The Turning Points

It’s been a dismal eighteen months for sellers, but the fourth-quarter statistics from the end of 2009 were surprisingly ungloomy. According to sales data provided by Sofia Song of, the six Manhattan neighborhoods highlighted below* have seen median prices stabilize or even inch upward for two quarters in a row, and all ended 2009 markedly improved over the year before. The rest of the borough still appears to be seeking equilibrium, and some areas are better off than others. (Soho and the West Village came close, fulfilling two of those three criteria.) Of course, calling a market bottom is extremely dicey—you never know for sure till prices are on their way back up, and it’s not as if unemployment and rising interest rates are making the outlook rosy—but every real-estate purchase is a gamble, and your odds look better here than anywhere else.
*Note: We’ve excluded neighborhoods with fewer than 40 sales recorded in the fourth quarter of 2009.

1. Manhattan Valley
Fourth-quarter prices, 2009 vs. 2008: Up 11.93 percent.
Is this the bottom?
The boundaries between Manhattan Valley and the Upper West Side proper are blurring, which works in this area’s favor. Enthusiastic uptown buyers still unable to get a toehold to the west and south are settling here. “It’s a lower-price area, and that’s more appealing in the current mortgage market,” says appraiser Jonathan Miller. According to StreetEasy data, inventory’s tightening just a bit, which further stimulates prices.

2. Upper West Side (72nd to 110th streets)
Fourth-quarter prices, 2009 vs. 2008: Up 14.11 percent.
Is this the bottom?
In these bread-and-butter times, those stolid prewar co-ops are exactly what’s moving. Corcoran’s John Gasdaska reports that there’s actually a shortage of high-quality two-bedrooms. “I wouldn’t even use the word stabilize,” says Bellmarc’s Julie Friedman. “Momentum’s building.”

3. Greenwich Village
Fourth-quarter prices, 2009 vs. 2008: Up 14.78 percent.
Is this the bottom?
“Quite frankly, I think [prices] have rebounded,” declares Richard Grossman, executive director of sales for Halstead Property’s downtown office. Why? It’s the one neighborhood that is on virtually every buyer’s wish list, and rebounds tend to start where desire is fiercest. There’s also been very little new building here, adds Song, because so much of the area is landmarked or regulated. That in turn keeps apartments in perpetual short supply.

4. Sutton Place
Fourth-quarter prices, 2009 vs. 2008: Up 12.41 percent.
Is this the bottom?
Miller says prices in this enclave “didn’t go through the same extreme gyrations” as in many other areas, thanks in part to a mix of apartments that bring in a wide buyer pool. Also, its genteel co-ops attract buyers who want the Fifth-and-Park vibe but won’t pay those eye-popping asking prices anymore, adds Friedman. “It’s really a superb buy.”

5. Central Harlem
Fourth-quarter prices, 2009 vs. 2008: Up 20.1 percent.
Is this the bottom?
Swift and aggressive price reductions have revved up sales here—one of the areas hardest hit by the credit crunch. “We actually counseled our developers to get out in front of the market instead of chasing it,” says Halstead Property’s Stephen Kliegerman. The new developments here tend to be smaller, and many include affordable-housing units that are (of course) in high demand, says local resident and Prudential Douglas Elliman broker Todd Stevens. Both make it easier for developers to hit the magic 50 percent–sold threshold, at which point banks start approving mortgages much more readily.

6. Flatiron
Fourth-quarter prices, 2009 vs. 2008: Up 73.58 percent.
Is this the bottom?
That crazy fourth-quarter percentage is skewed because there were barely any sales here in late 2008, but the more accurate third-quarter figure (prices up 12.88 percent) confirms that prices are rising. Inventory’s becoming a problem, reports Corcoran’s Vicki Musso, who specializes (and lives) in the neighborhood. StreetEasy numbers back that up: From October to December 2009, the number of listings shrank by 14.2 percent compared with fall 2008. Its prewar lofts are still priced more reasonably than the new construction over by the High Line.

The Turning Points