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Archive for January, 2013

[60 Pages of Data Bliss] 2003-2012 Manhattan Decade Report

January 31, 2013 | 7:06 am | | Reports |

We published our Manhattan Decade report, a ten year moving window data compendium of the market from 2003-2012. It’s my favorite report just for the sheer volume of information that doesn’t exist anywhere else. I long ago dubbed it “The Phone Book.” This is part of an evolving market report series I’ve been writing for Douglas Elliman since 1994.

Key Points

MANHATTAN DECADE (Co-ops/Condos) 2003-2012

  • Sales increased year-over-year for the 3rd consecutive year to second highest level in decade (after 2007 peak).
  • Housing prices remain 11-13% below the 2008 peak, housing sales are 21.8% below 2007 peak.
  • Housing prices were mixed but showed stability for 4th consecutive year after the 2008 credit crunch and correction.
  • Listing inventory fell sharply to lowest level in 12 years.
  • Credit remains tight as economy slowly improves.
  • Inventory falling – low to negative equity, no urgency to list.
  • Sales rising as record low mortgage rates create demand.

Here’s an excerpt from the report:

…For the fourth time in 5 years, the number of sales exceeded the 10,000 threshold. The number of sales increased 3.4% to 10,508 from the prior year to the second highest level of the decade despite declining inventory and historically tight credit conditions. For the past three years, sales activity has remained remarkably consistent as the market settled into a stabilized period following the onset of the credit crunch marked by the bankruptcy of Lehman Brothers in the fall of 2008. The peak year for the number of sales in the decade occurred in 2007, reaching 13,430. The 2012 total was 21.8% below the decade peak. However the 2007 level was the top of the housing/credit boom, considered an anomaly rather than a normal period of housing sales…

Later today we’ll have additional information available on the market so you can build your own custom data tables and browse our chart library.

The Elliman Report: 2003-2012 Manhattan Decade Report [Miller Samuel]
The Elliman Report: 2003-2012 Manhattan Decade Report [Douglas Elliman]
Market Chart Library [Miller Samuel]
Aggregated Custom Market Data Tables [Miller Samuel]

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[Stable And Single] 2003-2012 Manhattan Townhouse Report

January 31, 2013 | 6:56 am | | Reports |

We published our Manhattan Townhouse report, a ten year moving window data compendium of the market from 2003-2012. For the past 26 years we’ve been tracking the townhouse market, it has remained a small luxury subset representing a few percentage points of the overall residential market so a detailed quarterly or monthly analysis isn’t practical. This is part of an evolving market report series I’ve been writing for Douglas Elliman since 1994.

Key Points


  • Sales were at highest level since the credit crunch began, the third highest total of decade.
  • Housing prices remain 25% below the 2008 peak (which was a significant spike), housing sales are 19.2% below 2007 peak.
  • Housing price indicators were mixed, showing overall stability for the most recent four year period.
  • Listing inventory fell sharply from the prior year, resulting in the fastest absorption rate in 6 years.
  • Single family sales showed more year-over-year improvement in price and sales than the balance of the market.

Here’s an excerpt from the report:

…Townhouse sales rose to 277, their highest level since 343 sales were reached in 2007 before the onset of the credit crunch. The 15.4% increase in sales this year marks the third consecutive yearover- year increase in activity. Consistent with the rise in sales was the 18.9% drop in listing inventory to 411 and the two month drop in days on market to 106. Market share for East Side sales led all regions, jumping to 26% from 20.8% in 2011. The year-over-year change in price indicators were mixed with a 4.2% decline in median sales price, a 6.1% gain in average sales price and a 12.2% rise in average price per square foot…

Later today we’ll have additional information available on the market so you can build your own custom data tables and browse our chart library.

