After the record-breaking prices and white-hot market of the last few years, it's looking like New York City real estate market is beginning to cool a bit, with renters and buyers seeing more concessions being thrown at them even during the usually busy spring and summer seasons.
But this time of year — when we're approaching late fall into winter— is traditionally the slowest time of year, so even in the hottest markets, owners need to take some extra steps to make sure their apartments don't just sit on the market.
(This story first ran in December 2012, and was updated October 17, 2016.)
The truth is, though, nothing in New York every slows to a complete stop. "There are always buyers looking. I've done deals that've happened during the week between Christmas and New Years while I was away on vacation," says Mark Ski of Douglas Elliman.
We caught up with him, and other experts in the industry, for their tips on how those selling or renting out their apartments can make the most of the coming months.
According to recent reports, if you're selling a Brooklyn or Queens apartment you're in pretty good shape (even better if you happen to have a south Brooklyn townhouse you're trying to unload), but Manhattan is already seeing slowing sales, and it's likely that activity in all five boroughs will cool in the coming months. But while real estate transactions take a dip at the end of the year every year, it's not dead either. As Doug Heddings of Core reminds us: “People don't stop looking if they have to move.”
Here are a few suggestions to stir up some action:
1. Update your listing: If your apartment has been on the market for a while, give your listing a makeover. You don't want the buyer to think they've seen this before, says Mindy Feldman of Halstead Property.
Spruce up the copy, freshen up the photos. If you have a view of the park, make sure it's a winter view, not a leafy green middle-of-July shot. Put some holiday bling into the thumbnails. Sparkling and twinkling gets attention—but don't go overboard, as too much holiday kitsch can turn off buyers.
2. Be flexible about viewing times. Sticking to rigid open house dates is a mistake. You have to be able to accommodate a buyer's (or even a renter's) schedule. Weekend open houses make much less sense during the period around Christmas. Give buyers a chance to see the apartment early in the morning or in the evening, and be sure that your broker understands just how important this ease of access is.
3. Plan a special event. Gary Malin of Citi Habitats suggests that since “the holidays are a perfect time for a party, invite your neighbors over for drinks and make sure that they know that your apartment is on the market. Word of mouth is a powerful tool, so let your friends and neighbors be your advocates.”
Halstead's Feldman has her own ideas for a party, this one for brokers and their buyers. First, schedule it so that it's easy for them to pop in and out of quickly. Include prizes linked to the holiday, the neighborhood and what the guests are interested in. “We've given gift certificates for a staging by an expert, and a brunch at Cafe Boulud when the apartment was on the Upper East Side," she says.
4. Reconsider the price. “If your apartment has been listed for 45 days with little activity, it means that the current asking price isn't in line with current market conditions," says Malin. "Prices are determined simply by what people are willing to pay, so it's critical to be priced right. In fact, if you under-price slightly, it creates a sense of value and can result in multiple above-ask offers."
"In any market, whether it's slow or not, a property will sell if it's priced properly," says Elliman's Ski.
5. Know the competition. Take a look at their listings—specifically when it comes other apartments in your building that are for sale and apartments like yours in other buildings. Doug Perlson of Real Direct suggests coming in “just below the natural search break. If the competition is selling at $615,000 and the listing break [on a website] is $600,000, you may want to come in just below it.”
6. Consider increasing the commission percentage to brokers: In the last year, Elliman's Ski sold two apartments above asking price—one in Astoria and one in East Harlem—where the seller agreed to give an 8 percent commission (rather than the standard 6 percent), splitting it 50-50 with the buyers' brokers and the listing agent. "The open houses were packed beyond belief," he says. The extra commission gives buyers' brokers, in particular, a stronger incentive to bring in their clients.
Very recently, he served as the listing agent for a Chelsea apartment that was on the market for one week and had an accepted offer by the end of the first open house. It also had an 8 percent broker commission attached to it.
7. Freshen it up. It should go without saying that you want your apartment to look immaculate, warm and welcoming.
"While fresh flowers and bread baking in the oven may make a wonderful first impression, buyers are too savvy to be fooled. It's the well-organized kitchen counters, sparkling floors and woodwork, and spanking clean bathroom that really count," says Sharon McIntosh, President of The McIntosh Company. "There is no doubt that a clean, fresh-looking apartment sells faster and at a higher price than one that looks tired and beaten up. We're talking thousands of dollars difference."
She suggests that you rent a storage bin for your clutter, organize your clothes in the closets so that the space looks bigger, paint the walls, wax the floors, or have them redone. Wash the windows, use high-wattage lightbulbs, give up fish and cigars for the duration and “when the broker is due to arrive with the client, leave! And take your children and the dogs with you.”
If you're trying to rent out your place in the next month or two, you may want to:
1. Appeal to renters who don't meet standard job and income requirements. Landlords small and large can broaden the pool of acceptable renters at no extra cost—or risk—by permitting renters to use an institutional guarantor like Insurent Lease Guaranty (fyi, a Brick Underground sponsor). This means you can consider foreign employed persons without U.S. credit history, international and U.S. students, self-employed persons, non-employed persons with cash liquid assets, freelancers etc., who may make responsible tenants but don't have the income/job or backup you would like to see (credit history, the cash to pay a year's worth of rent upfront, and/or rich nearby relatives willing to guarantee their lease).
As the landlord, you pay nothing for the Insurent guaranty, and it just takes a few minutes to set yourself up; renters apply directly to Insurent and pay somewhere around 85 percent of one month's if US, and 110 percent of a months rent if foreign to guarantee their lease. (Insurent is accepted in over 400,000 apartments and 3,200 buildings).
Bonus: Besides increasing competition for your apartment, you don't have to lose a wink of sleep over the potential nightmare of a defaulting tenant.
2. Offer concessions. You may want to consider "sweeteners" like paying the cable bill, covering gym fees, the broker fee and/or any application fees to your co-op or condo and maybe even a free month's rent. It can incentivize people to get moving when things are slow.
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