Friday, August 24, 2012

2012: The Hottest Year For Manhattan Real Estate Since '07

A: Ok the year is not over yet, but at this point I can confidently say that this market is quickly shaping up to be the hottest market I have experienced in Manhattan real estate since the peak back in 2007. This is a combination of sustained new contract activity, declining inventory trends, and "price action". Out of these 3 micro market forces, only "price action" is measured at a lag as we wait for price discovery on deals that were signed months ago. Therefore, all the activity from April through July should start to reveal itself in the upcoming quarterly reports. Expect these reports to show positive price trends..

Lets get right into the data and put the pieces together on where Manhattan is right now and where we came from. I am a big fan of keeping it simple, so lets look at what Manhattan is producing on a monthly basis over the last 3 years; both new contracts signed and new supply coming to market. 


aug_dealvol.jpgConclusions: I chose 2009 as the start point for this monthly bar chart to show you just how far Manhattan has come since the height of the credit crisis and how long the market has sustained recent high levels of new deal volume. As a seasonal marketplace, the months of March through June typically sees the highest levels of deal volume throughout the calendar year -- but this year, the months of March through July have blown past prior years production! Most of these deals (either still pending sales or closed but not filed by the City Register yet) will eventually get filed, become public record, and populate the quarterly reports. Since I am a buyer's broker working on the front lines of Manhattan real estate I can tell you that today's marketplace, while still active, is not as "frenzy-ish" as it was 2-4 months ago -- but overall, this is the strongest 6 months of action I have seen since 2007! The chart shows this month-to-month "tick-down", but we must acknowledge that compared to the same period in years past we are still solidly outperforming; and August so far looks to continue that trend. 

Let's move on to monthly supply trends since 2009.

MANHATTAN MONTHLY NEW SUPPLY SINCE 2009 (listings new to market + back on market)


Conclusions: If it were a few months of declining monthly supply that would be one thing, but what we have seen since 2009 is entirely different. Try to wrap your head around this as you view the above chart:
Since September 2010, Manhattan only had 1 month where we saw more supply come to market from the prior year same period. In other words, there has been a sustained trend of "less stuff" coming to market for 3+ years now! 

Today's tight inventory is not a recent thing, and rather has been a work in progress for years. This impacts the psychology of buyers that have been waiting, watching Manhattan real estate since the 'sh*t hit the fan' in 2009. To me, these buyers have been thinking along these lines:

-- 2009, "no way I am buying Manhattan real estate until it falls 50%..."
-- 2010, "I don't buy into this rally, it can't last..."
-- 2011, "wtf!, where are all these bids coming from! I'll wait until things change and I have more options..."
-- 2012, "that's it, I'm starting to believe this market is the real deal..."

I've had a number of old buyer clients finally pull the trigger and buy in recent months -- taking years to rebuild confidence. Sellers are you listening? This is not a market to try to time a new listing. If you know you are going to list your property for sale, I would get it up while deal volume remains at very high levels and inventory trends reach their lowest point since January of 2008!! Take a look:

MANHATTAN SUPPLY SINCE 2008 (actively updated inventory)


I've been singing this tune since April and while it gets boring writing about the same thing, the data is what it is -- and in regards to real-time inventory trends, its strong! A few thoughts as we go forward and future reports reveal just how hot the market got:

-- When the Q3 report comes out October 1st, will the market continue to see bids and deal volume at levels seen earlier in 2012? The media effect of a very strong market is yet to be determined.

-- With inventory so tight I would think brokers have excellent ammunition when pitching new sellers. But I am wondering how this might affect pricing strategy? Will sellers be tempted to price too high as strong reports come out and strong bids for comparable properties ultimately close and give us price discovery? Can the market sustainably absorb listings if sellers keep lifting asking prices and anchoring themselves to recent strong data? 

-- Will we see stalled development projects come back to life as future Manhattan reports are digested and the #s behind these projects start to make more sense? I am especially curious to see where "new projects" trends go from here, I would think only up. Will this ultimately change the trend in declining supply that we are so used to? Will the market be able to absorb higher asking prices if price trends do rise noticeably?

