing the property outright. These sales keep secret details about ownership changes and that limits tax dollars that would typically go to financially help the public. Jarboe takes a complicated topic that affects taxpayers and explains it in a manner any reader can understand.
RONDA KAYSEN, Freelancer, The New York Times, “The Brooklyn Army Terminal: New York’s Next Manufacturing Hub?”
Judges’ comment: While tech is all the rage these days, Kaysen in deep detail delves into how New York (the city that just spurned Amazon) spent $115 million transforming an old Brooklyn Army Terminal into a manufacturing hub. The city is attracting tenants by having rent below the market rate and focusing on companies that will bring jobs.
Category 11: Best Small Daily Real Estate Newspaper Story – under 75,000 circulation
DAVID SLADE, The Post and Courier, “$33 million and counting: How blunders, misperceptions and miscalculations saddled Charleston County taxpayers with a massive bill for a Naval hospital renovation that’s a long way from being done”
Judges’ comment: Slade wrote an excellent expose on how redevelopment plans for the former Charleston Naval Hospital fell off the tracks. Slade used data, government and court documents and FOIAs — in addition to pictures, a timeline and illustration — to detail what went wrong and why, and did so in a compelling manner that made it impossible to stop reading the story.
Category 12: Best Weekly Real Estate Newspaper Story – Weekly Business Newspaper
AARON SHORT, Commercial Observer, “On Thin Ice: Construction feels the chill from the Trump administration on undocumented immigration”
Judges’ comment: In a year where much has been written about President Trump’s immigration policy, Short’s story about the effects that policy is having on the construction industry is insightful and well written. Short uses statistics, including from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to delve into an industry that relies on immigrants to fill the ever increasing number of construction jobs in this booming economy. The story also takes a look at how undocumented construction workers have been, in some cases, intimidated at work sites.
BLANCA TORRES, San Francisco Business Times, “The only one in the room: How the Bay Area’s real estate industry is grappling with diversity”
Judges’ comment: Torres does an excellent job of taking a look at the lack of diversity in the Bay area’s real estate industry, talking with an array of individuals who have found themselves in a party of one when in meetings. Whether it’s gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation, the sources opened up to Torres about how they have handled being in a room full of other real estate professionals who have traveled a different path. In addition to the text, the story also includes video interviews with some sources.
DANIEL GEIGER, Crain’s New York Business, “A developer’s project becomes his downfall”
Judges’ comment: Geiger gives readers a behind-the-curtain look at how Rudy Thompson’s personal and professional lives fell apart with the failure of his Washington Heights development. This is an interesting, detailed story about a riches-to-rags developer who opened up to Geiger in a manner that many sources do not.
SECTION III: INDIVIDUAL AWARDS – MAGAZINES – PRINT OR DIGITAL-
Category 13: Best Residential, Mortgage or Financial Real Estate Magazine Story – General Circulation
PRASHANT GOPAL, Bloomberg Businessweek, “Getting Rich on Government-Backed Mortgages”
Judges’ comment: Gopal knows how to zoom in on a character, such as Lamborghini-owning Angelo Christian, who illustrates how non-bank lending today is echoing what happened in 2008. He uses plenty of numbers, pointing out (somewhat alarmingly) that borrowers are on average spending 43 percent of their income on debt payments and (somewhat reassuringly) that only 3.5 percent of new loans today are to people with credit scores below 620, compared with 15 percent in 2008.
EUGENE MEYER, Freelancer, Bethesda Magazine, “Why Marriott Stayed”
Judges’ comment: This account of why Marriott chose to build new headquarters in Bethesda rather than relocate outside the area gives local readers extensive reporting and inside information. Helpful sidebars look at the history of the company, parking and the differences between the old space and the new, denser one.
BECKIE STRUM, Dow Jones/ Mansion Global, “The High Life”
Judges’ comment: Strum tells her readers what they want to know. For example, a third of all residential and mixed-use residential “supertalls” are in Dubai; and high addresses give bragging rights. A helpful graphic shows supertalls worldwide.
JON GOREY, Freelancer, Boston Globe, “What to Know When Buying an Older Home”
Judges’ comment: This piece gives readers excellent advice about buying surprise-filled older homes. Gorey begins his story with a personal anecdote about his wife hearing a waterfall coming from the linen closet in their 1920 house. Along with the charm of slightly sloping floors, these homes can come with high price-tag problems, such as outdated wiring, plumbing and roofs.
