Manhattan's "Billionaire's Row" Is In a Slump
Some will say that it was visible from the 95th floor, so to speak, but even so the metamorphosis taking place in the Manhattan real estate market over the past year has been a stunning development. Having followed the collapse in the New York luxury housing segment, most recently in "Desperate Sellers Resort To Dramatic Price Cuts In Manhattan's Luxury Real Estate Market", as a result of the sudden halt in inbound offshore hot money mostly of Middle Eastern, Latin American and Chinese origin due to the crackdown on anonymous LLCs, money laundering and just the general drop in offshore ultra high net worth over the past year, we thought that we were prepared for ongoing news of a sharp slowdown in NYC luxury retail sales.
That said, even we were surprised by the following NYT narrative of just how dramatic the slowdown in the most opulent segment of NYC housing has been.
In many ways it mirrors, or perhaps precedes, the inevitable bursting of the private tech bubble - both marked by wildly overvalued assets whose prices are not grounded in anything remotely close to reality, exorbitantly expensive only because a handful of the world's uber-wealthiest flip them back and forth to each other, in what is both a game of hubris as well as hopes of finding ever dumber money.
The reasons for the slowdown, as noted above, are numerous, but all point to one direction - the demand so prevalent in recent years is no longer there: It’s not just the volatility of financial markets that has big spenders sitting on their wallets. Other global trends that have put the lid on high-end spending include China’s tightened restrictions on capital outflows, uncertainty surrounding Britain’s decision to leave the European Union, lower oil prices curbing wealth in the Middle East, and tax increases and other measures that have driven up property transaction costs in some countries.
“The global misperception was that the demand would be endless,” said Jonathan J. Miller, president of Miller Samuel, a real estate appraisal firm.
Sadly, like everything else, demand too ended. “The reality was the market was not as deep as what was thought.”
And as demand has cooled off, sellers - used to dictating terms for so many years - find themselves in an unexpected position: with no leverage, and as a result they are panicking.
As the volume of sales at the uppermost level has dwindled, some sellers have made drastic price cuts and some projects have been delayed.It's not just New York. "After the global financial crisis hit in 2008, investors turned to high-end real estate around the world as a safe place to park their millions. But since the middle of 2014, prime property values have dropped in Paris, Singapore, London, Moscow and Dubai, said Yolande Barnes, director of world research at Savills, a global real estate firm. “These cities have acted as a store of wealth,” said Ms. Barnes, who sees the current decline in values as “an inevitable setback that you get after a long bull run.”
While the market still has a long way to go before fire-sale pricing sets in, the declines may indicate that a ceiling has been reached according to the NYT. And even as sales over $10 million drop off in Manhattan, the bulk of the market remains robust, with competition particularly heated for homes priced for less than $3 million.
Much less can be said about the top tier of properties: in the first half of the year, contracts signed for Manhattan residences costing $10 million or more dropped by about 18 percent, to 107 units, down from 130 a year ago, according to data compiled by Olshan Realty.
Meanwhile inventory is piling up: in the Miami area, 216 homes and condos priced at $10 million were on the market at the end of June, a 43 percent jump from a year ago, according to data compiled by Esslinger-Wooten-Maxwell Realtors. “By anyone’s measurement, that’s more than you’d like to have,” said Ron Shuffield, president of that firm, pointing out that only 26 houses and condos in that price range sold in the 12 months through June.
As supply has overtaken demand, prices of luxury properties have fallen. Last month, after more than three years on the market,the crystal-bedecked penthouse at the Baccarat Hotel & Residences on West 53rd Street in Manhattan sold for $42.55 million — 29 percent less than the original $60 million asking price. After a year on the market, the $45 million triplex penthouse at 10 Sullivan Street, developed by Madison Equities and Property Markets Group, was divided into two units, now listed for $11.5 million and $28.5 million.
Confirming the severity of the market freeze, some sellers are even showing a willingness to take a loss. At One57 on West 57th Street - the building where Bill Ackman infamously bought an apartment for $91.5 million one year ago, effectively top-ticking the housing market - the Midtown tower credited with starting the boom in skyscrapers aimed at the extremely wealthy, four apartments up for resale are priced at less than the seller paid, including a three-bedroom listed for $27.95 million that sold for $31.67 million in 2014, according to Streeteasy.com.
Extell Development Company, which is still selling units at One57 four years after beginning sales, reduced the projected sellout value of the tower to $2.56 billion in March, a markdown of $162 million from its 2013 projections. It will reduce it more in the coming months now that after years of imbalance, it is once again a buyer's market.
Meanwhile, many still refuse to accept the reality that the happy days are gone, and are resorting to cosmetic fixes in hopes of smoking out "hidden" buyers. Developers who cling to their original asking prices are either rejiggering their product or casting a wider net to reach buyers. At the Woolworth Building in downtown Manhattan, where the top floors are being converted to condos, ornate interiors are being toned down in favor of a more contemporary look to appeal to a wider pool of buyers.
One reason the deluge of selling has not hid the press yet is that prices at the high end continue to set records, largely because many of the deals that are closing now involve contracts that were signed as long as 18 months ago, when many of the buildings were still under construction and the market was stronger.