Upper West has upper hand

H & H may be gone, but brokers say it's not a sign of the times for the neighborhood -- at least for most properties
By Melissa Dehncke-McGill | June 30, 2011 03:33PM

The legendary Upper West Side institution H & H Bagels may have unexpectedly shuttered last month, leaving residents without piping hot sesames and poppies, but don’t take that as a sign of the times for the rest of the neighborhood.

Residential real estate in the area seems to be rebounding stronger than many of its counterpart neighborhoods in Manhattan, at least for desirable properties.

In this month’s Q & A, brokers who specialize on the Upper West Side told The Real Deal that business, while not quite back to normal, has vastly improved over the last year, especially for new luxury rentals and large family-sized apartments.

There are pockets of weakness and slow-moving properties — anything evenly remotely perceived as overpriced, anything in need of renovation and anything small (inventory for studios and one-bedrooms is high). Indeed, one broker said that he’s seen studios and one-bedrooms that were selling for $600,000 at the height of the market, now listed in the high-$300,000-to-low-$400,000 range. So there are deals to be had.

But inventory is tight for large, luxury units in both new rental and new condo buildings. So as those units have been coming on the market, they’ve been gobbled up quickly.

A case in point is the Laureate on West 76th Street and Broadway, which has made headlines recently for its quick sales.

Another broker said that there is less “nay-saying and lowballing” than there was a year ago and that the $2.5 million to $4 million segment of the market has been particularly strong lately.

“If a property is unique and well priced, it can still command more than it did pre-Lehman. But if something is priced as though nothing bad happened between 2008 and 2009, it won’t sell,” she said.

Still, others said they are starting to see the summer doldrums set in and that while things were “on fire” a few months ago on the Upper West Side, they have since cooled off a little.

For more on which sections of the Upper West Side are faring best and worst, which projects are hottest, and which property types are struggling most, we turn to our panel of experts.

 


Donna Olshan
Donna Olshan
president, Olshan Realty, Inc.

 

How is the residential market doing on the Upper West Side these days and how does that compare to three months ago, six months ago and a year ago?

The market is doing better overall. I’m not sure if it’s doing better than three months ago, but it’s doing better than six months ago and certainly better than a year ago.

 

Both the average and median sales prices were down for Manhattan in the first quarter, compared to both the previous quarter and year over year. Are you seeing the same for residential sales prices on the Upper West Side?

Prices are up on the Upper West Side. I can’t speak to the exact numbers, but you can’t really look at the fourth quarter of 2010 and the first quarter of 2011 because … [there was an] anticipation of the capital gains tax going up. Capital gains did not go up. So there were things going on that had to do with people anticipating a change in the law, which didn’t happen.

 

Which units are doing best on the Upper West Side right now?

High-end rentals are doing great, period, end of story. [Also], I have 11 contracts signed on townhouse properties asking $4 million and above on the Upper West Side since Jan. 1. I think that’s a solid showing.

 

Rick Wohlfarth

founder and president,
Wohlfarth & Associates

 

How is the residential market doing on the Upper West Side these days?

It’s very strong. We have an acute housing problem here: not enough condos and prewar apartments to meet the relative demand. We recently put a [Classic] 7 on the market at 79th Street. It was asking $3.3 million — we had 40 people the first week. We ended up having three offers, and it went above the asking price. I’m seeing that Uptown also. At 890 West End Avenue [at 104th Street] we put a Classic 5 on the market that was in estate condition; it was bid up to $1.07 million, and there were six or seven other offers.

 

What are inventory and prices like on the Upper West Side right now?

There is not enough product for anything that is two-, three- or four-bedrooms and up. For the one-bedroom and studio market there’s an awful lot of product available, and we are finding that things that used to sell at the height of the market for $600,000 you can get for somewhere in the high $300,000s to low $400,000s. As it compares to three months ago, I think prices are up. We do not have any new product and nothing relatively new coming on the marketplace, such as new developments. There are a bunch of buildings that are slated to be converted from a rental to condo, but it is simply not going to meet the demand. So this will end up putting some pressure on prices [for larger apartments].

 

Which price ranges and unit types are struggling the most on the Upper West Side right now?

