Issue 7, March 2007: It’s a Bull Market in the Financial District

I remember the Financial District a decade or so ago when it was a “ghost town” after work and on weekends with a few straggling tourists and some lost suburbanites. The people who worked there only knew their way to their subway stop or to their limo. No New Yorker would ever think of living there. A deserted island seemed to have more appeal.

Boy, have things changed. The Financial District has rapidly become one of the fastest growing and most sought after areas of the city, and not just investment bankers who value the short walk to work. Quite the contrary, artists, designers, architects, young professionals and young families are all moving into the area. Today, instead of seeing businessmen in suits hurrying to their next appointment we see mother’s with strollers. On weekends, instead of the isolated tourist, we see families on the way to Battery Park or the Hudson River promenade.

One client of mine who owns a gallery on Madison and 60th Street initially refused to even look in the area and now they are renting an apartment and waiting to buy a condo.

What’s drawing people way downtown? It’s a combination of factors led by quality housing and comparably realistic prices. Much of the development is conversions of pre-war commercial properties to condos. These buildings have great loft-type space with high ceilings, large windows and the developers have smartly installed modern finishes that are of the same quality of those found in better SOHO and Tribeca properties.

The units are attractive to families and many creative types looking for larger spaces at a lower cost than uptown, in addition to the investment bankers. All see value and want equity in a property that will give them a solid return in a short time.

Prices have continued to go up and while people were paying around $950 to $1,150 per square foot a year ago, the price at 25 Broad Street is up to $1,249 a square foot. The recent Prudential Douglas Elliman 4th Quarter Market report prepared by Miller Samuel Inc. showed the price per square foot for co-ops in the area about the same as those on the Upper East and West sides. Condos, which predominate downtown, were slightly less than the other two areas.

What’s happening in the Financial District is similar to the explosion on the West Side of Manhattan. Who, several years ago, would have thought an apartment on 53rd Street between 8th and 9th Avenues would sell for $2 million ( I sold there last year for that number)? But as demand increases in Manhattan, the perimeters of desirable “hot” residential areas continue to expand.

With residents come the stores and conveniences that serve them and while not a shopping mecca like much of the upper East and West Sides, stores catering to residents are moving in. In the past few years alone, I’ve noticed an increase in pharmacies and even veterinarians opening offices. Whole Foods and Jubilee have established themselves and, while not a requirement for convenient living, the opening of Hermes on Broad Street set a new tone and marked a significant milestone for the area.

Another attraction is the transportation. Most major subway lines pass through the area so commuting north is easy. This will improve with the development of the mass transit center on Fulton Street. Future plans may include a direct link to Kennedy Airport from downtown and quicker access to Grand Central Terminal.

While the Financial District grows in popularity, the overall Manhattan market continues to show strength and run counter to the nationwide housing weakness. The Prudential Douglas Elliman report for the 4th quarter of 2006 showed prices were up 3.2 percent over the 4th quarter in 2005. There was a significant increase in sales during a normally sluggish period and inventory declined significantly.