I had numerous phone conversations today with Warburg agents who are negotiating multi-million dollar deals (and a couple of multi-multi-million dollar deals.) In contemplating the strategies we discussed, I was struck by the uniqueness of the environment in which we New York City real estate agents are privileged to live. Three years after the nadir of the real estate crash and its attendant financial collapse, our high-end co-op market is healthy and vibrant, with multiple expressions of interest for many ultra expensive properties. And I am talking the co-op market, which by definition does not include foreign buyers. So this is (for the most part) home grown money.
Who are these buyers, and why are they acting this way? Let’s address part one of the question first, and let’s answer it backwards. Here’s who they are NOT: men and women with jobs at the big Wall Street firms. With bonus sizes plunging from last year, and cash compensation a negligible part of the bonuses, even the Wall Street hotshots are not getting paid anything resembling the fabulous sums which drove the markets in 2005, 2006, and 2007. We still see some private equity guys. And there is definitely a strong contingent of hedge funders – either the smart ones or the lucky ones, as so many of their brethren have gone out of business. We see some global manufacturers. We see real estate investors, and REIT owners. Actually, today’s high end buyers run the gamut of professions, EXCEPT that not so many of them work for large Wall Street firms.
As to why this market is so vibrant, I think there are several answers. First, good property is scarce. There is little new condominium inventory, and there are never too many large co-op apartments on the market. With local capital gains taxes at 27%, older people would often rather redecorate than move. So demand tends to exceed supply. Second, the local high end real estate market has recovered much if not all of its value over the past few years, bolstered in substantial part by the international money boosting condo sales. It looks increasingly attractive to home buyers exasperated by the unpredictable rapid cycling of the stock and bond markets. Real estate is, in the truest sense of the word, concrete.
And finally there is the sense of new beginning which always accompanies the purchase of a new home. As the economy slowly improves, those who can afford the luxury of change want to embody the return of (guarded) optimism with an investment in the future. New real estate always represents the possibility of new beginnings, of a clean slate. And who isn’t excited by that?