There is a part of the one-bedroom market that is doing relatively well that might see $1 million to $1.5 million, but those are very special and unique — high floors, close to the park, panoramic views. [But] the other part of the [one-bedroom] market, for instance, 588 West End Avenue in the high 80s, I used to sell some of the one-bedrooms in the $600,000s. Now if you go on StreetEasy, there are listings [for the same apartments] at $410,000 and $380,000. I have not seen one-bedrooms reduced to these prices in years. I am trying to see if I can find contiguous one-bedrooms or a one-bedroom and a studio, but it’s not so easy.

 

The Real Deal and others have reported that the Laureate on 76th and Broadway has seen strong sales, but what’s the most interesting new condo coming online soon?

There is nothing coming online. There are no shovels in the ground. Part of the problem is that the city is not giving the 421a extension to developers. … I am representing two or three investment groups that are trying to buy residential buildings in Manhattan to convert to condos, and it is not easy. But there are a few that are in the pipeline that are being converted. Some of it could be 18 months out.

 

Which are the hottest celebrity buildings?

Of course, 15 Central Park West, the Rushmore and 535 West End Avenue. I think there are still a lot of celebrities that want to live at 101 West 79th Street, the Park Belvedere.

 


Dexter Guerreri
Dexter Guerreri
founder and president, Vandenberg Inc., the Townhouse Experts



How is the residential market doing on the Upper West Side these days, and how does that compare to three months ago, six months ago and a year ago?

We only do townhouses. Currently we have about $50 million worth of townhouse listings [including those that have been divided into multiple apartments]. In a normal year we would have 55 listings and 55 closings. Last year there were 48 [listings] on the Upper West Side, so it was almost normal. So far this year, the number of listings is almost normal, but the number of closings is down.

 

What are you seeing in terms of sales prices on your Upper West Side townhouses and how do the prices you’re seeing in the neighborhood compare to the recent past?

In 2009, we dipped to $4.9 million in our average [sales] price. Our average price last year for West Side townhouses was slightly over $5 million. So far this year, we are at at least $5.2 million. It’s hard to know based on this portion of the year how it will shake out. There seem to be a number of things going into contract right now. So the next quarter could prove that we are catching back up to normal.

 

Which price ranges and unit types are struggling the most on the Upper West Side right now?

The higher end has not sold as well for the last year — $10 million and up has not had as many sales as we would have expected. I am hearing about some high-end apartment sales around the city; I’m waiting for that to happen with the townhouses.

 

How long are properties staying on the market on the Upper West Side, and how does that compare to a year ago?

The ones below $10 million are staying on for [about] five and a half months, the ones above $10 million are at 17 months. … There are fewer buyers for the higher end.

 


Lisa Lippman
Lisa Lippman
senior vice president/director, Brown Harris Stevens

 

What are you seeing in terms of sales prices on the Upper West Side?

The UWS is so much in demand, and by its nature has so little inventory that we have seen things really picking up. A year ago, the summer of 2010, was good, but it seems busier now and there is less nay-saying and lowballing. The fall of 2010 was great for the $6 million to $10 million market, and this spring has been amazing for the $2.5 million to $4 million market. It should be noted how little inventory there is on Central Park West in the four-bedroom market under $10 million. There are very few three-bedrooms, too.

 

Which price ranges and unit types are struggling the most on the Upper West Side right now?

Anything that is overpriced — anything. The market is much more reasonable than it was pre-Lehman. People analyze everything a lot more, which doesn’t mean that things don’t sometimes still sell for more than they did in 2005-2007. If a property is unique and well priced, it can still command more than it did pre-Lehman. But if something is priced as though nothing bad happened between 2008 and 2009 it won’t sell. Also, triple-mint homes are selling the best. Pre-Lehman, more people were intrigued by wrecks.

 


Greg Kammerer
Greg Kammerer
senior vice president, Corcoran Group

 

How are prices in the neighborhood holding up these days?

It depends on the size and type of apartment. Three- and four-bedroom co-ops and condos are in high demand and commanding the highest prices I’ve seen since 2007. They are the sales leaders, as well as two-bedroom condos.

 

Which price ranges and unit types are struggling the most on the Upper West Side right now?

Studio and one-bedroom co-ops with high maintenance are slow movers. They need to be in move-in condition and well priced in order to sell.

 

Is there one telling statistic that shows where the market is at on the Upper West Side?

The Laureate on Broadway and 76th Street is over 50 percent sold in three months at prices exceeding $2,000 per square foot. These are record-breaking prices for a Broadway building.

 

In the broadest terms the Upper West Side stretches from 59th Street to 116th Street. Which areas within that region are doing best and worst in this market?

