New York City Developers Are Relying On A Shrinking Pool Of Buyers

Most of New York City’s largest developers are probably optimistic about the near future now that one of their own is occupying the most powerful office in the world. Bu, this very specific group of taxpayers stands to benefit immensely from several of the provisions that have appeared in the Senate or House plans: Repealing the AMT and estate taxes would allow them (and their heirs) to shave a pile of percentage points off their tax bills. And those are just two examples.

To be sure, the tax plan’s passage isn’t assured – now that Alabama Democrat Doug Jones has defeated Republican Roy Moore. With Jones expected to be seated some time after New Year’s, the time pressure facing Republicans has intensified. Because at the start of the next Congress, their already precarious two-vote majority will shrink to one. Beyond this, Republicans haven’t agreed on a final version of the bill yet, and existing differences between moderates, deficit hawks and conservatives within the party could prove insurmountable.

But regardless of what happens with the tax plan, there’s a much more pressing problem facing developers in the Big Apple: A glut of “luxury” apartments priced in the low-seven or high-six figure range is coinciding with a precipitous drop in sales volume, according to Reuters.

While prices have been steady in recent years, sales volume for condos in Manhattan are still 30% below their pre-crisis peak.

In other words, the market’s dependence on a small, well-heeled pool of buyers – a pool that is shrinking as prices rise to unsustainable levels and wealth in the US becomes increasingly concentrated in the hands of the wealthiest – could be a major vulnerability in the coming years.

In the past five years, however, Manhattan has seen a different kind of development boom. Prices for these units are higher than they ever were before but the number of units built and sold is way off levels achieved a decade ago, Warshawer said.

 

“As prices have risen, less of the market share is comprised of cheaper units,” she said.

 

In 2013, 7,787 units were sold for under $1 million for a total $4.7 billion in sales. This year is projected to end with 5,040 units sold at under $1 million for $3.4 billion in sales.

Indeed, apartments priced in the seven-figures are increasingly going unsold – while affordable housing becomes increasingly harder to

The median sales price of high-end apartments edged higher in 2017, but the closely watched average square-foot price slid a bit for condos as prices leveled off after years of heady growth, the report said.

 

While the average and median sales price for all residential units has jumped since 2007 by 61 percent to $2.2 million and 44 percent to $1.2 million, respectively, transaction volume is off 30 percent from peak activity a decade ago, CityRealty said.

 

CityRealty examined sales registrations from the city’s Department of Finance. Much of Harlem and nearby areas were excluded because its market size.

Units sold at 432 Park Avenue, a 96-story tower marketed by developers as the tallest residential building in the Americas, garnered the most number of sales in a listing of the 25 highest-priced condos, CityRealty said. But elsewhere, the ultra-high-end market is suffering as nearly a third of the apartments in Manhattan’s recently developed “Billionaire’s Row” have gone unsold.

As we highlighted back in August during Starwood Property Trust’s Q2 earnings call, CEO Barry Sternlicht warned of a doomsday waiting at the end of New York's "Billionaire's Row", predicting an imminent "debacle." He mentioned the out-of-balance mezzanine loan at JDS Development and Property Markets Group’s 111 West 57th Street project and predicted more distress in the luxury residential market, including at 53 W 53, a supertall condo being developed next to the Museum of Modern Art by Hines, Pontiac Land Group and Goldman Sachs.

“We are beginning to see the cracks of the high-end residential market in Manhattan,” Sternlich warned.

Indeed, and while developers stand to benefit personally from the Republican plan, proposals to eliminate or reduce the mortgage deduction or deductions on state and local taxes could further damage their sales figures by favoring renters over buyers.