For current action in the Manhattan market over $4 million–consult the Olshan Report.

Donna Olshan and Emily Chen, at Olshan Realty, have been carefully tracking contracts signed, at $4 million or more, on a weekly and monthly basis since 2011.  Contracts are an important measure of current market activity, sales to not usually close for a month or more.

Here is a link to their report:

Their monthly findings are summarized in the table below and show that monthly contract volume, for the most expensive apartments and townhouses, collapsed in April 2020. It increased in every subsequent month (although the market was closed to physical showings until late June) but remained well below volume in the prior three years. However, contract volume reached 2019 levels in October, and then stunningly in November it exceeded the number of deals in both November 2019 and November 2018.

As of December 13, 2020, in the prior two weeks, 44 contracts were signed, so the strengthening market continues, perhaps the positive and immediate impact of the election and Covid vaccines.

As is also indicated, condominiums dominate the upper end of Manhattan’s housing market.  This is clearly the case in 2020 and the prior 3 years, but certainly would not have been the case when I started in this business some decades ago. Then the upper end was dominated by the cooperative market on Park-Fifth Avenues and Central Park West.  More recently, the bulk of luxury listing inventory and contracts is for condos, despite higher prices.

April total 11 88 142 118
April – co-ops1283934
April – townhouses1989
April – condos9519575
May total 22 98 101 121
May – co-ops9292729
May – townhouses21068
May – condos11596884
June total 30 119 103 107
June – co-ops6232917
June – townhouses5151513
June – condos19815977
July total 39 45 95 86
July – co-ops9102116
July – townhouses64118
July – condos24316362
August total 45 57 71 60
August – co-ops9141414
August – townhouses71275
August – condos29315041
September totals 56 67 84 60
Sept. – co-ops8132011
Sept. – townhouses51086
Sept. – condos43445643
October totals 55 53 83 103
Oct. – co-ops8132011
Oct. – townhouses51086
Oct. – condos43445643
November totals 95 85 71 98
Nov. – co-ops22252019
Nov. – townhouses155812
Nov. – condos58554367
Total April – Nov. 353 612 750 753
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How has Covid 19 affected average sale prices and sale volume in Manhattan?

In the Manhattan housing market,  sale volume has dropped, but there are deals, a revival since the market was legally re-opened in late June.  This could be in temporary jeopardy this winter, as we retreat indoors and face a second COVID wave.   For the moment, however, there is strong interest in a listing I have at 33 West 67th Street, priced at $4,950,000.  Three showings have been scheduled this week, with a possible fourth early next week. 

Broader indicators of price and volume data come from a few sources.  Closed sales volume is the most solid, although it lags current market deal-making by a few months.  The figures below are from closed sale data on Resource (by RealPlus).  Resource combines the data of the Real Estate Board of New York’s Manhattan brokerage firms, and it has a Market Analytics tool that can be used to sort the data according to various criteria. 

In these tables, post-Covid-lockdown sale prices and sale volume in 2020 is compared to price and volume data in the same months of 2019.  (The real estate market was closed for showings from March 23, 2020 until late June.)  

Average sale prices

What the tables indicate is very interesting.  There is no consistency in the average monthly prices, both in the market as a whole and for the more expensive properties ($4 million or more).  Prices are not likely rising and falling in line with these averages. Monthly averages change all the time, in any market.

Are the monthly average prices lower in 2020?   Sometimes yes, sometimes no. But wasn’t the market weaker in 2020?  Look specifically at the averages in the $4+ million dollar market; several of them were higher in 2020 than in 2019.   This is a very difficult market, so intuitively, yes, prices should be lower this year, but intuition can mislead.  The averages depend largely on what apartments sold.  Sellers may refuse to sell at a discount, so perhaps only the better apartments are selling; or perhaps a number of high priced new condominiums are closing (following contracts signed a year or two ago); or perhaps the mix of apartments has changed including a higher proportion of larger units.  Any, or a combination of these trends impacts the monthly figures and could skew the 2020 averages upwards.  

 Average sale  volume

While the variation in average sale prices has been uneven, the drop-off sale volume has been dramatic.  In some months this year, closed sale volume was less than half that in 2019  In others, it was only slightly more than half. However, the slow down actually began prior to the Covid crisis, as indicated by late March, April and May sales.  (Sales are generally under contract some months prior to closing.) For sales at or over $4,000,000, the drop off in closed sales volume, relative to 2019, has been much less marked in recent months. 


