Perception vs. reality. 

It’s a comparison between two different things that might be the same.

Every one of us firmly believes that our own perception is synonymous with reality, otherwise it wouldn’t be our perception anymore. And with so many virtual platforms for people to articulate their perception of reality; it’s never been more obvious than it is in 2020 that the spectrum of perceptions is vaster than ever before. What’s real to some is an illusion to others. 

New York City is the perfect subject for a conversation about perception vs. reality because the state of the City is completely open to interpretation, especially right now. 

Is the City still wanted?

Is it dead or alive?

Will those who return or move here for the first time be rewarded? 

A recent sampling of headlines from home and abroad offers a mix of hypothesis and hyperbole with an emphasis on doom. 

If we had more time and space, we could point to at least 600 more articles like these. But here’s the good news…Those perceptions don’t have to be our reality. 

When it comes to the future of New York, we prefer what Jerry Seinfeld had to offer in an opinion piece he wrote for the New York Times. Amongst other things, the iconic New Yorker said the City would be back because, “Energy, attitude and personality cannot be remoted through even the best fiber optic lines.” https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/24/opinion/jerry-seinfeld-new-york-coronavirus.html

TIME

In order to give proper context to this conversation, we believe it’s important to layer-in an element of time. In the past and even in the present, raw data can help us formulate our perceptions about New York City, or any other subject for that matter. The more information we have and the more time we have to study it, the more difficult it is to bend people’s perceptions. There’s very little real data about the future since it hasn’t happened yet, so arguably, it’s what happens next in New York City that’s really up for debate. 

New York City – Present Day. 

Even in the present, attempts are made to manipulate the narrative, especially when it comes to subjects that are difficult to definitively measure.

How do we calculate something intangible, like “the buzz,” or “the electricity,” or “a vibe?” There’s no accepted standard of measure for any of those things, but nonetheless, attempts are frequently made to quantify the unquantifiable. 

We’ve seen comments like, “Ghost Town,” “Low energy,” “Empty,” and even “Chaotic,” “On Fire,” and “Unsafe.” We saw a Facebook post describing the city as a desolate hellhole with video of boarded up storefronts. But then, in another post just two swipes down the screen, an old friend sarcastically mocked Manhattan’s naysayers, attaching pictures that showed people laughing and listening to live music while dining in outdoor restaurants that lined a city street. 

Our perceptions about the things we can’t measure are defined by whether or not we read the headlines or the entire story; they’re defined by who we follow on social media and who we ignore or block; by the channel we watch; by who we hang out with, and the things we talk about; and they’re defined by how open-minded we are and by how much time and effort we spend thinking about the world around us.

Raw Data

There are some things that can be measured. People do try to play with statistics to help support their own agenda, but it’s easier to separate fact from fiction when solid information is available. To help us tell the story of present-day New York City, we looked closely at two completely separate data point compilations. 

Since there is such a wide range of opinions about how safe New York City is, first, we looked closely at the actual crime numbers. We’ve listed that information below. And since, we run a real estate team and this column is about real estate, we took a close look at the most recent housing numbers. 

Crime

Year-to-Date Figures (through 8/30/2020 as reported by NYPD): https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/nypd/downloads/pdf/crime_statistics/cs-en-us-city.pdf

  • Murder is up 33.6% compared to 1 year ago. Through 8/30/2020 there were 290 reported murders in NYC. There were 217 by the same time last year. For historical perspective, in 1990 there were 2,262 total murders in the City. 
  • Rape is down 23.6%
  • Robbery is down .2%
  • Felony Assault is down 3.2%
  • Burglary is up 41% (9904 in 2020 compared to 6983 in 2019). 
  • Grand Larceny is down 20.2%
  • Grand Larceny Auto is up 60.4% (5396 in 2020 compared to 3364 in 2019)
  • Total crime is down 2.5% (60,468 in 2020 compared to 61,794 in 2019) 

***Burglary involves a person illegally entering a building in order to commit a crime while inside, (i.e. looting); robbery is generally defined as someone taking something of value directly from another person by the use of force or fear. Grand Larceny is theft of personal property having a value above a legally specified amount (there are degrees of Grand Larceny).

