The Financial District has undoubtedly come a long way since the turn of the millennium, when its streets went dark at the end of the workday. But while it’s had plenty of cheerleaders pushing to make it a more 24/7 neighborhood with a better residential-commercial split, the question now might be: Does it have too many condos?
There are more new condos set to come online over the next few years in the Financial District and Seaport area than in any other part of Manhattan, according to an analysis by The Real Deal, which looked at the new condo pipeline — including both unsold units (minus in-contract properties) as well as units set to come online in the next few years. The neighborhood has a staggering pipeline of 1,928 new condo units — not including those currently under contract.
New development marketing specialist Nancy Packes crunched the numbers and found that FiDi buildings that have already started closings have sold an average of 16 percent of their inventory a year.
Given that pace, Packes predicted that it would take eight years to sell out the full pipeline of inventory in the neighborhood — nearly double the Manhattan average.
But she said it’s unclear if Harry Macklowe’s One Wall Street, the neighborhood’s largest project, can sell units at the same pace as smaller buildings.
“There’s an outlier,” she said. “There’s no reliable metric to calculate absorption for that building.”
The developer bought the 1.1-million-square-foot Art Deco tower — the former Bank of New York Mellon building — for $585 million in 2014, and had originally planned on building a mix of condos and rentals.
But last year he doubled down on the sales market, announcing that he would turned the iconic, Ralph Walker-designed building into 566 condos.
That was a bold move given the nearby competition.
“Harry is just a gambler,” one of the city’s top luxury brokers said. “You have these people who are eternal optimists, who are myopic and don’t want to hear any bad news.”
Macklowe is indeed betting he can still tap into the well of Chinese buyers that many feel has gone dry.
He and CORE’s Shaun Osher, who is marketing the property, flew to Asia early last month for a whirlwind sales road show in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzen, according to the South China Morning Post.
Osher declined to comment on the trip or the marketing effort, but said he believes overseas buyers will still open their checkbooks for luxury product. “I will say we’re seeing a global demand for luxury real estate in New York City,” he said.
And Macklowe isn’t the only one pumping new condos into the Lower Manhattan pipeline.
Just two blocks away from One Wall, LCOR — the development firm owned by the California State Teachers Retirement System — recently revived plans for another project that will add hundreds of units to the neighborhood. In April, LCOR filed an offering plan with the state attorney general’s office to convert the 308-unit rental building at 25 Broad Street into condos, eyeing a projected sellout of $395 million.
But LCOR principal David Sigman said he’s not worried about the amount of inventory in the surrounding market, arguing that he’s targeting an undersupplied segment.
“For this price point, there’s just not a lot out there,” said Sigman, adding that pricing will likely range from $720,000 to $5.3 million. That comes to about $800 to $2,000 per square foot.
“We’ve been tracking sales in similar conversion-type buildings, and they’ve been holding pretty steady,” he said. “That’s why we pulled the book together.”
With sales in the ultra-luxury market slowing, many developers are going after this “affordable luxury” sector. But sources say if too many developers start building to that price point, it could just shift the oversupply to another segment of the market.
Meanwhile, there’s a slew of other significantly sized projects in the works in the area, adding to concerns about inventory levels.
David Lichtenstein’s Lightstone Group is getting ready to launch its 244-unit, David Adjaye-designed 130 William Street. Meanwhile, L+M Development Partners filed an offering plan last July to build 110 units near City Hall at 25 Park Row, and right next door Urban Muse is building 31 units at One Beekman Street.
There are others in the planning stages, as well. Among them are Robert Gladstone’s 45 Broad Street, which is slated to have 206 units, and Lexin Capital’s rental/condo hybrid at 75 Nassau Street with 229 units.
And that’s not even counting all the projects already on the market in FiDi.
Fortis Property Group, for example, is currently constructing the 80-unit One Seaport (also known as 161 Maiden Lane) in the Seaport section. The majority of those condos — 73 units — are under contract. But the project has been plagued by delays. The offering plan with the AG’s office shows that if Fortis doesn’t start closings by June, it will have to update the project’s budget. And if the new budget exceeds the original by 25 percent or more, in-contract buyers can back out.
Elsewhere, Bizzi & Partners, New Valley and Michael Shvo launched sales in October at 125 Greenwich Street, which has 275 units to sell.
All of those developers are undoubtedly strategizing to avoid the fate that other nearby projects have met: holding onto excess inventory years after launching.
That’s the situation GFI Development is facing at its 68-unit condo conversion of 5 Beekman Street. Four years after launching sales, the developer still has 15 units left, or about 22 percent of the project. Meanwhile, the Claremont Group still has 36 percent of its 52 units at its conversion of the prewar 101 Wall Street, and Time Equities’ 50 West Street still has nearly 28 percent of its 191 units remaining.
How much wiggle room these developers have to reduce prices and how much financial trouble they’re in depends largely on their basis — mainly when they bought and what they paid.
But the harsh truth that all developers face is that time is money.
“Profit is very simple to calculate,” said investment banker David Eyzenberg, founder of Eyzenberg & Company. “I sell, and then I take out all my costs. So the longer it takes me to sell, the more costs I incur, the less profitable the deal is.”
Eyzenberg added that when condos were selling faster a few years ago, developers were setting aside money to pay their carrying costs based on the length of their construction loans. “That’s not happening anymore,” he said, noting that with projects taking longer to sell, they now need to set aside “a larger reserve number.”
Some developers are buying themselves more time to sell units and getting inventory loans.
Francis Greenburger landed a $125 million condo inventory loan — allowing him to keep a portion of the units at 50 West as rentals for several years. But the developer bought the site in 1980s and likely has more financial flexibility than most.
But sources say nearly all the projects launching now have to come to terms with lower pricing than they planned.
Jordan Sachs, CEO of the brokerage Bold New York, said the sales pro formas developers put together when they were acquiring their sites are “10 or 15 or even 20 percent higher” than the prices they’re projecting today.
“Nobody’s going out to market with the numbers they pro formaed,” said Sachs. “Let’s get real. You’re just going to see projects cutting their prices.”
But he said developers who lower prices are pretty much guaranteed to move units. “It’s just a matter of where that point is,” he said.