The Real Deal New York

High-end U.S. markets show cracks in the foundation

Slump hits nation's most expensive areas

November 03, 2008
By The Real Deal

90210. 06831. 75201. This month, The Real Deal looks at the nation’s most exclusive zip codes — neighborhoods filled with spacious beachside mansions, panoramic mountain views and historic brick townhomes — to see how they’ve fared during the recent housing downturn.

For the most part, these exclusive neighborhoods remain somewhat insulated from the turmoil of the devastated real estate markets around them. But as homes take longer to sell, even in America’s toniest areas, the first cracks in their real estate markets are beginning to show.

Of course, for savvy members of the über-rich elite, that may mean it’s time to jump into real estate feet first.

In blue-chip markets with a limited supply of homes, prices are staying stable —even growing — despite slowing sales volume. In Aspen, where the rich and famous retreat to wine cellars and fireplaces tucked between mountain peaks, and new development is limited to a few small areas, prices are up 5 to 15 percent over last year.

Beacon Hill, Boston’s tiny swath of cobblestone streets and 19th-century brick and brownstone homes, saw the median sales price rise in the second quarter, though the number of sales has fallen considerably from its peak in 2004.

Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown neighborhood, composed predominantly of tidy, colorful historic townhouses, has seen median home sales prices increase to $1.3 million from January to September 2008 from $1.2 million during the same period last year. In fact, the number of homes sold has increased so far this year.

Areas with more new development, exclusive though they may be, have seen more of an impact from the real estate slump around them. In Beverly Hills, celebrities like Jennifer Aniston and Pete Sampras swap 9,000-square-foot homes with multi-million-dollar price tags. But Los Angeles County has seen its median price drop an amazing 68 percent to $360,000, and in Beverly Hills, the median home price has plunged to $930,000 from $1.8 million the year before.

Greenwich, Conn., with its manicured green lawns and pristine beaches, may have seemed immune to the real estate slump, but median prices dipped from $2.10 million to $1.99 million as of August. The town has even experienced a rare foreclosure auction, when an indicted hedge-fund manager lost his 7,300-square-foot dwelling, complete with a spa and waterfall. And
the most luxurious area of Dallas, the Park Cities, watched as sales fell precipitously this summer.

To the ultra rich, market figures like these spell opportunity. Many are taking advantage of slumping sales to nab some of the world’s most desirable real estate at a discount. Nevada, for example, leads the nation in foreclosures, and home prices in Las Vegas have dropped for the fifth month in a row. But this year, overall home-sales volume in Sin City has exceeded last year’s, as wealthy jetsetters are looking to buy high-rise condominiums towering above the Las Vegas Strip, and gargantuan custom-built homes in nearby Summerlin. And in Miami Beach, where the average sales price is down a whopping 36.4 percent year over year as of August, the number of sales is up nearly 24 percent since the same period last year.

As the old adage goes, when times get tough, the rich go shopping. As the country settles into a recession, real estate brokers in the country’s ritziest zip codes can only hope that turns out to be true.

All stories edited by Amy Haimerl

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