hints for reading Manhattan real estate market reports

spoiler alert: don’t take them literally

If you are a fan of the Miller Samuel reports about the Manhattan residential real estate market produced for Douglas Elliman, you know that in the last quarter of 2017 there were 2,514 closed sales, at an average price of $1,897,503 and a median of $1,060,000.

But if you prefer Corcoran’s take on the 4th quarter, you know that there were 3,140 sales in that same three-month period, at an average price of $1,879,000 and a median of $1,068,000.

On your third hand, if you like the Terra Holdings take reported by Halstead, you know that there were 2,187 sales in the last quarter of 2017 (though it is ridiculously difficult to find that number; hint: last page, far right), at an average price of $1,921,671 and a median of $1.1mm.

The good news is that there is substantial agreement on pricing. The bad news is that it appears that there is a secret REBNY committee on counting confusion, with one firm “counting” nearly 50% more closed sales in Manhattan than another, with yet another firm being not quite in the middle.

watch as prices drop and rise!

Directionally, these major firms came to similar conclusions about the market, year-over-year, though one firm was more alarmed about average sales dollars while also finding an essentially flat median performance:

  • Miller Samuel found an average price drop of 10.6% over the last quarter of 2016, with a median increase of 1% year-over-year.
  • Corcoran squinted at an average price drop of 7% over the last quarter of 2016, with a median increase of 5% year-over-year.
  • Despite a data set seemingly half as rich as Corcoran’s, Halstead came to the same pricing conclusions as Corcoran, showing an average price drop of 7% over the last quarter of 2016, with a median increase of 5% year-over-year.

These are the Big Picture data points. There are a million smaller points (approximately) in the full reports, worth considering depending on your interest in detail and interest in particular market segments. The Miller is fully committed to four pages (two sheets, double-sided, with no room for geographic segmentation), while Corcoran is more open-ended (certainly, more voluble, at 24 pages), and Halstead fills 13 pages with mostly charts and relatively few words.

These firms agree on the importance of separating resale data from new development sales, and coop transactions from condos … all good. Caution: you can easily get lost in the weeds, but if you are thirsty for data (and for different presentations of the ‘same’ data that use different data sets), knock yourself out. Then also consult the Compass report (2,465 transactions! nearly matching The Miller, “in the middle”), and look for others. StreetEasy’s report is not out yet, but it can’t be long ….

Seriously, it can be worth it to dig through this stuff, if you have the stomach for it.

My favorite nuggets include:

  • condo listings above $3mm were 38% of available condo inventory but only 25% of condo contracts were above $3mm (Compass)
  • “The 5% increase median price to $1.068M reflected the strength of the core $3M and under market, while the 7% annual decrease of average price to $1.879M supported the narrative that rising supply continues to put downward pressure on prices at the higher end of the market, where discounts and negotiability are prevalent” (Corcoran)
  • “the average three-bedroom and larger co-op price fell 18% compared to a year ago” (Halstead)
  • all-cash sales were 51.2% overall, 39.7% for coops, 64.3% for condos, but 89.9% of purchases over $5mm (The Miller)
lofts are really hard to count

Since The Miller stopped reporting on loft sales as a separate category (boo!), I find just one solitary sentence that reports on This Very Significant Market Segment, with no supporting data (alas): “[b]oth the average and median price per square foot fell 8% for resale lofts compared to a year ago” (thanks Halstead!).

I’m not in the habit of doing quarterly (or other!) reports, but you can find all the loft transactions that I can find in my Master List of Downtown Manhattan Loft Sales (now simplified to a spreadsheet beginning in 2016; for older sheets back to November 2008 … scroll scroll scroll for the links). Make your own lists!



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