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A Year To Remember

The overall average sales price of a Manhattan apartment was $1,041,604 year to date, up 19.4% over the 2003 average of $872,160. This was the first year where the average sales price exceeded the one million dollar threshold. Median sales price and average price per square foot also showed double-digit gains of 14.2% and 15.3% respectively, setting records as well. An apartment today on average costs 2.5 times the $414,187 it did ten years ago.

The luxury market, which we define as the upper 10% of the overall co-op and condo market returned in force in 2004 after a relatively quiet 2003. Some of the largest gains were seen at the upper end of the market as buyers expressed more confidence in the future of the real estate in Manhattan. The average sales price of a luxury apartment was $3,867,151, up 23.9% over the 2003 average of $3,120,489. The average price per square foot and median sales price posted 12.7% and 26.7% increases respectively over the same period.


p>Like the overall market, co-ops saw an increase in prices in all of our indicators. Perhaps the defining characteristic of the market this year has been fewer sales as the availability decreased. Projected sales volume for 2004 is 4,969 units which is 10% below last yearâ?

The Co-op Market Heats Up

Despite a mixed economic climate, the Manhattan co-op market has been characterized by rising prices over the past year. We can thank mortgage rates at historical lows and tight supply of apartments available for sale for the bigger bite out of our wallets. From 5th floor studio walk-ups in Greenwich Village to rambling pre-war Fifth Avenue apartments overlooking Central Park, all segments of the market have been affected.

According to the Manhattan Market Overview that I author, there were significant increases in the average sales prices in all co-op size categories over the past year: studios averaged $285,766, up 18.1%; 1-bedrooms averaged $478,245, up 15.3%; 2-bedrooms averaged $1,092,358, up 20.9%; 3-bedrooms averaged $2,668,386, up 18.7%; 4 or more bedrooms averaged $6,870,603, up 38.8%. There were more than 1.2 billion dollars worth of Manhattan co-op apartments to trade hands in the third quarter.

An interesting recent phenomenon has been the renewed interest by first-time buyers and buyers of pied-a-terre, namely studio and 1-bedroom apartments. Their share of the co-op market increase from 50% last year, to 58% in the most recent quarter. Buyers in the entry-level market are more sensitive to the coming changes in mortgage rates that were predicted to rise gradually over the next year. They are attempting to â??lock inâ?? now to take advantage of low rates. However, the jury is still out on the economy right now, as evidenced by falling mortgage rates despite a series of interest rate increases by the Federal Reserve.


p>Perhaps one of the most compelling reasons for the recent spate of price increases has been the lack of inventory. As compared to the 1980â?

Appraising "New" New York Real Estate

While New York housing is known for its historical landmarks, diverse architecture and rich turn-of-the-century construction details, certain buyers want new. This generally comes in the form of newly constructed or newly converted condo developments. Appraising these properties properly is not necessarily a simple process because new often implies the first, the only, the highest, the tallest, the largest, the most, etc.

Condo ownership is preferred in new development because on average, they simply sell for more than co-ops. There have been only a handful of newly constructed co-ops in Manhattan over the past twenty years. Last year I co-authored a research paper with professor Michael Schill and Ioan Voicu of New York University in which we analyzed approximately 100,000 Manhattan apartment sales and found a 15.5% average value premium of condo ownership over co-op ownership. This was largely attributable to the enhanced marketability of condos due to their fewer restrictions such as co-op boards and financing issues.

The public perception is that the appraisal of a condo is easier than a co-op because condo sales are in public record. It then follows that the appraisal of a new development project is straightforward because they are generally condos. Wrong. We often find that a new development is the first of its kind in a particular neighborhood, in terms of both price levels and quality of amenities and information is limited in availability.

Since there is no sales history within a new building it is tricky to get an accurate reading of its price patterns. For example, the sponsor may have priced apartments with restricted views well above other apartments with similar restricted views outside the building. In addition to the fact that the apartments are new, the concentrated marketing efforts of the sponsor including advertising, web sites, model apartments and a sales office usually results in higher prices than seen in a similar sized condo re-sale.