Month 2020, average price 2019, average price
March 23-31 $2,283,870 $1,784,238
April $2,579,128 $2,068,182
May $1,801,302 $2,145,735
June $1,515,294 $3,000,241
July $2,163,233 $1,629,378
August $1,997,836 $1,698,525
September $2,215,970 $1,885,881
October  $1,920,019 $1,690,560
November $1,768,991 $1,826,103


Month 2020, average price 2019, average price
March23-31 $8,956,238 $6,588,154
April $12,528,594 $7,785,631
May $7,894,099 $8,138,065
June $6,498,762 $8,424,388
July $11,000,902 $8,476,618
August $9,533,866 $8,109,904
September $10,283,600 $9,267,991
October $8,087,787 $8,125,232
November $6,767,558 $9,422,215


Month 2020 # of sales 2019 # of sales
March 23-31 129 241
April 456 1,077
May 580 1,210
June 770 1,531
July 667 1,017
August 495 1,021
September 514 1,010
October  670 1,028
November 524 821


Month 2020 # of sales 2019 # of sales
March23-31 17 20
April 50 109
May 50 143
June 42 332
July 59 66
August 47 63
September 52 81
October 65 71
November 48 57
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The Covid housing market has not been easy

Since the market re-opened at the end of June,  I have seen difficulties for both buyers and sellers.  On the Upper West Side, an enthusiastic couple negotiated the purchase of a renovated multi-million-dollar apartment, and then backed out in anger (not-negotiation) when faced with relatively-modest improvements.  Another client negotiated a very attractive price on an unusual one-bedroom apartment but then changed her mind, after contact with a zealous listing broker, who was trying too hard to pre-qualify her for a difficult co-op board.  A third sale hasn’t closed, despite board approval, as the seller’s lawyer struggles to get pay-off information and the stock certificate on a loan that has been sold and is no longer in the portfolio of the issuing lender. 

More surprising was a recent board turndown on presumably-liberal West End Avenue.  The clients are extremely interesting and accomplished, with liquid assets over four times the contract price in the $3 millions.  Their board package was thorough, vetted by me and the listing agents, and with very good reference letters.  Yet the board focused entirely on questioning the validity of the husband’s business, a mis-focus that was shockingly inappropriate and arguably illegal in a city that prohibits discrimination based on lawful occupation.  As my client rightly complained, there was no one to talk to and no one talked to him.

The co-op system has developed this way, with the support of the courts, hiding behind the filter of closing agents, whose expertise is administrative, and who have no authority.  In earlier years, buyers were evaluated on paper; now it is usually on-line.  The outcome is the same; buyers can be turned down without explanation, without personal contact and ignoring their references.  There are rarely legal and no social consequences.  The market is huge; brokers are working all over town.  The system is anonymous;  board members are free to exercise their social and professional prejudices. 

captivating but anonymous

This has long been the case in this large, commercial city, where people don’t know each other and often categorize others without consequence. The issue predates both the internet and Covid 19.   But this kind of intolerance is unacceptable, as we struggle to move away from a toxic political environment that thrived on intolerance. It is a waste of human energy in a world with so many bigger problems.

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Manhattan’s housing market has changed

Working from upstate or my apartment in New York, in semi- isolation and driving into the city for the occasional appointment or showing, I manage a tiny piece of Manhattan’s real estate market almost entirely from my laptop.  The market has shifted perceptibly in the thirty-five years I have been doing this, from one based on seeing and conversation to one more highly dependent on interpreting the internet and e-mail.

As a young broker, and then as an appraiser, first in San Francisco and after 1985 in New York, I drove or walked from place-to-place, not only to learn the market, but also to develop a taste or an eye for things.  Listing information was on printed sheets, in weekly publications, or on cards, so market information was more locally based.    

Now there is endless material on-line, much of it accessible to anyone.

There are dozens, even a hundred or more potential listings for each client, photographs, pricing information, old photographs, old pricing information, now videos, and endless commentary, including mine.

