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Three Cents Worth: Throwing Harpoons at Trophy Sales

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.

I wanted to show the market pattern for these properties since 2006 if any, since that was the peak of the US housing market. Here are a few observations:

The whale spout (sorry) in the chart occurred in 1Q 08 and stands out simply because there was a surge of new development closings of higher end properties as Manhattan was peaking. 50 percent of the high-end closings from that quarter were only from 3 buildings. Without that activity, high tide (sorry) would have been the following quarter, which was the market peak of the overall apartment market in terms of price.

A two-year sales cycle of the 1 percent may exist and I represented this by the three dotted blue harpoon-like arrows (sorry) suggesting that we are currently halfway through the current cycle. I’m not sure I believe this a trend or coincidence but it’s something I’ve always been aware of. In fact I first noticed it in the mid-1990s when there was a two-year surge of high end Fifth Avenue co-ops sales.

There’s not much of a pattern in the $30M plus market either. The volume and frequency of sales seem fairly random over the timeline of the chart. I think that speaks to the supply driven aspect of this submarket. In other words, special properties in this price range don’t become available on a consistent basis so the sales aren’t consistent either.

And finally, it looks like the frequency of trophy sales has been overhyped. Despite all the hoopla over the trophy sale phenomenon in 2012—think the $88M 15 Central Park West that closed last February—the previous year was fairly typical for the top 1 percent in terms of the number of sales—we just saw a handful and they happened to be much higher priced.

We have a good 8 months to go before it’s “Talk Like A Pirate Day” so until then, we expect more whales on the horizon.