Traditionally, New York summers are not a great time to get things done. In a city where productivity is usually king, summer is like some giant European siesta: Phone calls go unanswered and major business decisions seem to slow to a pace that fits the torpid climate.
But Manhattan’s top brokers are finding that New Yorkers competing for real estate have seized upon the summer season as a time to get cracking on a new apartment, often catching the worm while the other birds are asleep or caught in a migratory pattern between Manhattan and Montauk that precludes serious shopping.
“When I was first starting out in the business in the early 80’s, the slow summer was kind of a given,” said Frederick Peters, president of Ashforth Warburg Associates. “Now there’s no such thing as a summer season. It just stays busy and people continue to look and buy.”
Of the 20 busiest months that the New York real-estate market has seen since January 1997, eight have been during the summer, according to the most recent Douglas Elliman Manhattan Market Overview, prepared by Miller Samuel Real Estate Appraisers. The report relied upon a city-wide survey of contracts signed, broken down month by month, and defined the summer months as June, July and August.
Steven L. James, the senior executive vice president and director of East Side sales at Douglas Elliman, said that traditionally, buyers used to be content to wait until after Labor Day to resume a house hunt that they had discontinued at the onset of summer. But starting about three or four years ago, Mr. James began to see a marked shift in house-hunters’ behavior-one he now thinks is permanent.
“We have people saying, ‘I’m out on the beach, but I’ll drive in if something good comes in,’ or ‘I’m out at the Cape, but if this is what we’re looking for, we’ll fly in,'” he said.
Similarly, Mr. James used to tell his employees that they could plan to go on vacation any time in August and any time during the Christmas–New Year’s break.
“Those days are gone,” he said.
The trend towards busier summers has been especially pronounced this year, with the Corcoran Group and Brown Harris Stevens, two of the city’s largest real-estate brokerage firms, reporting record or near-record sales during the last two months.
Anne Young, executive vice president of Brown Harris Stevens, said the recent incremental uptick in interest rates spurred some of her company’s clients to close their deals.
“Even though they’re at historical lows, the rates are rising,” Ms. Young said, “and people are deciding that now is a wonderful opportunity to buy, before rates go higher.”
Perhaps even more surprising, this trend doesn’t seem to be confined to the lower end of the market-traditionally the market’s best-performing sector. Mr. James, of Douglas Elliman, said the over–$1 million market has even been stronger during the summer months than it was during the early spring-an occurrence that would seem to run against the accepted wisdom.
“It started in April, picked up in May and has been consistent on a week-to-week basis,” he said.
WEATHER THE NUCLEAR WINTER IN A $1.6 M. MISSILE SILO
In these troubled times, are you pessimistic about your panic room’s ability to sustain a direct nuclear attack? If so, you might want to upgrade to a panic silo. Of course, you’d have to move to the Adirondacks, and it’ll cost you $1.6 million, but that seems a small price to pay for the security and the set-up: a 20-acre complex accessible by a private airstrip, complete with a 2,000-square-foot above-ground house, the basement of which is a 2,300-square-foot, bi-level bunker turned luxury residence that connects by a tunnel to 185-foot, nine-story missile silo. Plus the taxes are low.
The development, outside Lake Placid, N.Y., sits on the site of a former Atlas-F intercontinental ballistic missile silo. During the late 1950’s and 60’s, at the height of the Cold War, the U.S. government built a dozen such silos within a 40-mile radius of Plattsburgh Air Force Base. The missiles soon became obsolete, however, and the silos were deactivated by 1965.
“It’s a rare 20th-century restored collectible,” said one of the property’s owners, Bruce Francisco, a Connecticut real-estate developer.
Mr. Francisco’s cousin, Gregory Gibbons, bought the property about 15 years ago for $55,000. At that point, all that existed on the land was the private runway and the two underground structures, the smaller of which had served as a command-and-control center for the larger silo. Starting about seven years ago, Mr. Francisco began building the structures that now dot the above-ground landscape: the house above the two silos, a hangar and a house on a neighboring lot.
The residential silo, whose walls are made of three-foot-thick concrete, contains a full kitchen, dining room, entertainment center, and two private suites with marble baths and Jacuzzi. The full silo, while essentially just a hollow steel hull, is free from nuclear contamination and thus is theoretically ready for future development. The property’s Web site, www.silohome.com, calls it “The Most Unique and Secure Real Estate in the World.”
Last year, Mr. Francisco put the property up for auction on eBay. A couple put in a high bid of $2.1 million, but as they have yet to come through with the financing, the property remains for sale.
