Manhattan home sales rise in 4Q, but prices vary

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NEW YORK (AP) — Home sales in Manhattan rebounded at the end of the year, but experts predict a weak recovery for the new year because the number of pending deals declined.

Five housing reports released Tuesday painted a picture of a market that is emerging from a crisis that reshaped Wall Street and threw thousands out of work. Experts said the psychology of the market has changed, but the city’s 10 percent unemployment rate remains a risk.

“There are a lot of unknowns in 2010,” said Jonathan Miller, president and chief executive of real estate appraisal and consulting firm Miller Samuel Inc. “It’s too early to call for a sharp housing recovery, but the worst is behind us.”

In the last three months of 2009, sales of condominium and co-op units posted double-digit gains over the July-September period and were as much as 50 percent above year-ago levels, depending on the report.

The median price fell about 5 percent from the third quarter to between $765,000 and $810,000, depending on the report. One report showed a slight gain.

The reports from The Corcoran Group, Prudential Douglas Elliman, Halstead Property, Brown Harris Stevens and analyzed between 2,473 and 3,810 sales in the fourth quarter.

More properties received multiple bids during the period and buyers started to complain about their lack of choices, said Pamela Liebman, CEO of The Corcoran Group. Anything priced under $500,000 showed the most activity.

“The year ended a lot better than it started,” she said. “What we’re seeing is stability has come back to the market.”

When Congress extended and expanded a tax credit for homebuyers in November it also raised the income limits to $125,000 for singles and $225,000 for couples, which helped more Manhattan buyers qualify.

First-time buyers can get a tax credit of up to $8,000, while buyers who have owned their current homes for at least five years are eligible for up to $6,500. Buyers must be under contract by the end of April to qualify.

However, mortgage rates for loans above $729,750, so-called jumbo loans, remain relatively high for a 30-year mortgage (6.2 percent for a jumbo versus 5.34 percent for a traditional, prime fixed-rate loan) and are harder to qualify for because banks can’t resell the the loans.