The real estate market, in comparison to most markets, moves at a glacial pace. Housing and property are, after all, two of the most illiquid assets you can buy. That illiquidity makes sense: you can never move it; for most lots it’s hard to sell just part of it and keep the rest; holding it costs money; selling it costs money.
What keeps real estate looking so attractive to so many investors, however, are the potentially huge returns. All in all, though, the transaction costs are huge in any real estate market, and that keeps the market from responding as quickly as, say, stock or bond markets.
The glacial pace at which the national market moves is reflected in the New York real estate market. In fact, mainly because the New York market dodged most of the direct effects of the subprime crisis, a significant lag has developed between its price movements and other major national markets.
Like most markets, the real estate markets follow certain patterns. Economic geographic patterns of the business cycle being one of the most predictable. Usually, when the market is dragged down by macroeconomic events – like the New York apartment market was – marginal neighborhoods are hit first, then middle class ones, and then towards the end of the downturn, those luxury markets most insulated from the economic cycle take a hit.
This might be overstating the pattern a bit. All of this happens pretty quickly, but sometimes there is a lag of one or two quarters. We saw this happen with the New York apartment market, as Harlem and other neighborhoods watched property values plummet, even as new condo sales were keeping at least the average price of the luxury market afloat for some time.
Witness, though, the cold hand of time. Two major aspects of the high-end luxury New York apartment market, the Hamptons and new Manhattan condo sales, are coming back down to earth. Sales in April of new Manhattan condos fell roughly 70% from last year’s figures. This number was in part powered by developers and lenders’ unwillingness to lower their prices, relative to other sellers.
The Hamptons, the fabled summer playground of the wealthiest of New Yorkers – I’ve always preferred Martha’s Vineyard, myself – many properties are now selling for less than two thirds of their initial property values.
These markets are still stronger than many others within the larger picture of NYC real estate. The global recession, though, has finally, literally reached home – driving down the property values of those New York financiers that caused it.


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