Residential real estate, like the retail market, is now increasingly consolidated on the web.  Access to information is easier, and getting information requires much less physical movement.  But the work is increasingly difficult, as there is now an excess of information, and images, and e-mails. The ease of sourcing and providing information now means that much more information is required, in order to form an opinion, or to make a decision. Superior knowledge is based almost entirely on the ability to sift, recognize, interpret and explain.  

There is a disconnect.  In the trading of physical things, there is now much less seeing and touching and talking.  As a young appraiser, when cooperative prices were not yet recorded, I called and spoke with every broker.  As a broker, I previewed property in person. Now in my 60’s, I handle much of this from afar.  There are fewer appointments; with images on-line, fewer are needed.  Residential real estate is still a local thing, yet I can manage much of it at a distance.

In my own house I also look around less, as I am tethered for hours to the screen or to the phone.  I am much more free to move, but I am also more detached from where I am. Real estate work is now much more like that of a writer, with a typewriter or a pen, trading in words, images, and thoughts from my desk.

These are not new trends, but they have been reinforced by Covid 19.  Showings are more complex, requiring advance signatures from everyone present.  Brokers’ open houses are impossible.  Weekend open houses are “by appointment”.   For the first time, in July, I brokered the sale of an apartment I had not seen,  although we knew the building, and the buyer saw it before bidding.  It seemed easy, but only until we assembled the board package by hand, the old fashioned way. And the sale still hasn’t closed, as the seller’s lawyer struggles to get the stock certificate and pay-off information on his client’s loan.

Even with my lap-top, this is a time where getting anything done is more difficult.

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Beauty and Housing

After a break from real estate writing, I remind myself that this work offers the constant pleasure of beautiful things, particularly useful things, like apartments, or houses, or furniture.  It is inspiring to see the occasional wonderful house or apartment–there are really very few of them, and it is a pleasure to help find one for others.

Everyone is an audience for housing, and everybody wants something special, each according to his/her or their own sensibilities.  I is interesting to think about what makes a place unique or ordinary, what preferences determine its value, and what beauty the market may overlook.

Below, from an apartment for rent in a townhouse on Bank Street.

Door and cabinetry, Bank Street, New York

Art Studio, Bank Street, New York

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Israel and the Palestinians, in a letter to a younger French friend

September 20, 2020

Dear Brxxx:

Thanks for the article you sent me about Sheldon Adelson and his purchase of the former American embassy residence in Tel Aviv (le 

Your note pushes me to clarify my own view of this situation, as many others have done.  But writing this is important for me. 

As a Jew, I am fearful of the effects of current struggles on my fellows in Israel and of its  humanitarian impacts on the Palestinians and others. However,  I live within the safety (until now) and affluence of the United States and have no business dictating a solution to the parties involved.  To the degree that I have any direct influence (which I do not),  it should be with my own government.

I do not agree with the goals of the settler movement in the West Bank;  to me they and their supporters in Israel and the United States are extremist.  The notion that God gave us Israel, within its present, or at times larger ancient borders, is self-justifying and self-deluding, except in the general sense, which is that God gives and takes away everything and everybody.

The living conditions of the refugee Palestinians and their lack of prospects are untenable and unacceptable. These circumstances may continue for a very long time, but it is wrong that they should. 

That said, if I must choose between defining myself as a Zionist or an anti-Zionist, then I define myself as the former.  I must, although not a religious man, since I believe that Judaism plays an important role in human affairs, and its survival, and that of its adherents, is important to me.   

It has become common on the left to view Zionism as a European colonial enterprise and the Palestinians as victims of the Israelis.  This was actually from good luck or skill born of desperation, since the Israelis might have lost their independence or later wars with the surrounding Arab states, and the present narrative of exploiter/victim would now have been very different.  There is also some truth in it, since Zionism in its origins, is a European movement, and most of the early Jewish settlers were European.  Or perhaps more precisely, we had lived in Europe, after leaving ancient Israel, for approximately 2,000 years and intermixed, genetically and culturally, with European populations. 

But Zionism is the necessity of European antisemitism.  However much I love and am fascinated by Europe, our history there was untenable.  The refusal of our ancestors to convert to Christianity, and our refusal/and eventual efforts to assimilate, were not acceptable in Europe.  The Holocaust was simply the last chapter of 2,000 years of non-acceptance. In the context of 19th century European nationalism, Zionism was survival for a people who no longer had a geographic base.