New York City Housing Market

Elliman Report by Miller Samuel – For the Month of Aug. 2020: https://www.millersamuel.com/files/2020/09/NewYork-NewSignedContracts-08_2020.pdf

Manhattan Condos

New Signed Contracts: 219 in 2020 compared to 352 in 2019 (down 37.8%)

New Listings: 1127 in 2020 compared to 866 in 2019 (up 30.1%)

Manhattan Co-ops

New Signed Contracts: 360 in 2020 compared to 496 in 2019 (down 26.2%)

New Listings: 1308 in 2020 compared to 777 in 2019 (up 68.3%)

Brooklyn Condos

New Signed Contracts: 200 in 2020 compared to 150 in 2019 (up 33%)

New Listings: 376 in 2020 compared to 245 in 2019 (up 53.5%)

Brooklyn Co-ops

New Signed Contracts: 138 in 2020 compared to 49 in 2019 (up 181.6%)

New Listings: 218 in 2020 compared to 108 in 2019 (up 101.9%)

  • Sixty-eight co-ops priced between $500k and $999k went into contract in August 2020 compared to 19 in 2019, an increase of 181.6% 

Long Island Single-Family Homes (Excluding the Hamptons and the North Fork)

New Signed Contracts: 3317 in 2020 compared to 2586in 2019 (up 28.3%)

New Listings: 3624 in 2020 compared to 3253 in 2019 (up 11.4%)

The Hamptons Single-Family Homes

New Signed Contracts: 278 in 2020 compared to 133 in 2019 (up 109%)

New Listings: 271 in 2020 compared to 83 in 2019 (up 226.5%)

  • In 2019, 5 single-family homes priced between $4MM and $5MM sold last August. This August, 29 homes sold in that price range.

Westchester Single-Family Homes

New Signed Contracts: 780 in 2020 compared to 496 in 2019 (up 57.3%)

New Listings: 833 in 2020 compared to 541 in 2019 (up 54%)

  • Sixteen homes were listed at over $2MM last August compared to 70 this August, an increase of 116.9%

Fairfield County, CT Single-Family Homes

New Signed Contracts: 866 in 2020 compared to 682 in 2019 (up 27%)

New Listings: 1055 in 2020 compared to 901 in 2019 (up 17.1%)

Greenwich, CT Single-Family Homes

New Signed Contracts: 136 in 2020 compared to 47 in 2019 (up 189.4%)

New Listings: 85 in 2020 compared to 23 in 2019 (up 269.6%)

Present Day Conclusion (State of the New York City Housing Market): 

Newly signed contracts were way up in every suburban New York City location listed in the report, while contract signings are down by more than 30% in Manhattan during the same time period. But the “Escape From New York” headlines aren’t entirely true mostly because the numbers out of Brooklyn are eye-opening, especially in the co-op sector with a staggering 181% increase in contracts signed this August compared to last. 

New York City — The Future

Like Seinfeld, we’re bullish on New York City’s future. That said, it’s impossible to ignore what’s happening in the present. In particular, the numbers do paint a picture that shows more people leaving Manhattan rather than arriving to what many have considered the cultural center of the universe. For now, they’re headed to the suburbs in droves, but for how long can they stay away?

The Suburbs

While New York City takes a pounding in the tabloids, its suddenly glamorous opponent, the suburbs, is characterized as a flawless oasis and an escape from all that ails Manhattan.

During the last week of August, Marie and Jeff and Matt were on a Zoom call with a pair of real estate developers. One of the developers was in the Hamptons and the other in a Jersey suburb. 

“What’s so great about living in the suburbs?” one of them asked. “Other than having your own little patch of grass.”

“There’s only a few restaurants to choose from out here,” the other one said.

From her home office in suburban Bedford Marie laughed because at least on some level, she could relate.

“I’m on a 4-acre parcel,” she said. “And my kids aren’t leaving the family room except to go into the kitchen!”

So, the grass might be more plentiful in the suburbs, but is it always greener?

For a few minutes Marie and Matt traded stories of their kids sitting on the couch, mesmerized by their smartphones even though the great outdoors – with all its power and glory – was just a few steps away. But instead, they became “prisoners of their own devices.” 

The suburbs aren’t immune to the effects of COVID or the precautionary measures that have changed our way of life. The kids are on a hybrid school schedule; at best they’ll be in their classrooms once or twice per week. Other than that, they’re homeschooling in the suburbs too. 

The conversation eventually came full circle back to New York City. 

“Manhattan is going to get younger and less expensive,” Jeff said. 

We were all in agreement that in a post-vaccine world, Manhattan would be back. Between now and then, our Zoom guest in the Hamptons wondered if “things would get a little bit worse, or a lot bit worse?”

“It’ll be a while before the things that make this city special are special again.”

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