Over the weekend the Times reported that Manhattan real estate sales are down 60% from this time last year, but that's just so...macro. In comes New York's Jhoanna Robledo to hone in on the first-quarter sales stats for one specific neighborhood, perfect for giving an in-the-trenches market snapshot. That neighborhood is Harlem—bellwether of all "developing" neighborhoods in the eyes of so many—which famously went on an insane tear during the boom years (townhouse records, $8 million penthouses, etc.). So how is the 'hood holding up now? Before we get to the answer, let us point out that your seat can also be used as a flotation device.
According to data compiled by Streeteasy.com, the number of transactions in East Harlem, Central Harlem, and Hamilton Heights is down 60 to 90 percent. Last year, the first quarter’s total was 136 new contracts; this year, it’s 32 contracts (as of March 18). In West Harlem this past quarter, not a single deal was struck. Other formerly edgy areas where prices rose sharply have fared somewhat better: Fort Greene and Manhattan Valley both saw 50 percent drops, and Clinton Hill and Hell’s Kitchen fell 60 percent. (The financial district is up 4.4 percent.) One Harlem agent took all her listings off the market because, she says, "nobody's buying."
Eep. Such a crash might lead to some blame being tossed around, and indeed, there are plenty of fingers to point in Harlem:
Yes, buyers are skittish, and mortgage approvals don’t come easy, but both rationales fail to fully explain the thudding drop. Prudential Douglas Elliman senior vice-president and Harlemite Todd Stevens thinks the postponement of projects that would have cemented Harlem’s real-estate values—such as the redevelopment of 125th Street—has hurt momentum. Another broker blames "small-time developers" who rushed to build high-priced condos, simultaneously driving away buyers and glutting the high end of the market. Many new apartments are two-bedrooms or larger, notes Jenny Schuetz of the Furman Center for Real Estate and Urban Planning, and right now studios and one-bedrooms are trading best. Retail establishments with high-rent leases are also faltering, and a lack of services has, for many years, been one of the things that keep affluent buyers wary of Harlem.
It was just October when East Harlem was said to be doing so well in terms of sales. How things have changed. Where does it go from here?