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When is the best time of year to buy or sell a NYC apartment?

Buyers and sellers are less likely to follow traditional seasonal patterns because of the pandemic.

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2020
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As you probably guessed, the traditional buying and selling seasons for the New York City real estate market have been thrown off schedule by the pandemic.

Usually, peak NYC buying and selling seasons are spring and fall—where buyers find the most selection and when sellers see the most interest. There are other small windows during the year that may work to your advantage—if you have the flexibility to act fast.

But that timetable was ripped up this year. The spring market came to a grinding halt in March as New York City shut down. Then, after NYC opened for business, inventory flooded the market in the summer, one of the slowest times for sales, when the city’s well-heeled buyers were already quarantining in their second homes

What happened next: “Intrepid buyers were able to swoop in and take advantage of the initial uncertainty and get incredible value from sellers who thought the market was going to go into free fall. They got the deals that will almost certainly not be seen again in this market cycle,” says Seth Levin, a broker at Keller Williams.

If you’re looking to time the market in the months to come—here’s some advice on how to get the most out of your deal—and avoid a long hunt for a new apartment or extended wait for the right buyer to come along.


 

[Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post was published in October 2019. We are presenting it again with updated information for October 2020.]


If you’re a seller

In a so-called “normal” year: The number of listings on the market surges in the first half of the year, with inventory rising again in early fall. So if you're selling an apartment, you would want to try to have it listed during the first half of the year if possible. This is backed up by a previous StreetEasy analysis, which found that apartments sell more quickly during the peak seasons, spending 10-15 fewer days on the market on average from April to June compared to the rest of the year.

In prior years, after Labor Day is another window for selling—but it’s a short window. If properties are unsold in late fall, Levin suggests sellers pull listings off the market from Thanksgiving until February, a period which sees lower buyer activity.

But that was then. This is now: “Sellers are less inclined to be constrained by traditional, seasonal-based decisions right now,” Levin says.

Currently, sellers are also looking to become buyers themselves, and buy again relatively soon, in order to take advantage of market conditions, he says. This can put pressure on the deal to close quicker. And sellers looking to buy in the suburbs are trying to get the ball rolling—the suburbs are suffering from an extreme lack of inventory and bidding wars are common.

The situation is reversed in New York City. In Manhattan, there is a record number of listings and the pace of sales in the third quarter is the slowest it has been since 2009, when the last recession ended. But against the odds, prices managed to defy expectations.

Still, NYC listings that linger on the market experience “less of a ding,” he says. “Many sellers are in the same position. We are looking for specific buyers and both sides understand that the market is moving more slowly,” Levin says. Manhattan co-ops and condos spent an average of 143 days on the market in the third quarter, and increase of 57.1 percent from the third quarter of 2019, according to the Elliman Report.

Sellers can expect that because of the pandemic, the election, and the typical winter slowdown, there will be fewer shoppers in the market over the next several months. In an election year, buyers usually wait to see who will take office and what their economic approach will be. (For example: If Joe Biden is elected, there’s speculation that New Yorkers will get some relief from the SALT deduction cap eventually. That won’t be the case with another Trump victory.)

In the current cycle, Levin suggests sellers may do better holding off until spring.

“The election will be behind us, a return to normalcy should offer buyers more confidence in the city and the market. The increased activity should benefit sellers,” he says.

If you’re a buyer

In a typical spring, the number of listings on the market is higher—and that puts pressure on sellers to offer price cuts. Buyers are 10-20 percent more likely to get price cuts on the asking price in the same period, according to StreetEasy’s analysis. Price cuts are also usually more prevalent in September and October than during the rest of the year.

But these days—timing the New York City market is not really a concern for buyers. Buyers can expect to have the advantage in NYC for the foreseeable future, fueled in part by record low mortgage rates.

There is pressure on buyers to find deals—because while sales have slowed, NYC’s Teflon prices have not dropped (the median price in the third quarter for Manhattan co-ops was up slightly and for condos, jumped nearly 19 percent year over year, according to the latest Elliman Report. Brooklyn’s median sales price in the third quarter was flat, compared to a year ago, despite a plunge in the number of sales.

To find a deal, buyers need to identify sellers anxious to leave NYC—that means sellers who fear a second wave of the pandemic, have lost a job, or need to move closer to family—from the sellers merely interested in getting a good price for their pied-à-terre.

