Hamptons Real Estate Roundtable August 2023 - 27 East

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Hamptons Real Estate Roundtable August 2023

authorStaff Writer on Aug 11, 2023

The Hamptons real estate market in 2023 has been marked by high interest rates, low inventory and strong sales prices. As summer enters its final stretch, Residence asked Hamptons real estate leaders and brokers to assess the state of the market and share their advice for buyers and sellers to navigate it successfully.

The Wall Street Journal recently declared that the new reality of the luxury market is “not enough buyers and sellers.” Is that the case on the South Fork?

Judi Desiderio: Such an ambiguous term, “not enough” — by what metric? As a self-proclaimed numbers junkie, I rely on the facts to guide my assessments — to that end I dug into the numbers. On the South Fork — the Hamptons — there currently are 125 homes for sale, $10 million to $19.99 million, and 67 homes $20 million and up. And according to the Town & Country mid-year home sales report, there were 21 home sales $10 million to $19.99 million and eight home sales $20 million and up. Suffice to say, the first six months of 2023 was vastly different than the same period of 2022. The absorption rate for the current inventory based on current market conditions is multiple years.

Gary DePersia: Definitely not enough sellers but I disagree with the lack of buyers. Sellers, particularly resellers of recently built stylish houses in top condition, are few. This is compounded by construction coming on that is priced higher than a year ago due in part to increased land and construction costs. However, based on the number of times my existing exclusives are being shown, there are still plenty of buyers wanting to find something that works for them.

Simon Harrison: Falling sales means less of both buyers and sellers. Across the country, the real estate unit sales and dollar volume sales are down about 40 percent, and that also applies to the Hamptons. This does not mean that prices have come down 40 percent or that they’ve gone down at all — or that they ever will. Prices are still up 40 percent from before the pandemic. Statistics are stubborn things.

Jennifer Friedberg: Based on my experience, when homes are priced right and offer a compelling value proposition, they tend to attract strong interest and result in successful sales. However, on the sell side, I do agree with The Wall Street Journal’s assessment that there is a shortage of inventory.

Deirdre DeVita: No, that is not the case here. We have many buyers in the pipeline who have not found properties yet. In some cases, this is due to a lack of inventory — closed sale transactions in the second quarter of 2023 are less than half as many as in 2022. This inventory problem is still creating bidding competition at several price points. Buyers are also weary of the steady appreciation of prices that they have witnessed in the last few years, and they are waiting to see some downward pressure on pricing before jumping back into the market. Meanwhile, some sellers have become very ambitious regarding their pricing, expecting price appreciation to gallop along at the pace we saw during the pandemic. Their properties are not moving. There is a definite impasse between these positions. We are all waiting to see which shoe drops first. Both parties are missing out on opportunities right now! A normalized market will create greater competition for them.

Mary Ellen McGuire: I would not purport to know more than The Wall Street Journal, but I think “the Hamptons” is an anomaly in all real estate surveys. We are comparatively small geographically and extremely well positioned as a vacation destination. We do have buyers, and a lot of times off-market sales occur due to lack of listed properties. Our clientele is educated in all things real estate and aren’t afraid to think “outside the box” to get what they want.

Todd Bourgard: While inventory is still not meeting demand at every price point, we’re seeing healthy buyer activity across the board. This summer continues to be busy and we have some incredible listings to market in the coming weeks — from beautiful turn-key homes to prime land offerings.

Ed Bruehl: There are plenty of buyers but not enough “realistic” sellers. The demand for new construction and smaller homes is through the roof; a majority of the multi-decade Hamptons property owners should seriously consider selling at a very “healthy” price. Look at the new construction, luxury townhomes at Water Mill Crossing; after 14 months, just one of the 34 units remains available. The other 33 are all in contract at/around the $2.3 million price point and approximately 2,300 square feet. That’s approximately $1,000 per square foot. Quite an impressive data point, which indicates a healthy interest in smaller homes.

The Fed hiked interest rates to the highest level in 22 years. What toll has that taken on the Hamptons market?

Judi Desiderio: I have said the effect of this interest rate escalation has tentacles. What I mean by that is while most of our deals in the Hamptons are “all cash,” when money was cheap and easy, it was a catalyst to market activity. Furthermore, higher interest rates make it more difficult for companies to grow and expand. That then trickles down to business owners, top-tier, mid-tier and then base-level workers. Truth be told, 7 to 8 percent interest rates are not terrible. They were 18 percent when I began my real estate career — that was terrible!

Gary DePersia: I don’t hear buyers talking about it. Compared to places like Aspen and Palm Beach, our prices seem reasonable. So while rates are up, Hamptons buyers see the relative value compared to other resort areas where there is also less inventory.

