The Real Deal New York

Boroughs battle it out

How NYC real estate breaks down post-crunch—and who's on top
By Lauren Elkies | February 05, 2008 11:41PM

If one were to compare residential sales, office leases and other real estate data in each of the five boroughs, the expectation would be that Manhattan would dominate every category, right?

Not so fast. It was actually Queens that saw the most single-family home sales last year and the smallest drop-off in new condo building since the credit crunch hit, and it was Brooklyn that had the greatest number of mixed-use building sales, thanks to the size and housing makeup of those two boroughs and current market conditions.

This month, The Real Deal set out to compare the boroughs to one another in the post-credit crunch market and to examine some more long-term fundamentals that are slowly changing as much of the outer boroughs gentrify.

When it comes to market growth and overall dollars and cents, of course Manhattan historically rules the roost, with yawning gaps in prices when stacked up next to the other four boroughs.

And Manhattan is also holding up better than the other boroughs in the current market. Several reports show that Manhattan saw an 11 percent gain in average residential prices in 2007, while Brooklyn had an 8 percent gain, Queens experienced a 2.7 percent drop and the Bronx and Staten Island saw a flattening in prices. (See chart.)

High Manhattan prices have prompted home hunters, office tenants, new developers, investors, retailers and hoteliers in recent years to trek to the outer boroughs—at least to Brooklyn and Queens—in search of bargains. But whether those boroughs will hold up as well as Manhattan, given the current uncertainty in the market, remains to be seen.

What follows is a look at the real estate sectors in the five boroughs and how they stack up against each other.


Residential

Queens dominated the one-family home sales market with more sales than all of the other boroughs put together, according to city data prepared by PropertyShark (see chart).

But the Multiple Listing Service of Long Island found that the average home price in Queens dropped 2.7 percent during the first three quarters of 2007.

The borough had the greatest (or rather, least negative) price growth in the bottom 40 percent of the market, said Jonathan Miller, executive vice president and director of research for Radar Logic.

Manhattan’s price growth was just the opposite. It was buoyed by appreciation in the uppermost tier, Miller said. The borough even reached a record average apartment price at $1.43 million, he said, up from $1.29 million in 2006. But the median sales price increase of 2.4 percent between 2006 and 2007 was a smaller jump than in recent years.

Between the fourth quarter of 2006 and the fourth quarter of 2007, average home prices rose 8 percent in Brooklyn, Corcoran Group data indicate. The Bronx and Staten Island saw flat to slightly declining prices depending on the type of housing stock. For the year, overall residential prices in Staten Island held steady with a less than 1 percent increase, according to Sandy Krueger, CEO of the Staten Island Board of Realtors.

In sheer numbers, Manhattan’s average sales price was nearly three times that found in the other boroughs (see chart). The number of condo unit sales far exceeded the amount of all of the boroughs together at 8,902 for the year. The same went for co-op unit sales.

The median price of a condo unit in the Bronx last year was $170,000; in Staten Island, it was $280,000; in Queens, $380,000; in Brooklyn, $525,165; and in Manhattan, $1.1 million (see chart).

When it comes to foreclosures, Staten Island has the dubious distinction of leading the pack.

The borough suffered the largest percentage increase in foreclosures of the five boroughs by the end of 2007, PropertyShark data indicate, with a stunning 223.8 percent increase over the fourth quarter of 2006 (see chart). For the same period, all boroughs saw an increase in foreclosures.

“Incredibly, Staten Island now has more first-time foreclosures than Brooklyn, despite being one-fifth the size in terms of household numbers,” Ashleigh Rose Clark, data acquisitions manager for PropertyShark, said in the company’s fourth-quarter foreclosures report.


New development

Despite talks about how New York City was impervious to the credit crisis, money for new residential development is now harder to borrow, and as a result, developers have to put in more of their own money. Reduced residential demand as well as a scaling back of the city’s 421-a tax abatement is further affecting developers’ plans.

The number of condo units submitted to the New York State Attorney General’s office for approval to begin sales for 2007 through the end of October, which provides an indication of development on the horizon, appeared to show a sizable decline from 2006, with Staten Island leading the way in greatest percent drop-off.

In Staten Island, which has a much smaller population than the other boroughs and a different housing stock makeup, developers submitted 22 condo units for the first 10 months of 2007 compared to 276 for 2006, a 92 percent decrease. Manhattan had the greatest drop-off in the sheer number of units filed with the state at 8,387 (see chart).

In Manhattan, there were 5,684 condo units submitted for approval in 2007 through Oct. 31, a marked 59.6 percent drop from all of 2006, when there were 14,071.

In Brooklyn, there was a 46.6 percent drop in submissions between all of 2006 and the first 10 months of 2007, to 5,508 from 10,310.

Developers in the Bronx, where much of the residential construction is affordable housing, filed 303 condo units in the first 10 months of 2007, a 70.8 percent decrease from 2006’s 1,309.

Queens had the smallest drop-off of any of the boroughs. There were 3,048 filings last year, down from 3,682 two years ago, a 17.2 percent difference.

Building permits, which provide another glimpse into development activity, were down between 2006 and 2007 in the Bronx and Staten Island, by 33.7 percent and 28.7 percent, respectively. Meanwhile, the number increased in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens, most significantly in Brooklyn, with an 18.9 percent spike (see chart).

Although the data do not point to total confidence in residential building across the city, some developers hold that outer-borough development is a sound investment, even if some believe Manhattan is a safer proposition in a weaker market, since weaker markets usually affect more fringe locations first, though not always.

