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New York City

The ‘Urban To Suburban’ Narrative Is Really ‘Manhattan To Suburban’

August 19, 2020 | 1:26 pm | | Charts |

This post previously appeared in the August 14, 2020 edition of Housing Notes. I’ve been writing these weekly summaries on housing topics for more than five years. To subscribe for free, you can sign up here. Then you can look forward to each issue every Friday at 2pm New York Time.

The New York Times created a terrific graphic on our Elliman New Signed Contract Report by illustrating the performance of Manhattan and Brooklyn versus Westchester County. Brooklyn’s sales market performance is closer to Westchester than it is to its city counterpart.


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[Spectrum TV/NY1] Stuy Town Vacancies Surge 7/6/20

July 7, 2020 | 8:34 am |

Michael Herzenberg of NY1 did a great story on the exodus from Stuy Town after the landlord provided terms for people to break their leases. The story was inspired by a press release from CHIP (I haven’t seen) which talked about the pandemic exodus as the reason for the rising vacancies. I thought that was a bit of hyperbole since the other key factor has been the inability of the real estate brokerage industry to do in-house showings by state mandate until June 22nd. The lack of mobility has also been a key factor in driving vacancy higher.

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[Bloomberg TV] Bloomberg Markets 7-6-20: A Busy Housing Market This Summer

July 6, 2020 | 5:17 pm | | TV, Videos |

Had a wonderful, nearly 7.5-minute conversation with Vonnie Quinn on Bloomberg Television’s Markets today discussing how the housing market will likely look over the summer. The interview touched on the analysis in the Douglas Elliman Report series I author.

Some ‘inside baseball’ fun. I was connected to Bloomberg via Zoom from my home for this. If you look closely at the 5:15 mark, you can see my garage door open as my wife drives in. My wife panicked when watching this clip, thinking she would be on TV as she walked out of the garage, but randomly ended up using the other door.


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My Forbes Column: Keeping Housing Market Results From The Public Is Never Justified: An Expansive View

June 28, 2020 | 5:00 pm | Explainer |

This piece was taken from my new Forbes column. I’m testing the platform to spread the word and you can help me by going here and then clicking “follow.”


Keeping Housing Market Results From The Public Is Never Justified: An Expansive View

Transparency is always the right strategy

When the Covid-19 crisis began halfway through March, the Manhattan housing market was placed on “pause,” as were many housing markets around the country. New York State “Shelter in Place” rules prevented the in-person showing of a property by a real estate broker. That was the beginning of the problem this crisis posed for the industry that lives and dies on sales and rental transactions. Then a startup agent trade group (NYRAC), made up of some of the most productive agents in the market and includes many of my long-time industry friends, pushed to hide the days on market metric from the public for what turned out to be a self-serving reason. I love what they stand for, but this was a strategic error that I could not support.

While I have been a real estate appraiser and market analyst for 35 years, I dipped my toe into real estate as a sales agent in Chicagoland for six months in the mid-1980s.

Lesson learned

From my experience there it was clear to me that the accuracy of the information our office possessed was critical to all parties for the market to function. I still have my old monthly MLS books and remember logging on to the MLS from one ancient (even then) terminal in the office – talk about delayed market information!

Days on market during Covid-19

The days on market (DOM) metric is significant to sellers because they don’t want their home to be perceived as overpriced if it sits unsold too long. DOM can be measured in several ways, but the one I see used the most is the average number of days between the last price change, if any, and the contract date (or today’s date if it has not sold.) When a potential home buyer looks at a listing on a public-facing web site, they look at DOM as one way to determine whether the listing price is reasonable. The longer a listing sits on the market as compared to other listings, the more likely it is over-priced. Sellers look at DOM too and become concerned when their listing sits too long relative to the competition, typically blaming the agent for not marketing the property enough. However, the asking price is usually set by the seller who is slow to recalibrate their asking price if the market is weakening. I’ve found it takes one to two years for a typical seller to capitulate on price in a downturn and not feel like they left money on the table.

Hiding DOM as a marketing strategy

When the government ordered lockdown hit New York City, and real estate agents were not allowed to provide in-person showings, market activity immediately stalled. NYRAC pressured various platforms to hide DOM information from listings. They still wanted users to be able to drill down and uncover the details, but at first glance, the DOM information was to be hidden.

Streeteasy (owned by Zillow), the de-facto Manhattan multiple listing system in the eyes of the consumer, and the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), the leading real estate trade group with their own platform known as RLS, initially balked at the manipulation but eventually caved to NYRAC pressure. NYRAC made a strategic error that further damaged the long-term credibility of the real estate brokerage industry with the consumer. Not all brokers agreed with this strategy either, but this group placed enough pressure on these platforms to make the change happen.

Only sellers matter?

The incentive to “partially” hide DOM comes down to this:

1) Give the sellers a “break” after two years of softening price trends.

2) Address the sellers’ concerns about extended marketing times during the pandemic.