Simon Harrison: Prices would be 15 percent higher without the interest rate bumps, so no toll unless you count the market speed limit. Many of our trades in the Hamptons don’t involve financing, and buyer stacks now include opportunity cost at higher rates. I’d like to see the rates come down, as would every market participant, but runaway inflation is worse.

Jennifer Friedberg: While the recent hike in interest rates by the Fed would typically suggest a potential decline in affordability and a slowdown in sales activity, the Hamptons real estate market has displayed surprising resilience. Despite the rise in interest rates, the market continues to experience strong demand. One of the contributing factors is the accumulation of real wealth among buyers over the past few years, which has somewhat mitigated the impact of higher interest rates. That said, the Hamptons Region remains an extremely desirable location from generation to generation. The Hamptons and luxury real estate market have shown signs of prosperity, with luxury stores and restaurants popping up across all towns, indicating a steady flow of wealth in the region. However, it is essential to note that post-pandemic buyers have become more discerning and selective in their purchases. The current market climate demands that properties offer realistic pricing to attract buyers.

Deirdre DeVita: The rate hikes have had two effects: One is that prospective sellers are holding off on listing their properties because they hold mortgages at low rates and making a move right now will subject them to the high rates of today. This is a big reason for the low inventory that we have been experiencing. And the other is that buyers who plan to finance their purchase are holding off on buying right now, because they are expecting the rates to go down eventually. So far, this waiting has meant that buyers are losing ground, value-wise, between the still-rising rates and the still-strong prices.

Mary Ellen McGuire: The higher mortgage rate has impacted the Hamptons’ market. Most buyers are “all cash” but although their purchase is not contingent on a mortgage, a lot of purchasers do mortgage the purchase. The higher interest rates come into play when the potential buyer is making an offer. Due to the higher cost of getting money, the buyer will offer less for the property. Sometimes the seller will acquiesce but not often. Negotiating has become more arduous and does not always end with a meeting of the minds.

Todd Bourgard: The Hamptons attracts a lot of second-home buyers and that audience tends to be less rate-sensitive. Just look at what’s trending here right now: all cash transactions and a record number of bidding wars!

Ed Bruehl: I don’t think the Hamptons market is affected by interest rates like other national markets. That said, I do believe we just went through a relatively quiet nine months due to other factors, and I believe the buyer activity is certainly picking back up.

Are asking prices aligned with the current state of the market?

Judi Desiderio: This depends entirely on location and price range.

Gary DePersia: Though we are now past a very frothy market during COVID, in any market, in any year, there are always sellers with aspirational pricing. There are also buyers who don’t enjoy their Hamptons experience unless they get a chance to negotiate. Sellers have to factor that in as well. Eventually, having tested the market, sellers who want to move their properties will either adjust prices or will entertain lower offers.

Simon Harrison: Yes. The market is always in motion, and buyers are feeling it over terms more than sticker price. Everyone can reasonably agree that more houses need to come on the market to create competition amongst sellers, and until that happens, asking prices will face little competition. Buyers still have the crown though.

Jennifer Friedberg: While the market experienced a period of heightened bidding wars and over-asking price closings, the current state of the market reflects a more balanced approach. Post-pandemic, buyers have become more discerning and cautious in their purchasing decisions and do not want to overpay. As a result, some properties may take longer to sell if they are not priced appropriately from the start. However, properties that are priced right from the beginning and well prepared for sale have seen less price variance and a smoother selling process.

Geoff Gifkins: In most cases prices have adjusted, especially with newly listed properties. Whilst we have seen a dramatic slowdown this year, we are coming from two years of extraordinary sales volume. So in reality the sky is not falling. We are just back to business as usual.

Deirdre DeVita: Some are and some aren’t. Our market is a very discretionary one, and list prices have historically run the gamut from realistic to pie in the sky. When asked what a typical listing discount is, I always answer “It’s complicated …” Actual sales data is the only way to accurately gauge our market.

Mary Ellen McGuire: All asking prices are not aligned with the current market. The owners who respect their brokers and rely on them to have their best interests in mind are selling their properties because they are priced right. As professionals, if we are working as a seller’s agent, we need to be honest and urge our clients to price correctly. A well-priced property is still selling quickly.

Todd Bourgard: Well-priced homes are going into bidding wars while some motivated sellers are learning to be more flexible with terms and price. And none of this is unique to today’s market.

Ed Bruehl: More so now since COVID. Most of the new listings coming to the market represented by experienced brokers are priced correctly and find solid interest and deals getting done quickly. Experienced brokers know that the Hamptons real estate market is never static and use real-time data analysis to accurately understand and market a home’s value.

