Manhattan homebuyers make fewest first-quarter deals since 2009

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Manhattan's would-be homebuyers are in no rush to make deals, while the number of condos and co-ops on the market continues to rise.

Purchases dropped for a sixth straight quarter in the first three months of 2019 as sellers struggled to cut prices deeply enough to attract offers. Transactions totaled 2,121, the fewest for a first quarter since 2009, appraiser Miller Samuel Inc. and brokerage Douglas Elliman Real Estate said in a report Tuesday.

"You have a seller generally overpriced and willing to make discounts that bring them closer to the market, but the buyer is not willing to come up," Jonathan Miller, president of Miller Samuel, said in an interview. "The bigger the disconnect between buyers and sellers, generally speaking, the lower the sales activity is."

Lower mortgage rates and seller discounts averaging 6.9% in the quarter weren't enough to lure hesitant buyers, many of whom are still assessing the impact of federal tax changes that limit deductions for property levies. And the mix of high inventory and slow sales could hint at lower prices to come, according to Miller.

"The buyer may still have a point," he said. "When the dust settles on 2019, price trends may be somewhat below where they are now."

There were 6,673 homes on the market in Manhattan at the end of the first quarter, up 8.9% from a year earlier, according to the report. It would take 9.4 months to sell all of them, a full month longer than last year.

Corcoran Group, in its own report, said inventory climbed 12% from a year earlier on the Upper West Side and 6% on the Upper East Side. Sales fell the most in Midtown and the area that includes the Financial District and Battery Park City, with 15% declines.

People are making purchases if they need to — to accommodate a growing family, for example, according to Pamela Liebman, president of the brokerage. Others may be "hard to push into the buying market because they have a level of concern," she said. "It's economic, political, local, it's statewide and it's national."

Still, the key spring selling season will bring out New Yorkers who are willing to take advantage of the sweet deals others passed up, said Steven James, chief executive officer of Douglas Elliman's New York division.

"There are opportunities out there that if you find a seller who is willing to negotiate, you'll make a deal," James said. "If you want to buy, you can buy. You just have to look harder."

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