Our mother and her family escape Europe on the Hamburg-Amerika Line
January 1939

Following the Holocaust and the Second World War, it was arguably the only solution, and since we had been largely eradicated in Europe, staying there was no longer safe or plausible, and entry to the United States and other countries was effectively closed. 

So many of the survivors came to Israel, and with great difficulty, joining the earlier settlers. The Palestinians feared our arrival in large numbers, eventually resisting the founding of Israel with the support of surrounding Arab states, but they failed.  And they failed again.  And the victims of this failure, in addition to the Israelis who have died, or who now live in a constantly-militarized state,  are the many descendant Palestinians now living in the West Bank, Jordan, Gaza and Lebanon, whose living circumstances are the current focus of attention. 

But whose victims really are the Palestinians?  Are they the victims of the Jews?  Most certainly, since we decided, after centuries of passivity, to protect and secure ourselves, and arguably joined the ranks of the oppressors. Are they the victims of the Arab states, many of whom admitted the most talented and successful Palestinians, but did comparatively little for the remaining refugees (while Israel, post-independence, absorbed approximately 600,000 Jews who were forced out of Islamic countries)?  Are they the victims of their own leadership, fragmented, and unable to negotiate realistically, unable to yield?  Or are they the also the victims of European antisemitism, and frankly European unwillingness to pay the price of its antisemitism?  (Just as we in America refuse to pay for what was done to our native American and black populations.) 

When I hear or read criticism of Israel, I am embarrassed and distressed that after two thousand years of reading and thinking and praying in Diaspora, we still define ourselves as Jews by control of a “holy land”, unable now to yield or share it.  That the Israelis have been unable and or unwilling to invest in Palestinians and integrate them more fully, and at a higher level, into mutual economic (if not political) interdependence.  That we view the Palestinians as inferior or irremediable, instead of simply affirming that we do not wish to be controlled or subjected to them (or anybody else). 

Ein Gedi, Israel

But I am also puzzled at those who cannot understand the satisfaction of a Jewish country in our place of origin, who cannot understand the relief of not having to accommodate a Christian or Muslim majority, and who cannot see the necessity of a safe refuge from those who despise, tolerate or fear us.  And who do not accept that we are no longer willing to be their victims. 

Europe, and not exclusively Germany, has an enormous debt to pay for what has happened in the Middle East.  (And of course, Europe and the United States, and generally the West, have other debts to pay.)  To every anti-Zionist, may I suggest, as partial solutions, a million dollars–preferably taxed from the rich, but not entirely so–a residence visa and free education for every Palestinian family who would like to resettle in Europe and a serious economic and educational investment in the Palestinian refugee camps.  And from the Arab countries, some of whom are very rich, a greater engagement, not only with Israel, which is economically advantageous, but with the Palestinians, to whom they owe a greater interest and a greater obligation. 

The plight of the Palestinians is arguably imperialist and colonialist.  But let us place the responsibility where it lies, in the context of a history that is still very recent and where there is plenty of blame to share.  As both the descendant of victims and the beneficiary of a privileged life in the United States,  I am willing to welcome a Palestinian neighbor and pay a Palestinian investment tax right now.  Are you?

Larry Sicular

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Sitting in my Garden (fixing the world)

June 1, 2020

At this later time in my life, I have a few favored ways to spend leisure time.  One of them is sitting in my garden, or on my porch, looking at it.  Sometimes,  I do nothing but stare.   At other times, I share it with friends, over drinks or with long conversations.  People visit me at this house, and in the summer the evening light is late.  Sitting in the garden is like having another room, or another series of rooms.

I get up, and first thing in the morning, when I come downstairs, I walk outside to look at the plants; the huge purple lilacs, at least 12’ tall, that were here when I moved in; the other lilacs that I added; nine apple trees which we pruned this winter and that flowered last week. 

Many afternoons, I spend an hour or so pruning overgrown shrubs.  This morning, before breakfast, I worked on restoring an overgrown hedge.  The gardener and I cut it back sharply before winter, but it was still filled with dead branches.  It doesn’t look good yet, and I am learning my way forward, but it now has sunlight in its center, and there is already new growth from the ground up.  

Would it be such a limitation to spend my life visiting friends, reading books, and taking care of this garden?  Is it the need for money or the need for something else that takes me out of here?   Why isn’t this enough?   Why can’t this be enough for all of us?

