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At Least They’re Looking

Open-house traffic is perking up. But is anyone actually buying?

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Illustration by Peter Arkle  

The East End Avenue ten-room had just gone up for sale when Samantha Kleier Forbes, of Gumley Haft Kleier, hosted its first open house. Any other April she would’ve expected a crowd, but this year, she knew better. Buyer traffic had slowed to a crawl, especially for properties asking $2 million and up. “You were lucky if you got six or seven people,” she says. “You’d sit there and pray someone showed up.” (In February, another open house came and went without a single visitor.) But this time Kleier Forbes got “close to 50 people,” and although plenty of them were other brokers, that total included fifteen actual shoppers. Now her sellers are negotiating with one of them.

Could the worst be over? Brokers are reporting a small but discernible boost in traffic in the last six weeks. “It’s not a dismal feeling anymore,” says Prudential Douglas Elliman’s Leonard Steinberg, who saw visitors to a listing double from three months ago. “The consensus in the office is that things have unlocked.”

Broker and Urbandigs.com blogger Noah Rosenblatt agrees there’s more activity, but cautions against thinking prices have bottomed out. “There’s an uptick in foot traffic, but not in year-over-year contracts,” he says. Statistics are encouraging, but only somewhat. Though the number of apartments going into contract has risen steadily since January in both Manhattan and Brooklyn, per StreetEasy.com, transactions are still way off from a year ago (by which time we were into the downturn; Bear Stearns had already collapsed). In Manhattan, 657 apartments found buyers in April, down from 813—a nearly 20 percent slump from 2008. Brooklyn fared worse, with 100 buyers going into contract, compared to 155 last year. Another agent says properties perceived as bargains are moving but that business is still “difficult.” “Are deals happening? Yes,” says Rosenblatt. “But for the most part, buyers are still pricing a downturn risk. Higher traffic doesn’t necessarily mean that prices are on their way up. There’s a side effect to this [economic] slowdown that we have yet to see.”


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