Category 14: Best Residential Real Estate Trade Magazine Story
E.B. SOLOMONT, The Real Deal, “Death of the Brokerage”
Judges’ comment: Solomont uses the demise of splashy Town Residential, which once employed 600 agents, to tell her story about how star agents, open data and venture capital are hurting traditional brokerages. She interviews many industry sources, including the CEOs of Triplemint and Nest Seekers. And she gets quotes that are gems. Says one highly wooed star agent: “I feel like LeBron heading into free agency.”
ALEX NITKIN, The Real Deal, “Is @properties scaling up or selling out?”
Judges’ comment: @properties remains the sales-volume market leader in residential real estate in Chicago’s Cook County, but Nitkin uses strong reporting and figures to question how long it can remain at the top. In 2018 its founders — facing competition from Compass and others — sold a significant share of their business to a venture-capital firm. Though Nitkin couldn’t get the duo to comment for this story, he works around that problem by interviewing other key players.
RONDA KAYSEN, Freelancer, Architectural Record, “The Housing Crisis in America”
Judge’s comment: Kaysen skillfully tells her audience of architects and designers about the affordability crisis in New York City, with its “insatiable” demand for housing. Despite the best efforts of the nation’s biggest public housing landlord, it remains a place with 77,000 homeless residents. Kaysen makes excellent use of data, explaining that rents citywide spiked 31 percent between 2010 and 2018 but even more in poorer neighborhoods. And she talks about promising ideas, including a competition to design homes no bigger than 400 square feet on tiny parcels too small for traditional buildings.
Category 15: Best Commercial Real Estate Trade Magazine Story
KEITH LARSEN, The Real Deal, “A Little Arkansas bank is funding much of SoFla’s condo boom. What could go wrong?”
Judges’ comment: This well-reported story follows the “show, don’t tell” rule of journalism, illustrating with numbers and specific building projects why people may want to worry about the unlikely rise of Bank of the Ozarks in funding construction of high-end Florida condos.
KATIE BRENZEL, The Real Deal, “The anatomy of construction corruption”
Judge’s comment: In this depressing but thoroughly reported piece, Brenzel shows how middlemen take advantage of systemic problems in New York City’s $45.8 billion construction industry. To make her points clear, she uses examples like a property owner paying $300 for a light fixture that cost just half that much money or a subcontractor charging for seven Dumpsters for a demolition when only four were needed. There’s no single villain or explanation. In fact, a couple of “rogue” employees can contribute a great deal to bribery, extortion and bid-rigging schemes. Brenzel’s thorough reporting and easy-to-understand examples make a complicated topic understandable.
JOHN NELSON, Southeast Real Estate Business, “Off the Beaten Path”
Judge’s comment: In the United States, rails-to-trails projects span more than 22,000 miles. Nelson expertly uses statistics like this one to grab his readers’ reader’s attention. Through interviews with developers and land-use experts, he shows why communities think it makes sense to turn old railroad lines into walkable open spaces. As cities get denser, they need to become greener, too, at least if they want healthy, happy residents.
JANE ADLER, Contributing Editor, Seniors Housing Business, “Investors Rethink Memory Care”
Judge’s comment: With more than 5 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, there’s a huge need among families and investors for quality information about memory-care facilities. Adler’s well-reported, numbers-filled piece gives critical statistics (the occupancy rate at stand-alone memory-care units is 81.1 percent, down from a peak of 86 percent in 2014). She explains why most investors are bullish on properties that combine independent and assisted-living buildings, with or without memory units.
Category 16: Best Online Residential, Mortgage or Financial Real Estate Story
TEKE WIGGIN, Freelancer, Inman News, “Real estate’s new disruptors: The ‘PayPal Mafia’”
Judges’ comment: This wide-ranging story about how the “Pay-Pal mafia” are impacting the real estate industry introduces readers to individuals who aren’t household names but who drive the technology many people use every day. It’s well-sourced and well-written.
JONATHAN HORN, KGTV 10 News San Diego, “The McMansion Loophole”
Judges’ comment: This is a strong piece of enterprise reporting that explained how developers were able to exploit a local legal loophole to turn modest coastal homes into McMansions as angry neighbors helplessly stood by.
