It feels as if it were long ago, but it’s really only been a few years since it was commonplace for buyers to make deals in a car, outside a construction site, looking at an unrolled blueprint. Fueled by a sense of urgency and afraid to lose on the next Tribeca or Williamsburg, buyers were willing to purchase condos in unproven neighborhoods, nearly sight unseen. “Everybody wanted to be first through the door,” remembers Corcoran Sunshine Marketing’s Beth Fisher, who oversees sales at Brooklyn’s On Prospect Park and many other condos. “People believed being first would guarantee steep appreciation.” If a big-name architect was involved, buying early almost guaranteed a profit if you decided to sell and move on. At 15 Central Park West, for example, one seventh-floor unit sold for $1.8 million, nearly twice what someone had previously paid for the exact same layout one floor below.
Today? If it’s not built, very few are buying. At On Prospect Park (designed by Richard Meier) and Soho Mews (Gwathmey Siegel), the doors were thrown open months ago—when the buildings were incomplete—to sluggish sales. Last summer, Soho Mews was booking about twenty appointments per month. By October, though, everything had changed, with 60 percent returning for a closer look, sometimes with designers in tow. At the Meier project, roughly two apartments each week have gone into contract recently, and entire apartment lines are sold out. The difference? Both got out of the floor-plan stage to the point where buyers could walk through.
The economy, of course, is making people cautious, but so are rumors of poor construction and projects that have collapsed from the loss of credit. “The illusion was better than reality in the old days,” says Soho Mews developer Albert Laboz. “[Now] if you’re going to spend money, you have to make sure you love what you’re buying.” And that love usually comes only on first sight, says developer Paul Klausner, whose One Sunset Park in Brooklyn has lured visitors, largely because it’s a conversion of an existing rental and promotions didn’t begin in earnest until available spaces were really finished. “The speculative nature of the marketplace is completely gone,” says condo marketer James Lansill. “Now that people are skeptical about almost everything, you have to work that much harder to sell a building if it’s just a hole in the ground. The best evidence is the building itself.”