The answers are obvious.  Not everyone gets to have a garden.  Not everyone respects other people’s gardens.  Everyone who has one wants to keep it;  not everyone is satisfied with the garden they have. 

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Our father was a very strong man.  He was built like a bull,  a very good athlete, a boxer, swimmer, and I think a football player in his youth–an excellent and competitive tennis player his entire adult life. 

But when I write that he was the strongest person I have ever met, it means that he said what he thought and argued and fought for what he believed.  I wonder if he ever yielded to anyone other than his wife.  Authority, or presumed authority did not impress or intimidate him.  He was a strong believer in the rights of the underdog and working people and spent a lot of his time and energy defending them. 

He was an engineer and teacher, with an excellent memory,  and a great reader, particularly of history and politics, which he studied closely and cited frequently.  He valued the exchange of information and a good debate. 

Dad was intensely loyal.  We knew that he had our backs, that we could always count on him.  Any crisis brought out the best in him. 

He was born in 1921 and so would be nearly 100 now. 

Happy Fathers’ Day from your son and daughter.

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May 16, 2020

To the Editors of the New York Times

Dear Sir/Madam:

I am writing in response to two articles in your paper by different writers, both dated May 12.

Both discuss/report on the impacts of Covid 19 on city real estate markets, yet they contradict one another.   

Carol Galante, in “Now is the Time to Embrace Density”, ( argues that the economic recovery will favor the same cities that prospered before the pandemic, including New York, Seattle, San Francisco and Boston, all driven by innovation, technology and biotech.  She refers to a “short-term” reactionary impulse to blame density for the spread of the coronavirus . . . “   And she advocates for less restrictive zoning and less complex and arbitrary building approval processes,  permitting and encouraging higher density and more affordable housing. 

Matthew Haag’s reporting in “Manhattan Faces a Reckoning if Working from Home Becomes the Norm” questions Ms. Galante’s premise.  ( He states that several of the city’s largest and most prominent employers, including Barclays, JP Morgan,  Morgan Stanley, Nielson,  Facebook, Google and Twitter are now operating with employees at home.  The first four have decided that this change may be long-term or permanent.  All are reacting to Covid 19, the negative consequences of density, and the realization that they may no longer need corporate offices in order to operate.  “Entire economies were molded around the vast flow of people to and from offices . . . “ he writes, yet these economies may no longer be there. 

Mr. Haag’s reporting certainly does not support the near-term revival of downtowns in cities like New York (or San Francisco or Seattle).  Yet the relative demise of our densest cities, if it does become long term or permanent, can be viewed as an opportunity to affordable housing advocates like Ms. Galante.

The appeal of our international, gateway cities has been understood as a given over the past generation.  The revival of some of our downtowns, including New York since the 1980’s, has been attributed to their architecture, cultural offerings, walkability and mass transit, their appeal to the young “creative class” and thus to their employers.  But the revival of these cities has evolved past effectiveness and efficiency because so few of our cities have profited from it.   Alongside New York, Boston and San Francisco, which have become unreasonably expensive,  are cities such as New Haven, Baltimore, Hartford and Detroit and Providence, that have not profited, or could profit even more.  These cities, more specifically their inner cities, now symbolize emptiness,  poverty and neglect,  which affluent Americans are determined to avoid, but they were once vibrant, and they offer urbanity and density—with affordable historic housing stock, potential development, cultural infrastructure and existing train lines–all at much more reasonable cost than Boston or New York. 

Interior view of the Wadworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut by Daderot, January 2016, Wikimedia Commons

The price of expensive housing is not only a burden on the poor, but also on everyone but the very rich.  Middle income and even affluent households accept tight, often unattractive apartments, even for millions of dollars in places like Manhattan, as the price of access to good jobs and an interesting city, and in order to avoid a long commute.  I know this—I sell and appraise them.    

There must be a better way,  in a world where urbanity is valued,  but where technology makes it functionally unnecessary.  I’m not yet sure how, but I am hoping that younger people will look beyond the few favored cities, suburbs, the exurbs, and the countryside, to our older, neglected

George Street, on the East Side of Providence, Rhode Island, February 2017, by Kenneth C. Zirkel, Wikimedia Commons
My house in Stamford, New York

cities and even to small towns such as Stamford, New York (where I am presently sheltering from the pandemic, and where large, formerly desirable houses still sell for less than $200,000).  

