The Real Story on Real Estate
Hit to Local Market "Minimal," Realtors Say
By: Pat Casey
Published: October 30, 2008
If you want to get a good sense of the state of the local economy, there are many places to look. One is the residential real estate market. The news media are full of disaster stories of areas out west and across the "Sun Belt" where the housing market has suffered tremendously during recent weeks. Houses are in foreclosure, which forces prices down; the only good news is that the inventory is at least moving. This scene, however, is not the headline news for most of the Northeast, Westchester County, or White Plains. Residential real estate here has its own story.
In a recent discussion with Peter Gorbutt, president of the White Plains-based Gorbutt Group Real Estate, we found out that "our local market took a minimal hit compared to what other areas around the nation are experiencing."
"Our strength in this market comes from our prime location and we will always have a demand for housing here," Gorbutt continued. "White Plains has a well-balanced economy, great quality of life, great transportation, easy commute to Manhattan, excellent schools, and a vibrant city."
We heard the same thing on Monday evening during the White Plains Downtown Residents Association meeting at Vintage on Main Street, when Ann Bernstein, a top-producing agent for the White Plains office of Houlihan-Lawrence, told the group that the Wall Street downturn has not significantly affected the White Plains residential real estate market thus far.
Bernstein attributes White Plains' residential housing strength to the diverse population in the city that both buys and sells housing at various levels. Based on data she had collected, Bernstein said the median price for a single-family house in White Plains had only dropped slightly from 2007 to 2008. If you look at the various real estate ads in this newspaper and others, recent listing prices do seem to bear that out.
When it comes to condo sales, Bernstein claims there has been a 9.6 percent increase in the median sale price. "That is an overall number," she said, which includes sales of luxury condos in the Ritz-Carlton, Westchester and Trump Tower, so the number is exaggerated. Also in attendance at the WPDRA meeting was Susan Fitzpatrick, the new property manager for the Ritz-Carlton, Westchester who spoke briefly about how those luxury condo sales are going. "What we have heard from the developer [Louis Cappelli] is that Tower I is almost fully occupied; Tower II opened on Sept. 24 and is nearly 50 percent occupied." Fitzpatrick further stated that Tower II would include retail and office space-housing Cappelli Enterprises in the near future-and that construction on the upper floors of Tower II is still in progress.
Co-op sale prices in White Plains from 2007 to 2008 have remained relatively steady. Where there is a growth trend is in the rental housing market. "Much of our market slowdown comes from the tightening in mortgage lending criteria," said Gorbutt. "Lenders are now requiring buyers to have good established credit histories and larger down payments,"-about 20 percent, according to Dean Curtis of DC Funding LLC, a boutique mortgage company based in Bronxville, who added that some lenders will not close on a mortgage if the down payment is coming from a property sale until that property has sold. "This is sending many [potential buyers] back to the rental market, which is causing a higher demand for rental units, and rental prices are increasing. The White Plains rental market is doing fabulously at the moment. Many developers and real estate investors have changed direction in projects to take advantage of the demand for rentals in our area," Gorbutt continued. No one can say for certain where economic markets will be three months down the road. A snapshot of today shows White Plains residential real estate prices remaining stable. According to Bernstein, "history shows real estate is the best investment you can make," and she stands by that claim going forward in White Plains. Gorbutt agrees. "Soon-to-be empty nesters in White Plains still have a very valuable asset. If they have been a long-time homeowner, the increase in value alone in the past seven years has been incredible. It all comes down to pricing the property right and making your home show-ready."
The Real Story on Real Estate