JOSEPH PIMENTEL, Bisnow, “Residents Grapple with Change Coming to View Park, LA’s ‘Black Beverly Hills’”
Judges’ comment: This story about a neighborhood that is one of the most affluent African American neighborhoods in the country and how soaring home prices are leaving some out of the market has an enticing lead and strong sourcing. Both informative and entertaining.
BETHANY ERICKSON, Candysdirt.com, “Health Insurance Impacts Timely Rent, Mortgage Payments, Report Says”
Judges’ comment: This in-depth piece on how basic to catastrophic illnesses affect someone’s ability to pay their mortgage is based on a study that was the first to look at this issue. The story is a must-read for anyone, healthy or not, who has a mortgage.
Category 17: Best Online Commercial Real Estate Story
CAMERON SPERANCE, Bisnow, “The Opioid Epidemic Is Turning Commercial Buildings Into Deadly Hazmat Zones, and No One Knows What To Do About It”
Judges’ comment: A detailed look at how the commercial real estate industry is dealing with people overdosing on fentanyl, leaving a hazmat situation behind. Cleanup crews have to come into an office building, a library, a supermarket or just about any other commercial location and make the area habitable again. In addition, the story looks at what options the industry has going forward. Sperance has excellent sources and wonderful description based on following companies and business organizations for four months.
JARRED SCHENKE, Bisnow, “Grave Climate Realities Do Little to Dissuade Builders Chasing Profits, Population On the Coasts”
Judges’ comment: An insightful look as to how developers are turning a blind eye to climate change and instead continuing to take risks and continuing to build along coastlines that are subject to hurricanes, storms and rising seas. Schenke’s use of dollar figures about damage are interspersed with comments from developers who say they are simply following the demand, which remains concentrated on the coasts.
BLANCA TORRES, San Francisco Business Times, “Exclusive: Fight Between Church and Historic Preservation Group Shows Why It’s So Hard to Build in San Francisco”
Judges’ comment: Torres uses the example of the Fifth Church of Christ Scientist and its dispute with San Francisco Heritage as to why developers get frustrated when trying to develop housing in San Francisco. Torres did an excellent job of getting all sides of the story while detailing the obstacles developers sometimes face in San Francisco.
Category 18: Best Real Estate Tweet Collection
CARL FRANZEN, Inman News, Collection includes “Opendoor Raises Funds”
Judges’ comment: Franzen uses effective Twitter strategies, including creating a story arc through a series of threaded tweets. Fresh and attention-getting, this collection of tweets pokes, probes and, most importantly, informs, with links to top stories on the website.
LOIS WEISS, Columnist, The New York Post: Collection includes “Commercial Real Estate is Taking a Positive Turn”
Judges’ comment: In this collection of tweets centering on commercial real estate, Weiss strikes a good balance between giving her Twitter followers the meat of her linked stories and entertaining them with a fresh point of view.
TONY WILBERT, CoStar News, Collection includes “CBL Repositions Fortress Mall”
Judges’ comment: In this collection of tweets, Wilbert uses Twitter to cover breaking news. The tweets effectively connected with followers and CoStar readers, who frequently liked and retweeted them.
Category 19: Best Real Estate Short Blogpost – NO WINNER
Category 20: Best Audio or Video Real Estate Report – Podcast, Broadcast or Online
JONATHAN HORN, KGTV-San Diego, “How housing got so expensive”
Judges’ comment: Horn shows us the housing crisis in San Diego through the eyes of a young veterinarian tech who’s moved seven times in six years due to rent increases and feels she’s slowly being pushed out of the city. The thoroughly reported story includes compelling numbers and simple but effective graphics that help the viewer understand the complex forces behind the crisis.
SHANNON BEHNKEN, WFLA News Channel 8, “Building Blunder”
Judges’ comment: This is an unusual story about a builder who had to cut 4 feet off a house that was too close to the next-door neighbor’s home. In a great example of consumer advocate reporting, Behnken gets relief for the neighbor, who spotted the problem before the builder or the county did, and who ran into a brick wall trying to get them to do anything about it.
