At the beginning of 2009, the New York real estate market was as frozen as the ice at the Rockefeller Plaza skating rink. The collapse of Bear Stearns and bankruptcy by Lehman Brothers on September 15, 2008—a day still mentioned in hushed tones by real estate professionals—symbolized the monumental subprime mortgage crisis and slowed the rate of transactions to a pace best described as glacial.
For the first time in a long time, no one knew what was going to happen. With prices plummeting and inventory rising, anything seemed possible—even a long, drawn-out period of deflation in the historically iron-clad New York City market—and real estate professionals were searching for silver linings and steeling themselves for the worst.
“I’ve been in business for 35 years,” says Diane Ramirez, president of Halstead Property, LLC, “and I have never seen such a standstill. You jump off the cliff and think, ‘Where is the bottom?’ It was unknown territory.”
It was a buyers’ market—if the buyers would only show up. According to the real estate industry insiders, they stayed away for the rest of ‘08, and most of the winter of ’09, and then, gradually, they started to come around again.
“The first quarter was as blah as predicted,” Elizabeth Stribling, president of Stribling & Associates, says of 2009. “The surprise was that the last quarter was a good last quarter.”