-- Finally, whats with the narrowing wall street compensation fears, EU sovereign default fears and U.S. "fiscal cliff" fears? So far all have been a non-event as the data confirms sustained market strength for Manhattan real estate. In regards to wall street comp, I think that is a force that will gradually impact Manhattan for years rather than a 1-time sharp impact that many expected. So far, the depth of wealth interested in Manhattan property has proven to be too big a force for narrowing of wall street compensation and its impact on high end sales. In regards to an overseas event or US fiscal fears, it only matters when our equity markets start to care about them again. Who knows when that will be. As long as equity markets are juiced by the fed/govt, bids will come in for Manhattan property. Its only when we see a 15%-20%+ sustained correction in stock prices that we see deal volume in Manhattan come to a noticeable halt as buyers sit back and sellers try to cash in before any impact. So far we haven't seen a downturn turn into anything really worrisome; but time will tell how long that trend continues!

Source: Urbandigs

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

How to buy pre-construction smart

Buying pre-construction has its perks. You can be part of a unique and special project, like a brand new condo in the West Village, or have first dibs on the penthouse in the latest hot building.  More practically speaking, you can also, in many cases, take advantage of some discounted early phase pricing (more on that below).
But how do you buy an apartment without touching, seeing, or walking through it? How will you know what the views from the 31st floor will really be like? How do you buy pre-construction smart?
Here's some advice from the experts:
1. Let the offering plan guide you
That document needs to be considered the Bible for the purchasers.
The offering plan includes everything from the appliances that have been chosen to the opinion of a tax lawyer on what taxes will be after the city asseses the finished building. It will also have a "special risks" section, which will include things like whether or not the developer has the right to rent any unsold units.  
Note that the developer is only legally obligated to deliver what's in the offering plan, not what's in the rendering or the brochure ("How to analyze a rendering" may help).
2. Choose an experienced developer
“Take a look at the track record and the reputation of the developer".
“If the developer has a long list of satisfied customers, then chances are you will be another satisfied customer." "If they had leaks or problems then maybe hold off until you can touch, feel, and see everything before you buy.”
Googling around for any articles and discussion threads about the developer can help, and an experienced real estate attorney (one that was not recommended to you by your broker or the developer) should also have a bead on which developers to avoid.
Turn to your broker for advice. Speak to a knowledgeable broker about the reputation of the developer, quality of past developments, re-sale history, success in those developments and quality of construction.
3. Make sure you secure Phase 1 pricing
Pre-construction apartments usually get sold in phases or waves of pricing, and if you buy in the first phase, you can save anywhere from 5 to 10 percent off the final listing price.
Note, however, that the choicest units are often saved for last, when prices are highest.

4. Inspect the quality of the materials 
The materials will be listed and highlighted in the offering plan, but you should still ask extremely detailed questions about them.
“Sometimes a thin sheet of oak will be used and covered with engineered floors, so, you really have engineered floors instead of the oak floors promised in the offering plan.” Ask the sponsor specifically, for example, what percentage of oak is in the floor.
Sponsors are allowed to make so-called "normal construction variations" from the offering plan in everything from materials to ceiling height, says real estate attorney Karen S. Sonn of Sonn & Associates, "and your attorney should find out what the construction industry standards for variations are and detail that in the contract."
Also try to negotiate the right to inspect the apartment. However, sponsors don't like to allow this and it's easier to negotiate if you are buying a 'signature' apartment. 
5. Have a list of questions to ask the developer
Get as much information as possible so you don’t come have any surprises.
Here are some questions to keep in mind:
  • Will there be a commercial space on the ground floor? What are the developer's plans for that space? Will they bring in a supermarket (an obvious plus)? Or will it be an Olive Garden restaurant?
  • What about the finishing touches? Will the developer put in the towel bars or medicine cabinets or will that be your responsibility?
  • Where will the air conditioners or the heat ducts be put in? Will they be on top or on the bottom of the wall? How much noise will they make? Can you get a model number to read the reviews?  
  • The budget determines the common charges for the building, so is the developer painting a realistic picture of the budget? If the developer amends the budget by more than 25 percent, then you have the right to walk away.
  • When can you put on a hard hat and go inside the construction site? Sometimes you’re looking at a hole in the ground, so when is the earliest you can go up and imagine your future kitchen?
  • When can you start to make changes? Can you turn that three-bedroom unit into a four-bedroom immediately or do you have to wait until all the units are sold?
  • When will the amenities start? Will the building have a gym and will you have to pay extra for it? How long do you have to wait to use it? What about the garage? When will they hire a doorman? 
6. Get creative
Views are important in Manhattan, but if you’re looking into a hole in the ground, you have no idea what the view will be. Morgan shared a story about a buyer who decided against a pre-construction property after he and Morgan sneaked into a nearby building to ascertain what the view would be like.
"What we saw was that the living room was going to be decent but the bedrooms would be facing a wall," says Morgan.