Mr. Francisco said that he’s currently entertaining offers from several interested parties, and remains confident that someone will eventually realize the property’s potential value.
“They’re not making them any more,” he said. “Some day it might be priceless.”
RECENT TRANSACTIONS IN THE REAL ESTATE MARKET
UPPER WEST SIDE
115 Central Park West
Three-bedroom, three-bathroom co-op.
Asking: $3.5 million. Selling: $3.2 million.
Maintenance: $2,582; 41 percent tax-deductible.
Time on the market: two weeks.
UPSTAIRS, DOWNSTAIRS After 30 years in the home where they were born and bred, a brother and sister decided to sell their parents’ place. They called up an old friend, broker Marsha Hartstein at the Corcoran Group, and told her they wanted to put the 3,200-square-foot apartment on the market. “I knew them, and when they were ready to sell, they came to me,” Ms. Hartstein said. It was no problem for her. Even though the apartment needed a little updating, its antique glory shone through. It’s in the Majestic, one of those old Art Deco Central Park West haunts, built by Irwin Chanin in 1929, where Conan O’Brien currently lives and Frank Costello hung his hat until his death in 1957. It’s also where Ian Schrager has his notoriously unsellable $15.9 million modernist trophy apartment-designed by Philippe Starck, and complete with marble kitchens, English sycamore in the dressing room and African wood throughout. But the broker didn’t need its celebrity to plug the building. The buyers lived downstairs and, with their budding family, wanted to move into a new apartment with more space. Which this had plenty of: a sunken living room, eat-in kitchen and two maids’ rooms, in addition to the requisite three bedrooms. It also had a dining room meant for entertaining: “You could have an infinite number of people there for a grand party,” Ms. Hartstein said.
UPPER EAST SIDE
401 East 65th Street
Asking: $245,000. Selling: $233,000.
Maintenance: $796.75; 43 percent tax-deductible
Time on the market: three months.
MOTHER LOVE Sometimes brokers set a deadline for a closing, and sometimes buyers do. In some cases, though, nature does. “We were trying to push the deal through because [the seller] was going into her ninth month,” said Karen Shenker, a broker at Citi Habitats, of her sale of an East Side alcove studio. The seller and her husband had been trying to sell by themselves and then with YHD Foxton’s hands-off approach, but weren’t getting very far. “She was desperate,” Ms. Shenker said. “She hadn’t heard from her broker in two months.” So with the wife now entering the third term of her pregnancy, the couple switched agencies. They turned down a couple of too-low offers, but finally accepted one from a thirtysomething professional who had been renting around town. The seller wanted to close fast-but, unfortunately, she tried to close a bit too fast, setting the date for less than a month after the contract was signed in early June. The buyer then notified her landlord of her June 30 departure-which would have been perfect, except that the co-op board didn’t review the papers or interview the buyer in time, leaving her homeless until mid-July, when the deal finally closed. It closed all cash, nonetheless, and the parties all breathed that final sigh of relief.
334 West 19th Street
Three-bedroom, two-and-half-bathroom co-op.
Asking: $1.15 million. Selling: $1.1 million.
Maintenance: $1,716; 63 percent tax-deductible.
Time on the market: 120 days.
VERTIGO Bauhaus-esque lofts, however trendy, can get a little tiresome for those who have reached a marriageable age. So it seemed, at least, to one recently engaged couple who just bought themselves a new three-level, 1,700-square-foot place. “The second they opened the door, there was a little fireplace, and it just felt like a little home-it was just like a little vertical cottage,” said Erin Boisson-Aries, the buyers’ broker at the Corcoran Group. It’s certainly a vertical cottage: The two-flight walkup occupies the top three floors of a townhouse in Chelsea, and even the quintessential postage-stamp backyard is stacked on top (the buyers have a private 200-square-foot roof garden and terrace). Previously, the buyers had taken up residence in the sparse, flat habitat of a Tribeca loft. But with the wedding impending, the couple-he’s a lawyer, she’s a freelance writer going into the music business-decided they would change things up. “It really felt like a little country house to them,” said Ms. Boisson-Aries. “It wasn’t perfectly renovated-it wasn’t that. It was just that it felt like a little house. Here, they were about to start a new life.” It also felt like a place to relax after seeing upwards of 35 other apartments over the course of four months and enduring two previous offers that fell through, one in Tribeca and one in north Chelsea. And it had some elements that your average country house wouldn’t: hardwood floors, open greenhouse windows and views of the New York Life and Empire State buildings. The sellers decided that they didn’t need the space and are now renting elsewhere in the city. Josh Rubin, also at the Corcoran Group, had the exclusive.