Average sales size patterns for these two size sales categories split sharply three years ago.
Check out my 3CW column on @CurbedNY:
The Washington Post published an article last year titled “8 in 10 Manhattan home sales are all-cash,” a statement that was (and still is) hyperbole; the actual figure was 45 percent. The data is worth revisiting, though, and I thought it might be a good time to look at the makeup of Manhattan apartment purchases in regards to cash versus financing. Obviously, there has been some confusion in the past, so I thought it would be helpful to display a year’s worth of trend data…
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My latest Three Cents Worth column: Three Cents Worth: How Many NYC Apartments Are Bought With Cold Hard Cash? [Curbed]
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The Real Deal has posted the full video of the panel discussion I participated on last week with developers Steve Witkoff, Miki Naftali and Michael Stern. The Real Deal’s publisher Amir Korangy deftly kept the conversation going and candid, despite the technical challenges, sweltering heat and a heckler (i.e. just another day in NYC).
The concept of “setting a price floor” applies to gated communities, homeowner associations, planned unit developments – in fact any situation where a central governing body has direct influence over the sales price and/or buyer of your property. I believe the idea of “setting price floors” is surprisingly common in the outer boroughs of NYC, especially Queens.
Let me back up a second to provide context.
As the Manhattan market peaked in 2007/2008, we began to observe some co-op boards setting floors to prices in their buildings to “maintain value” for their shareholders. While a fiduciary responsibility, it is steeped in contradictions to free market principles. There was a great New York Times summary piece about this practice back in June 2007: “Should Co-op Boards Set ‘Floor Prices’?“
About 15 months after the NYT article was written Lehman Brothers had collapsed and AIG, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were all bailed out. Manhattan sales prices had fallen about 30% from 2008 to 2009. During this period I observed an increase in the practice of setting price floors. A hypothetical scenario (the type I often observed first hand) for – let’s call it – “Apartment XXX” and the timeline might go something like this:
A co-op board CAN’T dictate sales prices
It is clear from the steady stream of new offers in my hypothetical that the market had reset to a significantly lower level during the year. If that was the case (it was), then the board was actually doing a disservice to their shareholders by making their apartments essentially unsaleable. A buyer isn’t going to pay what the seller or the board wants the price to be. Econ 101. Housing market prices change over time, hopefully rising more than falling in the long run. The brokerage community also has a fiduciary responsibility to get the highest price for their seller under market conditions at that time. Although the board is trying to protect their shareholders (and themselves as shareholders), they have in effect, temporarily nullified the market in their building. The brokerage community is less likely to bring offers to sellers because they assume the board will reject the price even though the property had been properly exposed and vetted in the marketplace.
A co-op board CAN protect their shareholder against price outliers
One of the misnomers of the “setting a price floor” discussion is the fact that appraisal quality for lenders has been decimated since the financial crisis as banks now fully rely on appraisal management company ie “AMC” appraisers and most have no “local market knowledge.” An out of market appraiser will likely be more influenced by outliers than a local appraiser because the out of market appraiser is data starved and has no experience in the nuances of that market. It is clearly prudent for a board to be vigilant about outliers as reflected in the video. I’ve consulted on transactions for boards that don’t represent market value – ie the heir or executor lives on the other side of the country, doesn’t care about the market value and simply wants to dump the unit, make some money and move on. The out of market appraiser will probably use that sale as a “comp.”
“Protecting against outliers” is very different than “controlling prices” in a market.
In the outer boroughs especially in Queens, I believe the practice of setting a price floor has remained a widespread practice for years. Here’s a co-op attorney who is providing tips on how to “maintain values” on Habitat Magazine‘s web site. Concepts like setting up “sliding scales” to sell at 95% of the average of past sales may work in a stable market but worry me because the co-op won’t be able to respond to downturns and is in danger of choking off the market, potentially depressing prices even more.
This video also talks about apartments being different in condition and boards need to consider this because real estate appraisers don’t take into consideration whether or not an apartment was renovated.
No! This is absolutely an incorrect or the appraiser is not being asked to provide an opinion of market value – appraisers are supposed to take condition into consideration if they are being requested to provide an opinion of market value.