Hopefully employers will take the initiative or follow them.  Even public investments, if we can ever afford these again, may occur.  It is much cheaper to bring education, jobs, development, affordable housing, and culture to Newburgh, New Haven and Hartford, if Americans are ever willing to do that, than it is to find and develop, buy or rent, additional affordable housing in New York City.  Ours is still a large country, with enormous untapped space.  Life in many of our neglected, older towns and cities is potentially interesting and humane, and can avoid the very expensive, and at-present, unhealthy, densities of San Francisco and New York. 

Larry Sicular

NYC and Stamford, New York

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Thoughts on the pandemic and its effects on the Manhattan housing market

Sunday, March 22, 2020

How will the Manhattan housing market be affected by the Covid 19 pandemic?  What are the short and the longer-term effects?  This is an attempt to address these questions.  Let us begin with the belief that we have the tools and the will with which to manage this crisis, however awkwardly and imperfectly.  

Short term: what is happening now?

Right now, there are no statistics on transactions.  If this crisis is like the last one, deals that were pending are concluding, being renegotiated or aborted, but it is likely that the volume of new deals has collapsed.  Indeed, on Friday, March 20, the governor ordered a city-wide lock down.  Showing real estate is not an essential service.

Many, both buyers and sellers can choose when to act, and until circumstances normalize, relatively few will choose to do so.  Most owners do not want or need to sell in a crisis, and excepting the opportunistic, most are too distracted or terrified to buy.

Does this means that prices are lower?  In a circumstance where there is no market, which is now the case for most properties, there is no answer.  If I had to sell my cooperative apartment today, sight unseen, on-line, I would likely have to accept a severe discount.  Temporarily, my most cherished asset is worth very little. 

Social distance at home in Manhattan, March 22

The Manhattan housing market does not react to crises in the same way as the stock market.  It is much less liquid; prices do not measurably change on a daily basis—indeed it is sometimes difficult to discern trends in the quarterly data.  Some sellers will drop their prices, anticipating a difficult environment for a very long time, but in a wealthy market, where few are under duress, there may be relatively few “good deals” in the near term, and a lower asking price may be no more than acceptance of last year’s market reality.

Sellers, like the rest of us, have read that a vaccine will be found in the next year-to-18 months.  Most/many of them will decide to wait, or stay in place, until the market revives.  Until a new “normal” is achieved, either by the success of our current social-distance and “lock-down” protocols, a medical breakthrough (or series of them), or an acceptance of some  frequency of illness and death, there may be no significant revival in sales volume.

The coming months

As this crisis persists, even at a less panicked level, sellers will begin to adjust to a “new normal”. Some, perhaps few at first, will start dropping their prices, choosing to “move-on”, for reasons practical or financial, in an attempt to attract the few buyers who are in in the market.  These buyers will step in as they see real opportunities, and this will lead the market “down”, restoring liquidity. Prices may drop in increments, that is not all at once. Our market may not see significantly lower prices for some weeks or months, or even a year, but, eventually, the rest of the market will follow until the crisis abates and sale volume is restored.  

Something like this happened during the financial crisis of 2008, of which the bellwether was the collapse of Lehman Brothers in September.  At the end of this post is a table of Manhattan cooperative and condominium price averages beginning in 2005. These indicate that:

-Average and median prices peaked in the first and second quarters of 2008 and began to fall in the 3rd quarter.  

-But prices, on average, did not hit bottom until the 2nd and 3rd quarters of 2009, and a sustained recovery did not begin until the 3rd quarter of 2010.  (Regarding sale volume, the quarterly peak was earlier, in the second and third quarters of 2007; it dropped to its lowest levels in the 1st and 2nd quarters of 2009.)

-Average prices did not recover to early 2008 levels until the beginning of 2014.   

As I remember it, from the observation of individual transactions, these averages hid varying and sometimes substantial value declines for certain types of apartments.  There was a shift to more desirable apartments, to “quality”, in the weaker market.  Less desirable apartments—unrenovated,  poorly located, without daylight, or with high monthly maintenance charges—became more difficult to sell. 

