In January, following a move to Southern California, Edward Jun listed his three-bedroom condo in Long Island City for $2.29 million. Several offers came in: the first at $2.17 million, with the rest dipping even lower. The spread ultimately dropped its price to $2.1 million in May, spending some 300 days on the market.
“Open houses were dreadfully slow,” says the 42-year-old corporate finance professional, who shared the home with his wife, 38-year-old Jinny Chang, and their two children. “Two to three people [came] at a time, and it was just not moving.”
But in November, Amazon announced that it will open one of its second headquarters, HQ2, in the Queens neighborhood, bringing at least 25,000 jobs.
Suddenly, Jun’s broker, Halstead Property’s Jonna Stark, received multiple emails, calls and texts from folks interested in seeing the nearly 1,500-square-foot home on Center Boulevard. Within two weeks, there were six listing appointments and two open houses — much to the chagrin of Jun’s rental tenants, who had already moved in.
The hype of Amazon’s arrival has already sparked a frenzy in Long Island City’s condo market, marked by a crazed rush of prospective buyers scrambling to snag a piece of it.
“We were a little overwhelmed,” says Jun. That, combined with the potential for Amazon to boost neighborhood prices even higher, is why the couple took the condo off the market in late November. (They’ll relist in 2019.) “I expect that prices will have increased on a price-per-square-foot basis,” says Jun. He anticipates asking around $2.3 million.
“We’re on the map like we’ve never been before,” says Stark. “The world knows about [LIC] now, not just New Yorkers.”
Though the East River-front campus at Anable Basin won’t be completed until 2022, the e-commerce giant will lease 1 million square feet at One Court Square, also known as the Citigroup building, in the interim. The choice is already moving area real estate markets.
Beginning in early 2018, LIC residents and brokers began seeing slow sales and, thanks to the area’s years-long construction boom, a sharp rise in available homes. “There was still obviously [buyer] interest, but there was no sense of urgency,” says Corcoran broker Lauren Renee Bennett. But then, on Nov. 5, the New York Times leaked news that Amazon was finalizing plans to set a stake in Long Island City. A week later, the Wall Street Journal confirmed the decision.
Quickly, Bennett’s handful of LIC sales listings — one of which spent eight months on the market without an offer — was spoken for. Now she has five signed contracts.
“It changed overnight,” she says, adding that the eight-month-old listing — a three-bedroom, 1,466-square-foot condo asking $1.49 million on 51st Avenue — fell into a bidding war between two interested buyers in November, during the days before Amazon’s expansion was official.
“You started hearing rumblings that [LIC] was a finalist for HQ2, and it seemed to be kind of close to a sure thing,” says that condo’s owner, 35-year-old Andrew Panico. Now a Florida resident, Panico hasn’t lived in the unit since 2011 but has rented it out ever since.
Both contracts were sent out at the same time, and both parties stayed up all night to rush to their attorneys’ offices early in the morning to sign and submit them. The deal has not yet closed, and Bennett declined to discuss the specific contract price, but the winning bid was a full $300,000 over the initial offer. In the end, the home will sell for over its asking price.
The Amazon effect has also broken local price records. A two-bedroom, 1,443-square-foot condo at 46-30 Center Boulevard entered contract in the days after Amazon’s announcement for more than the $2.99 million ask. That works out to at least $2,077 per square foot, which Bloomberg reported marks a neighborhood record.
The home’s listing agent, Compass’ Silvette Julian, tells The Post that Amazon certainly helped make this contract price possible.
“Everyone sees the potential of this neighborhood,” she says. “It will only get better.”
It’s a mantra that’s quickly spreading, and that’s why prospective buyers — a mix of city locals, suburb dwellers and people from as far as California and China — are cramming into new developments for open houses and tours.
The 182-unit condo Galerie, at 22-18 Jackson Ave., has seen a surge in visitors, according to Brendan Aguayo, a senior vice president and managing director of Halstead Property Development Marketing. HPDM is handling sales at the March-launched property.
“On average, per week, we were seeing 35 attendees before the Amazon announcement,” he says. “And after, we’re seeing 200.”
Previously, Aguayo and his staff of three agents and an administrative assistant would host day-long open houses on Saturdays and Sundays. Now, with a fourth agent, they’ve reduced open-house hours to two-hour windows each Saturday and Sunday to better contain the crowds — but have needed to keep the sales gallery open hours past its official 6 p.m. closing time.
“We were totally unprepared for all the traffic,” Aguayo says. Galerie, whose prices begin at $575,000 for a studio, has had roughly 40 deals since early November — up considerably from the average eight per month leading up to Amazon’s announcement. (In sum, contracts are out on more than 55 percent of the 182 units.)
Eager buyers have also lined up to check out the boutique 18-unit Vernon123 condo, which launched sales in October from $885,000. Douglas Elliman’s Rick Rosa, a broker leading sales there, posted a Facebook photo showing over a dozen people standing outside the 47th Avenue development, vying to get into a November open house.
“Amazon brought in a new crop of [buyers] that were really teetering,” he says. “Amazon gave them the push that they needed.”
Sara, who declined to provide her last name for professional reasons, is one LIC buyer who speedily inked a deal. After reading the Times leak, she reached out to local brokers about three units she wanted to buy as investments. They had all gone into contract overnight. Instead, she snagged a two-bedroom spread in a new development for less than $1 million. She plans to rent it out.
Sara expects more bars and restaurants to open. “Amazon, at a minimum, will bring that in to attract more renters,” she adds.
For now, real-estate sources agree, only Long Island City’s condos are garnering this kind of buzz. And LIC has far fewer condos than rentals — meaning there’s more competition for each one. As of November, LIC had a total of 840 condominium units and 10,041 rental apartments, according to data from brokerage MNS. A total of 1,695 condo homes are in the neighborhood’s development pipeline, along with 14,441 rental pads.
“Renters tend to make decisions within a much shorter timeline — from initial interest to actual move-ins,” says Erik Rose, managing director of residential development in New York for Tishman Speyer. The firm is behind LIC’s massive Jackson Park rental, with 1,871 units across three towers and net-effective prices from $2,571 for a studio. “We don’t anticipate the full Amazon effect will impact the rental market until they begin to relocate and hire new employees.”
The area’s new residents haven’t yet registered with local businesses.
“There’s been no change as far as I’ve seen,” says Jim Pileski, the owner and manager of the Burger Garage eatery, which stands in the shadow of One Court Square. The manager of the nearby Jackson Deli bodega, Ali Manssor, observes, “It’s no different.”
As the first witnesses to the flood of interest, condo brokers are likely to continue to be on the front lines of the Amazon effect.
“When we tally [sales] up at the end of the year, I’m betting it’s going to be our best quarter ever,” says Eric Benaim, founder and CEO of ModernSpaces, a brokerage whose core market is LIC. Before the Amazon news broke, ModernSpaces was selling between six to eight units there weekly. Since the announcement, they’ve sold 300 — including five on Thanksgiving — with buildings like Corte at 21-30 44th Drive and the Bond at 46-20 11th St. earning interest from buyers.
Twenty of these deals were handled via text message, as the Journal reported. Those comfortable conducting a transaction via SMS include past clients who now want in on developments he’s marketing
“They want to move fast,” says Benaim, who has been too busy to replace his cracked phone case.
Corcoran’s Bennett, too, is benefiting from mobile users. She’s negotiating two deals with Asia-based buyers over WhatsApp. Meanwhile, her LivingLIC.nyc website has had 1,000 more views in the last week than during a normal seven-day period. Her Instagram account surged to 16,300 followers from 15,500, with people messaging her about for-sale properties.