The Elliman Report: 2003-2012 Manhattan Townhouse Report [Miller Samuel]
The Elliman Report: 2003-2012 Manhattan Townhouse Report [Douglas Elliman]
Market Chart Library [Miller Samuel]
Aggregated Custom Market Data Tables [Miller Samuel]

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[Three Cents Worth NY #221] Throwing Harpoons at Trophy Sales

January 29, 2013 | 1:55 pm | | Charts |

It’s time to share my Three Cents Worth (3CW) on Curbed NY, at the intersection of neighborhood and real estate in the capital of the world…and I’m here to take measurements.

Read this week’s 3CW column on @CurbedNY:

So it’s Whale Week on Curbed and I had to get a whaling reference into the post title. After a month at sea—sorry, another bad reference—it’s good to be back on Curbed. Consistent with this week’s theme, I took a look at the number of sales at the top 1 percent of Manhattan’s apartment market. The top 1 percent begins at about the $10M threshold (blue). And I threw in the $30M+ (pink) subset for good measure. I am only presenting closed transactions, so sales like the $90M+ contract at One57 aren’t included…

[click to expand chart]

Today’s Post: Throwing Harpoons at Trophy Sales [Curbed]
Three Cents Worth Archive Curbed NY
Three Cents Worth Archive Curbed DC
Three Cents Worth Archive Curbed Miami

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Hampton Year End Sales And Price Spike, Fiscal Cliff Style

January 29, 2013 | 1:03 pm | | Charts |

[click to read article (subscr)]

I thought the chart created by the WSJ using our data nicely illustrated the end of year spike in sales and prices at the end of the 2012, influenced by the notion that taxes, whatever form they take, will be higher in the future. I think this surge in activity will take some of the edge off the market in 2013.

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Miller Samuel Luxury Market Indices on Bloomberg Terminals

January 28, 2013 | 11:00 am | | Charts |

Here are the 3 Manhattan luxury housing price indices we provide for the Bloomberg Terminals.

MLH AVG Index (Miller Samuel Manhattan Luxury Housing Average Sales Price)
[click to expand]

MLH SQFT Index (Miller Samuel Manhattan Luxury Housing Price Per Square Foot)
[click to expand]

MLH MED Index (Miller Samuel Manhattan Luxury Housing Median Sales Price)
[click to expand]


Falling Inventory Has Created a Housing “Pre-Covery,” not “Recovery”

January 28, 2013 | 9:00 am | |

I was speaking at the New York Real Estate Bar Camp recently and asked the audience what to call the state of housing market right now, since I objected to the use of the word “recovery” and “a period of better stats without underlying fundamentals” wasn’t catchy. Philip Faranda came up (more like shouted out) a brilliant suggestion. We’re in a “Pre-Covery!” I loved it and it stuck.

I thought about the new word when I read a great Robert Shiller piece in the New York Times this weekend called: A New Housing Boom? Don’t Count on It.

Shiller questions the substance of the happy housing news we’ve all been reading about:

It’s hard to pin down, because nothing drastically different occurred in the economy from March to September. Yes, there was economic improvement: the unemployment rate, for example, dropped to 7.8 percent from 8.2 percent. But that extended a trend in place since 2009. There was also a decline in foreclosure activity, but for the most part that is also a continuing trend, as reported by RealtyTrac.

What’s missing from all the metrics being tracked and discussed is sharply falling inventory – that’s what is driving prices higher even though little else has changed.

The reason for falling inventory? Sellers, when they sell, become buyers (or renters) and with >40% of mortgage holders having low or negative equity, they don’t qualify for the trade up. We have been so focused on negative equity that we’ve paid short shrift to the impact of low equity.

Not only don’t many sellers qualify – they simply aren’t under duress i.e. they haven’t lost their job, don’t need to move, etc. so what will they do when they realize they don’t qualify?


They expect/hope hope the market improves eventually.

This has created yet another form of “shadow inventory.”

Although I certainly agree that the long term trend of mortgage rates doesn’t really correlate with housing prices since rates have been falling for years, weak employment and personal income are not justifying the last 6 months of housing market improvement.