NANCY SARNOFF, Houston Chronicle, “Looped In” podcast
Judges’ comment: Sarnoff makes the listener feel at home as she steers a fascinating conversation with an investor who bought up homes flooded by Hurricane Harvey and has resold many of them. It was an absorbing peek behind the curtain of distressed real estate investing that lasted an hour, but felt much shorter.
SECTION IV: INDIVIDUAL OR TEAM AWARDS – ALL MEDIA (SINGLE OR MULTIPLE BYLINES)
Category 21: Best Breaking Real Estate News Story
JEFF COLLINS, Orange County Register, “California to become 1st state to demand solar on new homes”
Judges’ comment: Collins broke the news that California’s energy officials were about to make solar a requirement on new homes in a comprehensive, well-sourced and clearly written story. The story includes details of the new requirement and expert analysis of its likely impact.
MARK MAURER, The Real Deal, “Google is Buying Chelsea Market Building for Over $2 billion”
Judges’ comment: Google’s real estate deals are big news, and Maurer broke the story on this one while also providing important context about the tech giant’s expansion plans in Chelsea. Smart reporting based on deep sourcing elevated this story.
BRONZE WINNER: ,
OSHRAT CARMIEL, Noah Buhayar and Prashant Gopal, Bloomberg News, “Amazon Lotto Winners in NY, Virginia, see Housing Jackpot”
Judges’ comment: This story was part of Bloomberg’s breaking coverage of Amazon’s HQ2 announcement. The Bloomberg reporters gathered compelling stories of the ensuing land rush in Queens and Crystal City, Virginia, and wrote persuasively about the impact on home sellers and buyers, all within hours of the Amazon news.
E.B. SOLOMONT & HITEN SANTANI, The Real Deal, “Town Residential shutting down sale, leasing business”
Judges’ comment: The reporters scooped other news outlets with the news of the shuttering of a Manhattan luxury brokerage firm and provided behind-the-scenes glimpses of the months leading up to the failure.
Category 22: Best Investigative Report or Investigative Series – Real Estate
JANET MCFARLAND, The Globe and Mail, “Inside the fall of Fortress”
Judges’ comment: This is an in-depth look at syndicated mortgage company Fortress Real Developments Inc., which convinced 14,000 unsuspecting investors to put a staggering amount of money at risk — a risk the investors couldn’t afford to take — on dozens of projects that failed. These high-risk investments were being sold to ordinary Canadians who didn’t have the knowledge to understand or know what they were investing in, while the provincial mortgage regulator stood by and let it occur. A terrific and impressively reported cautionary tale.
CAITLIN MCCABE & ERIN ARVENDLUND, The Philadelphia Inquirer, “Water Damage from Bad Construction Destroys Homes and Dreams”
Judges’ comment: The pair investigated how homeowners discovered their houses were rotting from the inside out thanks to water damage. The homes were built during the housing boom in the 2000s by more than two dozen builders. Homeowners had to fight — some going so far as to file lawsuits — to get their houses fixed, even though some builders admitted they knew the extent of the problem. This is a story that anyone who owns a home in southeastern Pennsylvania needs to read.
ANDREA BRAMBILA, Inman News, “Where NAR spends its multimillions in lobbying”
Judges’ comment: Brambila used OpenSecrets.org to detail how the National Association of Realtors spends its millions in lobbying funds. Her story included the top 10 politicians who received the most from NAR in 2016 and detailed why NAR spends so much on its lobbying efforts. This is a compelling “follow the money” story.
KONRAD PUTZIER, DAVID JEANS, CHRISTIAN BAUTISTA & NANCY C. CARVAJAL, The Real Deal, “Search and Destroy: How CoStar became a $15B juggernaut”
Judges’ comment: A compelling story about the strategy, particularly litigation, behind CoStar Group becoming a behemoth in gathering data about commercial properties, including rent, size and tenants. The reporters spoke with customers, competitors, former employees, and more, in this detailed description of CoStar Group’s growth.
Category 23: Best Series – Real Estate
WILL PARKER & DAVID JEANS, The Real Deal, “Is EB-5 Coming Apart at the Seams?”
Judges’ comment: With in-depth reporting and attention to detail, this series tracks the consequences of decade-long delays in EB-5 visas for Chinese who ponied up the required investment dollars for major NYC real estate projects. The reporters found a program rife with greed and fraud and Chinese nationals who want their millions back.