3) But the primary reason is that real estate brokers didn’t want to lose their listings if the sellers removed them from the market and returned to the market later with a new agent.

Why this effort was wrong

NYRAC and several real estate agents said to the effect, “the buyer or seller can still look at the listing history to know how long a listing has been on the market. That data was never removed.”

I always respond with “Then why hide it in the first place?” To brokers in favor of this temporary rule who wonder why I appear to be obsessing about a nuance I say, it is never appropriate to manipulate data, made even worse by the primary motivation behind this action.

Ignoring the buyers

This “solution” ignores the buyer’s position in a sales transaction and yet last time I checked, buyers are on the other side of every sale. Any effort to partially or fully hide DOM results or any other market metric conveys the wrong message and smacks of the old “information gatekeeper” mentality, no matter the state of the market.

Recently, the official word came down that all days between the shutdown and the reopening will count as “one day” for the DOM calculation presented to the public.

Going forward I have the following questions:

  • Are we to anticipate a suspension of DOM anytime there is an unexpected external event that impacts the housing market (9/11, The Lehman Brothers bankruptcy, Super Storm Sandy)?

  • Who makes the call to do this? A trade group, a regulatory body, a for-profit platform?

-Do we think that buyers and sellers of real estate are unaware of the 90+ day COVID-19 market shut down? Will a new listing added today as the market opens with 1 DOM will sell differently than an identical property with a 91 DOM listing that sat through the 90+ day COVID-19 lockdown?

The market doesn’t care what the brokerage community thinks (or what I think). The act of intentionally hiding or partially hiding data from the consumer is never justified in any scenario.

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NYT Real Estate Event May 21st @2:30 E.T. New York Real Estate: How Low Will Prices Go?

May 20, 2020 | 1:19 pm | | Events |

I’ve been asked to participate in Thursday’s New York Times Event New York Real Estate: How Low Will Prices Go?”.

Click on the image below to RSVP!


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The Overstated COVID-19 Blame on Urban Density in Favor of Suburban Living

May 20, 2020 | 1:06 pm | Explainer |


[NYC.gov]

One of the pieces of conventional wisdom we have picked up during the COVID-19 crisis is that high-density residential living will be less favored. The city to suburban migration pattern is already beginning in New York City and could last several years. The rising number of suburban single-family rental inquiries from the city has provided the initial evidence of a trend. City residents seem to be looking to test drive the suburbs and commute to their city job when “shelter in place rules begin to ease.”

Unfair Reputation?

New York City has developed a national reputation as a hotbed of Coronavirus infection because of our higher density. We live a lot closer together than a sprawling suburb in Dallas and have a greater dependency on public transportation such as the subway and buses instead of driving cars. I live in Fairfield County, Connecticut, a bedroom suburb of New York City with a county-wide COVID-19 ratio of 1068 deaths per its 943,332 population. Dallas County, Texas, had 153 deaths per its 2.636 million people. My county has a wildly higher death rate than a county that contains an urban core like Dallas.

Is the city to suburban trend sustainable?

New Yorkers buy into the urban to the suburban narrative, so I believe the push to the outlying NYC metro suburbs could be quite significant in the near term. While the outbound migration began a few years ago, it is not clear whether the trend can continue for more than a few years. The pattern could ultimately be different from what is currently expected including:

  • A boost for second-home markets: There might be an influx of demand to areas the Hudson Valley, Northern Connecticut The Hamptons, and the North Fork, to name a few. Consumers made begin to view a second home as an equal asset to the primary home to have similar quality options. This potential trend would be contrarian to other significant economic downturns as second-homes are not considered “second-priority.”

  • And because the implications of the SALT tax will remain in place on the other side of the COVID-19 crisis, Florida and Texas can make a compelling pitch to New York City couples with small children cooped up in 1,000 square foot 2-bedroom apartments right now. They are realizing they aren’t as tethered to their work location as they once thought – and schooling via Zoom is not all it’s cracked up to be.

I think that the high-density lifestyle of New York City is what makes living there so great. I’ve lived in or around New York City since the mid-80s. Before we moved to the city, my dad used to proclaim:

Where else can you buy strawberries at 3 am in the morning?!?!?

Placing strawberries aside, I remain skeptical that the urban to suburban outbound migration can be sustained long term. We saw the same outbound pattern after 9/11 and then an inbound return only a few years later.

Density is not the only reason

Urban density is just one reason for the high COVID-19 infection rate that is driving outbound migration. It is not the reason. Other factors influencing the disparity in the infection rate include neighborhood characteristics such as wealth, commute time, and the concentration of multi-generational households.

The map above confirms the argument that it’s not all about density – the highest infection rates are in the “suburban-like” areas of the city including Staten Island and the outer reaches of Brooklyn and Queens. Manhattan, home for many of the tall commercial and residential towers the city is famous for, has the lowest infection rate.

These Manhattan results might help maintain the enthusiasm for that occasional 3 am strawberry run to the corner market.

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Manhattan Crisis: What Does Our Housing Past Tell Us About Our Housing Future?