In addition, the appraiser has to rely partly on sales data provided by the sponsor, which is a non-neutral source of information that cannot be verified. An appraiser generally presents a minimum of three closed sales within the report as its primary focus plus contracts and listings. Since sales within a new development may not have begun to close, outside sales must be used, supplemented by contract sales provided by the sponsor or developer. I am often amazed at the reluctance of some sponsors to give appraisers information on actual apartment sales and the percentage of apartments sold within their buildings. The appraiser must include sales within the building or the lender providing the financing will generally not accept the valuation. There is the tendency for the sponsor to keep this information â??close to the vestâ??, especially if they have begun to negotiate the prices.


p>We consider the pace of sales as a gauge of market acceptance. During the condo development frenzy of the mid-1980â?

Amenities Come in Many Flavors


p>Plain vanilla. A box. Four walls with a floor and a ceiling. Generic. That would be the description of every apartment if it werenâ?

The Guide To Manhattan Residential Real Estate

This download is the entire magazine (5.6Mb).

The Loft Apartment Market: Thinking Inside The Box

It's a fact of life that New Yorkers crave larger living quarters. Because of the high population density that is endemic to the Manhattan lifestyle, large living space is limited in availability.

As economic conditions improved in the last half of the 1990's, lofts emerged as a solution for many apartment buyers seeking more space. The average size of a loft apartment has expanded over the past five years by 12.8% to 2,009 square feet, up from 1,781 square feet in 1998. This is 800 square feet, or 66%, larger than the average Manhattan apartment size of 1,209.

Featuring large open layouts, solid flooring and high ceilings, new loft conversions began to transform the gritty artist-based housing stock into more formal luxury residences with amenities typically found in newly constructed uptown condos. Even newly constructed properties, built essentially as replicas of turn-of-the-century loft structures, are being well received as the availability of commercial buildings for residential conversion diminishes.

It wasn''t always this way. Looking back more than 300 years to the 1700's, many of the current loft neighborhoods were predominantly residential row houses. As the population quickly increased, residential use moved northward. From the mid 1800's to the early 1900's, commercial and light manufacturing took the place of residential use in lower Manhattan. The loft areas that today we call SOHO, NOHO, TriBeCa and (later on) Chelsea, Garment and Flat Iron became defined by their architecture. Distinctive styles evolved in loft construction, with cast-iron perhaps the most well known. However, by the early 1900's, downtown commercial activity began to shift to the outer boroughs, and much of the loft building stock fell into disrepair by the 1960's.

In the 1960's and 1970's artists were attracted to the loft district for large open space, inexpensive rent and relatively quiet surroundings. Although residential occupancy was not legal, their popularity as residences grew, and changes in zoning eventually took place, accommodating such uses.

Perhaps one of the most well known residential loft zoning designations is commonly called Artist-in-Residence (AIR). This zoning classification is found primarily in SOHO and provides for joint live-work quarters for artists who are certified as such by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. In an effort to authenticate the look and feel of certain loft districts, there are limits or controls on the installation of trees or greenery in order to keep an original stark manufacturing appearance. Some of the highest concentrations of old cobblestone streets are found in loft districts.

By the 1980's, downtown artist loft districts became trendy and a sought after residential location, as well as a valuable economic resource to the city. Residential support services, such as restaurants, grocery stores and shops began moving into these areas, along with tenants and apartment owners who were not artists, but white-collar professionals from a variety of employment sectors.
A new terminology associated with lofts began to emerge. When non-loft apartments are described as 'loft-like,' it implies large open living spaces with above average ceiling height. A 'white box' loft conversion is configured with 'raw' apartments that have no significant interior amenities other than large space and high ceilings. The construction completed is just enough to qualify for a temporary certificate of occupancy so the purchaser can install his or her own high-quality custom finishes.

With the increased demand for lofts came an increase in prices. Today, the residents of the area are no longer there for the inexpensive housing costs but rather for space and lifestyle. The Manhattan loft market has outpaced the overall real estate market in price growth in recent years. Based on results from the most recent Manhattan Market Overview that I author for Insignia Douglas Elliman, the average sales price of a loft in the last five years rose 75.9% to $1,400,489, exceeding the 62.4% gain in the overall market to $808,657 in the same period. This pattern says a lot about the demand for loft housing, considering the predominantly downtown locations in close proximity to the World Trade Center site.

