When Richard J. Bailes and his family paid $4.1 million in March for a four-bedroom apartment in the glass and steel Georgica on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, just eight of the building’s 58 units were occupied, he said.
Bailes and his family had plenty of places to choose from. About 8,700 new condos sit empty in Manhattan, with 75 percent not even listed for sale yet, said appraiser Miller Samuel Inc. Priced at levels the market no longer supports, they’re selling so slowly it would take as long as seven years to find buyers for them all, said Jonathan Miller, president of Miller Samuel.
Builders can’t afford to cut prices because they borrowed too much at the height of the market, according to Miller. He and his partners are betting that lenders will seek to sell their condo units at a loss rather than foreclose on the building and assume all the developer’s liabilities until the units are sold.
Developers taking out construction loans borrow an additional amount for interest reserves, which is intended to cover the monthly payments on the loan while the project is under construction and until sales begin, Miller said. Alpert estimates that reserves on loans made in 2007 and 2008 will dwindle in the second half of 2010 and early 2011.
The relationship between home prices and rents typically remains steady within a market, Miller said. In Manhattan, the average apartment, adjusted for inflation, cost 8.1 times annual rent from 1991 to 1997, according to Miller Samuel data. That means that in those years, buyers in Manhattan concluded that the long term benefits of owning an apartment — tax savings and property appreciation — were worth an initial investment of eight times the cost of renting.
Then in 1998, Manhattan prices began a decade-long climb, with year-over-year values rising by 10 percent or more in most quarters. By the second quarter of 2008 apartment prices peaked at 22.4 times annual rent, according to Miller Samuel data.
At that level, buying rather than renting in Manhattan only makes sense if the purchaser expects prices to continue rising at a meteoric clip, with future sales’ profits justifying ownership costs that also include property taxes, interest and maintenance fees. New York is the No. 1 city in the U.S. where the overall costs of buying are “significantly more expensive than renting,” according to a report released yesterday by property website Trulia.com.
Manhattan’s multiple in the first quarter of 2010 was 19 times rent, even as rental prices fell 6.1 percent from a year earlier, according to data from Miller Samuel.
“That suggests a few things,” Miller said. “One is that prices are poised to slip further.”
The median value of apartments for resale in Manhattan has already fallen 31 percent since 2008, narrowing their spread over rents, Miller said. By comparison, apartments in new developments, which are saddled by debt for construction loans made during the property boom, have fallen by 24 percent — and much of that drop was due to smaller units being sold rather than significant price reductions by the developer, Miller said.
The 8,700 unsold new condos in Manhattan exceed all residential sales in the borough in 2009, according to Miller. About 6,500 of those units are “shadow inventory” and have not yet been listed for sale, he said.
“If you flush that all into the market you tank the market,” Westwood’s Alpert said. “So the only way you can effectively push that into the market is to bleed it out very slowly. Well, the lenders don’t really have the option to bleed it out slowly because they can’t hold onto it for six years.”
“New York is Miami ‘08 right now,” said Peter Zalewski, principal of Condo Vultures LLC., a Bal Harbour, Florida, real estate brokerage and consulting firm specializing in bulk sales.