7. Be clear on what gives you the right to walk away
“The contracts are written with a lot of flexibility for the sponsor," says closing lawyer and NYC real estate expert Jerry Feeney, “not for the buyer.”  
A good lawyer will help you look for all the loopholes. For example, if a developer gives you a construction end date of August 1st, 2013 but doesn’t deliver by January 1, 2014, then you should have the right to walk away.

8. It takes a long time to close on preconstruction, so keep in mind market-rate and interest-rate exposure
No crystal ball could have predicted the housing crash of 2008. Those who bought their apartment pre-construction in 2007 paid more regardless of any pre-construction savings. The market will ultimately adjust your final price. You should also keep in mind that, “your mortgage interest rate is from when you close, not when you go into contract," Feeney warns.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Finally, It Is Time to Buy a House

Warren Buffett famously once said: "Be fearful when others are greedy, be greedy when others are fearful."
And if you're not instinctively scared of the housing market, then global warming, saturated fat, running with scissors and the bogeyman probably aren't keeping you awake at night, either.
The fact that everyone is scared to dabble in—much less commit to—housing makes it a close-to-perfect investment based on Mr. Buffett's principle. But buying real estate is a good long-term investment for many more reasons, some of which have only become apparent in recent weeks.
The most striking: Housing prices rose sharply from April to May. The S&P/Case-Shiller Index rose 2.2% in 20 of the nation's big cities. Prices shot up more than 3% in Chicago, Atlanta, San Francisco and Minneapolis. Even Detroit's housing market scored a gain, inching up by 0.4%.
Nationally, the increase was the first in seven months. More importantly, the increase matched other data and empirical evidence this spring that foreclosures slowed and inventories were shrinking. Simple economics suggests that as the supply of distressed property slows, buyers will be forced into higher-price properties.
In addition, interest rates on 30-year fixed mortgages have tumbled below 3.5%. For those who can get credit, these aren't just historically low rates; they are one-sided deals tilted toward borrowers.
Other good signs: Housing starts rose 6.9% in June. Home-building stocks are on the rise, with the Philadelphia Housing Sector Index up 27% so far this year. And for those who can invest in property, rents continue their ascent. Prices are at a 10-year high, with the median unit renting for $710 a month. Real-estate website Trulia found that it is cheaper to buy than rent in each of the nation's 100 biggest metropolitan areas.
In other words, if you can buy a home today, you can save the difference it would cost you to rent even if you stay in the home just five years. If you can buy a property and rent it, it is almost certain that the rent will cover the cost of the financing—and the property will appreciate.
Here's where the fear comes in. From 30% to 50% of existing mortgages in the U.S. market are underwater, depending on the estimate. That means many borrowers are trapped in their homes and loans. They either can keep paying and hope prices will improve or walk away, putting downward pressure on home prices.
Foreclosure rates have leveled off, but market analysts believe an increase is likely.
Here's why. Since the financial crisis, 3.7 million homes have been foreclosed on, but an additional 1.4 million remain in the national foreclosure inventory, according to CoreLogic, a real-estate research firm.
Finally, a housing recovery won't happen, or could be snuffed out, by a rotten economy. There's never been significant growth in housing with high unemployment. And as Dow Jones's Kathleen Madigan noted, "Potential buyers must feel secure with their job prospects before they commit to long-term mortgages. Higher loan standards mean banks want to see an applicant's solid income history before lending."
There is plenty to be afraid of when it comes to home buying. But in the current investing climate, housing presents an attractive long-term investment that should hold steady or even have upside surprise in the short term.
Fixed-income yields have fallen to historic lows, and the stock market has traded in a range, rising and falling skittishly on jobs, growth data and the news from Europe.
Recently, I was forced to choose between renting and buying. I decided to buy because it offered immediate monthly savings compared to renting, not to mention a mortgage-interest deduction.
So this is at least one case where I'm putting my money where my keyboard is.
Mr. Buffett would remind us that investments of any kind are not without risk. Each should be considered with the investor's time horizon and appetites. But he also has acknowledged that real estate is especially attractive when financing is cheap, there is pent-up demand and prices have been driven down by a spooked market. Put another way, it's time to be greedy.
Oh, by the way, I'm always honored by, and never too busy for your referrals of family and friends!!