Living in a loft is more than just living in a box. The loft market mirrors New Yorkers' demand for space and lifestyle. As a result of their popularity and limited availability, the loft market has been one of the fastest growing sectors of the Manhattan real estate market in recent years.

Appraising Co-ops: Taking Stock of Their Value

One thing New Yorkers are familiar with, perhaps more so than anyone else, is the stock market. Thus it&rsquo;s perhaps no surprise that the predominant form of ownership in Manhattan is the coop &ndash; a type of ownership where you own shares of stock in a private corporation.

Although the majority of New Yorkers are familiar with coops &ndash; more than 80 percent of the nation&rsquo;s coops are located in the City &ndash; most are not familiar with coop appraisal process for these homes. However, understanding this process is important if you are considering buying or selling a coop in New York because an appraisal offers an independent opinion of value of your current or future residence.

Yet appraising a coop is no simple task. Several challenges face appraisers of coops, especially since these sales are not recorded in the public record.

As with condominiums, the first step for an appraiser is to look at the location of the building, its amenities and those of the apartment itself, and compare them to other apartments that have sold, and make adjustments. An appraiser will note amenities such as if the building has a doorman or concierge, storage and laundry facilities, health club, parking garages general condition and more. Similarly, individual apartment features, including the condition, view and light, number of bedrooms and baths, layout, fireplaces and outdoor space are all components considered in the value of a residence. That&rsquo;s where the similarity between appraising coops and condos ends.

Perhaps the most important component in the valuation of a coop is the analysis of the financial condition of the corporation as it relates to apartment values. Buildings identical in appearance can have vastly different financial positions, resulting in significantly different apartment prices. Although appraisers are not a substitute for accountants or financial analysts, by reviewing coop financial statements, we can look for clues that may impact the value of apartments in a building.

One sign of the financial health of a building is the amount of monthly maintenance charges associated with an apartment. Currently, a typical coop has monthly maintenance charges of about $1.00 to $1.25 per square foot per month. For example, a 700-square-foot apartment should expect to pay about $700 to $875 per month. Higher charges could indicate an unusually large underlying mortgage, a ground lease or possibly ineffective management. Conversely, lower charges could indicate looming special assessments or inadequate reserves for emergency expenses and capital improvements.

Banks review the financial position of a coop closely since the availability of financing has a significant impact on apartment values. Coops have various degrees of financing restrictions, from no restrictions to &ldquo;all-cash.&rdquo;

Certain lenders may be reluctant to provide financing in buildings where the apartment&rsquo;s share of the coop&rsquo;s underlying mortgage is more than one third of the value of the apartment. In addition, a high concentration of sponsor apartments, usually more than 50% of the total, places greater risk on the reliability of the coop corporation revenue stream. Ground leases or pending litigation can also be an issue if there is a large escalation or payout looming.

It&rsquo;s important to understand that when a coop building has a financial defect (such as a ground lease) that has the same price patterns as another coop building that has no such defect, appraisers make no adjustments for the difference in financial condition. We are measuring their effect on market value, not applying formulas just because these conditions may exist. Other internal and external factors may override the potential impact of less than stellar financial statements.

The effect of a coop building&rsquo;s financial conditions on value can change over time, positively or negatively. Buyers in a rising market have fewer choices and tend to overlook deficiencies in the financial condition of a coop. Just the opposite occurs in a declining market. As a result, there is often more price volatility in these &ldquo;weaker&rdquo; coop buildings. Still, what may have been a rule-of-thumb ten years ago may not apply now.

Since coops are the predominant form of apartment ownership in Manhattan, it is important to understand how these properties are valued. Like the stock market, buyers and sellers need as much accurate information as possible to make an informed decision.

Appraising Townhouses: Size (And Width) Matters

One of the more difficult specialty markets facing appraisers today in Manhattan is estimating market values of townhouses. Based on the Manhattan Townhouse Report I author for Insignia Douglas Elliman, the average sales price in 2001 was $3,538,000 and there were 89 one to five family sales. These numbers indicate that information concerning each sale used in an appraisal is critical.

