Talking to one residential real estate broker in New York City is a little like talking to the entire Dallas Cowboys cheerleading squad. Except the real estate broker is even more bullish.
So when the top guns of Manhattan's real estate world converge today for a seminar at Baruch College called "Why Buy Now?" those who follow the extremely upbeat industry will probably be scratching their heads and asking if there exists any reason not to buy now.
"It's true that if you keep saying the same thing over and over again, you might run into the problem that people could stop listening," the senior vice president of Preferred Empire Mortgage and moderator of today's seminar, Jeff Appel, said of the propensity of this city's real estate industry to drive sales with rosy forecasts.
Still, Mr. Appel said he and the CEOs of Corcoran, Halstead Group, Brown Harris Stevens, and Prudential Douglas Elliman, all of whom will appear at the Baruch seminar, are fully capable of calling a spade a spade — and, well, at the moment, it's a terrific time to buy an apartment in New York City.
"In this city this is a game of investment, not simply putting a roof over your head," Mr. Appel said. "People remain bullish because of the relationship between residential real estate and personal income in New York City, and that as long as there's an advantage of buying over renting here, the right time to buy remains now."
The median price for apartments in Manhattan stood at $760,000 in the fourth quarter of 2006, some 9% year over year.
Mr. Appel points to another fact: Mortgage interest rates remain low. He said today's panelists are ready to answer tough questions, especially on how anecdotal evidence tends to drive sales throughout the city.
Before today's seminar, real estate honchos last met at Baruch for a roundtable on how Wall Street bonuses drive residential real estate sales here. The general finding of that seminar: Investment banking bonuses, at record levels this past year, are extremely strong drivers of the high-end Manhattan market. And just about everything else in New York City's goods and services economy.
"Despite an increase in inventory, the record $23.9 billion in Wall Street bonuses reported by the state comptroller coupled with the recent half a percent drop in 30-year mortgage rates should contribute to the sustained stability of pricing," the chief economist for Brown Harris Stevens, Gregory Heym, wrote in his most recent report.
One story Mr. Appel said he might share with the seminar's participants is particularly relevant to today's topic. With all the new residential development continuing to flourish in Manhattan, will buyers experience — and be able to take advantage of — softness in the market? "Developers can sit and be patient because they've made sure their bread and butter properties — one- to three-bedroom units under $5 million — have sold. They can afford to wait on their high-end penthouses," he said.
To be sure, the average price of four-bedroom and larger co-ops rose 59% at the end of 2006 to $6,178,656. It seems that those who develop high-end units haven't had to be all that patient up to this point.
The chief executive officer of Brown Harris Stevens, Hall Willkie, is one of the optimistic experts at today's event. Relatively low mortgage rates are on his radar screen as well. "New York City's economy remains strong and a more balanced residential real estate market is emerging," he says. "We are coming off a period of record growth and at the same time mortgage rates remain low, contributing to the sustained stability of pricing."
Mr. Willkie says by "more balanced" he means that there is more stability in the market; it is not heavily weighted toward sellers as it has been in recent years.