As I mentioned earlier, with the proliferation of AMCs, appraisers working for retail banks are generally being paid 50% of the market rate and can’t or won’t confirm condition of their comps. Higher up banking executives don’t yet equate appraisal fees with appraisal quality.
“Maintaining Value” in a co-op (or multi-unit housing entity with a governing body) Here are a few (non-legal) valuation thoughts on “maintaining” values in a co-op. I’ve personally always taken this to mean that the corporation is run efficiently for the benefit of the shareholders and when that happens, property values are “maintained” relative to the market. I also believe their values will ebb and flow with the world that surrounds the building – ie supply, demand, credit, interest rates, economy, employment, etc. These are outside factors tend to be things that the board has no control over. If the board takes actions to control “market forces” they can potentially damage shareholder value and they are potentially not fulfilling their fiduciary responsibilities.
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Over my career, I’ve have observed a higher frequency of combination apartments (ie co-ops or condos) when inventory is tight. A combination apartment is simply the connecting of 2 or more adjacent apartments (to either side, above or below). It may be easier and/or less expensive to buy the apartment next door to create a larger space (even if you have to overpay for it) than to brave the tough market searching for a larger place to live.
A few years ago I started to track this during the preparation of the Elliman Report: Manhattan Sales. I looked at the actual apartment numbers and counted those that suggested they were combined. I am clearly omitting apartment nomenclature that is not so clear ie 7AB is renamed 7A, so my results are conservative. The above chart reflects the recent trend of more combinations being sold but doesn’t necessarily equate to more being created, so new combinations would only be considered a subset of this data.
I’ve always thought co-op or condo building that allow combinations (nearly all do) as providing a potential way for shareholders to realize value upside, thereby enhancing the price structure of a building ie higher values rub off on other apartments in the same building.
Some top line ideas about combinations
Some other more granular thoughts
Some layouts don’t work
– Not all combo layouts make sense or provide value upside.
– Layouts tend to work better in pre-war and new developments than post-wars.
– 1980s condos often often the least combinable layouts – ie a side by side 1 bedrooms.
– Over the last decade, developers have kept this in mind during construction to give them more flexibility during the sales process.
Higher value per square foot
– Creating larger apartments creates value upside to existing space ie “1+1=2.5”
– Sometimes large combos can be oversized for the building and there is no ppsf premium for the larger space.
– When a an owner of a large unit buyers the adjacent unit, the mere fact that the same unit owner owns both usually results in a ppsf premium before renovations are made to connect.
– The upside in value for a smaller apartment, means that a buyer can overpay for the unit as an individual sale but the addition of the smaller unit to the large unit adds value to both units on a ppsf.
– The highest value is realized when the buyer can’t tell the layout was comprised of two different units. Simply creating a door between two apartments would realize the least upside.
That second kitchen
– The biggest “tell” on a combo is the existence of a second kitchen.
– They are often converted to a laundry room or bathroom, taking advantage of the utility connections.
– Buildings might object to the removal of the second kitchen because it may impact the building Certificate of Occupancy – I defer to lawyers on this point.
What do lenders think?
– Some banks are scared of combinations and others are not.
– In my experience banks require financing on the whole apartment – if they have a loan using collateral of one of the apartments, they will require that it be replaced with a new mortgage to cover both apartments.
– Banks often get confused on the value of a combo asking the appraiser to provide a value for each of the separate apartments before they are combined. The problem with that position is that the combination is usually worth more as one apartment (even before considering improvements) – in other words, the sum of the parts is less than the whole and the bank will incorrectly assume the collateral is inadequate.
– Many agents tell me it is assumed that maintenance charges are skewed higher for combos. I can’t prove this, all other things being equal. When it occurs, it’s probably for reasons other than simply combining the units.
– A combo in a small building, ie a 4-unit brownstone co-op, raises the risk to the remaining shareholders if the combo shareholder stops paying their maintenance charges. Risk exposure to a mid to large sized building should be nominal.
– Quite often hallways are purchased and incorporated into a combo layout for a better result.
– The co-op wins by getting a cash infusion for the purchase and income in perpetuity for the additional share allocation from the common area purchase.