Friday, June 20, 2014

How Much Higher Can Rents Go if Manhattan Wages Keep Falling?

According to the US Labor Department, employment in Manhattan increased, but wages have fallen because fewer jobs were added back in the finance industry. Overall private sector wages fell 3.3% in Manhattan.  

What does this mean for the crazy rents that we see throughout Manhattan? And the crazy home valuations? It could mean bad things. Sure, there are still tons of foreign buyers snapping up townhouses and condos in Manhattan; but that's still a small fraction of the people who live on the island. So... eventually... either we get a new extreme high wage-paying industry to employ lots of people.... or finance resurges in Manhattan.... or rents are going to have to come down.

It has been a strange year in Manhattan so far. Rents slipped quite a bit in November to a new 7 year high, which is par for the course, but Manhattan landlords were introducing incentives as late as February 2014.
According to Elliman's monthly report, May 2014 vacancy rates were just a tick lower than May 2013, and actually .13% higher than April 2014.  Some articles made mention that Brooklyn rents and Manhattan rents came close to equal during this time, suggesting that many Manhattanites are decamping to Brooklyn. But ultimately, it may simply be that rents are just too damn high, especially since the people who could afford the sky-high rents, and all the amenities, are less and less likely to be working in Manhattan.

I'm not saying that rents are going to fall off a cliff. New York is still the place to be and many people from all over the world locate here. And there is still a housing shortage, albeit an affordable housing shortage. The first developments to be squeezed will be the mid-range developments, those renting for $3500-$7000/month. The danger is that we might start to see more high end rentals than affordable developments, for the same reason that high end condo developments have proliferated in this city over middle class ownership housing: the middle class is getting squeezed, wages are falling, and the rich are the ones we can count on to have money.

But the 1% is only a single percent, so eventually rents will have to fall a little. Or even a lot. At least until New York finds its next big wage paying industry.