What advice are you giving impatient sellers right now?

Judi Desiderio: Stay ahead of the curve or it may be like catching a falling knife.

Gary DePersia: The market is very efficient. Don’t be impatient. Buyers will come. Give serious thought to what you need to achieve. Pay attention to the activity on the house and adjust your pricing or expectations accordingly.

Simon Harrison: The best buyer incentive is a lower price, and that could also mean offering better financing than banks are right now. I do have a property offering 3 percent financing right now.

Jennifer Friedberg: When working with sellers in the current market, I wouldn’t necessarily label them as “impatient.” Instead, I advise sellers to be mindful of the unique dynamics of the higher-priced luxury segment, which at the very high end typically tends to have a longer time on the market compared to lower-priced properties. However, there are several key strategies that can help sellers achieve a successful sale. Pricing a property right from the beginning is crucial. Additionally, ensuring the property is well-prepared for sale, showcasing its best features, and making necessary improvements can attract potential buyers and increase desirability. I emphasize the importance of staying in close contact with sellers, providing regular updates on the status of their property, market conditions, and competitive houses. Regular feedback is vital in helping sellers make informed decisions. Feedback from potential buyers can be categorized into two buckets: actionable and not actionable (good to know). Actionable feedback includes suggestions that sellers can implement to improve the property’s appeal, such as addressing minor cosmetic issues or making specific upgrades. Nonactionable feedback may pertain to aspects that sellers cannot change, such as location-related factors (distance to town or beach, road noise, proximity to an airport, etc.). For actionable feedback, I work closely with sellers to devise a plan to address these issues and enhance the property’s appeal to a broader audience. It’s essential to set realistic expectations with sellers regarding the time it may take to secure a buyer for their higher-priced property. By understanding the market conditions and aligning expectations, sellers can approach the selling process with a clearer understanding. So, rather than characterizing sellers as “impatient,” it’s more about providing them with valuable insights and actionable advice to navigate the unique dynamics of the luxury market.

Geoff Gifkins: Managing expectations is crucial. The market has changed. If they want to sell quickly, they need to meet the market and price aggressively. Sales are happening just not at the speed and pace we have been used to. The median price is holding.

Deirdre DeVita: The age-old best advice: Price the house right and it will sell. Base the price on relevant, comparable sales, factoring in current market conditions, prepare the property well from a staging and legality standpoint, and expose it widely to the public and the brokerage community. Our market, being discretionary, can move much more slowly than markets where people are buying their primary residences, so patience is often necessary. The fact that sellers and buyers here are usually under no pressure to transact makes for perfect conditions for achieving true market value, however.

Mary Ellen McGuire: For our impatient sells, I am advising them to take into account their goals and either adjust their expectations (price correctly for the market) or take their homes off the market until such a time as they are back in control.

Todd Bourgard: Low supply and high demand means that our buyers are motivated.

Ed Bruehl: Well, first, I make sure I understand what the seller is looking for. For sellers seeking an aspirational price, you need a great broker, and you need to give them time to find the right buyer who sees your home’s value. If a seller is impatiently waiting, the house is improperly priced — so reduce the price until you have two bidders, and the market will quickly show you the proper price. Ultimately, I would advise them not to sell in the first place and recommend they capture value in their current property and pursue acquiring more Hamptons real estate. Everyone is different; more than anything, you need a broker that takes the time to listen.

How can homebuyers successfully navigate a market with tight inventory?

Judi Desiderio: If you have decided this is where you want to be, then find the best option in your comfort zone (price wise) and plant your roots.

Gary DePersia: I often tell buyers that if the house checks 80 to 90 percent of all the boxes on your wishlist, don’t wait for that perfect house to come on the market. Buy something that is available now, make it your own and down the road you will be in a better position to recognize and pursue that house when it appears. In the meantime, you will have enjoyed the house you own for a number of years. I hear too many buyers with the same story of how they should’ve bought one house or another but didn’t pull the trigger. They regret it today.

Simon Harrison: With a seasoned professional who has seen the market cycle a few times; someone who can see through walls and understands how to do a zoning and environmental analysis; be cool under pressure, and someone who will be there afterward too.

Jennifer Friedberg: In a tight inventory market, buyers should be proactive and be prepared to move quickly: securing preapproval for a mortgage, partnering with a knowledgeable agent who truly knows the market and identifying a strong attorney to represent them. Clearly defining priorities and being open to flexibility in certain features can widen options. Acting promptly when a desirable property is listed and making compelling offers are essential in a demanding market. Patience and persistence are vital, as finding the right home may take time. Yet when a buyer finds a property they love, they need to move. I always recommend against lowball offers and considering sellers’ requirements on closing (timeline and perhaps purchasing contents) can improve the chances of success. Above all, maintaining a sound approach and making well-informed decisions will help buyers navigate the challenges of a tight market.

