New York Real Estate Still Flatlined

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Manhattan's real estate market ended last year with a whimper, not a bang, according to fourth-quarter reports released today by the city's biggest firms. The average sales price was $1.445 million, down 1.3 percent from the previous quarter and 2.5 percent lower than the same period in 2010, per Prudential Douglas Elliman's market survey. Median sales price remained virtually unchanged from 2010, rising a mere 1.2 percent to $855,000. This despite fewer closings — 2,011 transactions in the fourth quarter compared to 3,106 the previous quarter and 2,295 the year before.

Appraiser Jonathan Miller, who prepared the Elliman report, sees "the barrage of confusing and largely negative economic news" as the likely culprit for the sales dip, turning off buyers. A "steep decline" in condominium sales didn't help either, according to analysts at Brown Harris Stevens. In the fourth quarter of 2010, condos made up 46 percent of all transactions; in 2011, 40 percent. "Condos typically sell for more than co-ops and when they comprise a smaller share of sales, the overall average apartment price will be driven lower," explains the BHS report.

Still, condominium prices are rising. The median price for a unit is now $1.197 million, up 10 percent from last year, per the Corcoran Group. In fact, the average price per square foot for condominiums hit $1,242, a high unseen since the market soured in the late aughts.

And at least it's not taking sellers as long to close the deal: Real estate database firm Streeteasy.com found that properties waited an average of 149 days in the fourth quarter of 2010.

But what does it all mean? "We're still bouncing along the bottom," says Streeteasy.com's Sofia Song. "Buyers are going to need some strong incentives to buy in such a volatile economic climate."