If it seems as if jaw-dropping, multi-million-dollar properties dominated the real-estate market last year, it's because they did. According to Streeteasy.com, which released its fourth-quarter market survey today along with the city's biggest real-estate firms, 44 properties priced above $10 million went into contract from October to December, a jump of 142 percent from a year earlier. Juxtapose that against listings asking less than $500,000, which saw a still healthy but comparatively more sedate 9.8 percent increase in contract activity. (Per Brown Harris Stevens, 23 apartments closed at over $10 million this past quarter, too, compared to 16 in 2011.) In fact, 644 properties priced over $10 million were put up for sale last year, the highest total in a half-decade.
"[The] high-end market often defies market principles," says Streeteasy's Sofia Song. "It's more driven by foreign demand and by people looking to park their money." Halstead Property's Diane Ramirez chalks up the flurry of luxury activity to timing. Sellers, who made themselves scarce in the downturn, are returning to the market as one big-ticket property after another fetches record-breaking prices. In other news, it looks like this increasingly robust residential real-estate market is here to stay, at least for a while. According to Prudential Douglas Elliman's report, prepared by the appraisal firm Miller Samuel, sales climbed 29.2 percent (to 2,598 transactions) from the same period in 2011; the average sales price is up ever-so-slightly (1.1 percent) to $1,461,473. Meanwhile, inventory is at an all-time low, which could drive prices even higher this year. (The Corcoran Group reports that inventory has shrunk for the fourth consecutive quarter and is at its lowest in seven years.) Apartments are selling faster, too: Halstead Property found that apartments sold at an average of 114 days compared to 123 days in the fourth quarter of 2011. "For the last three years now since the recession, I have been each year cautiously optimistic," says Ramirez. "This is the first year I am truly optimistic. All our indicators going into 2013 are positive."