Why some NYC resi brokers are thriving during the summer slowdown

In real estate's quiet months, international buyers come out to play and agents take chances
By Miriam Hall | August 28, 2017 07:00AM

Last month, CORE’s Heather McDonough picked up a pair of condominium listings priced above $4 million. Normally, she would advise her clients to pull listings like these off the market until after Labor Day. But this summer, she thought maybe these apartments — a four-bedroom at 10 Madison Square West asking $6 million and a two-bed at Soho Mews for $4.4 million — would catch the eye of some international buyers. So she decided to try her luck keeping them on the market through August.

“If you list in the summer it’s a good way to bring attention and get some traction,” McDonough said, adding there’s been enough showing requests for her to justify the decision. “There are still buyers out there, and there’s not a lot of inventory.”

In the dog days of summer, the city’s residential market is said to take a power nap. Local buyers are off vacationing somewhere, and listings are taken down by sellers who want to avoid the perception that a home is lingering on the market. The data certainly points to a summer slump, particularly on the high end. Contracts on homes priced at $4 million and above have slowed significantly. And price reductions in the over-$10 million market, normally a way to drum up interest with ultra-luxury buyers, have dropped off.

But not everyone buys into the traditional “summer is dead” point of view. Brokers told The Real Deal that while traffic definitely goes down, there’s still money to be made if agents are willing to put in the time and sweat. “You may not get the traffic, but magic can happen in August,” said the Corcoran Group’s Vickey Barron. “If you are skilled, and can read the audience, you can close plenty of deals in the summer.”

The drop in inventory can sometimes work in an agent’s favor. “There’s a lot less competition,” said McDonough, who’s noticed that more of the top brokers have been keeping their listings on the market this summer. “When you are in a market that is not predictable, it’s a good opportunity to try different strategies and listing in summer is one of those things.”

With a slew of properties hitting the market straight after Labor Day, getting ahead can be advantageous. Many brokers “decided the summer sucks, before summer began,” said Triplemint’s Tyler Whitman, who only advises his sellers to remove listings for summer if they are very aggressively priced. Some apartments actually show better in the warmer months, he said. “I’ve listed apartments with a terrace in winter and people are like, ‘but I only get to use it a few months of the year.’ But in summer they come in and they are like, ‘Oh my god, a terrace, how fast can we close?’”

Barron, whose $11.2 million listing at Walker Tower went into contract last week, said it just takes one serious buyer for it to all be worthwhile. “I don’t need 20 people coming though.. it’s not order taking,” she said. “You have fewer people [in summer] but the art of what we are doing is understanding if the right person walks through the door.”

With locals in the Hamptons, June through August has become prime time for international buyers. “For the past 10 years or so, the dynamic has shifted, as the market has sprung more condominium, and there’s a more diverse buyer pool,” said Stuart Siegel of Engel & Volkers, whose office has received three requests from German buyers in the last week.

Others said summer doesn’t deter serious buyers as much as politics and stock volatility. “It’s a bit of wait-and-see game,” said William Raveis’ Kathy Braddock. “There’s uneasiness on what’s going on politically.”

Some brokers encourage their buyers to put in offers during summer, particularly now that buyers are calling the shots and sellers are increasingly willing to bring down prices to meet offers.

Christine Miller Martin, of Engel & Volkers, described August as a “great time to be bidding” — though she generally tells her sellers to put off listing apartments until the fall. At the start of summer, she represented a buyer in the purchase of a luxury co-op in the East 60s, and used the prospect of the slow months ahead as a negotiating tactic.

“We didn’t get it below ask, but we got it for less it had [previously] been in contract for,” she said. “We used the fact that summer was coming up.”

Other brokers said the summer is when they switch over to focusing on the rental side of the business to make use of peak season, though it too has drawbacks. “The hours in rental season are very long and draining,” said Natalia Padilla, a broker with Citi Habitats. Padilla said rental incentives are a major part of the season this year. “There’s a building in Brooklyn where they waived the application fee, they waived the broker fee, and they gave free rent too. I said, ‘what’s wrong with this property, did someone die here?’ — but they just want to fill the building.”

Most brokers said the summer is when they work on their own personal marketing, administration for their teams and, most importantly, step up their networking efforts. “One of the key ingredients to being a broker is who you know,” said Whitman, who finds that the summer party circuit provides the best opportunity to find new clients and expand the rolodex. “Everyone thinks brokers are scummy, it’s nice to be at these parties to meet people on a personal level. Like, we are outside having a glass of rosé like a human.”