The appraisal process includes several key steps that will help result in a credible report. Firstly, the highest and best use of the property should be determined. In other words, what would a typical purchaser do with the property? In many cases, it is the eventual conversion to a one family house. One to five family townhouse properties are usually not bought and sold for their potential rental income. Also, the more units in a property, the more costly it is to convert to a one family. In 2001, the average sales price of a one family house was $4,089,598 or roughly double that of a three to five family house at $2,044,318.

The second step is collecting data through inspections and research. Some of the key amenities that differentiate each house are probably familiar to the reader: size, location, layout (number of units) and condition. Other important amenities include: frontage, architecture, number of stories, outdoor space and elevators.

However, the difficulty lies in having access to enough information about the sales data to render an informed opinion. Sales data is generally available in public record. However, much of the information is dated, inaccurate or incomplete. For example, it is common for properties designated as legal two and three family houses to actually be configured as a one family house.

In addition, public record only includes the main building dimensions and not the rear extension, if any. The reported number of stories usually excludes the first level, termed an &ldquo;English Basement&rdquo;, because it may be a few feet below street level or grade. As a result, the actual square footage may be significantly different and thereby inhibit correct comparisons between houses without inspecting each sale.

The square footage of a townhouse is calculated by multiplying the building dimensions (goes to the outside wall) times the number of stories, including the English Basement, if any. The amount is added to the rear extension which is calculated the same way. The information on extensions is not generally available in the tax records and requires additional research.

For comparison purposes, if the reported square footage between a coop and a townhouse are the same, the coop would likely have 15% to 20% more usable space than the townhouse because coops are measured from the inside walls and their calculations do not include common areas.

The frontage of a building is often one of the most widely used classifications of apartments and is truly unique to Manhattan residential property. The wider the house is, the more value it tends to have above and beyond its often larger size. The average width of a Manhattan townhouse is 18 to 20 feet. Houses wider than 25 feet are often called &ldquo;trophy&rdquo; properties because they are limited in availability. Houses as narrow as 13 feet are not uncommon and there is actually a 9.5 foot wide house in Greenwich Village.

The final step in the appraisal of townhouse properties is to compare sales of similar houses &ldquo;side-by-side&rdquo; with your property and make adjustments reflecting differences in the amenities, but that&rsquo;s a whole other topic.

Unlike turn-of-the-century townhouses, an appraisal is perishable product due to ever changing market conditions. Collection and recognition of key amenities and data is essential in providing a reliable townhouse market value estimate.

Common Areas: Value at the End of the Hall

Habitat Magazine Logo

The sale of unused common area can be a win-win transaction for both buyer and seller. The buyer is likely an individual apartment owner or purchaser. The seller would be the coop corporation (or condo association). As operating costs continue to rise, boards are considering other sources of income to operate their buildings and keep maintenance increases and assessments to a minimum. The sale of common area to in-house residents has become more commonplace in recent years and provides an opportunity for additional income. At the same time, apartment owners have had fewer purchase options as a result of the limited housing inventory in the Manhattan real estate market over the past five years. It may be easier for a shareholder to fulfill an immediate housing need by purchasing common space to enhance their apartment.

A typical scenario might go like this: A couple is expecting their first child and currently occupy a 1-bedroom coop apartment. They search for 2-bedroom apartment but cannot find any suitable choices in their price range with the level of amenities they currently enjoy. With the time constraints and inconvenience of moving, they approach the owner of the studio apartment across the hall. Since both apartments in this example are situated at the end of the hallway and the layout would be enhanced if the hallway is incorporated into the layout, the coop board was contacted.

The coop corporation would benefit from the capital infusion from the sale. The re-allocation of shares would result in increased revenue from higher maintenance charges paid by the shareholder in perpetuity. Both parties should seek out legal advice for matters such as the potential modification to the certificate of occupancy, zoning considerations, architectural integrity of the project, and approvals needed. Associated costs are usually paid by the purchaser. Our firm has seen include the end of a hallway between two apartments, basement storage room, a small closet adjacent to an apartment, double-height ceiling space over a basement garage, unimproved roof area, former elevator shaft and an unused rooftop water tank. How can market value of so many types of space be estimated?

