Looking for Just Right: How to Be Like Goldilocks
As most parents of high school juniors know, not only has spring sprung, but so has the season of college touring. To kick off the important parent-child ritual which began my daughter’s college search, we spent a week of spring break visiting universities, beginning in California and road-tripping our way back east. While some parents dread the process of visiting colleges, I found it incredibly inspiring and an important bonding experience which carved out my small place in her process. Perhaps it is because we started at my alma mater, Cal Berkeley, which stirred up nostalgic feelings of my own search too many years ago.
Over and over, the schools focused their presentations on asking prospects, "Who are you?" “What do you care deeply about and why?” Throughout the week, I too found myself thinking about the concepts of introspection, self-knowledge and fit. At each stop, students were encouraged not to have their entire life mapped out or even to commit to a field of study but rather, to answer that critical question: “Who are you?” If you cannot answer that question, then how do you go about finding that elusive thing called "fit"?
It also struck me that looking for schools isn't unlike looking for a home. While you may be buying an apartment, which can be postwar or prewar, modern or dripping in old world details, skyline or treetop views, you are also committing to a community by way of the neighborhood you choose. Our immediate communities are so important to us, especially in New York City. Because we live in a giant metropolis, we need our neighborhoods to ground us. While I try to help my daughter find her new home, I am tasked with the same challenge for my buyers.
Buyers are in many ways like rising college freshman. They are looking for an exciting and aspirational brave new world, but also one where they will feel centered, rooted and at "home". Both crave to be among people with different perspectives, people who will challenge and inspire them, but they also want to feel like they belong. Like Goldilocks, I hope my daughter resists the urge to apply to the colleges that others label "the best," and rather finds her own, personal "just right."
Spring — a season of new beginnings and fresh starts — is the perfect time to seek out your own personal "just right." Below I provide a spring market update and here are a few listings that might just be your next perfect fit.
Few things say "Spring has arrived!" in the real estate business like the release of spring market reports. After the slower winter and holiday months, first quarter data provide an assessment of how the year is kicking off, and occasionally, guesses at how it will progress. In Warburg's First Quarter Market Report, CEO Frederick W. Peters notes that while signed contract activity in the $5 million to $10 million category hovered around 2016 levels in January and February, March activity jumped much higher with 80 signed contracts during the month. As has been the case for the past 18 months or so, proper pricing is still of the utmost importance. As Fred puts it, smart sellers price "for sale and not for ego gratification" if they want to see their properties move quickly.
Fred also notes that after the long-awaited launch of the Second Avenue Subway, properties throughout Yorkville and the easternmost Upper East Side are moving briskly. Also, properties priced below $2 million continue to be in ultra-high demand.
Lisa brings together the skills from which the most successful real estate agents are made. She is personable and unpretentious, with a complex and analytical intelligence which enables her to see to the heart of difficult matters. Her persistence and problem solving skills, deployed on behalf of her clients, bring her deals to successful resolution. And she is a joy to have around the office!
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That latter sentiment is echoed by other first quarter reports that call for folks to act fast in the lower-priced sector, saying "Buyers shopping in areas where homes are still relatively affordable, such as Upper Manhattan and East Brooklyn, should be prepared to move quickly on a home when they find the right fit." Competition in these affordable submarkets is also credited with driving year-over-year average price increases of 1.3 percent in Manhattan and 5.2 percent in Brooklyn, even while concessions and price drops become the norm in the ultra-luxury new development category. By comparison, Upper Manhattan prices jumped 7.8 percent and East Brooklyn had the highest YOY growth at 11 percent. On a related note, Crain's New York Business reports that rising housing costs may be slowing the city's population growth rate. As they say, that's good news for "anyone trying to find a subway seat." Taking a longer view, UrbanDigs compared the first four months of 2017 to performance during the same period over the last five years, and found things to celebrate, cautiously. 2017 contract activity rebounded in January – March, compared to 2016, but failed to meet figures posted in 2013, 2014 and 2015. As UrbanDigs puts it, "An improving market, yes absolutely. But are we surging? No."
So, what does the future hold for New York real estate? One way to check is to examine building application patterns. Not surprisingly, based on overall sluggishness of new construction sales and increasing land and construction costs, Yimby reports that new building applications have plummeted as of late. In fact, they are down by half since the boom year of 2014 when New York looked to add "a San Francisco’s worth of skyscrapers." But while current applications are down, way down, those 2014 and earlier applications have broken ground and are coming online quickly, changing our city's skyline as they go. Curbed's great list of the newest buildings offering units for sale and rent in Manhattan, Brooklyn and nearby New Jersey this spring is a must-read and features buzzy developments like the long-awaited Domino Sugar Refinery megaproject, the Upper East Side's latest "affordable luxury" building on 96th Street and a new entry from Brookfield's Hudson Yards-adjacent Manhattan West project.
Overall sentiment among the cadre of spring market reports is cautious optimism with a dash if "this isn't 2014, folks." Pent-up pre-election activity is hitting the market buoyed by positive Wall Street numbers and unhindered by the Fed's interest rate hikes — lending rates are still at historic lows, after all. The key takeaways from all the data? Buyers are well-positioned in the current market, but must be prepared to act fast, especially in the affordable sector. Sellers, meanwhile, must be realistic and smart about pricing if they want to succeed in the current buyer-centric marketplace.
If you ever have questions about your home's value, your buying prospects, or just want to talk about the market, please reach out to me anytime.