The NYC Rental Market: Looking at the Past, Predicting the Future

Published on Jan 9, 2012

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New Year's is a time when it seems that everyone with access to a keyboard puts in their two cents about the year gone by, and makes predictions about the one ahead. And NYC real estate renters and sellers, thinkers and doers, are NO exception!

And although most of reflector's and prognosticator's thoughts tend to drift toward the sales market--it's where the headline-making money is, after all... witness the $88 million sale of the Central Park West penthouse that was breathlessly discussed everywhere--I found enough nuggets for those of us more inclined toward the NYC rental market to make many of the posts not only interesting in the abstract, but relevant for what I personally may be planning, move-wise, for 2012.

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One of my favorite annual real-estate round-ups in the Curbed Cup, in which 16 of the city's most traditionally-popular neighborhoods battle it out to see who will win "the prestigious fake trophy" for being neighborhood of the year. The whole thing's semi-jokey, of course (this IS curbed, after all), but it's also pretty insightful (again: this is Curbed) about how different neighborhoods across the city are trending, in terms of prices, fun and services, parks and greenspaces, and overall livability.

So for every "FiDi vs Rat Island" face-offs (remember that 2.5 acre rock off of City Island that someone bought around $175,000?), there are plenty of other truly interesting discussion-provokers. West Chelsea vs. Upper West Side? Williamsburg vs. ProCro, that sort-of-silly nickname that "combines gentrified Prospect Heights with gentrifying Crown Heights"? And how about that Final, Downtown Brooklyn vs the Financial District? My money was on the FiDi, but it was DoBro that emerged victorious by a narrow margin.

You can find all the pairings, plus a look at past winners (Fort Greene! Madison Square Park!), here. If you're looking for a no fee apartment in a new neighborhood in 2012, the Curbed Cup, as mock-heroic as it may be, is not a bad place to start.

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More sober but still a good read, The Real Deal did their annual "ask the experts"--developers, realtors, landlords, journalists, analysts--for a look into where the NYC real estate market was headed in 2012. Though many of the respondents' predictions were somewhat, um, predictable ("I expect 2012 to be a repeat of 2011, but perhaps a bit better", says Dottie Herman, president of Prudential Douglas Elliman), there are some actionable insights here as well, most of which seem to indicate that it might be better to find a NYC rental apartment now, rather than waiting for the summer, or next fall.

For example, Frederick Peters, president of Warburg Realty Partnership, points out that a continuing tight mid- and luxury-rental market (high rents, low vacancy rates, which everyone seems to agree will be the case all year), will also cause "a resultant uptick in the smaller apartment marketplace as there will be little inexpensive rental product."

And Andrew Heiberger, founder of Town, chimed in: "If I were renewing a lease right now I would try to extend for two years if given the choice, because once employment numbers pick up, rents will jump even further to record highs." Sounds like some good advice... it seems the NYC rental market is going to continue to be a landlord's market.

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