“Finding good deals today is about finding the desperate sellers,”  John Walkup, COO at UrbanDigs, a Manhattan real estate analytics platform, previously told Brick Underground. “The data suggests they are generally in the more expensive properties in Manhattan but with the effects of the Covid shutdown so widespread, they exist in each neighborhood,” he says.

Still, if you want to talk timing, it may not get better than this for NYC buyers.

This “Covid effect” plus low interest rates, and the winter holiday season mean buyers “have hit the trifecta,” in terms of timing, says Janine Young, an agent at Corcoran. “New Yorkers wait for buyer’s markets like this one. If you were already looking, or on the fence, now's the time,” she says.

Plus, she says, there are many grants and programs available for first-time buyers, which can buyers get over hesitation about entering the market now. “We have been able to get very creative with other financial tools—such as closing cost credits, and CEMA purchases. Sellers are very open to working things out with serious buyers right now,” she says.

Pro Tip:

Did you know you can receive a buyer’s rebate from your broker? Buying with Prevu you’ll pocket a rebate of two-thirds of the commission paid to the buyer’s broker at closing. On a $1.5 million condo, you’d receive up to $30,000. Click here to learn about Prevu’s Smart Buyer Rebate.

Making the most of the holidays

The winter holidays have been Young’s winning strategy in the past.

“I have always had tremendous luck with winning bids for my buyers around or during the holiday season,” she says. “I would never tell someone to hold off on bidding for a property they truly love to wait for November or December to roll around, but I'm always certain to work the timing to our advantage if we happen to be looking around that time of year. Sellers tend to be more receptive to offers if they picture their holidays with the sale behind them, or dread the property lingering through a cold winter.” 

Young says the winter season can work to a seller’s advantage if they price right.

“Similarly, I would never suggest to a seller that they wait until a busier season if they aren’t in the position to hold onto the property for that many months, but I would certainly be careful to make sure we price and market the property accordingly,” she says.

Buyers can gain in winter and summer

In normal years, buyers can gain an edge if they have the ability to wait for periods when sellers are “more desperate and ready to negotiate,” Levin says, because most buyers are not on the hunt.

“Summer and winter are often when you can find sellers that ‘need’ to sell. If a seller is on the market at these inopportune times, it often means that they need to sell because they have to close on something else, are relocating, or have a general urgency,” Levin says. 

This winter will not be business as usual.

Usually there is less inventory to choose from during the off season—but that’s not the case right now for NYC. Still, a lack of competition is an incentive to close a deal.

Pro Tip:

Looking for a way to discreetly test the waters before publicly listing your co-op, condo or brownstone? You can test demand, price and marketing strategy by "pre-marketing" your place first. The pre-marketing program at New York City brokerage Triplemint is a no-risk way to get feedback and offers from actual buyers shopping for a place like yours. There's no charge to participate and no obligation to sell or enter a traditional listing agreement if you haven't found a buyer by the end of the pre-marketing period. To learn more, click here. >>

Making the most of the holidays

The winter holidays have been one agent’s winning strategy.

“I have always had tremendous luck with winning bids for my buyers around or during the holiday season,” says Janine Young, an agent at BOND New York. “I would never tell someone to hold off on bidding for a property they truly love to wait for November or December to roll around, but I'm always certain to work the timing to our advantage if we happen to be looking around that time of year. Sellers tend to be more receptive to offers if they picture their holidays with the sale behind them, or dread the property lingering through a cold winter.” 

Young says the winter season can work to a seller’s advantage if they price right.

“Similarly, I would never suggest to a seller that they wait until a busier season if they aren’t in the position to hold onto the property for that many months, but I would certainly be careful to make sure we price and market the property accordingly,” she says.

Is back to school the best week to buy?

A report from Realtor.com found that the period after school started was the best time to buy. Why? Because sellers were back from summer vacation and ready to finalize their real estate goals. In addition, there’s a lack of competition during this time from other buyers with families—who are focused on getting children settled in school.

For New York families who leave the city in the summer, that timeline makes sense.

Martin Eiden, an agent at Compass, previously told Brick that Manhattan and Brooklyn buyers are on a different schedule than the rest of the U.S. 

“Most of our buyers are away for the summer and resume their home search in the fall. I have had more accepted offers in September to date than all of June, July, and August. For our market, more listings come on in the fall as buyers resume their search.”

—Earlier versions of this article contained reporting and writing by Nathan Tempey.