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Finding Opportunities in Q1 Corcoran Report


Strengths and weaknesses

“How’s the market?,” is the question I hear most frequently from buyers and sellers after The Corcoran Report is published each quarter. That’s because the report can be so difficult to decipher in such a large and diverse market like New York City.

My answer right now? It depends on your price point, how many bedrooms you need to buy or sell and your location. There is no straightforward answer, I’m afraid. Right now, the NYC residential real estate market is highly fragmented.

But there is good news: if you are a buyer looking for a studio, you are in luck. Inventory is up by 8%.

Yet if you are looking for a luxury three-bedroom home or something downtown in the $3-5 million range, you may have a longer search. Low inventory levels are causing bidding wars and leaving fussy buyers with no choice but to wait for fresh offerings.

According to the 1st Quarter 2024 Manhattan Corcoran Report: “Annual changes in inventory varied by price point, with listings under $1M rising 10% YOY, while homes priced between $3M and $5M saw listings drop 9% YOY due to a drop in new development supply.”

Yet across the market the lock-in effect is real. Potential sellers weigh their options and many decide to stay where they are.

In the absence of a clear-cut trend (a buyer’s market versus a seller’s market) across all price points, I decided to do a SWOT analysis — using Corcoran Report data to find strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities — to help you figure out how your goals fit into this current landscape.

Strengths

 Pamela Liebman, Corcoran President & CEO, said “Though the start of 2024 showed mixed results, there are some signs that the market is improving. Sales were nearly flat at the beginning of 2024, with an uptick in contracts signed both in January and February. Currently, prices are trending downward, and buyers looking to maximize value for their dollar might just find what they are looking for.”

As buyers sought value in the first quarter, the often-maligned co-op became the preferred choice. Co-op sales gained 3% market share compared to last quarter while the condo market share lost 2% and the new development market lost 1%.

The Corcoran Report notes “the East Side has exhibited more stability than other Manhattan submarkets. Active listings on the Upper East Side have been within 5% of 1,500 units for the past two years.”

This proves once again that in real estate, it’s about location, location, location. What was once considered a stuffy neighborhood with no sizzle, the Upper East side is now desirable as buyers have new buildings to consider and more are under construction. The 30% drop in the median price to $895,000 can be attributed to far fewer pricey new development sales during the first quarter along with a shift toward lower-cost areas East of Third Avenue gaining popularity.

In Upper Manhattan, the closing of Claremont Hall Penthouse 41 for $9,989,000 comes to just under $3,000/SF and was the highest priced sale ever in the area. This sale and others in the Robert A.M. Stern-designed new development pushed up the average price per square foot by 31% to $1,133 — yet the median price in the neighborhood is $628,000, well below the overall median price in Manhattan. Morningside Heights in particular offers property choices for a wide range of budgets, which is reflected in the median price.

 Weakness

Sales in the first quarter of the year measured by transaction volume were the weakest they have been during Q1 since 2009. Persistently high mortgage rates drove down demand until the second half of December, when they finally showed improvement. Mortgage rates have been hovering around 6.5%, an improvement over the 8% rates prevalent in 2023 but further rate cuts continue to be postponed. Buyers and sellers alike were hoping for an interest rate cut in March, which may explain the pause in signed contract activity last month.

The lack of fresh inventory due to the lock-in effect of households hanging on to their low mortgage rates has become apparent. The 6,300 units which were listed in Manhattan constitute a 2% inventory increase compared to last year but still 15% below the five-year first quarter average.

Meanwhile, new development active listings fell 13% year-over-year (according to The Corcoran Report), with only 892 units on offer. Downtown sales, which have been strong since the end of 2020, fell 7% year-over-year to 663 closing. This is the lowest number of closed sales since 2009 and can be attributed to a lack of inventory.

The rising costs of homeownership is pushing many would-be buyers, especially first -time buyers, into the rental market where they’re being cautious and slow to purchase. The slower demand has put downward pressure on prices.

But buildings are reluctant to increase monthly costs for owners, leading many boards to institute special assessments to cover capital improvements — instead of increasing monthly payments permanently, hoping that the apartments still seem affordable on a monthly basis.

 Opportunities

According to the Corcoran Report, “The high market share of resale co-ops, increase in closings under $2M, and a significant drop in new development sales, combined to drive down sale price figures.”

Prices are down across all categories and now closer to the pricing the market showed from 2014-2016, giving buyers an opportunity to purchase. While the lower prices offset the higher mortgage rates somewhat, overall monthly costs are higher.

The improved pricing was most noticeable in more affordable areas such as Northern Manhattan and Midtown. The median price is down 5% to a four-year low of $1,050,000 while the average price per square foot fell 14% year over year to $1,640.

These numbers reflect contracts signed in the fourth quarter of 2023. Three-bedroom homes in condos and new development saw the largest price drops falling 19% and 27% respectively since last quarter. The pricing in these buildings could not compete with the lower prices offered by co-ops.

During the first quarter, demand was noticeably stronger as measured by signed contracts, which increased 18% compared to the end of 2023. But while demand jumped by 18%, the overall signed contracts are down by 6% compared to last year at this time. As a result of this trend and mortgage rates holding steady, the new lower prices are likely to continue through the Spring market across certain price points. Sellers who purchased their property long before 2014 and want to sell may find this is a good time.

 Threats

The most obvious threat is mortgage rates staying at the current level or going higher. When rates improved in December 2023 there was an expectation that easing would continue. The Fed’s decision to postpone any further cuts may dampen demand this year and encourage potential sellers to hold on to their homes. The sub $3 million market will be most impacted by this trend, while the luxury market above $5 million has seen an increase in cash purchases.

The upcoming Presidential election is likely to impact sales volume versus pricing. Historically, election years cause buyers to pause and absorb the news as they weigh how the outcome will impact them economically. Certainly the 2024 Presidential election will be a very closely watched race which could slow demand more than normal. Anyone considering selling should put their property on the market immediately.

If you find yourself more confused than when you began reading the article, I do not blame you. I had to read The Corcoran Report and other quarterly reports repeatedly to get a full picture of the current Manhattan real estate market.

If you want a better understanding of how to proceed as a buyer or seller, please contact me. Even if you are not thinking about transacting in 2024, I am always happy to have the conversation and provide you with detailed research as it applies to your situation.