Fernando Branco, GRI, ABR, CNE
Licensed Real Estate Salesperson
Vice President - Realtor NY-CT
Graduate Realtor Institute (GRI)
Accredited Buyer Representative (ABR)
Certified Negotiation Expert (CNE)
Rutenberg Realty NY - The Smart Brokers
127 East 56th Street
New York, NY  10022
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Source: David Weidner - Wall Street Journal Online

Monday, August 13, 2012

Manhattan vacancy rate climbs, but so do rents

Manhattan apartment seekers had more rental units to choose from in July, a new report says. The vacancy rate for rentals in the borough reached 1.20 percent in July, an increase compared to the previous July, when the rate was 0.86 percent, according to a monthly report released today.
This is the second consecutive month we have seen an increase in rental inventory, and represents the highest level of available apartments since this past March, when the vacancy rate was 1.25 percent. In June, it was 1.01 percent, the report says.
This increase may be the result of New Yorkers entering the sales market or price-sensitive newcomers postponing their moves to the city. It seems like many college students, who in the past may have opted to move to Manhattan early to spend summer in the city, are now finding that prospect cost-prohibitive. While still relatively low, this uptick in vacancy during the peak summer season may be a sign that rents have approached their tipping point.
July rents broke records for the third time this year, according to the report, which tracks the firm’s closed transactions. The average rent for a Manhattan apartment was $3,459 – about 3 percent higher than July 2011 and about 0.5 percent higher than in June, when the average rent was $3,443 per month.
Landlords are smart, savvy people who aren’t afraid to push the limits in terms of rents if demand allows.
The highest vacancy rate was in the East Village and Lower East Side (1.65 percent) and the lowest was in Gramercy (0.8 percent).  

Source: The Real Deal - — Leigh Kamping-Carder

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Rental Market in NYC: Rents climb in Second Quarter

Average Manhattan studio surpasses $2,500 a month
July  2012 

The cost of a Manhattan rental apartment climbed to a median price of $3,125 per month in the second quarter of 2012, a new report shows. At the same time, more units came on the market, but the increased inventory isn’t necessarily good news for renters.
In the second quarter of 2012, rental listings rose 27.9 percent, to 5,660 units from 4,427 units, compared to the same period in 2011.
“The rise in inventory is a phenomenon created by people vacating their units when presented with a significant rent increase,” said Jonathan Miller, president of the appraisal firm Miller Samuel. “Technically it’s happening, but the property becomes available for a short period of time and is snapped up.”
In June, the vacancy rate increased to 1.01 percent, according to a similar report from another Real Estate firm in NYC, released today. That’s still tiny, but significantly higher than it was last June, when vacant units made up just 0.69 percent of the market, the report says. The vacancy rate was 0.97 percent in the second quarter overall.
As spring leases came up for renewal, many apartment dwellers faced a double-barreled rent hike.
Landlords are not only raising the rent to match the market, they are also largely refusing to renew concessions, such as a free month’s rent, that were still prevalent at this time a year ago. (Only 3.7 percent of apartments came with concessions in the second quarter, the report says.)
Starting in April or May, more tenants began approaching brokers looking to downsize their homes.
Indeed, Manhattan tenants renewing two-year leases in June faced a 12.8 percent rent increase on average, translating to about $423 per month.
At the same time, the number of tenants who found new apartments, rather than renewed their leases, dropped 10.7 percent, to 7,657 from 8,572, in the second quarter of 2011, the report says. That’s largely because of a lack of supply of vacant apartments, Miller said.
Overall, the median rent was up 7.9 percent in the second quarter of 2012 — compared to $2,986 in the same period last year. Rental increases accelerated slightly this quarter: in the preceding three quarters, the gain was more like 7.6 percent, Miller noted.
The average rent was $3,437, a 5.2 percent increase from the same period in 2011. In June alone, the average rent hit $3,443 per month, or about $94 higher than the peak rent in May 2007, the report says.
Still, that increase is not as steep as many industry watchers expected, suggesting the start of a plateau in rental rates. “If there’s a silver lining at all, it’s really that the rent appreciation is very modest when you’re looking at it month to month,” he said.
The biggest price jump occurred in smaller units, which tend to be “the least expensive so therefore the most heavily trafficked point” of the market, Miller said. The average monthly rent for studios and one-bedrooms increased 18.8 percent, to $2,569 per month, and 11.5 percent, to $3,386 per month, respectively, the report says.
The lack of such apartments is also a concern for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who recently called on developers to design a Kips Bay rental project made up of 300-square-foot “micro” units.
Meanwhile, the average two-bedroom rent of $4,686 was 5 percent higher in the second quarter compared to a year ago, while three-bedroom rents increased only 3.8 percent to $6,940, according to the report.
On one hand, the potentially “alarming” cost of an average studio indicates the strength and desirability of the Manhattan market. But, “on the other side of the fence, it’s like, ‘Wow, this is a staggering price point,’” he said.
The increase in the vacancy rate  may also have something to do with more New Yorkers becoming homeowners, as opposed to tenants, or newcomers to the city holding off on renting to save funds – in contrast to last year, when concessions may have convinced them to rent earlier in the year.
However, it seems that even tenants facing rent increases would more often than not decide to stay put – unless they were already looking for a new type of apartment or a different neighborhood.
Otherwise, there might not be really a great incentive to move.”

