NYC residential rents will take years to rebound, experts say

While StreetEasy economist Nancy Wu and Miller Samuel Inc. President and CEO Jonathan Miller may have tallied slightly different percentage declines in New York City's residential rents in the last year, thematically they agreed:

"The rental market has seen a tremendous decline in rents," Miller said.

"Rents dropped at the fastest pace on record in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens," Wu said.

Miller expects it might take three to five years until rents in those boroughs return to pre-pandemic averages, creating both a glut of available apartments and opportunity for those still renting here to upgrade their pads and/or negotiate what they pay while forcing landlords unwilling to lower their rents to entice prospective tenants with concessions.

"We're seeing more concessions than ever on StreetEasy," Wu said. "Right now, we're seeing a lot of developers offering four months' free rent."

"The combination of the two, rents declining combined with more concessions," Miller said, "the average amount of free rent at the end of last year was about two months."

With average December rent costs falling 16% in Manhattan, nearly 14% in Brooklyn, and more than 6% in Queens from that month a year ago, according to MNS Real Estate, October, November, and December also set records for new lease signings.

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"In other words, December saw the most new-lease signings in Manhattan for a December since 2008," Miller said.

"Manhattan will become a more accessible place to a wider range of people making a broader range of incomes," Wu said.

But while falling rents may have triggered renewed interest in the city's rental market, both Miller and Wu remind us the economic damage inflicted by this global pandemic will take many years to undo.

"This is a baby step in the right direction but it does not suggest that a recovery is imminent," Miller said.

"I think that we have not yet plateaued," Wu said. "Until renters come back to the city and there are employment opportunities, we're going to see a surplus of inventory relative to demand."