Needle in a haystack?

Lack of inventory dampens start of NYC open house season

May.May 01, 2012 07:00 AM

If you’re in the market for a 30-room spread at the rarefied 740 Park Avenue, you may be out of luck.

Last month, Courtney Sale Ross, the widow of Time Warner chairman Steven Ross, found a buyer for her pair of linked co-ops at the exclusive building. The duplex property boasts eight bedrooms, 10 bathrooms, six terraces and two libraries, and the reported $52 million price tag would be the highest ever for a New York City co-op if the deal closes for that amount.

But even buyers looking for something less exceptional may be reminded of the proverbial needle-in-a-haystack search when they start hitting open houses this season.

“You can see everything in any given price range in a day, two maybe,” said Nathaniel Whelton, a senior agent at Bond New York.

While brokers have bemoaned the scarcity of quality listings — that is, homes that are in good repair, priced right and lacking any serious flaws — for a long while, worries about the lack of product have reached a fever pitch in the last few weeks.

As of late last month, inventory in Manhattan was down about 12 percent from the same period last year, to 6,980 active listings from 7,834, according to real estate data provider Urban Digs.

Compounding the urgency of the situation, brokers said, buyers are hungrier to purchase this spring than they were last spring.

“Last year, during April and May, people were hopeful about the market, but were very cautious,” said Virginia Hildebrandt, a sales associate at DJK Residential. “Now, it seems that buyers are making moves to finally purchase.”

Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group’s Melissa Ziweslin, who manages sales at the Rushmore condominium at 80 Riverside Boulevard, echoed this refrain. “We hear buyers complain that there isn’t much product available, and they are ready to purchase now and take advantage of low interest rates,” she said.

The lack of listings has had an effect on the spring open house season, brokers said. For one thing, apartment hunters can take stock of the market in less than a weekend, as Bond’s Whelton noted.

“With sales clients, it’s been getting them to understand how quickly things are moving again, especially when the apartment is priced properly,” Whelton said, describing one of last month’s difficulties in getting deals done. “If you see a unit you like, there’s not much time for shopping around afterward.”

Leslie Hirsch and Howard Morrel, who work together at Brown Harris Stevens, said the substantial portion of their clients looking in the roughly $3-to-$4 million range around Columbus Circle — who hope to get an apartment in good condition with a view — can survey all the available units in an afternoon.

Additionally, brokers unaccompanied by clients are turning up at open houses, Morrel said, scoping out the pros and cons of the properties to be “1,000 percent sure” they are worth showing to a client.

For example, Morrel and Hirsch held an open house for a three-bedroom co-op at 1185 Park Avenue, listed at $6.3 million, and were surprised to see about a dozen brokers stop by in an hour and a half.

When those brokers’ clients start looking, likely in May or June, they’ll enter the market prepared to buy, Morrel noted.

On the sale side, sellers are pricing properties closer to what they are worth, brokers said. That’s in contrast to this time last year or in 2010, when sellers would overshoot on the listing price in anticipation of lowball offers — essentially factoring in some heavy bargaining.

“There are far less tire-kickers,” said Max Moondoc, a vice president at Barak Realty, “and the sellers that are listing their properties are listing at prices that indicate they are serious about selling.”

To be sure, that’s not true of all sellers.

Patricia Levan, the president of Levan Real Estate, described one client who has listed his Upper West Side home at about 40 percent over comparable properties, citing record sales at 15 Central Park West and the Time Warner Center, “even though they are more than 10 blocks away and in a different kind of building,” she said.


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