NEW YORK — Turmoil on Wall Street and a sluggish economy finally slowed home sales in the Big Apple in the first quarter, but a slew of big-ticket apartment sales bolstered prices, according to two reports released Wednesday.
Sales of Manhattan condos and cooperatives dropped more than 34 percent in the first quarter compared with the first quarter of last year, Prudential Douglas Elliman said, but the median sales price gained over 13 percent to $945,276. At that price, a buyer could scoop up four U.S. median-priced homes.
Nationwide, home prices dropped 11 percent in January from a year earlier, according to the most recent data from the Standard & Poor's/Case-Shiller home price index. That marked the biggest decline in the index's two-decade history.
Much of Manhattan's price boost came from high-end sales, especially at the ultra-luxury apartments The Plaza and 15 Central Park West. The median price of a luxury apartment soared almost 46 percent to nearly $5 million.
"We're seeing more expensive properties transfer hands. That's shifting the mix of sales and we feel it skewed the price changes," said Jonathan Miller, president and chief executive of Miller Samuel Inc., which analyzed the numbers for Prudential.
Most Manhattan cooperatives, which represent roughly half of all apartment sales, have strict guidelines for financing. Many require a down payment between 20 percent and 25 percent, but more upscale buildings require the buyer to pay all cash _ and those buyers have been scarcely affected by tighter lending standards.
Miller said the slowdown in sales volume reflects a loss of confidence in the housing market and the broader economy, especially following the near-collapse of Bear Stearns & Co. last month. While the fate of the 14,000 Bear Stearns employees remains uncertain now, a large number of layoffs in New York could trigger a downturn in the typically resilient Manhattan market.
Already the number of properties on the market has crept up, gaining nearly 5 percent since the same period last year as buyers sit on the sidelines, waiting out the chaos.
However, Greg Heym, chief economist at Brown Harris Stevens, said Manhattan probably won't suffer the devastation occurring in housing markets like California, Florida, Arizona and Nevada.
Brown Harris Stevens, in a separate report Wednesday, said sales volume in Manhattan barely stalled the first three months of the year, dipping 1 percent from the January-March period last year. But similar to Prudential, the report showed a jump in median price due to a fourfold increase in the number of sales over $10 million.
"Prices weren't driven up by speculators or investors and there wasn't as much risky borrowing to drive up prices. So many things playing out in other markets aren't in play here," Heym said.
Prudential's report is based on 2,282 home sales, while Brown Harris Stevens' report tracked 2,857 sales.