May 7, 2020 | 1:02 pm | |

In this Sunday’s New York Times Real Estate Section (online now), the Calculator column featured some data trends I’ve gathered during two significant prior housing market events: What Can 9/11 and the Great Recession Tell Us About Coronavirus Recovery?

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ABC World News Report 5-2-20 ‘Urban to Suburban’

May 3, 2020 | 9:08 pm | TV, Videos |

If you can indulge me, I was included in the ABC World News Tonight broadcast on Saturday night to talk about the potential urban to suburban housing shift, particularly in NYC. It was cool to be interviewed by Deirdre Bolton for her first World News Tonight segment since just joining ABC via Fox Business and previously from Bloomberg where I had spoken with her before. Great move ABC!


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Establishing the COVID-19 Demarcation Line: From ‘Hanks To Banks’

April 28, 2020 | 5:26 pm | Milestones |

This topic was explored in last Friday’s Housing Notes.

In order to understand what is happening now, we need to ween ourselves off of what happened before this crisis and focus on finding data exclusive to the post-COVID-19 era. In Manhattan, that data set is not yet apparent because we are in nearly a total market shut down but it is evident elsewhere to a limited degree. From my perspective, the demarcation line for the onset of the crisis is where market participants would have to be living in a cave on a desert island to be unaware of the sharp pivot in market sentiment.

March 15, 2020

I believe that date is March 15th which is the date of the Federal Reserve federal funds rate cut to zero and was their second cut in less than two weeks.

March 11, 2020

My friend and California appraiser Ryan Lundquist proclaimed March 11th which was the date Tom Hanks announced he and his wife had contracted COVID-19. Phil Crawford of Voice of Appraisal said the demarcation line was March 5, 2020 dubbing it “data point zero” and I had originally said the demarcation line was March 3, 2020, on the day of the 0.5% rate cut in March.

I was talking about this difference in these dates with a friend, Chicagoan, and RAC appraiser Michael Hobbs who brilliantly dubbed this four-day window from March 11 to March 15 as: “From Hanks To Banks.”

And if you do the math, the median and average date of March 11 and March 15 is literally Friday the 13th so what more confirmation of a demarcation line do you need?

Whatever your specific local demarcation line is, use it to keep the data for these two market periods separate.

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More Bloomberg Media Hits On Real Estate and the Coronavirus

April 5, 2020 | 2:29 pm | | Podcasts |

If you missed this week’s Housing Notes, here are two Bloomberg clips (from radio and TV) where I break down the state of the market post-Coronavirus:


Bloomberg Radio: Surveillance – ‘Jonathan Miller…details how the housing market is dealing with fallout from the coronavirus.’

I spoke with Tom Keene and Lisa Abramowicz on Bloomberg Radio’s morning show “Surveillance” on the state of the housing market.

The full segment is a great listen. My interview starts at 21:33.


[click image to play]


Bloomberg TV: Markets – ‘Manhattan Home Sellers Hold Back Listings During Coronavirus’

I joined network Vonnie Quinn in New York to talk about the state of the market since the coronavirus hit. She is always wonderful to speak with. The stock photo they used for me was taken about 15 years ago (when I was 15, obviously). At the last second, they had me speak through their London bureau for technical reasons, so each question and answer saw a small delay. The interview was based on this Bloomberg article: Manhattan Home Sellers Hold Back Listings in Coronavirus Retreat:


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Elliman Magazine: 8 Regional Housing Market Charts

April 2, 2020 | 12:01 am | | Articles |

I whipped up eight charts using data from our expanding Douglas Elliman Market Report Series to touch base on a wide array of U.S. housing markets. These charts appeared on pages 280-282 in the 2020 Spring/Summer edition of Elliman Magazine. Click on each graphic to expand.

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Manhattan Co-op Sales Fall During Federal Election Year

February 5, 2020 | 3:52 pm | | Charts |

For the past decade, I’ve been observing a pullback in sales in the summer of an election year and then a release in sales after the election into the new year, no matter the party or the candidate. I was speaking about this to Sylvia Varnham O’Regan at The Real Deal Magazine, and she asked me to prove it empirically.

So I did.

Her article: This is how presidential elections really affect home sales lays it out for the Manhattan market.

My methodology:

  • The data set was co-op based because they account for 74% of the apartment market and doesn’t have the wild fluctuation of contract versus closing date because of condo new development lags.
  • We don’t have all the contract dates for co-ops, but for those we do, they have been remarkably consistent at around 90 days. That 90-day average was applied to all the closing dates to reverse-engineer contract dates.
  • Contracts for even and odd years were compared: Even years represented federal election years, including midterms.

The results compared federal election years to non-federal election years, finding that beginning in June of an election year, sales were progressively weaker than their non-election year counterpart. The most significant difference occurred in September during an election year with a 12.7% weaker sales market than a non-election year. Beginning in November during an election year, sales overpower their non-election year counterpart, with the release of pent-up demand occurring well into the following spring.

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