Geoff Gifkins: Buyers should always do their research and have the ability to recognize value when they see it, get to know the market and be patient the right house will come to market. New listings are coming to the market every day. Lastly when they find the right home be ready to move have an attorney, financing approval if needed and even a home inspector of choice. Even a day delay can cost the loss of a purchase.

Deirdre DeVita: They should start by becoming educated regarding properties in their desired area and price range. Viewing these properties personally will help them to be prepared to pounce when the right place comes along — and pounce they must! They should also have all their ducks in a row: a preapproval for a mortgage (if they plan to finance), liquid funds available for a deposit, and good advisors in place on the legal, financial, insurance and brokerage fronts.

Mary Ellen McGuire: Homebuyers can successfully navigate a tight market by choosing a seasoned broker who will represent them and will work hard, making sure they have instant knowledge of new listings and comps to support their worth. You want a broker who knows his/her market and which purchase will be the best investment for the buyer.

Todd Bourgard: Be flexible, open-minded and nimble. If your agent calls you about an amazing new listing that checks all of your boxes, schedule a showing immediately and be prepared for a bidding war.

Ed Bruehl: Get an excellent broker and trust them. If you’ve got a good broker and take some time to listen, you can learn to understand the market for a few months and how to move forward with total confidence in your ownership strategy before and after your purchase.

How did the rental market differ this summer from the last few years?

Judi Desiderio: Too much inventory, along with reduced tenant population, coming off a crazy COVID rental market — the perfect storm!

Gary DePersia: Contrary to reports, it was not a terrible rental market. It just started later. Most houses rented. Perhaps they rented for a shorter period of time or for somewhat less money, but not so much less that it didn’t make it worthwhile to rent. And again, due to the frenzied COVID market, many rentals started out with unrealistic pricing. Once they adjusted to the new reality of today’s market, they usually rented.

Simon Harrison: Our office did a lot less rentals in comparison; but everyone did less because the pandemic market had close to in-season rates all year round. What’s new this year is that many chose to rent short term, for shorter durations than what is actually allowed under current regulations. We are licensed and cannot engage in weekend rentals, and that is not what we do; it’s a different business.

Jennifer Friedberg: This summer’s rental market has presented unique challenges, setting it apart from the last few years. The significant increase in domestic and international travel plans impacted both landlords and tenants. With many people opting to travel, demand for rentals was less robust than in previous years. As a result, some properties experienced extended periods without tenants, prompting landlords to adjust their rental prices and tenants to submit lower offers as the season approached. Further, there were more inquiries about shorter rental periods, and with prices being adjusted, coupled with the lower demand, some landlords opted not to rent their properties as it just wasn’t worth it to them. However, there is optimism to be found amidst these challenges. Landlords and tenants who took proactive measures by prepping their properties and offering fair market prices managed to secure successful rentals. Those fortunate enough to find such properties have the opportunity to enjoy all the Hamptons have to offer throughout the summer of 2023.

Geoff Gifkins: It was definitively slower this season, and many houses did not rent. Those that did, did so for shorter time periods and in some cases at rates lower than asking. Putting in perspective the previous two years were exceptional and we are now back to normal levels.

Deirdre DeVita: This was a very strange year, rental-wise — the worst one in memory in my 16 years as an agent. A combination of factors explains the situation: Many former tenants became homeowners during the pandemic, diminishing the tenant pool by a lot. This year, many of those new homeowners felt comfortable traveling instead of spending the summer here in the Hamptons, so they put their properties up for rent. This made for a much-increased volume of available rentals for the much-diminished pool of tenants. Not a recipe for success! Add to that some very exuberant pricing and here we are, in August, with hundreds of rentals still available.

Mary Ellen McGuire: A mixed bag of answers. For those of us who represent the landlords, if the landlords positioned themselves to pre-COVID prices, they rented early in the year. A lot of our inventory was overpriced so the potential tenant went on to the nonbrokerage sites, Airbnb, Vrbo. During COVID, folks needed to be here, Now, folks, want to be here. Big difference in motivation.

Todd Bourgard: Just as much activity as years past but with a high volume of bookings in shorter time frames.

Ed Bruehl: The Hamptons rental market is where it was before COVID, which is very healthy — especially for quality homes in desirable locations with shorter terms. Yes, the rental market has cooled about 20 to 30 percent since the COVID premium, but the Hamptons rental market remains as strong as before the pandemic.