Seventy-Second Street to 110th Street are doing the best. And, 57th to 66th streets, close to the highway, have slower-moving inventory. That should change with the advent of Riverside Center — the last Extell buildings to be built on Riverside Boulevard between 59th and 61st streets.

 

What are the most surprising trends you’re seeing on the Upper West Side right now?

That the high-end rental market is so strong, and the arrival of big box stores like T.J.Maxx, HomeGoods, Michaels Stores and Whole Foods, which have found their way to 97th to 100th streets.

 

Jon Charnas
vice president, Fox Residential Group

 

How is the residential market doing on the Upper West Side these days?

I think we’ve hit the traditional summer sales doldrums. I wish I could convince customers that they should buy now before interest rates begin to creep up. Perhaps the riotous Middle East and the weak members of the EU, to say nothing of our own serious joblessness, are affecting buyers. Earlier this year I sensed more eagerness to buy. Renters do not seem to be as affected as buyers, and New York businesses seem to be hiring at a much greater rate than last year, so rents are rising in response to demand.

 

Which areas within the Upper West Side are doing best and worst in this market?

Prices are high from the 80s down, so I find price-conscious customers more interested in rentals and purchases in the 90s and up.

 

Are you seeing a change in who is interested in buying and renting on the Upper West Side? Who are the most active buyers and renters in the market right now?

I have many inquiries about pieds-à-terre and parents buying for children. I encounter few all-cash buyers at prices below $600,000.

 


Jeffrey Stockwell
Jeffrey Stockwell
senior vice president,
Stribling and Associates

 

How is the residential market doing on the Upper West Side these days?

Demand is strong on the Upper West Side, especially for three- and four-bedroom apartments. Many families are choosing to stay in Manhattan over moving out to the suburbs. Twenty-five years ago many people felt the West Side was too rough and dangerous. Now I hear from many younger and single clients that it’s too suburban for them.

 

How are prices holding up on the Upper West Side?

[I’m seeing] that prices are essentially flat for studio, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments, but that they’ve risen for larger apartments. Some sellers have seen these stronger prices, however, and have gotten way too aggressive in pricing large apartments. Yes, the market has stabilized, but if something sold for $2.5 million 18 months ago, I don’t think the same apartment one floor higher can now sell for $3.5 million.

 

Which price ranges and unit types are struggling the most on the Upper West Side right now?

Studios and one-bedrooms. I find that most of my younger clients are choosing to buy their first home in Brooklyn rather than in Manhattan. This hurts areas like the Upper West Side, Yorkville and Murray Hill, where many young people used to purchase their first home. Those first-time buyers who are committed to Manhattan are often heading north to Harlem.

 

Which are doing better on the Upper West Side: high-end rentals like the Corner at 200 West 72nd Street — or high-end condos?

Both segments are doing very well, but if you were to offer me a high-end rental project or a high-end condo project, I’d probably choose to market the rentals. With the general economic instability … there are many buyers who would rather hang onto their cash. They have the mentality that cash under the mattress is the best place to be. So they are opting for rentals even if they are expensive.

 

Which areas within the Upper West Side are doing best and worst in this market?

Many of my buyers still resist Riverside Boulevard because of the lack of shops and the distance from the subway. That area needs more retail. People like buzz. The area around the Laureate and Harrison is not the most elegant on the West Side, but several of the young families I’m working with want to be there because it’s between the two West Side subway lines and close to all of the shops and restaurants. They will choose Amsterdam Avenue over West End Avenue and Riverside Drive. This is a choice very few people would have made 10 years ago.

 

What is inventory like on the Upper West Side, and how does that compare to the recent past?

A constant lament is that there’s nothing to sell, which isn’t quite true. There’s plenty to sell, but very little of it is truly top notch.

 


Ron Lense
Ron Lense
executive vice president, Prudential Douglas Elliman

 

How is the residential market doing on the Upper West Side these days?

Right now I would classify the market as normal. Three months ago, the market was on fire. Studios, one bedrooms, two-bedrooms and three-bedrooms were selling out fast and furiously. We put about 20 apartments in contract in that last three-month period. … [Before that,] we had experienced a slowness to the market, and we found there wasn’t a lot that we could do with the buyers [coming]. These $2 million-and-under buyers were showing up in decent numbers to open houses and responding to our marketing, but a large amount of them had a wait-and-see attitude.