I see falling mortgage rates as simply keeping demand steady (but rates can’t fall much further) and falling inventory is either pressing prices higher or to stabilization depending on the market.

Here is a simplistic generic but typical scenario in most of the markets I follow over a 2 year window:

  • The number of sales in a market rises 2%.
  • The number of listings in same market falls 30%.

In this scenario the rise in sales is NOT working off inventory – the math doesn’t work so something else is in play – low or negative equity is choking off new listings entering the market against steady demand caused by falling rates.

Since low inventory is not a local market phenomenon but is happening in nearly every housing market I can think of (sales rising modestly and listing inventory falling sharply) it makes this a credit phenomenon. I like to say “housing is local but credit is national.”

To make this discussion really crazy we could even say that tight credit conditions are actually prompting the pre-recovery something that on the surface is very counterintuitive. But in reality, tight credit is choking off supply and low rates are keeping demand constant. Then prices rise.

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In the Context of Income, New York Prices Housing Prices are a Steal

January 28, 2013 | 8:00 am | |

Prices by themselves don’t tell the story of affordability. Income has something to do with it. Candy bars were only 20¢ in 1978 but I was only making $2.65 at my college job.

Catherine Rampell of NYT Economix blog posts a cool chart on the ratio of house price to annual household income from the IMF.

Housing prices are crazy expensive in Asia.

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CNBC: $60,000 Per Month In Maintenance Charges With Park Views+Terrace

January 28, 2013 | 3:00 am | TV, Videos |

[click to expand]

The average co-op maintenance in Manhattan was $1.68 per month in 4Q12. I got a call from Robert Frank at CNBC who was researching maintenance charges for their new reality show – tonight’s show features a $95M co-op listing overlooking Central Park with a large terrace and a $60,000 per month maintenance charge. At nearly 8,000 square feet, that’s $7.50 per square foot per month or 4.5x the Manhattan average co-op maintenance per square foot.

To watch everyone on CNBC’s Sqwawkbox oooh and ahhhhh over the listing, check out the video as well as Robert Frank’s post on maintenance charges.

It remains to be seen whether the market supports the price but whatever the price paid or whoever the buyer is, rest assured they will pay all cash and probably won’t live in it full time.

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Broken Appraisal: Lack of Market Knowledge Overpowers Lack of Data

January 27, 2013 | 6:06 pm | |

There was a really good appraisal story in the Sunday Real Estate Section this weekend by Lisa Prevost focusing on appraising high end properties whose theme is well-captured in the opening sentence:

As home sales pick up in the million-dollar-plus market, deals are being complicated by unexpectedly low appraisal values.

The higher the price strata of the market, the smaller the data set is to work with so the conventional wisdom seems to be that less data = more unreliable appraisals. However I believe the real problem is lack of market knowledge by more appraisers today as a result of May 2009’s Home Valuation Code of Conduct (HVCC) – the lack of data at the top of the market merely exposes a pervasive problem throughout the housing market.

To the New York Times’ credit, they are the only national media outlet that has been consistently covering the appraisal topic since the credit crunch began and I appreciate it since so few really understand our challenges as well as our our roles and relationship to the parties in the home buying and selling process. Appraising gets limited coverage in the national media aside from NAR’s constantly blaming of the appraisers as preventing a housing recovery (in their clumsy way of articulating the problem, they are more right than wrong).

Here’s the recent NYT coverage:

January 27, 2013 Appraising High-End Homes
January 11, 2013 Understanding the Home Appraisal Process
October 12, 2012 Scrutiny for Home Appraisers as the Market Struggles
June 14, 2012 When the Appraisal Sinks the Deal
May 8, 2012 Accuracy of Appraisals Is Spotty, Study Says
September 16, 2011 Decoding the Wide Variations in House Appraisals

The general theme and style of coverage comes about when Realtors start seeing an increase in deals blowing up that involve the appraisal. The Prevost article indicates that higher end sales are more at risk because the market at the top (think pyramid, not as in ponzi) is smaller and therefore the data set is smaller.

