Manhattan Apartment Sales Surge to Two-Year High as Wall Street Adds Jobs

Manhattan apartment sales jumped 80 percent in the second quarter from a year earlier, reaching the highest level since 2008, as the city’s job market improved.

About 2,750 condominiums and cooperative apartments sold in the period, New York appraiser Miller Samuel Inc. and broker Prudential Douglas Elliman Real Estate said today. The average price per square foot was little changed at $1,051, reflecting an 18 percent drop from 2008’s peak. The median apartment price rose 7.6 percent from a year earlier to $899,000.

“What we’re seeing is the first step in an improving housing market,” Jonathan Miller, president of Miller Samuel, said in a telephone interview.

New York City’s unemployment rate fell to a seasonally adjusted 9.6 percent in May, the fifth consecutive decline, the New York State Labor Department reported June 17. New York’s finance industry added 6,800 jobs from the end of February through May, the largest three-month increase since 2008. The securities industry accounted for 5.5 percent of the city’s private sector jobs in 2009 and 22 percent of total wages, according to the Labor Department.

The income figures don’t include Wall Street year-end bonuses, which gained an estimated 17 percent from 2008 to $20.3 billion in 2009, New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in February.

Miller’s quarterly property data are based on sales that went into contract eight to 12 weeks earlier. Those numbers don’t break out activity since the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index began a two-month decline in May, Miller said.

Stock Market Dive

New contracts fell 12 percent to 822 in June from the previous month and the number of broken contracts more than doubled to 130, according to a report from StreetEasy.com, a service that compiles broker listings.

“Whatever improvements we saw in the past three quarters have run out of steam,” Sofia Song, vice president of research at StreetEasy.com, said in a telephone interview.

An index of U.S. pending sales of existing homes dropped 30 percent in May from April after a homebuyer tax credit expired. It marked the biggest drop in records dating to 2001, the National Association of Realtors reported today from Washington.

Near record-low mortgage rates and the possibility that Manhattan’s real estate prices have hit bottom brought buyers from the sidelines during the quarter, said Gregory Heym, chief economist for Terra Holdings LLC, which produced its own reports. Those numbers showed an 81 percent jump in sales and a 6 percent increase in the median apartment price to $842,779.

“People are getting more confident,” said Heym, whose employer owns New York real estate brokers Halstead Property LLC and Brown Harris Stevens LLC. “There are still good buying opportunities.”

Gramercy Park Home

In May, Paul and Susan McDowell purchased a two-bedroom, 1,800-square-foot (167-square-meter) loft in the Gramercy Park neighborhood for $1.7 million, according to public records on the New York Department of Finance website. The McDowells bought after selling their home in Darien, Connecticut, and concluding New York prices were reasonable, said Paul McDowell, chief executive officer of CapLease Inc., a real estate investment trust based in Manhattan.

“In the early spring there was a sense that things had -- or were very smartly -- turning around and that it may be a good time to buy,” he said. “Values were wildly inflated. They’re certainly less inflated than they were.”

The sales jump pushed the inventory of unsold apartments down 13 percent from a year earlier to 8,157 units. Co-ops and condos took an average 105 days to sell, down from 162 days, according to Miller Samuel and Prudential data.

Northern Manhattan Deal

Kevin Mancuso, a hairstylist and creative director for Nexxus Salon Haircare products, signed a contract to buy a penthouse at the PS 90 Condos, a former public school on 148th Street, after raising his bid to the $899,000 asking price.

“How many times have you heard ‘Oh you can get this for a song?’” said Mancuso, 54. “It’s actually not true.”

The biggest median price increase was for apartments with at least four bedrooms, which rose almost 19 percent to $4.65 million.

Bidding wars have broken out over scarce multi-bedroom luxury apartments while apartments with high asking prices linger without offers, said Lisa Lippman, a director with Brown Harris Stevens.

“Sellers think the market is better than it is,” Lippman said in a telephone interview. “Buyers think it’s worse.”

Moving In Together

Andrew Flicker, a 37-year-old physical therapist, spent two weeks negotiating for a two-bedroom, two-bath condo in the Armstead on West 104th Street before striking a deal for less than the $975,000 asking price. He declined to say how much he agreed to pay. He wanted a larger apartment to share with his girlfriend.

“I think we’ll look back and say this is a good opportunity to buy real estate in New York,” Flicker said.

Loft sales nearly quadrupled to 262 apartments from 72 a year earlier, Miller Samuel reported. Median prices for luxury apartments, defined as the top 10 percent of the market by price, rose about 12 percent to almost $4.1 million. Those units were little changed on a per-square-foot basis at an average $1,843.

Outside Manhattan, prices in the greater New York area continued to fall in April, down 22 percent from their June 2006 peak, according to the S&P/Case-Shiller index.

Manhattan was less affected than other parts of the country by a federal tax credit of as much as $8,000 for first-time homebuyers because the city’s property prices are so high, said Pamela Liebman, chief executive officer of New York-based Corcoran Group.

“The tax credit didn’t put a lot money in people pockets, but it did put the idea to buy in a lot of people’s heads,” she said.

To contact the reporter on this story: John Gittelsohn in New York at johngitt@bloomberg.net; Oshrat Carmiel in New York at ocarmiel1@bloomberg.net.

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