Looking for a bottom in Manhattan real estate

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Make no bones about it, Manhattan real estate prices have been in an extreme bubble.  With stock prices down and Wall Street shedding jobs massively, this has come to an end.

With sales prices of Manhattan apartments having tumbled by perhaps a quarter in just the past few months, pinpointing the bottom has become a top priority for anyone eager to buy, sell or broker a deal on a home in New York.

Some industry observers foresee market drops of 40 percent, while others think that is too extreme and suggest that price reductions of 25 percent will more be likely the new norm.

There’s no question, though, that the boom-or-bust experience has arrived in Manhattan, which had seemed to be avoiding the fate of Las Vegas and Florida.

“It’s almost surreal,” said Dottie Herman, the president of Prudential Douglas Elliman, referring to the abrupt turnabout after the collapse of Lehman Brothers last fall. Until then, prices had been marching upward, with the median price of an apartment more than tripling in a decade.

To some degree, the rise in prices was logical in New York, where a string of outsized Wall Street bonuses lined the pockets of many buyers. That wasn’t the case in other parts of the country, which suffered from speculation and a large number of subprime mortgages.

No one has any hard numbers yet on New York because first-quarter reports, reflecting closing prices of deals struck last fall, will not be available for a few weeks.

Looking ahead, however, some believe it is possible that the average slide from peak values could reach 40 percent by the end of 2010, with variation by neighborhood and market segment. That would put values back to levels last seen around 2002.

Others are more optimistic. “I’m not disagreeing with you that values are coming down,” said Pamela Liebman, the president of the Corcoran Group. But, she said, “there’s no way the Manhattan market is dropping to those levels that are being talked about. Certain apartments might, but as a whole it will not happen.”

Hall F. Willkie, the president of Brown Harris Stevens, said he, too, would be surprised by a decline that large.

“A lot of negative things would have to happen in the general economy,” he said. He is seeing sales prices 15 to 25 percent below those of last summer, with renters making up an ever-increasing percentage of buyers. And he saw a positive sign in the fact that, despite all of the bad economic news, sales volume is about half what it was this time last year.

Jonathan J. Miller, the president of Miller Samuel, a Manhattan research and appraisal company, estimates that contract prices have declined by about 25 percent since last summer.

Just how much further prices will dive may depend more on how soon and how generously banks resume lending than on the recovery of Wall Street or the end of the recession.

Ms. Herman said she expected the brunt of the pain to be borne within the next six months. Others expected the downward drift to last for a year to 18 months, until credit markets regain their equilibrium.

When will we know when the market has reached the bottom?

Frederick Peters, the president of Warburg Realty, noted that some deals his firm had brokered lately were nearing the lows being predicted by others. “Even if the New York market were to end up being 35 to 45 percent down,” he said, “to the degree we’re seeing deals done at 30 to 32 percent down anyway, it’s not very far away.”

Really? Or are you just talking your own book?  Thi sounds a lot like denial to me.

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One measure of just how anorectic sales have become is the bloated state of inventory.

“It’s right now the highest since I started tracking in 1999,” Mr. Miller said. Inventory levels in Manhattan have averaged 7,021 a month for the last decade, he said, and there were 10,243 co-ops and condominiums for sale at the end of February — 38 percent more than a year ago.

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Anyone who knows real estate knows that transactions dry up an inventory rises before prices get cut. Sellers resist cutting prices while inventories build. This was exactly the chain of events in other bubble markets like Phoenix, LasVegas and San Francisco. This is what is happening in Manhattan right now.

A different place and possibly a better one, said Ms. Liebman, who like many brokers manages to see the positive in any environment that comes along. “Why should an average one-bedroom with nothing special to offer cost well over a million? The market got ahead of itself, and this correction is good for New York because it brings the affordability back in line.”

If you read stories a year ago from San Diego or Miami, there would have been similar happy talk there. There has been extreme overbuilding in Manhattan since about 2002. If you look at the West Side in what was Hell’s Kitchen, but has been relabelled Clinton to attract a new clientele, there are massive numbers of new buildings that have been built in the last 5-7 years. But reality will set in for Manhattan, with prices going much lower.

Sources
Looking for Bottom in N.Y. Real Estate – NY Times

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