Market value is defined by the Appraisal Institute as &ldquo;The most probable price in cash, terms equivalent to cash, or in other precisely revealed terms, for which the appraised property will sell in a competitive market under all conditions requisite to fair sale, with the buyer and seller each acting prudently, knowledgeably, and for self-interest, and assuming that neither is under undue duress.&rdquo; The sale of common area is not based on its market value, since it is not exposed to the open market and the buyer and seller are captives by its location. It usually has no practical use to any parties but the owner of adjacent apartment and the corporation. The space would not be sold to purchasers that do not own an apartment in the building or to an owner on another floor. Therein lies the problem since there is no &ldquo;market&rdquo; for the property. The value of the space is therefore termed &ldquo;value in use&rdquo; defined by the Appraisal Institute as &ldquo;the value a specific property has for a specific use.&rdquo; It is essentially the establishment of a reasonable relationship between the price and size of the space between the two parties.

The challenge to the board is to be fair to the purchaser yet responsible to the shareholders. The challenge to the apartment owner is to establish whether the finished result will provide additional value to the apartment, both in a financial and functional sense. As is often the case, there are usually no recent sales of common area within the subject building to use as a basis for comparison. Data on common area transactions are often not released because they are not representative of market transactions in a given building, although the release of such information would not impact market values in the building. In addition, these transfers are often combined with the purchase of an adjacent apartment.

A reasonable method of valuing common area is to abstract the relationship between actual common area sales and apartment sales within that same building on a per square foot basis. Although such transactions do not indicate market value on their own, they establish a relationship with the sales in their respective buildings. This ratio can then be applied to a representative price per square foot indicator in the subject building. This value indicator is based on the market segment the newly configured apartment will fall within.

It is important to note that the estimation of the common area value should not be subject to the actual condition of the adjacent shareholder apartment, but rather the typical condition of an apartment in the building. In other words, a shareholder should not pay more or be allocated more shares for adjacent common area based on the condition of their apartment. This is an important point and is consistent with allocation methods at the time of the conversion of the building.

Unlike the estimation of &ldquo;value in use&rdquo;, the share allocation should be made as if the space were incorporated into the adjacent apartment. The shareholder benefits from the additional space in perpetuity. Shares per square foot are the determinant factor because the space is usually incorporated into the existing apartment indefinitely and the shareholder enjoys an ongoing benefit. The original share allocation at conversion varies by many factors including floor level, number of bedrooms, square footage, outdoor space and view. The share per square foot ratio of other similar sized apartments on the same or similar floor levels should be analyzed and compared to the subject space.

The sale of common area can be a win-win scenario for both the coop corporation and the individual shareholder. The corporation benefits from a capital windfall and additional revenue in perpetuity. The shareholder benefits from an expanded apartment and additional value. Who says there isn&rsquo;t value at the end of the hall?

Real Estate Market Statistics: User Beware!

Along with the changes in the Manhattan real estate market over the past year, there has been an increased appetite for related information. With the advent of desktop publishing, most real estate firms or organizations have a real estate market study, statistics and web site to share information with the public. Our firm prepares several such market reports for the brokerage firm Douglas Elliman. The purpose of this discussion is to suggest that users of real estate market information find ways to look deeper into what is before them and test its validity. Not to simply rely on information that is “spoon-fed.” Most often, market information is readily available but is not presented in a reliable manner.

“A billion here, a billion there, sooner or later it adds up to real money.” – commented Everett Dirksen, Illinois Senator 1951-69 concerned with President Truman’s domestic spending on the Great Society. Our study for the year 2000 contained roughly $8 billion worth of transaction information but it is simply not enough for the public appetite. The same phenomenon has been true with the financial markets. Historically, the financial markets change much more rapidly than the real estate markets and now there are tickers, web sites, etc. dedicated to the dissemination of information. Real estate is in its infancy in this regard.

