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Searching for a Date

Are prices at 2007 levels? Or 2005? Earlier? Finding the magic number.

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Illustration by Mark Nerys  

Here’s the good news: You can sell your apartment. We’re not in Phoenix, where empty houses pile up on the market priced at half of their peak value. In New York, by contrast, there are buyers; in the past three months, they bought 1,532 co-ops and condos. The key to selling here and now is finding a sweet spot that leaves both sellers and buyers feeling they’ve won. Divining that magic number has become almost a parlor game among real-estate agents.

Brown Harris Stevens residential-sales president Hall Willkie says buyers have perked up when properties are priced “20 to 30 percent off last summer.” Corcoran’s John Gasdaska set the cutoff earlier, saying that it’s somewhere “between 20 and 30 percent off the original asking in spring 2008.” Prudential Douglas Elliman’s S. Hunie Kwon says 2008 is no guideline at all. “There was a lot of volatility last year—the decline was so precipitous,” he explains. Better to aim for 2005 closing numbers, he advises, and that’s where his recent buyers are making offers.

Zhann Jochinke, co-chair of the market-trends committee of the Manhattan Association of Realtors, says that he figures price drops by location. He says 2005 is too far back for Harlem and other areas that saw massive condo development, because prices four years ago were artificially low. Same story for Williamsburg and Greenpoint, says Aptsandlofts.com’s David Maundrell, who’s been counseling sellers to ask for 20 to 30 percent off valuations from the peak in 2006 (except for waterfront property, which has held its value better). Time on market has an influence, too. “If a property’s fresh”—available for less than two months—“then the magic number’s 5 to 10 percent off asking,” says Jochinke, adding that “realistic asking prices are anywhere in the ballpark of 25 to 30 percent off the last six months of 2007.”

Whatever their formula, nearly all these brokers say that even after slashing prices, sellers should expect more negotiation. As they fumble for the market’s bottom, buyers still hunger for an extra 5 or 10 percent. “What really brings them to the table today is if they can get bragging rights. They want assurance that the market won’t go down below what they’re paying,” explains Pam Liebman, president and CEO of the Corcoran Group. That’s why Brooklyn broker Peggy Aguayo counsels clients to offer markdowns, but wisely. “If they don’t discount, they don’t see action,” she says. “[But] if they go to the bottom line right away, they’ll be bidding against themselves.”


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