When the first signs of stress in Manhattan’s luxury real-estate market started to appear roughly one year ago, we anticipated that the weakness in the high-end would soon spread to the broader market.


And as it turns out, we were right. To wit, the latest evidence that the NYC housing bubble is beginning to deflate comes courtesy of  Bloomberg, which reported on Tuesday that during the three months through September, the number of homes purchased in Manhattan declined for the fourth straight quarter, dropping 11% from a year earlier to 2,987, according to a report Tuesday by appraiser Miller Samuel Inc. and brokerage Douglas Elliman Real Estate. Meanwhile, the number of listings climbed 13% to 6,925 homes, the most since 2011.


While the pullback had previously been isolated to the luxury market, which was struggling with an abundance of new supply, even the smaller, cheaper apartments that have typically been favored by members of New York City’s professional class lingered on the market during the third quarter, with inventories rising by about 15% for studios and 21% year-on-year for one-bedroom apartments. Meanwhile, inventories rose 8% for two-bedrooms, and 5% for four-bedrooms.


Of course, brokers are hoping that this is just a gully and that sellers will ultimately prevail by sticking to their guns. Rising interest rates, as one broker pointed out, are giving sellers time to wait for a better offer, as chances are they are locked in at a lower rate. But the data suggest that this isn’t happening, as the number of sellers cutting prices has climbed to its highest level since 2009 as BAML warns that “existing home sales have peaked.”

With economic growth accelerating and US stocks at record highs, real estate brokers can’t figure out what’s behind the recent softness, with one calling it “perplexing.”

“It is somewhat perplexing,” said Garrett Derderian, director of data and reporting for brokerage Stribling & Associates, which also released a report on Manhattan home sales Tuesday. “The financial markets are quite strong. Mortgage rates, while rising, are still at historic lows. But the perception has become that the market is overheating in terms of pricing. No one obviously wants to come in at the top where they’re paying the highest prices as things are going down.”

But any of our regular readers will know that this pullback in housing prices isn’t “perplexing” in the least: Rather, it’s the result of a confluence of factors, most notably the staggering jump in home price to average earnings ratios accompanied by a drop in foreign capital from China and the former Soviet Union. 

Danske Bank’s massive money laundering scandal has triggered calls to tighten European banking regulations, threatening to cut off the flow of “dirty money” from the former Soviet Union. At the same time,  China has cracked down on capital outflows, making it more difficult for wealthy Chinese buyers to stash their money in hot property markets. The influx of foreign money over the past 10 years has led to bubble-like valuations, leaving homeownership in markets like NYC (and Vancouver, and London, and Hong Kong…) out of reach for locals.

One real-estate broker touched on this trend by warning that sellers must now “bring prices closer to where they need to be” in an interview with Bloomberg.

“For the last eight years, the market has been going up, up, up,” said Bess Freedman, co-president of brokerage Brown Harris Stevens. “But now, it’s really time for sellers to adjust prices to where the market needs to be. I think slowly they’ll do that more and more.”

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. And according to brokerage Brown Harris Stevens, previously owned Manhattan homes spent an average of 104 days on the market in the third quarter, compared with 94 days a year earlier. Manhattan co-ops, typically a primary residence of the buyer, have endured falling prices across the board, with three-bedrooms seeing the biggest decline at 17% to $3.13 million. Going forward, not only will real-estate brokers in the city be responsible for matching buyers and sellers, they will also need to better manage sellers’ expectations, or risk a repeat of what’s happening in Vancouver.

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