Out and About: Our usual spring thaw is running late

(Flickr photo by wvholst)

As wintry as it is, this is the time of year when we expect the housing market to begin to warm up. When it comes to real estate, the spring thaw starts early, especially after the Super Bowl.

According to the superb data provided on my friend Noah Rosenblatt’s Web site, UrbanDigs.com, inventory in Manhattan is up from a year ago.  But sales are lower–and trending lower at this moment.

The number of actively listed apartments fell to 6,427 on Jan. 22, 2010 as opposed to 7,211 on the same date this year.  As for the volume of sales at some stage prior to closing, there were 2,056 on Jan. 22, 2010 versus 1,881 this year.

The decline in sales activity largely seems to explain roughly half the rise in inventory, while new listings may account for the remainder.

In the last month, sales bounced up and down, but they have been falling since the 13th to their 30-day low.  At the same time, as Noah has pointed out, the number of active listings has been growing in that period from a valley of 6,777 to 7,196 on Sunday.  In other words, supply is inching up as buyers hold back.

I don’t want to underestimate the effects of the homebuyer tax credit either.  Certainly, it helped sales in the late winter and spring, after which sales nosedived.

Regarding prices, the OLR database (which many brokers use) has the average listed price in the last month at $1.226 million and the median at $847,000.

For the average, those figures represent no change from the previous month–the dead month of the holidays; for the median, there has been a 1.19 percent rise, and that’s probably related to the mix of units put on the market more than anything else.

OLR records a 50 percent increase in new listings, from 704 to 1,060.  Noah has noted that the average number of new listings in January of the previous three years was 1,900, while we reached only about 1,300 by the 19th.

Other information in the OLR database also is of interest: The number of listings that had price reductions went to 774 in the past month from 585 in the prior one, a 32 percent change.

For sellers who have been waiting for a stronger market, this news cannot be good.  For buyers waiting to pounce, today’s housing market apparently continues to favor them.  Whether it will favor them even more as time passes is a question that cannot be confidently answered.

If there is to be a spring thaw in the market, we may have to see what the groundhog does.

Below are recently visited properties that are listed by various brokers:

  • In the high 60s on a southeast corner of Broadway, a straight studio fit only for a buyer desperate to own property and live in a prime location.  This confining co-op, which is to be painted and have its floors refinished, has a two-burner glorified hot plate and only a microwave for oven. The unit has nothing to commend it but open views north.  There are popcorn ceilings, albeit high, and a bath with damaged or missing rosy beige tiles.  In a pre-war doorman building with a laundry room as its sole other amenity, the apartment went on the market more than a year ago for $315,000 with maintenance per month of $727.  It then has chased the market with four reductions, now to $250,000. 
  • A classic five-room condo that was recently renovated in a building still transitioning from rentals.  This 1,728-sf apartment has a low-grade kitchen, formal dining room, new flooring in place and other flooring that can be refinished no more.  The two baths are vintage, closet space is barely adequate, there are three exposures and a washer/dryer hook-up exists.  The apartment is in a 1926 building with a doorman and live-in super in the low 90s on a corner of Broadway, but the price of $1.64 million with monthly common charges of $1,243 and real estate taxes of $740 is optimistic, given the virtual impossibility of paying for the place with anything but cash.
  • On a Central Park block of Lincoln Square, a 780-sf co-op in a 1968 full-service building laden with amenities.  Lacking a washer/dryer, the unit features superlative views of the park from a high floor, decently renovated kitchen with high-end appliances, baths that could use additional improvement and 80-sf balcony.  The original offering price in November of $1.195 million with maintenance of $1,220 a month was lowered less than a month later to $1.095 million and recently to an appropriate $999,000. 
  • A two-bedroom, one-bath co-op on Riverside Drive at the southern edge of Morningside Heights.  This apartment provides a formal dining room that seems to dwarf the living room, which ideally would be much larger than it is.  Walls were skim-coated two years ago, but the floors are beyond another sanding.  As for the galley kitchen, it retains its original glass-paned cabinets, has had maple ones added over time and has well-worn butcher-block countertops.  The northern exposures are bright and only partially obscured, despite the unit’s location on a low floor.  In a 1921 pet-friendly doorman building, this unit was listed for $999,999 with monthly maintenance of $1,397 in July before its five price reductions, most recently in November, to $899,000.  It temporarily went off the market last week.
  • In low 80s on Broadway, an airy two-bedroom, two-bath corner condo with unobstructed views north and east.  With a surfeit of nice touches such as extra-high doors with etched-glass inserts, custom closets, new hardwood floors and a nicely renovated, partly open interior kitchen, this 1,089-sf apartment in a 1987 doorman building features a washer/dryer and tastefully improved baths.  It also has an owner who clearly hopes to recoup the cost of renovations since his purchase five years ago probably at more than the asking price now of $1.395 million, having been reduced twice since its original $1.595 million in July.  Monthly common charges are $1,052 and real estate taxes, $982.  
  • An originally one-bedroom, one-bath co-op overlooking a busy street in the high 70s between Columbus and Amsterdam avenues.  This handsome unit shows very well, but the conversion of what was a dining room into a bedroom makes for awkward flow.  The renovated eat-in kitchen looks quite nice, but on closer inspection reveals an unusually narrow work area, cabinets laminated with blond wood and drawers that do not slide easily.  In a 1926 building with part-time doorman, the 1,000-sf apartment surprisingly received two offers within a week of going on the market at its remarkably high offering price of $1.085 million with maintenance of $1,386 per month.   
  • In the high 80s between Amsterdam and Columbus avenues, a two-bedroom apartment with a poorly located bath and a nearly unworkable layout.  This co-op on a high first floor also has something called a library/den, a washer/dryer, strangely shaped kitchen and pleasant views into brownstone gardens.  In a low-rise 1910 building with no amenities, the unit is listed at $599,000 with maintenance of $1,095 monthly, and it will find a buyer in the low to mid 500s.  

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Malcolm Carter
Licensed Associate Real Estate Broker
Senior Vice President
Charles Rutenberg Realty
127 E. 56th Street
New York, NY 10022

M: 347-886-0248
F: 347-438-3201

Web site

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