Gregory J. Heym
Executive Vice President, Chief Economist
BY DAVID LOMBINO - Staff Reporter of the Sun
Year-end real estate statistics made available yesterday by three city companies suggest 2005 was a monster year that ended with a whimper - a deceleration of growth over the last two quarters. Several real estate analysts and the authors of the reports pointed to the fear of a larger downturn in prices as one cause of the slowdown.
An appraiser and the author of a report to be released today by Prudential Douglas Elliman, Jonathan Miller, said that although all relevant price indicators showed gains of more than 20% for 2005, the numbers from the fourth quarter, if annualized, would equal more modest gains of between 7% and 13%.
"The market has shifted gears. It's not the same runaway appreciation we were seeing, and that is not a bad thing. That acceleration could not continue indefinitely," Mr. Miller said.
Still, data provided by Mr. Miller shows that the average price per square foot of apartments sold in the fourth quarter exceeded $1,000 for the first time.
Mr. Miller said the demand for city apartments appears to have slowed. He pointed to a sharp drop in the number of sales - more than 27% since the fourth quarter of 2004 - and an increase of more than 52% in the amount of inventory versus 2004, although that year's inventory was exceptionally low.
Mr. Miller said the "pause" in activity was due to a modest rise in mortgage rates, mixed economic news, and what he called a fixation by the press on the potential housing "bubble" last quarter.
"There was a vortex of media coverage on the potential bubble and a lot of it was based on the over reliance on one set of statistics - average sales prices," he said.
Statistics provided by the Corcoran Group, the real estate company that will release another fourth quarter report today, showed an increase in average apartment prices of 28% between 2004 and 2005, but Corcoran's CEO, Pamela Liebman, said most of the price growth occurred in the second quarter.
"In the latter part of '05, we finally took a breath," she said. "There was a psychological shift on the part of the buyers."
Ms. Liebman suggested sellers would need to be more realistic with pricing if the number of sales is to re turn to previous levels in 2006.
"The demand is there if the price is right. The first quarter depends on the buyers. If they want to continue to price on a steep upward curve, they will see resistance from buyers," she said.
An economist and the author of a fourth quarter report from the Halstead Group and Brown Harris Stevens, Greg Heym, said some of the slowdown in price increases stems from an increase in market share of smaller apartments, such as studios and one-bedrooms.
"It's slowing down - that's true - but it's still growth," Mr. Heym said. "We will be looking to see if the activity on the higher end picks up. Our brokers are telling us that they are doing deals now that won't show" until next quarter.
Still, Mr. Heym said a "slight" dip in the number of sales suggests "people have this fear they don't want to buy at the top of the market. People are waiting to see what happens with interest rates and what inflation and gas prices will do."
The reports differed on which neighborhoods underwent the most appreciation in 2005. Mr. Miller said Northern Manhattan, which he said had a very low average price point going into 2005, enjoyed appreciation of nearly 40% last year.
Mr. Heym, of Halstead and Brown Harris Stevens, said downtown Manhattan continued to enjoy a steep growth in prices. He said the average price of apartments with three or more bedrooms grew about 36% from a year ago.
"One of the side effects of all the construction is it brings up the prices," he said.
Ms. Liebman said the townhouse market in Brooklyn Heights and Park Slope saw some of the biggest gains in 2005.
Looking ahead, the analysts looked for end of year bonus money to drive up sales in the first quarter of 2006.
"Historically, the bonuses are very important to New York housing market as a part of our regular cycle," Mr. Miller said.
The CEO of Prudential Douglas Elliman, Dottie Herman, said the days of flipping New York properties for a quick profit are over.
"In 2006, you will not see the same appreciation," she said. "If you are going to be selling property in 2006, you need to appreciate that it will take a little longer to sell."
Wednesday, January 04, 2006