Lies, damn lies, and statistics

Benjamin Disraeli, the prime minister of the British Empire from 1874-1880, was reported by Mark Twain to have said: “There are three kinds of lies; lies, damned lies and statistics” Viewing real estate market statistics is more than simply a matter of looking at one chart and seeing if the price went up or down. The media tends to report the overall market in singular terms and users tend to accept it. Everyone is looking for that one market signal. Extreme statements are usually what make the evening news or tabloid headlines. “Apartment prices skyrocket!” is much more interesting than “modest appreciation occurred in all market segments.” To make matters worse, users over-interpret what is actually being said. Just recently, one of our market statistics was that “the overall median sales price increased 50% from the same period last year.” This doesn’t mean that it represents market conditions in the segment you are interested in. In this particular case, the 50% rise was more attributable to the shift to larger apartments since the individual size categories only (the term “only” is probably a bit cavalier) increased about 25% to 30%. Last spring we reported that double digit price increases of the past year seemed to be abating. The rate of appreciation was easing but the market was still rising. I found it interesting that many market participants seemed to interpret this news as “Its over. Prices are falling.” when the discussion of falling prices was nowhere to be found in the article and to this date we have seen no such evidence. I think the way to view real estate market statistics is to:

Be skeptical. – Use them to search for a trend, not a number. – Look at as many statistics as you can find. – Consider different types of statistics, not just sale prices. – Focus on a segment that drives your interest in the market. – Consider the source: Is the content provider motivated to sway your opinion?

And finally,

  • YOU CAN’T PLACE ALL YOUR FAITH IN ONE MARKET INDICATOR. There are simply too many indicators available to you that can not be ignored.

Median sales price Some observers prefer the median sales price as an indicator over the average sales price because the highs and lows are removed. The National Association of Realtors is widely referenced using this statistic. However, in some real estate markets, the median sales price could indicate that the market is still rising when it may have leveled off or begun to decline. This is how it works: In a market with 100 sales, the 50th sale is the mid-point or median. All sales above the median are more expensive than the median and all sales below are less expensive. However, as the market begins to deteriorate, quite often the entry-level market erodes first by recording fewer sales. Now those 50 sales below the median become, say, 25 sales and the median sale price is driven upward. The statistics therefore show a rising market with lower volume. Although that is a fair description of the current market, all our market indicators in each size segment still show strong evidence of a severe demand over supply imbalance. There is no near term solution to the lack of inventory that has characterized the market over the past several years. The point here is that median sales price should be used in tandem with average sales price as well as other statistics that are available.

Market study

A real estate market study, or at least our studies, are simply an overview and can be a helpful tool in estimating the price of a given property. However, it is not designed to be the sole determinant of price. It is more useful in establishing a general trend of a given market segment. There are dozens of amenities that are blended into these statistics: pre-war, post-war, doorman, nondoorman, loft, non-loft, view, non-view, renovated, non-renovated, etc. that may make the property unique. Getting that specific would necessitate either a broker price opinion report or a real estate appraisal report, but that is for another discussion.

Wonder of the data

I find many of the graphics; charts, tables, graphs on the real estate market hard to read or even worse, misleading. One of my favorite all-time experts on this subject is Edward R. Tufte, Professor of Political Science, Statistics and Computer Science at Yale University, author of Envisioning Information and several other notable publications. He believes that bad graphics “lie by distortion, obfuscate by omission and confuse by decoration.” If we spend so much time trying to figure out the meaning of a graphic, we miss out on the “wonder of the data.” His position is that any chart or graph without the source or critical item like the size of the data set “is a lie.” I absolutely agree. A sore point for me is reviewing statistics that are based on a small data set, or the actual size of the data set was not disclosed, or the reliability of the data is questionable. It has been reported that a Manhattan market study done by another firm many years ago was based on only 10 sales. This fact was not disclosed at the time of publication. Was that done for the public benefit or was it self-serving?


One of my favorite quotes is: “Professionals are people who can do their best at a time when they do not particularly feel like it.” – Alistair Cooke. Presenting clear and accurate information is hard work. The greatest challenge for our company, Miller Samuel, has been to present a large and thorough cross-section of data, analysis, graphs and charts as clearly and accurately as possible. It is a fun but never-ending effort and we have benefited greatly from user feedback. Our market reports and maintenance of our web site – – have helped keep our firm focused on pertinent market conditions when preparing our appraisal reports. We know what we are presenting to the user – that is the easy part. The hard part is communicating an accurate and relevant snapshot of the market. We want the user to benefit from our resources and to give us their trust for the next time they need information.

Copyright 2001 Miller Samuel Inc. All World Wide Rights Reserved.

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