Key Highlights

  • New lease signings in Manhattan fell -13% in December 2019
  • According to Jonathan Miller, president of Miller Samuel Appraiser, rents surpassed “threshold of affordability” in December 2019
  • New lease signings in Manhattan hit +94% in December 2020

Like most everything else, New York City’s real estate market in 2020 was “unprecedented.”  Once March’s pandemic shutdown took hold of NYC’s housing market, both median sale prices and rental lease signings plummeted.

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As of Q4 2020, median sale prices jumped, particularly in Queens (+9.5%) and Brooklyn +9.4%), though Manhattan’s sale prices (driven by high-end condos) have remained relatively flat.

The rental market, however, tells us a different story.  (In another post this week titled “NYC’s Sales and Rental Markets Diverge,” you’re able to compare the differences between the sales and rental markets.)  Jonathan Miller, president of Miller Samuel Appraisersand author of the most recent Douglas Elliman Report, told The New York Times,“The rental market was already going soft in December 2019” and that rents had exceeded “a threshold of affordability.”

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Then the pandemic hit and NYC’s lease activity plummeted from -19% in Q4 2019 to -38% in March 2020.  Lease signings went south from there until June when lockdown restrictions eased, broker fees were waived and landlords began applying concessions to attract tenants. By September 2020, lease-signing totals matched those of the previous year.

Here’s a look a Manhattan Lease Signings over One Year:

One-Year Change

  • -13%      December 2019
  • -2%        January 2020
  • -10%      February 2020
  • -38%      March 2020
  • -71%      April 2020
  • -62%       May 2020
  • -36%       June 2020
  • -23%       July 2020
  • -24%       August 2020
  • 0              September 2020
  • +33%       October 2020
  • +30%        November 2020
  • +94%        December 2020


Q4 2020 saw the highest number of lease signings in Manhattan in any Q4 since 2008.  And, with all the rent cuts and concessions applied, Manhattan’s median monthly rent was down -17.3% compared to the previous year to $2,800.

So, the question is, does this enormous spike in signed leases coupled with a drop of -17.3% in median rent prices translate into Manhattan’s “new normal” for renters?

Miller of Miller Samuel said, “This is a baby step.  There are still record concessions, high inventory, record vacancies. Those indicators haven’t gone away. This is how a recovery begins, with new transactions, but this is not a recovery.”

Thanks to The New York Times and Miller Samuel/Douglas Elliman.

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