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Hamptons sellers cautious, as buyers seek value

The Hamptons residential sales market may be mirroring Manhattan’s, with lower-priced properties making up a greater number of transactions than in the previous year, according to first-quarter market reports released today by three of the city’s biggest New York City brokerages.

In the East End market, which includes the Hamptons and the North Fork, there were 381 sales in the first quarter of 2012 — only two more than in the same period last year, according to a report from Prudential Douglas Elliman. Sales in the Hamptons declined 7.1 percent year-over-year, to 287 from 309, while the median sale price increased 11.6 percent, to $780,000 from $699,000, the report says.

“The general presumption is that the market will continue to move sideways,” said Jonathan Miller, president of appraisal firm Miller Samuel, which prepares Elliman’s report.

In fact, the East End market is following a similar trajectory as real estate in Manhattan, Miller said, noting that in the first quarter inventory dropped, while lower-priced sales took up a larger portion of the market, corresponding to the drop in mortgage rates introduced in the fall.

“Normally when inventory declines, you expect sales to jump, but this did not happen,” Miller said. “The takeaway from this is that sellers, over the last six to nine months, have been battered by the global economic turmoil — and then buyers pause.”

Listings in the Hamptons dropped by 10.5 percent, to 1,511 units from 1,689 units, indicating that sellers are more cautious about putting their homes on the market, the Elliman report says.

But the growth in prices for luxury properties outpaced the growth in prices in the East End overall. The median sales price for the top 10 percent of the market increased 3.8 percent, to $4.78 million from $4.6 million, while across the Hamptons and the North Fork, the median price rose a more modest 1.2 percent, the Elliman report says.

Brown Harris Stevens found that single-family home sales in the Hamptons rose 32 percent in the first quarter of 2012, compared to the same period in 2011. However, closings in early 2011 were artificially low, noted Peter Turino, president of Brown Harris Stevens of the Hamptons.

Buyers had scrambled to make purchases in late 2010, before the threatened expiration of the so-called Bush tax cuts, and afterwards activity fell off.

Even so, Turino said he was encouraged by the bump in transactions. “It reflects the improving level of activity we are currently experiencing,” he said in a statement.

Brown Harris Stevens also found that prices had increased, with the median price rising 5 percent, to $815,000 from $775,000.

The Westhampton market clocked the highest jump in sales compared to tonier areas like Bridgehampton and Southampton, the Brown Harris Stevens report says, with a 50 percent year-over-year increase in closings, to 75 from 50.

Meanwhile, in Sag Harbor, sales rose only 10 percent versus the previous year, and the complete lack of sales over $4 million in the area caused the average price to fall 14 percent, to $860,000 from $950,000, the report says.

According to the Corcoran Group, sales across the Hamptons rose only 2 percent year-over-year, although the brokerage’s report noted that “encouraging domestic economic indicators supported continued buying activity.”

But it appears that buyers sought out less expensive homes in the first quarter, as the median price decreased 5 percent, to $821,000 from $868,000, while the overall dollar volume of home sales dropped 17 percent, to $530.8 million, from $641.3 million, the report says.