Manhattan home sales fall most on record in locked-down quarter

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Manhattan home sales plunged the most on record in the second quarter, while New York was shut down to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Purchases of co-ops and condos in the borough tumbled 54% from a year earlier to 1,357, according to a report Thursday by appraiser Miller Samuel Inc. and brokerage Douglas Elliman Real Estate. It was the biggest annual decline since the firms started keeping the data in 1990.

Most buyers in the quarter went into contract before mid-March's shelter-in-place orders banned in-person showings. The median price of completed deals fell 18% from a year earlier, the biggest drop since the second quarter of 2009.

The price decline reflects fewer closings in Manhattan's new luxury condo developments and a general spirit of seller negotiability that defined the market at the beginning of the year, said Jonathan Miller, president of Miller Samuel. The condos that sold in the second quarter had the biggest listing discounts in five years.

The three-month lockdown didn’t just complicate showings. Even buyers who found a place they liked took longer to complete the deal because they couldn't gather in a room with all the lawyers, brokers and mortgage bankers who usually take part in a closing. So, many just never happened.

"We were operating on a shoestring, doing contracts and signings virtually," said Pamela Liebman, chief executive officer of Corcoran Group, which released its own report citing the lowest sales figures since the early 1990s.

Pending deals continued to plummet last month as even opportunistic buyers balked at committing to a property that they couldn't visit. Signed contracts dropped 78% to just 132, Miller Samuel and Douglas Elliman said.

Interest in seeing homes has accelerated since the last week of June, when the ban on in-person showings in the city was lifted, Liebman said. So where prices and demand are headed can only start to be gauged now.

"One of the positives for the market is that a lot of people decided what they really need in a New York apartment," Liebman said. "Home offices, a second bathroom, outdoor space. The shortcomings were blatant when you lived with them for three or four months."

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