Wall Street Journal jumps gun on quarterly market report, flogs Soho loft sale you know about

brilliant journalism
Regular readers of Manhattan Loft guy will suspect snark in that sub-head, but today, I got none. Josh Barbanel’s piece in today’s Journal, Manhattan Sales Continue to Climb, is brilliant journalism on two fronts. First, it scoops all the articles you will read next Monday or Tuesday, when the major brokerages release their quarterly residential sales reports. Second, it relies on primary source material, “a Wall Street Journal analysis of public sales records”, in contrast to the articles next week, which will be based on analysis done by others (you will see quotes by Pam Liebman about Corcoran’s analysis, by Greg Heym [and probably Diane Ramirez and/or Hall Willkie] about the Terra Holdings analysis for Brown Harris and Halstead, and by The Miller and Dottie Herman about The Miller’s report for PruDE).

Barbanel got a jump on the competition (the New York Times and …?) by using the Journal’s own work, to report on year-over-year and quarter-over-quarter changes in the overall Manhattan residential real estate market in average and median sales prices, volume, and inventory. I call that brilliant, as he should suck up some of the link juice that will probably still go the articles next week about the major firm reports, and will make those reports a bit of an anti-climax for those most interested in only the top line numbers (i.e., 97.17% of the readership, approximately).

The cherry on top for me is that the single specific example in Barbanel’s piece is of a Soho loft sale above ask. Manhattan Loft Guy readers will recognize that sale from my September 13, quintessential artist loft sells for $1,525/ft at 38 Crosby Street. (As I noted in that post about the address, “[a]s StreetEasy tells you, this loft building is also known as 476 Broadway. If you can access Property Shark, you will see the building dimensions given as 50 x 200 feet, but the accompanying building photos show that the Broadway facade is much wider than the Crosby Street facade, 5 double windows to 3.”) Here is what Barbanel reports on that sale:

When Susan Green, a Town broker, listed a SoHo artist loft in need of a gut renovation at 476 Broadway for $2.895 million in May, "the neighbors laughed," Ms. Maitland said.

But in two months the loft was in contract, and it sold last month for $3.05 million, 5.3% above the asking price. "We got eight offers from highly qualified buyers," she said, even though buyers in the building were required to prove that they were artists.

You knew from the asking and closing prices that there was a bidding war (until more resales are added to the Master List of Manhattan Lofts Sold Since November 2008 you will find this sale on Line 39 of Sheet1, with the clearing price in green) and now we know that there were eight “highly qualified” bidders. Remember, that is $3.05mm for a “2,000 sq ft” loft that needed a total gut job, though it has what I tweeted as “is the The Best View in #Soho? artist’s loft (needs reno) for $1,525/ft!”. (Follow me at @ManhattnLoftGuy if you are visit the Twitterverse, by the way.) And we now also know that the building “required [buyers] to prove that they were artists”, a fascinating window on the practicalities of the Artist In Residence issue in Soho. (If you are familiar with my series on A.I.R. [links below, for the uninitiated] you will guess that Team Sweeney will argue based on this sale that the “restrictions” do not prevent owners from selling at [indeed, above!] market values, so what ‘s all the fuss about?)

That angle deserves its own post. (Some day other than this day. Note to self …)

a quick market overview
Barbanel’s analysis of the overall market shows:

  • volume at near Peak levels (“the highest sales pace since the third quarter of 2008”)
  • median prices up
  • average prices down (with an explanation: “decline in average prices reflected improving sales of lower-priced apartments and more sales of co-ops, which tend to sell for less than otherwise comparable condominiums”)

In contrast to Barbanel’s data analysis of the entire Manhattan residential real estate market, Manhattan Loft Guy posts tend to focus on specific downtown Manhattan loft sales, with the better ones stepping back to take a broader perspective. (I aspire, I really do: September 16, on its best days, Manhattan Loft Guy meets this (lofty!) standard of criticism.) In the case of the loft sale that Barbanel focused on, I noted in that September 13 post that there was a legit-Peak sale of the same footprint one flight below at 38 Crosby Street (aka 476 Broadway) that also needed a build-out and that (being only one floor down) should have essentially the same spectacular views. No one sale represents The Market, of course, but this comparison was interesting, to say the least:

Loft #8R was babbled as a total build-out (read between the lines, you’ll see) with beautiful views. With a December 2007 contract and a February 2008 closing, #8R was about as Peak as Peak can be. Yet it sold then at (only) $2.675mm, compared to #9R at 14% higher.

he’s not really cheating
The Journal “analysis is based on closed sales filed with the Department of Finance six days before the end of each quarter” so, one could argue, it is not really a Third Quarter market report. I suspect the Big Firms will not harp on that (publicly) when they release their reports next week, as their “Third Quarter” sales reports are not really Third Quarter market reports either. Those market reports cannot include all actual sales from July 1 through September 30, 2012 because not all those sales will have been recorded by the time the “Third Quarter market reports” are released next week.

Those big firms might argue that their report are better (more up to date) because they know about sales not yet in the New York City ACRIS system because their agents participated in so many sales on either the buy-side or the sell-side, but this is as much an acknowledgment that the “Third Quarter market reports” are based on a fiction as anything else. The Journal, in contrast, has begun to accumulate hard data from a public source that is consistent about timing (“closed sales filed with the Department of Finance six days before the end of each quarter”). And the Journal gets to scoop the New York Times.

Nicely played, sir; nicely played.

links? we got links!
And many thanks to Barbanel and the Wall Street Journal for an excuse to provide links to my series on the artist-in-residence “problem” (which, of course, generates another Note to self … to catch up on current events in the A.I.R. world; sigh….)

© Sandy Mattingly 2012


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