This may be true but I don’t think that is the cause of the problem but rather it exposes the problem for what it really is. I contend that the problem starts with the appraisal management company (AMC) industry and how it has driven the best appraisers out of business or pushed them into different valuation emphasis besides bank appraisals by splitting the appraisal fee with the appraiser (the mortgage applicant doesn’t realize that half their appraisal fee is going to a bureaucracy).

My firm does a much smaller share of bank appraisals than our historical norm these days but it is NIRVANA and we’re not likeley to return to our old model anytime soon.

Since the bank-hired AMC relies on appraisers who will work for half the market rate and therefore need to cut corners and do little analysis to survive, they generally don’t have local market knowledge often driving from 2 to 3 hours away.

Throw very little data into the equation as well as a very non-homogonous housing stock at the luxury end of the market and voila! there is an increased frequency of blown appraisal assignments.

There is always less data at the top of the market – the general lack of expertise in bank appraisals today via the AMC process is simply exposed for its lack of reliability. Unfortunately the appraisal disfunction affects many people’s financial lives unnecessarily such as buyers, sellers and real estate agents (and good appraisers not able to work for half the market rate and cut corners on quality).

The appraisal simply is not a commodity as it is treated by the banking industry. The appraisal is a professional service so by dumbing it down through the AMC process, they have succeeded in nearly destroying the ability to create a reliable valuation benchmark on the collateral for each mortgage in order to be able to make informed decisions on their risk exposure.

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Video: Record Average Sales Price In Hamptons

January 27, 2013 | 3:21 pm | | TV, Videos |

The record average sales price in our Douglas Elliman Hamptons market report made “The Bloomberg Number” today on Betty Liu’s show “In The Loop.”

The record price (highest we’ve seen since we began tracking it in 1999) was the result of skew towards the high end of the market as higher end consumers pushed to close prior to December 31 to avoid potential tax increases. It’s not that housing prices are rising, rather a lot more sales closed at the high end in 4Q12. For example there were more sales to close at or above $5M (49) than we have seen since we began tracking this metric in mid-2008.

Looks for a slower market in 1Q13 as sales that would have organically closed were poached (pulled back) into 4Q12.

Miami Hype Machine: “Sales Pace Slows Dramatically”

January 27, 2013 | 2:47 pm |

Since housing bust began, Condo Vultures has led the way with distressed new development information on Miami, a housing market that became branded for foreclosures and stalled new development activity after the mid-decade crash. Their name suggests someone who is picking over the dead carcasses of stalled condos built during the boom and no one has marketed themselves more thoroughly in this segment.

They seem to perform a lot of analysis through public record and have the inside track on data from developers not in public record. Good for them. It’s a niche they own. But with that dominance comes responsibility.

Their regular email press releases are chocked full of information hyperbole (as most newsletters are) but there is often a disconnect between the headline and the content (just like we see with the monthly NAR releases). Recently I observed that they stopped the dated approach of marketing properties as a percentage discount from original pricing. I do find the releases interesting to read but I worry about the accuracy of the messaging for the uninitiated. I found the latest one grating so I thought I’d break it down because it symbolizes the challenges and responsibilities of analyzing a market segment with limited transparency.

Here’s the headline:

600 New South Beach Condos Unsold As Sales Slow Dramatically In Q4 2012

That’s sounds quite dire, right?

Not really. In a pool of 600 units, 10 sold in 4Q12, down from 20 sales in 4Q11. Let’s delve into the rules of market trends:

Misuse of percentages – The results suggest a 50% drop in sales. And to use my favorite example of this technique, a market whose sales rise from 1 to 2 experienced a 100% increase in sales. Better to say 10 fewer sales or 1 more sale than last year when the numbers are so small.

Number generalization – There are no precise numbers being provided anywhere in this release yet the results are numbers-based …less than 10 sold in 4Q12 and more than 20 sales sold in 4Q11. If you are burning calories on providing approximate metrics worthy of a screaming headline, why not provide the actual numbers? If it was 9 and 21 or 1 and 29, the same logic would apply so why omit it?

