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Sandy stokes already hot NY apt. market

Far from derailing the city’s apartment market, Superstorm Sandy seems only to have accelerated its already fast pace. November went into the record books as unusually active in terms of the number of lease signings, according to a pair of reports released Wednesday morning.

Brokerage Douglas Elliman reported a 41% surge in lease signings last month from year-earlier levels. Mark Menendez, Douglas Elliman’s director of rentals, attributed some of the increase to people displaced by Superstorm Sandy seeking substitute space. He also said some of the rise in volume may be a reaction to rising rent levels forcing some tenants to find cheaper accommodations.

Although the brokerage did report that the median rent dipped a slight 0.2% to $3,195 last month, it was still up 1.4% over the last 12 months. In another sign of a strong market, tenants are also finding it tougher to squeeze any rent concessions—typically a month of free rent—out of landlords. The portion of rental agreements that involved owner concessions totaled 4.2% in November, slightly less than half last year’s 8.6%.

“The big deal for me is that the average rent price continues to grow, even now in the fall market, which is typically a slower time of the year,” Mr. Menendez said.

Citi Habitats also found signs of heightened demand for rentals generally, according to company president Gary Malin. The big exception was the financial district, where Citi Habitats saw a 12% slump in average rents over the last 12 months to November, which it attributed to storm damage to many rental buildings.

“Every category of apartment rental year-over-year is up [in terms of volume and price],” Mr. Malin said. “This year, the rental market has been extremely tight.”

Every area of Manhattan saw vacancy rates decline over the last year except uptown, according to Douglas Elliman. Last November, uptown had a vacancy rate of a mere 0.98%, which increased to 1.95% this year.

Mr. Menendez said he thought tenants who had moved uptown earlier might now be looking for alternatives in other boroughs.