Is patience a virtue in real estate?

Judi Desiderio: After over three decades as a broker on the East End, I’ve see the best and the worst of times. Nothing lasts forever. Stay positive remain fluid — the only thing constant is change.

Gary DePersia: Always. Don’t be impatient. The market is efficient.

Simon Harrison: Patience has its place, but so does good information on valuations. Steve Ross told us that “Life is too short, if you like something, buy it.” He liked Kinney Garages, DC Comics, Time Life and Warner Bros among others.

Jennifer Friedberg: While some properties in the current market may indeed require a patient approach due to the critical importance of thorough due diligence, it is essential to recognize that hesitation on others could prove detrimental, especially in the context of limited supply. As the real estate landscape continues to evolve, a proactive and well-informed approach will be key to navigating the intricacies of the market successfully.

Geoff Gifkins: Always! In the previous two years many buyers gave up, losing many houses in bidding wars, and prices increased at such a rate, the purchase evaded them. I see many buyers back in the market ready to buy as prices are steady and there is less competition.

Deirdre DeVita: Yes, but you also need to be prepared to act quickly and decisively when necessary.

Mary Ellen McGuire: Patience can be a virtue or a vice in real estate depending on the scenario. Patience is a virtue if you are positioning yourself to wait for a buyer’s market; know your goal and can wait for the right time to purchase. Patience can be your enemy if you are waiting for an owner to sell for an unrealistic price because someone will come along and buy a property priced property in a heartbeat.

Todd Bourgard: Trick question! If you have the luxury of time and can spend years looking for precisely the perfect home that needs not the slightest tweak, then yes patience is your virtue. But if you want to enjoy life and enjoy the Hamptons, then it’s all about readiness. Be ready to jump on an amazing opportunity.

Ed Bruehl: Patience is a virtue in life, so of course, it pertains to real estate. That said, most deals getting done recently are from very savvy buyers who work quickly and closely with top brokers and their teams to secure a winning bid and close.

What is your real estate outlook for the rest of the year?

Judi Desiderio: I’m an eternal optimist

Gary DePersia: Buyers will make decisions. Houses will go to contract. The Hamptons will prevail.

Simon Harrison: Prices are sticky going down, and inventory will still come in or prices will go up. Interest rates will stop their upward march, and maybe even drop a little, just like inflation, which will continue to moderate. It’s hard to expect a faster market though.

Jennifer Friedberg: In my view, the real estate outlook for the remainder of the year appears to be status quo. Historically, the fall season has been a robust selling period. Nevertheless, the current market might encounter difficulties due to a supply-demand imbalance, with lower supply compared to the demand. Furthermore, the unpredictable political environment could introduce uncertainties that may influence the real estate market in the upcoming months. However, despite these challenges, I remain cautiously optimistic. I have observed sellers diligently preparing to list their properties, and buyers are well-informed and eager to make their move. This suggests that despite potential hurdles, there is still real activity and interest in the market, which could contribute to a somewhat active real estate landscape throughout the remainder of the year.

Geoff Gifkins: We have seen a correction, and in the last few months sales activity has increased. The close-out for 2023 will be stronger than the beginning. The Hamptons will always be a sound real estate investment for buyers.

Deirdre DeVita: We are finding already that mortgage-rate shock is starting to normalize. People are realizing that even today’s rates are on the low side when you take into consideration the rates of the last five decades. Indications of an impending recession are diminishing. Hopefully, the rest of the year will bring a return to a more normal market where a greater amount of inventory becomes available, and buyers and sellers jump into the market — not wanting to delay their dreams any longer.

Mary Ellen McGuire: I need to preface this answer by being upfront and letting you know that I am presumptuous at all times and therefore assume that our market will be busy and I will have another great year. In addition, I love where I live and enjoy educating others on the beauty and diversity of all things “Hamptons.” Most of my business is referral based, and after almost 30 years in the business, I am blessed to have many referrals. The rest of this year will be challenging for sales on the lower end, but the mid to high range will always be in demand and not as dictated by the economy. Real estate has always been about “location.” The Hamptons is not moving and will stay a destination as long as we, the real estate professionals, advise our clients well. Gone are the days of pricing high. We need to advise our owners to price well and to educate our buyers to be vigilant and ready to purchase when they find what they want, at a price that makes sense for their budget and goals. Any Hamptons purchase is a great investment.

Todd Bourgard: We’re in a new normal and the rest of the year will continue to be active and punctuated by headline-making sales and listings from Douglas Elliman’s talented agents.

Ed Bruehl: I expect 2023 to end with a robust fourth quarter after a weak first, second, and third quarter.

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