PATTY COX, KEVIN HAYES, GREG GILDERMAN, & THE WEATHER CHANNEL DIGITAL TEAM, Weather.com: “Exodus: The Climate Migration Crisis”
Judges’ comment: Teams of reporters fanned out across the globe and gathered stories about communities facing crises due to climate change. The New Orleans piece, “A Neighborhood Requiem,” was especially well-done as it told the larger post-Katrina story through a single neighborhood. Beautiful photography enhances this series, which is not to be missed.
JONATHAN O’CONNELL, ANDREW BA TRAN, RACHEL SIEGEL, & ROBERT MCCARTNEY, The Washington Post, “Amazon’s HQ2 Hunt”
Judges’ comment: Insightful, enterprising stories on Amazon and its search for a second U.S. headquarters looks at Amazon’s search in a manner other media publications did not, including homelessness and gay rights. The story that relied on flight data for Jeff Bezos was an example of great shoe leather reporting.
Category 24: Best Real Estate Blog
JAMESON DORIS & ZOE EISENBERG, RISMedia.com, “Housecall”
Judges’ comment: Housecall is visually attractive and carries informative content that its audience wants and needs. How much should sellers spend to prepare a house for sale? How can they combat cyber-crime? This is reader service at its best.
JON GOREY, Freelancer, “House & Hammer”
Judges’ comment: Clean, visually appealing and approachable, Gorey writes about everything from light sockets to guides for first-time home buyers. His easy style and clear love of homes and DIY projects capture and hold the reader.
JESSICA FIUR, Multi-Housing News, “What Renters Want”
Judges’ comment: Fiur offers her readers suggestions and food for thought in this blog that is geared to property managers. Her writing style is colloquial and infused with humor without detracting from the more serious content.
Category 25: Best International Real Estate Story
MAX DE HALDEVANG, Quartz, “The unsolved mystery of who owns Sherlock Holmes’s original home”
Judges’ comment: This is a fascinating, multi-faceted look at the problem of corrupt money flowing into Britain, told through the author’s search for the owners of Sherlock Holmes’s home. The narrative is woven with equal parts history, investigative reporting and explanatory journalism. Impactful and impressive work with graphics to help readers understand the tangled relationships.
J.S. MARCUS, The Wall Street Journal, “Inside an Oslo Home Immortalized by Edvard Munch”
Judges’ comment: This is a unique and deeply reported story about a 19th century home in Oslo, Norway whose first occupants commissioned a painting of its living room from their cousin, Edvard Munch. Marcus weaves an affecting narrative around the women who have lived in the house, including a World War II heroine and a grande dame of the Oslo stage. Beautiful photography adds to the story’s appeal.
MICHELE LERNER, Freelancer, The Washington Post, “Do You Dream of Living Abroad? Four Couples Share How They Made it Work”
Judges’ comment: Lerner’s story captured the experiences of four couples in all stages of life who had decided to buy property overseas and live there full-time or for significant periods of time. The details make the story: how they navigate home ownership, visas and other issues. Warning: this story may make you consider following one of these couples to Costa Rica, France, New Zealand, Portugal or Thailand.
NATALIE WONG, Bloomberg News, “Even New Yorkers Can’t Afford a Home in Toronto”
Judges’ comment: Wong finds a unique way to tell the story of Toronto’s hot real estate market. It’s so hot that even New Yorkers contemplating a move there are shocked into reconsidering their plans. Pricing, income and other details add a lot to the story.
SECTION V: TEAM AWARDS – ALL MEDIA, MULTIPLE BYLINES
Category 26: Best Team Report – Real Estate
NOAH BUHAYAR & DINA BASS, Bloomberg Businessweek, “How Big Tech Swallowed Seattle”
Judges’ comment: This is a vividly written exposition of Seattle’s tech boom and the role that Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen played in it. The reporters use abundant data, colorful examples and graphics to illustrate the boom and its consequences: growing inequality and unaffordable housing in the city. A timely and cautionary tale that was published as U.S. cities were competing for Amazon’s second headquarters.
DAVID SLADE & ANGIE JACKSON, The Post and Courier, “Deep Roots, Fragile Ties”
Judges’ comment: Slade and Jackson focused their reporting on African Americans in the Charleston area whose heirs bought or were deeded land after emancipation and their struggles to preserve ownership of the land. The result is a beautifully written, deeply reported story of hope and determination after years of inequities.