Source: By Leigh Kamping-Carder - The Real Deal

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Another day, another $95M listing

August 2012 
50 Central Park South and the duplex penthouse
For the second time this week a condominium bordering Central Park, a duplex penthouse on the 34th and 35th floors of 50 Central Park South, has been put on the market with a $95 million price tag. 
The 5,078-square-foot unit has three bedrooms, 3.5 bathrooms and is highlighted by a 42-foot-long ballroom that looks on to the park. The unit also has a 689-square-foot terrace. It is owned by an Argentinian ballroom dancer who paid $19.95 million for the the apartment on the top floors of the Ritz-Carlton in 2006 and spent an additional $7 million on renovations. Weston would not disclose his exact identity.
The unit is one of three on the market for at least $95 million. On Wednesday, steel magnate Leroy Schecter listed his 15 Central Park West condo for the same price, and two weeks ago developer Steven Klar listed his CitySpire penthouse for $100 million.
Today’s listing is the smallest of the three, but the building is no stranger to pricey real estate. Casino mogul Steve Wynn purchased the duplex four floors below for $70 million — $7.5 million below the asking price — in May. [NYT]
Source: The Real Deal

Alchemy closes on upper portion of Woolworth

August  2012 
From left: Alchemy Properties president Kenneth Horn, the Woolworth Building, the building's lobby and the building's namesake Frank Woolworth
A $68 million deal to transforming the top 30 floors of the iconic Woolworth Building into 40 luxury condominiums has been finalized and the units are expected to be ready for occupancy by 2015, according to the New York Times. An investment group led by Alchemy Properties closed July 31 on the upper portion of the building from a partnership of the Witkoff Group and Cammeby’s International, which will continue to lease the bottom 28 floors as offices. Witkoff and Cammeby’s, led by Steve Witkoff and Ruby Schron, respectively, purchased the entire building for $137.5 million in 1998.
The 57-story building’s new apartments will be some of the highest in the city at approximately 700 feet above the ground, with one five-level, 8,000-square-foot penthouse, occupying the copper cupola reaching 792 feet . The top-floor penthouse will also include the original observation deck accessed by a private elevator.
The renovation — which Alchemy estimated would cost an additional $90 million over the purchase price — will restore some of the buildings forgotten amenities, including a basement pool that company  Frank Winfield Woolworth himself is said to have used. Prices for the units have not been set but the developer is expecting nearly $3,000 per square foot — $1,750 above the average condo price in the same zip code in the second quarter of 2012.
“It’s very exciting for us,” Alchemy Properties president Kenneth Horn, said. “We’ve done a lot of historic buildings in the city, but this is ‘the mama,’ as they say.” [NYT] – Christopher Cameron
Source: The Real Deal