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Manhattan Real Estate: Sales Recovering and Inventory Shrinking

Manhattan brokerage houses' real-estate market reports for the fourth quarter of last year are out today, and here’s the diagnosis: The bleeding appears to have been stanched — at least for now — and the patient stabilized. While “median prices are 15 percent lower than they were a year ago” and “average price-per-square-foot is 17 percent lower,” per Corcoran’s survey, transactions are up and percent declines have been shrinking — both good indicators. Inventory’s shrinking, too. “We had a very weak first half of the year,” admits Gregory Heym, chief economist at Terra Holdings, which owns the brokerage firms Brown Harris Stevens and Halstead Property, but the second half appears to have stabilized. So, is this — gasp — the real thing (i.e. a market bottom) — or what’s sometimes called a dead-cat bounce? Heym says that how the economy fares in the upcoming months will be telling, and acknowledges that certain hitches (if the commercial real-estate scene continues to suffer, for instance, or if interest rates are hiked) could blindside what appears to be a residential real-estate recovery. “There are always people who are going to be pessimistic,” says Heym. “I look at what we know, and we’re in a much better position than we were months ago.”

Here are the rest of the notable stats:

• The number of sales rose by 8.4 percent (to 2,473 from 2,282) compared to the fourth quarter of 2008, and by 10.9 percent from the previous quarter, per Jonathan Miller’s Prudential Douglas Elliman report.

• Listing inventory dipped by a notable 24.6 percent (from 9,081 units to 6,851 units) from 2008, according to Miller, and by a still-impressive 18.3 percent from 8,389 units in the prior quarter.

• New developments are finally moving their apartments again — closings are up by 12.5 percent since the third quarter of 2009 — but are still 40.6 percent off the fourth quarter of 2008’s numbers, per Streeteasy.com.

• Downtown Manhattan — below 34th Street — has rebounded quite nicely. The Corcoran report found 38 percent of all sales to have taken place below 34th Street, followed by the Upper East Side (24 percent) and the Upper West Side (21 percent).

• Fewer sellers are offering discounts, according to Streeteasy.com. Only 27.4 percent of all Manhattan listings had price cuts in the fourth quarter of 2009, which is 29 percent less than the third quarter, and 14.4 percent down from a year ago.

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