“We believe the demographics of the outer boroughs are very compelling,” said William Dickey, founder and president of the Dermot Company, a development and investment company with projects in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx.

Dermot projects in the outer boroughs that are in the works or have been completed include the One Hanson Place condo in Downtown Brooklyn, which involves the conversion of the iconic Williamsburg bank building; the conversion of the Queens Family Courthouse, a mixed-use development in Jamaica; and 500 residential units in the Bronx.

Regarding the outer boroughs, Stephen Benjamin, principal and day-to-day manager of all Dermot development projects, said, “In the absence of public initiative, developers need extremely low land [prices], strong construction experience, and/or excellent and experienced debt and equity partners, or a combination of all three to be successful in new development going forward.”

In Manhattan, Dermot projects include the historic Battery Maritime Building, which it hopes to turn into a hotel; Archstone Clinton, with more than 600 rental units in two buildings; and residential building Hudson Mews (in pre-development).

In Manhattan, developers are more likely to build office space on a spec basis, but in the other four boroughs, developers generally build on a non-spec basis with tenants lined up.

Office building sales are often fewer and far between in the outer boroughs.

When it comes to office building sales, Manhattan, which has more than 10 times as much office space as Brooklyn and Queens and 100 times more than Staten Island, predictably leads the pack.

In Manhattan, there were 257 office buildings sold in 2007, according to a PropertyShark analysis of city data. The other boroughs had a combined 223 sales. Manhattan’s median sales price was $27.3 million, more than 12 times higher than the Bronx, which came in second with a median sales price of $2.2 million (see chart).


Office leasing

Manhattan’s blockbuster office rents dwarfed prices in the outer boroughs at $65.08 per square foot by the end of 2007, according to Cushman & Wakefield data for the fourth quarter (see chart).

The average asking rent for available office space in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island was around $25 per square foot in each borough, according to CoStar.

The Brooklyn office market is mainly centered in Downtown Brooklyn, which has 93 percent of the borough’s Class A office space, the largest concentration of high-end office space outside of Manhattan. Average asking rents for Class A office space in Brooklyn and Queens weren’t that much more than the average overall rents in those boroughs, ranging from $35 to $40 per square foot as of last month, CBRE found. Downtown Brooklyn rents dipped about 1.4 percent by the end of September from the end of 2006, Cushman & Wakefield data indicate. In contrast to Manhattan, which saw a hot market for most of 2007 until the credit crunch, “the office market hasn’t really been gangbusters in Brooklyn or Queens,” said John Reinertsen of CBRE.

The outer boroughs are not even on the same playing field as Manhattan in terms of the caliber of office buildings, other than in Downtown Brooklyn.

“There’s a fundamental lack of Class A space in the boroughs,” said Paul Massey Jr., CEO of Massey Knakal Realty Services.

The only building in the Bronx with Class A availability as of last month was Hutchinson Metro Center in the Pelham Bay section of the Bronx, with an average asking rent of $30 to $32 per square foot, CBRE found. The building is 100 percent leased with a new tower in development.

“Metro Center is a classic example of, if you can build it, you can fill it,” Massey said.

The outer boroughs are more dependent on their big tenants like Citibank and Metropolitan Life Insurance in Long Island City. When MetLife decided to move its base of operations back to Manhattan from Long Island City in 2006, the borough suffered a setback that still stings.

“The big blow was when MetLife left to go back to Manhattan. That was kind of a backwards trend for us,” CBRE’s Reinertsen said. Still, asking rents rose in Long Island City 19 percent by the end of the third quarter from the end of 2006, according to Newmark Knight Frank.


Investment sales

While Brooklyn may get overshadowed by Manhattan, it has the greatest population and number of households of all the boroughs, U.S. Census Bureau data indicate.

Partly as a result, Brooklyn also had the greatest number of mixed-use building sales last year with 1,201 sales, more than all the other boroughs combined (see chart). Mixed-use buildings refer to buildings with both residential and commercial components.

Still, Manhattan trounced the other boroughs when it came to the number of office building sales and prices and the median price for residential buildings (see charts).

Comparing Manhattan to Staten Island, Massey noted: “There are $300 to $500 million in annualized investment property sales in Staten Island. You can have that in 10 blocks in Chelsea.”

He cautioned, however, that investors should not overlook the Bronx and Queens.

“We think that the fundamentals for those boroughs are the same for Brooklyn in terms of transport infrastructure and communities,” Massey said. “Those markets are a buy opportunity.”

Indeed, Massey said, “We’ve seen investors who have traditionally been
primarily focused on Manhattan branch out—or are considering it—to the Bronx. Vornado and Related are good examples.”


Hotels

The Manhattan hotel industry is hot, and the heat is rising in the other boroughs, primarily due to spillover from Manhattan.

“It’s an availability and price issue that’s driving some of this business to the outer boroughs,” said John Fox, senior vice president of PKF Consulting.

Manhattan room rates range from $300 to over $1,000 per night, and in 2007, the overall average occupancy rate was 87 percent, Fox said.

The outer boroughs are underserved by hotels, but developers said that many more are on the way. Hotel building sales, however, do not bear that out (see chart).

Ben Nash, CEO of V3, is developing hotels in the outer boroughs including Hotel Indigo on Duffield Street in Brooklyn and a limited-service chain in the Bronx.

“Brooklyn is becoming more and more a destination point of its own,” Nash said.

That opinion is not shared by all.

“Most of the attractions and most of the things that make people want to stay in New York are Manhattan-oriented,” PKF’s Fox said. “At the end of the day, when one thinks of New York, one thinks of mostly things in Manhattan.”

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