Data set size – Based on the release, there were “about 600” unsold from boom, new development condo listings in 4Q12, the same size as the prior quarter. However the release doesn’t provide the year ago quarter total. What if it was 1,200?…then the drop was proportional. Why not be transparent and just provide the actual numbers – they must have them to provide such “precise estimating.” The 10 sales or less total represents 1.7% of the inventory or even less depending on how many sales there actually were.

When I first read through this release I did some quick math – I took the 10 sales (or less) which represented 1.7% of the 600 unit market and wild guessed, based on general market activity, that this shadow inventory was at least 700 last year. So at this level, the 20 sales (or more) in 4Q11 would indicate a 2.9% share. With this logic, the sales market share of the shadow inventory fell from 2.9% to 1.7% over the year, a 1.2% drop in market share.

Should a 1.2% decline be described as a dramatic slow down? No, based on the info presented, the decline was more like a rounding error.



[Tax Planning on Steroids] 4Q 2012 + 2003-2012 Hamptons/North Fork Decade Reports

January 25, 2013 | 12:08 pm | | Reports |

[click to open reports]

We published our 4Q 2012 reports for both The Hamptons and North Fork. Since this was the final quarter of 2012, we also released our Hamptons/North Fork Decade report, a ten year moving window data compendium of the Hamptons/North Fork market from 2003-2012

This is part of an evolving market report series I’ve been writing for Douglas Elliman since 1994.

Key Points


  • Most fourth quarter sales and lowest level of inventory in 6 years.
  • Highest average sales price in 7 years, skewed by high end market strength.
  • Days on market expanded as older listings were absorbed due to lack of supply.
  • Credit remains tight as economy slowly improves.
  • Inventory falling – low to negative equity, no urgency to list.
  • Sales rising as record low mortgage rates create demand.
  • A release in pent-up demand from election year and “fiscal cliff” concerns over rising taxes.over rising taxes.


  • Inventory at lowest level in four years.
  • Sales rising from record low mortgage rates and pent-up demand.
  • Credit remains tight as economy slowly improves.
  • Inventory falling – low to negative equity, no urgency to list.


  • Median sales price up 31.9% over decade.
  • Average sales price nearly doubled, reflecting emphasis on luxury market over the decade.
  • Number of sales 20.4% less than in 2003.
  • Days on market 2 months slower than in 2003.

Here’s an excerpt from the 4Q 2012 report:

HAMPTONS…The final quarter of the 2012 Hamptons housing market was characterized by unusually heavy sales volume and falling inventory, which both hit 6-year highs and lows, respectively. The strength at the upper end of the market continued to skew the overall price indicators higher, while the pace of the market accelerated and older listing inventory was more readily absorbed…

NORTH FORK…The fourth quarter 2012 North Fork housing market was marked by upward price pressure, falling inventory, rising sales and a faster pace than we had seen in the same quarter a year ago. The price gains were weighted towards the end of 2012, as falling inventory provided buyers with fewer options and record low mortgage rates fostered additional affordability…

You can build your own custom data tables on the market – now updated with 4Q 12 and annual 2003-2012 data. I’ll post the updated charts soon. In the meantime you can browse our chart library.

The Elliman Report: 4Q 2012 Hamptons Sales [Miller Samuel]
he Elliman Report: 4Q 2012 North Fork Sales [Miller Samuel]
The Elliman Report: 2003-2012 Hamptons/North Fork Decade [Miller Samuel]
The Elliman Report: 4Q 2012 Hamptons Sales [Douglas Elliman]
The Elliman Report: 4Q 2012 North Fork Sales [Douglas Elliman]
The Elliman Report: 2003-2012 Hamptons/North Fork Decade [Douglas Elliman]
Market Chart Library [Miller Samuel]
Aggregated Custom Market Data Tables [Miller Samuel]