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Manhattan’s smaller apartments are the priciest since 2008

One-bedroom units rented for a median of $3 595 in 2019.
People settling in to start new jobs are competing with current city residents in the search for a small apartment -- and they’re not rushing to buy one. Image: Bloomberg

Seekers of smaller apartments in Manhattan have had plenty of company this summer. Swelling demand by both newcomers and locals drove rents for studios and one-bedrooms to an 11-year high.

The monthly median for a studio in July and August was $2 700, the highest it’s been since June 2008, according to figures released Thursday by appraiser Miller Samuel and brokerage Douglas Elliman Real Estate. One-bedroom units rented for a median of $3 595, a record in data going back to the beginning of that year.

People settling in to start new jobs are competing with current city residents in the search for a small apartment — and they’re not rushing to buy one. In the first half of 2019, sales of Manhattan studios fell 13% from a year earlier, according to Jonathan Miller, president of Miller Samuel. Supplies of studios and one-bedrooms listed for sale at the end of the second quarter rose 6.6% and 4.4%, respectively.

Would-be buyers at all levels are hesitating on deals while they wait for prices to come down further. The demand for smaller rentals suggests “that we may see less first-time buyer activity as we enter the fall market,” Miller said.

Signings at newly built luxury high-rises also pushed up median rents in the borough, said Hal Gavzie, executive manager of leasing for Douglas Elliman. New developments that are currently filling units include the Summit, a tower on East 44th Street with a squash court, theater and lap pool, where a studio is listed at $4 290.

Manhattan apartments of all sizes were listed for an average of 24 days before finding tenants in August, down from 27 days a year earlier, Miller Samuel and Douglas Elliman said.

To find the best deal, speed was of the essence for Mary-Kate Morrow — so much so that she agreed to lease an apartment without seeing it in person.

Morrow, 27, who’s moving from Washington, DC, for a new job at the strategic-communications firm Rubenstein, set a budget of $2 500 for a studio on the Upper West Side, where the median rent was $4,150 last month, according to a report by brokerage Citi Habitats. She lost out on several listings she liked because she couldn’t come see them at a moment’s notice, she said.

Eventually, she spotted a posting on Craigslist for a studio in the West 90s, and arranged to view it remotely on a video call with the previous tenant. While getting a look at the place through FaceTime, Morrow could hear a knock on the woman’s apartment door.

“She said, ‘One second, that’s someone else coming to tour the apartment,’” said Morrow, who decided to rent the place for $2 200 a month without further inspection.

“In New York, you don’t choose your apartment,” she said. “It chooses you.”

© 2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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