BRONZE WINNER (TIE):
NOAH BUHAYAR & ESME DEPREZ, Bloomberg Businessweek, “The Homeless Crisis Is Getting Worse in America’s Richest Cities”
Judges’ comment: With gripping personal stories and rich data, the reporters debunk common myths about homelessness and show how it’s a growing problem. A story that is both richly detailed and sweeping in scope.
BRONZE WINNER (TIE):
CHRISTOPHER HUFFAKER & KATE GIAMMARISE, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “The money owed in eviction cases is often small, but the consequences can be huge”
Judges’ comment: The reporters focused on the problem of large numbers of evictions in Pittsburgh that hit low-income renters, often ruining their records and lives. Vivid, well-written and examines the impact on landlords and courts as well.
CANDACE TAYLOR & KATHERINE CLARKE, Wall Street Journal, “New York’s Wealthiest Cut Losses as Manhattan Real Estate Falters”
Judges’ comment: In this richly documented story, the authors show how owners are slashing prices on their multi-million-dollar homes in New York City to land a sale. Through interviews with some of the owners, we learn the personal stories behind the deals. The story includes rich photos and graphics.
Category 27: Best Design, Home or Shelter Magazine
MAE CHENG, PETE CATAPANO, LUCY BLATTER, BARRY AINSLIE, & THE MANSION GLOBAL TEAM — Dow Jones / Mansion Global magazine, Dow Jones, September 2018 issue
Judges’ comment: This visually lush magazine serves its high net-worth audience with interesting stories accompanied by stunning photography from such glamorous locales as St. Tropez and Dubai. Shorter features entertain, such as Trudie Styler and Sting’s list of their five favorite things in their Tuscan villa (one is a sculpture made from a birch tree).
Category 28: Best Residential Real Estate Trade Magazine
MATT POWER, Green Builder magazine, January/February 2018 issue
Judges’ comment: This issue fulfills the magazine’s mission of “building a better world.” Packed full of good service pieces, Green Builder give readers news they can use, such as what kind of homes can withstand storms and other natural disasters. Visually appealing through design and photography, this issue was small but powerful.
SUZANN SILVERMAN, Multi-Housing News, October 2018 issue
Judges’ comment: This niche publication gives the investors, developers, landlords and service providers who read it a buffet of news they can use: in-depth stories, digests, charts, statistics (about rent growth in different cities, for example). This audience wants to know about how low-income tax credits and tax reform help or hurt their business, and they get this technical information in a digestible way.
NEIL PIERSON, Scotsman Guide Residential Edition, April 2018 issue
Judges’ comment: Scotsman Guide serves its audience of mortgage lenders and originators — the life blood of residential real estate — with timely data, thought-provoking feature stories and industry rankings. The magazine is readable and visually appealing.
Category 29: Best Commercial Real Estate Trade Magazine
STUART ELLIOT, The Real Deal, June 2018 issue
Judges’ comment: This real-estate magazine lands the big interviews – in this case, with Charlie Kushner, Jared’s dad, in “Kushner, Unfiltered.” “Are you guys going to be assholes today…?” Kushner asks two journalists. With eye-catching artwork, design and photography, The Real Deal delivers sophisticated coverage, stylishly written, of the people and deals that drive New York City real estate.
LORETTA CLODFELTER, Institutional Real Estate Americas, July/August 2018 issue
Judges’ comment: Institutional Real Estate Americas knows its audience: institutional investors in commercial real estate. These readers get a comprehensive look at what they need to know — job changes, labor market figures, investments in retail assets and in big projects like Hudson Yards. It’s not beach reading, but it’s vital reading for professionals in this field.
MATT VALLEY, Seniors Housing Business, August/September issue.
Judges’ comment: The editors authoritatively give their readers what they need to know about this evolving, specialized industry, such as vital statistics that can help them understand and predict their market. Top experts weigh in on how they feel about everything from stand-alone memory-care developments (vulnerable to overdevelopment) to price (the average cost of private-pay assisted living is $3,638 per month).
Category 30: Best Real Estate Newsletter
LAUREN BEALE, The Hot Property Newsletter, Los Angeles Times.
