Lux Is In Flux

Posted by — January 5, 2005

January 6, 2005 -- Despite a reported upswing in residential real estate prices for the past 12 months, the super high-end of the New York apartment market has been spiraling downward. According to reports from Douglas Elliman and Brown Harris Stevens — considered the industry's two most influential market reports — the high-end luxury market has taken a substantial dip in the last few reporting periods.

In light of record prices being paid for some apartments, those numbers are few and far between.

The Douglas Elliman survey shows apartments of four or more bedrooms falling an average of more than $1 million per unit in just the last quarter, while Brown Harris shows a consistant drop of large apartment prices since the beginning of 2004, from $5.091 million to $4.711 million.

"It's the inverse of what happened when the market was faltering just after 9/11," said one industry analyst. "It was the prices that high-end apartments were getting which seemed to keep the overall market afloat, and it instilled a sense of confidence in Manhattan real estate."

But some analysts aren't putting a lot of stock in the pricier apartments.

"That number can swing, because four-plus bedroom places can vary tremendously in size "There's still room for growth in the market," said Greg Heym, Chief Economist for Brown Harris Stevens.

A report due to be released today by Halstead shows the average price of all apartments dropped slightly since the second quarter of 2004, to an average of $1,052,155.

Following an unprecendented five-year boom in the residential market, the Manhattan market appears to be top-heavy, say many real estate watchers.

Not so long ago, the high-end market was flush with investors looking to "flip" properties for a quick profit. But that practice has all but ended.

"I see bidding wars, but not much flipping," said Jonathan Miller, whose firm Miller Samuel compiles data for Douglas Elliman.

On a national level, the latest housing starts numbers released by the Commerce Department showed the sharpest drop in construction in the last 11 years, and economists say the slumping numbers bear watching.

Another sign of a slowing market are rising mortgage rates.

While no one is predicting that a real estate bubble is about to burst — at least not on the record — many in the industry are saying the market is poised for a cooling off period.

Others are more optimistic.

"I really don't see a bubble bursting," said Miller. "We're still dealing with a tight inventory and pretty steady demand."

Miller adds that while mortgage rates are trending upward, they are not rising rapidly.

By BRADEN KEIL

-Story first appeared in the New York Post, Online Edition, January 4, 2005

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