Some version of this scenario may happen in this crisis.  Covid 19 is much more dramatic and personal; many people are suddenly without work, and there may be many deaths. But there will be medicines and a vaccine, so the worst effects will have a much-too-long, but limited, time frame.  The market may snap back quickly, once a reliable vaccine is available. 

For now the market may slow substantially.  In some weeks, we will be back to work and back on the streets, but the medical crisis will still not have been fully resolved.  Prices and sale volume are likely to suffer, until a lasting medical solution is found and the economy revives.

Looking back and to the longer term

When the market does revive, and it will, it may not immediately return to its earlier prices and habits. By earlier prices, I mean those that prevailed in late 2019 and the first eight or ten weeks of 2020.  Habits are a bit different; they are the pattern of preferences that dictate how the market determines relative value.

Most of the time, we think about prices—are they going up or down?  But there are equally interesting changes in the pattern of preferences. 

Over the past forty years the major changes in this market have been a function of increased wealth and its dispersion within Manhattan. 

Manhattan is a much richer place than it was when I first moved here, after college in 1975.  There is a lot more wealth, and wealthy buyers now choose different locations and different types of housing.  Whereas in the suburban era, following the Second World War, wealthy New Yorkers retreated primarily to the Upper East Side, or to smaller enclaves on the East River or in Greenwich Village, an expansion began in the 1980’s—to the Upper West Side, to brownstone Brooklyn, and perhaps most significantly, to Downtown.  This trend has continued with the revival of Harlem, the recent new towers in the financial district and north of Madison Square Park, and most prominently with the “super-talls” along Central Park South and West 57th Street.  

Central Park South, January 1, 2019, by Rhododentrites, Wikimedia Commons

With the geographic expansion came new types of housing: the loft and the condominium.

At first the lofts were taken over by artists, and the condominium units were smaller and architecturally banal, often pied-a-terre.  Now these housing types have expanded in size, in height, in design, and in luxury.  Virtually everything new or converted is a condominium; the most expensive new apartments are in the newest high-rise condominium towers.  The Upper East Side and pre-war cooperatives, while still very fine, have lost relative value and prestige. 

Will Covid 19 change these trends?   There have been articles on social distancing as the new “normal”, on the possibly increased frequency of viruses and, consequently, the relatively lesser desirability of high-density living.  I believe that these changes are temporary, once a cure has been found.  Note the very temporary impact of 9/11 and Hurricane Sandy, even Downtown which was attacked and the most prone to flooding. People will go back to work; they will want to be together, and the economy will revive, whatever the damage.  Prices will go down, perhaps substantially, and then they will go back up.

I am 66 years old.  Among those who are important to me, a number are at risk.  So I  brace myself against  possible illness or loss.  At this time of life, dying is acceptable, but losing someone who matters—a hurt that would heal but not recover.      

My great-grandmother, and one of her children, died in New York during the great flu epidemic of 1918.  My father never knew her and never spoke about her, although he did speak about her husband and her successful, wealthy brothers and the support they continued to give his family. (They clearly did not forget her.)  I have only her name, Clara Picker, and a photograph of her with her family, dated 1899.  Like my father then, most of the world is younger now and fortunately will move-on and recover. 

Clara Picker with her husband Solomon Sicular
and older children, Odessa 1899

It is interesting to contrast our reactions to Covid 19 with our reactions to the climate crisis. Climate is a  longer term issue and much more likely to impact our habits.  We will face enormous costs as we face more frequent storms, coastal flooding and fires; and these costs may require much higher taxes, in order to protect ourselves from worse.  Eventually, our coast lines will be abandoned.  Some centuries from now, there will be no Manhattan housing market.  Consider the impact that a reduction in tax-deduction benefits has had on our housing market, before this crisis, and then consider the much greater impact of this issue, over the longer term. 

Covid 19 is a short-term crisis, and better protecting ourselves against pandemics is a relatively modest investment.  I believe that we will finally have the will to make that investment.  Perhaps we will even now find the will to better protect ourselves against the climate crisis.  For now, the pandemic need not fundamentally alter our housing market.

Quarterly Average and Median Cooperative and Condominium Closed Prices for Manhattan as of February 29, 2020 Source: Brown Harris Stevens Analytics

QuarterSalesAverage PriceMedian Price

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