Judges’ comment: The celebrity home-heavy newsletter drops plenty of celebrity names and dollar figures. The information is specific and fun – for example, the “Fifty Shades” actor sold his home for $3.18 million. Each home entry is accompanied by a beautiful photo.
JON BANISTER, Bisnow. Bisnow Washington, D.C., Newsletter.
Judges’ comment: This newsletter lives up to the Bisnow tagline: “(Almost) Never Boring.” Editors keep it lively and timely, looking at how the baseball all-star game gives a national spotlight to a hot D.C. neighborhood and giving readers news they can use (should they buy or lease?).
MARIA PATTERSON, RIS Media News
Judges’ comment: RIS Media News gives its real-estate readers everything from breaking news to tips on how to convert leads to clients. The quick service pieces are well suited to agents without the time to read long reports. They also remind agents that “enthusiasm wins every time.”
Category 31: Best Newspaper Real Estate or Home Section
HEATHER HALBERSTADT & THE WALL STREET JOURNAL MANSION STAFF, “A decade on, the fate of Madoff’s mansions” and other stories
Judges’ comment: These writers always scratch below the surface. Katherine Clarke explains the details behind the sales of Bernie Madoff’s real-estate investments, including his Manhattan penthouse, Hamptons beach house, French villa and Florida home. Robyn Friedman tackles how to get rid of a lifetime of stuff — from a gold watch to an airplane — after a loved one dies. And Adam Bonislawski takes a fun look at superhero-style properties comparable to where Batman and Iron Man lived. All pieces in this section, from the essays by big names like Meg Wolitzer, to the heavily reported pieces, are well written.
DION HAYNES & KATHY ORTON, International Home Buying Guide, The Washington Post
Judges’ comment: With top-notch reporting and clever writing, writers inform and entertain their readers. Expats should treat buying a home like getting married — dating first to make sure they’re compatible. Service stories give readers easy-to-understand information about everything from whether they’re legally allowed to buy property abroad to whether they’ll be able to rent out the place.
ARLENE GROSS, MICHAEL GAVIN, TARIG KAMAL, DESIREÉ KEEGAN, & SPECIAL TO NEWSDAY: JAMES KINDALL, & THE LI HOME, Newsday Staff
Judges’ comment: Editors and writers know what their Long Island buyers, sellers and renters want to know, whether it’s where surfers might want to live or what’s available in Stony Brook (best known for its hospital and university). They also include the expected listings and other good service information.
Category 32: Best Real Estate Website
TERI ROGERS, Brick Underground
Judges’ comment: This site gives New York City buyers, sellers, renters and renovators of all ages and income levels useful information about everything from how to kick out a roommate to how to find the best right-after-college neighborhood. (Check out Washington Heights!)
MAE CHENG & THE MANSION GLOBAL TEAM — Dow Jones / Mansion Global
Judges’ comment: This digital publication thoroughly covers the high-end global real-estate market. It delivers what its audience apparently wants to know, including hearing from elite designers about how to decorate with velvet and finding out that a 19th-century Manhattan brownstone just a block from Central Park sold for $21.5 million (at a $2 million loss) and that a Central Park duplex where Barbra Streisand lived for 30 years is on the market for $11.25 million.
CARL FRANZEN, Inman News
Judges’ comment: This residential real-estate industry trade publication quickly gives its readers — agents, brokers, team leaders, business owners, executives, investors, mortgage and title officers, software engineers — what they need to know. A breaking news story, for example, reveals that Zillow is suing rival Compass over poaching employees and stealing intellectual property. Inman News also excels at giving its readers news they can use through service stories on contract terms every agent should be able to easily explain and on how to keep buyers with human real-estate agents.
ELAINE MISONZHNIK, National Real Estate Investor
Judges’ comment: NREIonline.com thoroughly covers what the commercial real-estate industry needs to know. It runs good interviews with leaders, such as the CEO of the 2019 AFIRE International Investor Survey. Note: The 10 must-read stories for the day link to pieces in places like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, with paywalls, which may frustrate readers who don’t subscribe to them.
EILEEN WOODS, RealEstateBostonGlobe.com
Judges’ comment: This site, bostonglobe.com includes standard stories about new listings and homes of the week. But it goes beyond just the basics, with interesting pieces about how Airbnb is working to increase the diversity of its hosts and good “ask the expert” pieces about, among other things, the best ways to tend a garden.