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For Sunday readers of The New York Times, the Real Estate section is a sweet slice of escape, a treat to be enjoyed leisurely over a cup of coffee. Often readers find sanctuary in its pages, perusing photos of tree-lined Brooklyn blocks, brick townhouses and sprawling (envy-inducing) grassy lawns attached to even more sprawling (and even more envy-inducing) Hamptons homes.
But the section offers much more than eye candy, Nikita Stewart, Real Estate’s editor, says. Ms. Stewart joined The Times in 2014, first as a Metro reporter covering City Hall and the social services beat before becoming an assistant editor on that desk; she took over Real Estate in late January. Ms. Stewart, who during the pandemic moved to New Jersey from New York City (“It was the access to outdoor space – but I kind of went kicking and screaming”), wants the section to explore what and who makes a community; to share with readers how many bedrooms a property might have, but also the history and cultural relevance of the neighborhood it is in.
In an interview, Ms. Stewart shared how the section is evolving and expanding. Her responses have been edited.
In what ways would you say your previous beat reporting inspired or informed your vision for Real Estate?
I strongly believe, not just as a journalist, but as just a human being, that everyone deserves to live in New York City if they want to. It’s a beautiful and amazing place and it has to make room – for everyone. One of the things that I always want to make sure we’re looking at in Real Estate – and we do not always get it right – is when we’re writing about a new development, we have to question what was here before.
This section is not just about properties, it’s really a convergence of culture, community, business and human interest. What makes a well-rounded real estate story?
I want readers to broaden their perspective of what real estate is and means. Real estate is more than bricks-and-mortar buildings. It’s the people who are in the buildings. It’s what you surround yourself with in your home, outside, the coffee shop that you go to, the garden that you build on your stoop or put on your patio. I want readers, particularly on Sundays, to be transported: Either you’ll find aspiration, inspiration or reflection. I want some surprise.
We had great success with a story about Harlem Toile de Jouy, which is wallpaper. Lots of readers were like, “I never knew I wanted to know that much about wallpaper,” because it’s more than wallpaper. I’m trying to make readers understand that the objects that you put in your home are of value; they do not have to be expensive to be of value to you, and I want to make sure that we are getting that across to readers.
In columns like The Hunt, is it difficult to get people to divulge their home-buying journeys and their budgets?
I have learned since taking the Real Estate editor job that The Hunt can be quite difficult. We are asking the hunters to divulge a lot of personal information.
I think people who participate in The Hunt think it’s a worthwhile feature each week. There’s nothing like putting yourself in the person’s shoes and wondering what they’re going to pick. I’ve had plenty of friends who – although that is their favorite feature of the week – send me text messages all the time saying “they picked the wrong house!”
Real Estate traditionally focuses on the New York metropolitan area. Are there efforts to expand?
We’ve already widened our coverage to California, and I hope readers will be pleasantly surprised. I’m not going to reveal too much yet, but we are expanding to the South. I’ll leave it like that – make it a little mysterious.
Do you have any tips or tricks about the home buying process?
I do not have any tips or tricks because I did all of my hunting before I became a Real Estate editor, but now I am ready – 2023, here I come! I’m planning on moving. I do not know where yet, but all of these Real Estate stories from our wonderful writers are going to inform me.
How do you see The Times’ Real Estate section evolving?
I’m hoping to expand the readership. We have some loyal readers, and I certainly want to continue to give them the stories that they love. But like I said, I’m really hoping to surprise readers, which will draw readers who have not traditionally turned to the New York Times Real Estate section. I strongly believe in digital storytelling, visual storytelling and storytelling that is accessible to people on their phones. As much as the New York Times Real Estate print section is iconic, and there is a place for it in New York culture, I think it’s important for us to meet readers where they are. I want to make what you see on your phone spectacular, breathtaking, stunning and immersive. Readers are going to be blown away.