Comparing New York property to the Sydney market: Peter Chittenden

Peter ChittendenJuly 19, 20150 min read

As Sydney’s median house price appear headed for the $1,000,000 mark and as demand for inner-city apartments is at record levels, I would like to share some recent figures reflecting the state of the Manhattan Apartment market, where some of the prices are, according to the locals approaching ‘eye watering’ levels.

But first there’s a need to explain the differences between Co-ops and Condos, with a few key points.


Cooperatives or co-ops are common in New York City and they account for approximately 80% of apartment stock, these buildings are owned by an apartment corporation. Individuals do not actually “own” their apartments as they would in the case of “real” property, but own “shares” in the corporation, which entitles them to a long-term “proprietary lease.” The tenant-owner pays a portion of building expenses (which can include an underlying mortgage on the entire building) determined by the number of shares held in the corporation. Share amounts are dictated by apartment size and floor level. Co-ops are similar to our company title.


Condominiums – condos are common throughout the USA, but they are a rather new concept for New York City. A condominium apartment in Manhattan is real property and more or less directly like an apartment in Australia and they are usually easier to finance with lower deposit requirements.

With that brief summary in mind, the figures I refer to are for the second quarter 2015 and according to the Elliman Report [The Elliman Report, is private (non-official) research produced by Douglas Elliman in conjunction with Miller Samuel, a leading independent appraisal firm, and several other firms also produce these reports.] new price records were set for the average sale price, median co-op sale price, the average price per square foot for new developments, and the average price for luxury apartments, all jumped.

According to the report the average sale price for Manhattan is now a $1.87 million (AUD$2.487m*), and that’s 11.4% higher than a year ago. Of interest however is the fact that this growth is not being lead by luxury new developments, as was the case last year.

The record average and median price was set for the co-op market, and the established condo market average sale price also set a record, (with new development removed from the mix) the average, median, and price per square foot for resale condos, all set records making Manhattan apartments to quote ‘really expensive.’

Which might well be an understatement because the report puts the median sale price for all apartments at $980,000, (AUD $1.303m) which equals the second highest on record. While other published reports put the median slightly lower, at US$960,000 – $930,000, its worth keeping in mind that the current median record, US$1.025 million (AUD$1.363) was set in the pre-GFC market and peaked during the second quarter of 2008.

According to the Elliman Report the local co-op market, which is not swayed by new developments at all, saw some big price gains. The median price jumped nearly 10% from last year to US$795,000. The condo (apartment) market also set new records across the board, with the median price hitting US$1.39 million.

Compared to the first quarter, closings on new development condos sharply dropped, (keep in mind that in the USA sales including project sales are conducted very differently from our local market, auctions are rare and there is more negotiation involved with both sellers and buyers agents). Outside of the new project market, prices are transparent, when published prices are set, project prices are not published in the same way, with buyers being able to negotiate with the developer and then set a ‘closing’ price for the condo in a new project.

Currently Sydney has a lot of new apartment projects coming onto the market, while in these figures for Manhattan new projects accounted for just 8% of market transactions. Still new projects there stayed on trend and the average price per square foot set a new record, peaking at $2,011/sq. foot at approximately $22,300/sqm this is on a par with some new Sydney CBD projects and in some cases below our local price trends.

Tight Supply

Local commentators attribute these strong price gains to a lack of supply with new supply apparently ‘stalling’. Local market reports note that after bottoming out at the end of 2013, numbers expanded last year, but during the second quarter, supply only increased by a modest 1.3% over last year.

What’s also interesting is that apartments in the lower price range (below US$1 million) decreased, while those priced at $3 million or above saw steady gains. However the number of sales were down 20% compared to last year, and a lack of supply is seen as part of the reason volume dropped but the trend is still above average. According the Elliman report last year, the number of sales had spiked drastically thanks to pent-up demand that accumulated as the local economy improved after the financial collapse and things have now evened out.

Tight supply plus fewer ‘cheap apartments’ has been the perfect recipe for bidding wars, and that’s exactly what is happening. The report notes that more than half of all sales closed were at or above the asking price. The result was the highest such ratio since the financial crisis began. The Elliman report expects local price pressures will continue for the rest of the year and will eclipse 2014.

Incomes Stall Impacting Affordability

Like us there are concerns in this market over affordability and according to some comments in NYC this is crisis in the main caused by a lack of growth in incomes. The NYC Median Home Price Relative to Annual Income Ratio is now close to 7.0, whereas it used to be 5.0, the national ratio is now 3.7 years.

In Australia the figures look much worse, if you take (according to the ABS figures) average annual full-time income at $74,724 and assume, rather optimistically a house price of $650,000 then the ratio here is 8.6, well above the NYC ration. It’s no surprise then that according to figures from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that Australia has the third highest house price-to-income ratio in the world, after Belgium, Canada comes Australia then followed by Norway and Sweden. But we are not alone and post the GFC the IMF found 14 out of 24 developed economies examined still have above-average house price-to-income ratios.

In the US, as a result stagnant wage growth, weak household formation and tight credit are the reason why according to some local commentators, like Australia the US is having a national discussion around affordable housing, with homeownership rates falling and where rental prices are rising. While low interest rates are helping to drive demand here, in the US credit terms are less favourable in part because low-doc loans have now all but gone from the market. Most lenders also require a 20% deposit and or some degree of mortgage insurance, but we need to keep in mind that while home loan interest is a tax deduction, insurance premiums are not.

The NYC – Sydney Comparison

While average and median prices might not reflect the full spectrum of any market it appears that NYC and Sydney are similar in one way. What the figures show is that the apartment market in NYC is operating at a level of intensity above the balance of the country, and that also applies to Sydney.

Sydney’s demand and prices are running ahead of most other Australian cities, and a so as a result we may be seeing a two-tire market emerging, that is with Sydney, in particular the inner-city areas very active and then other parts of Australia less so.

And it appears that our local Planning Minister Rob Stokes is fairly comfortable with this situation. Last week speaking at an industry event Minister Stokes suggested that Sydney forget comparisons with Melbourne or Brisbane, rather he expressed the view that Sydneysiders should compare their city with global leaders such as London, New York, Singapore and even Dubai and from some of the figures outlined we can see we already share some aspects between our apartment markets.

According to the minister “We have a generational opportunity to reshape Sydney and we should seize it with vigour,” adding that Sydney had to “confront the institutional and government challenges” that had crippled its progress for decades, starting with the “silo thinking of government departments and the 43 local governments” across the city.

It was very encouraging to hear Rob Stokes further encourage Sydney’s growth and international ambitions.

Peter Chittenden is managing director for residential of Colliers International. He can be contacted here.

Peter Chittenden

Peter Chittenden is managing director for residential of Colliers International.
New York
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