“We just loved it, and all our friends and family loved it,” said Mr. Nordquist, 51, a retired financier from Manhattan. “It had to be here, and it had to be now.”
David and Sindhu Nordquist deliberated for years about where to buy a second home, and thenlast summer, while renting a house in the Hamptons for the first time, they decided to find a place on the East End of Long Island to call their own.
With Timothy O’Connor, an agent at Halstead, the Nordquists looked at more than 60 listings, searching for “a beach house in the woods,” Mr. Nordquist said. “We wanted privacy and didn’t want neighbors around us.”
Their timing was fortunate. In the usually high-flying Hamptons, the housing market is in a rut. Inventory is up; prices are down. The median sale price of a single-family home in the Hamptons has dropped 7.9 percent, from $933,750 in the first quarter of 2018 to $860,000 during the first three months this year, according to a report from Douglas Elliman Real Estate.
After searching for several months, the Nordquists found the serenity they were looking for down a long gravel driveway: a 1991 contemporary home with 3,300 square feet, a heated pool and a pool house, on a woodsy 1.82 acres. Initially listed at $1.825 million in August 2017, the property went on and off the market. When the couple visited last December, the price had dropped to $1.6 million. They bought it this spring for $1.35 million, with plans to paint, change the windows and convert the wood-burning fireplaces to gas.David Nordquist at his new Hamptons home, which sits on 1.82 acres and has a heated pool and a pool house.CreditDaniel Gonzalez for The New York Times
“We negotiated pretty hard on the price,” Mr. Nordquist said. “I bargained a lot. I felt the market was softening.”
As Aspasia G. Comnas, the executive managing director of Brown Harris Stevens, observed, “Sellers in the Hamptons are used to the market always going up every year, and if they priced aggressively it didn’t matter.” But in today’s market, homes that are not priced competitively “are going to have to go through a series of price reductions” before they sell, she said — at all levels of the market, not just at the high end.
Buyers seem to be staying on the sidelines. The number of single-family homes on the market during the first three months of 2019 was nearly double that of a year earlier: 2,327, up from 1,201. And sales of single-family homes have dropped, to 287 from 350 in 2018.
One thing making buyers hesitate, said Jonathan J. Miller, the president of the appraisal firm Miller Samuel and the author of the Douglas Elliman report, is the new federal tax code approved by Congress in late 2017, which makes it more expensive to own luxury property because homeowners can deduct only up to $10,000 in state and local taxes from their federal income taxes.
“The Hamptons are trending much like the New York City metro area,” Mr. Miller said, noting that the situation is similar in other parts of the Northeast and in California, where real estate is pricey and property taxes are high.
Subscribe to With Interest
Catch up and prep for the week ahead with this newsletter of the most important business insights, delivered Sundays.SIGN UPThe four-bedroom house in Water Mill that Keith Baltimore bought is an “upside-down” house, with living space on the upper level.CreditDaniel Gonzalez for The New York Times
“The slowdown in sales represents the disconnect between sellers, who are anchored to better times, and buyers, who have a lot of changes to process,” Mr. Miller said.
Any sense of urgency was further quelled by the “intense volatility of the financial markets at the end of last year, along with the close linkage of Wall Street to the Hamptons,” he added.
A 17 percent dip in bonuses in the finance industry in 2018 likely also discouraged Wall Street workers from buying second homes in the Hamptons. The average bonus for financial market employees in 2017 was $184,400; in 2018, it dropped to $153,700, according to a report from the New York State Comptroller.
Those who did buy, though, found bargains.
Figuring it didn’t hurt to look, Maria and Stephen Zak, of Saddle River, N.J., toured a 2007 harbor-front house with four bedrooms, four and a half bathrooms, a heated pool and a hot tub, on an acre in East Hampton, listed for $3.2 million. “We loved it, but it was way out of our budget,” said Mr. Zak, 53, the chief financial officer of a boutique investment bank.
They had been looking for a second home for about a year. The price of the 3,400-square-foot house had already been reduced from the original 2017 asking price of $3.995 million. So “we threw out an offer we were comfortable with,” Mr. Zak said. And in November, the Zaks closed on the house, for $2.735 million.The bedrooms of Mr. Baltimore’s 1970s house are on the lower level. CreditDaniel Gonzalez for The New York Times
“It’s like the dog that chases the car and actually catches it,” Mr. Zak said. “It’s still not cheap, but it was fair and it was in move-in condition.” They have since installed a new kitchen, painted and brought in new rugs.
In the shifting luxury real estate market, the highest priced homes are taking longer to sell, said Laura Brady, the president and founder of Concierge Auctions, in Manhattan. The company’s Luxury Homes Index report, released earlier this month, noted that the 10 most expensive homes sold in the Hamptons last year had an average sale price of $24,079,286, and spent an average of 706.7 days on the market. Luxury homes that lingered on the market tended to go for less, selling at discounts of nearly 40 percent after six months, Ms. Brady said.
In Montauk, the 20-acre oceanfront estate that belongs to Dick Cavett, the former talk show host, has been on the market for two years. The 7,000-square-foot, six-bedroom, four-bathroom house, which was listed for $62 million in June 2017, was designed by McKim, Mead & White in the 1880s and rebuilt in 1997 after a fire, using “forensic architecture techniques” to replicate the original house with a wraparound porch and a bell tower, said Gary DePersia, an associate broker with Corcoran. The price dropped to $48.5 million last August, then Mr. DePersia re-listed it in February, for $33.95 million.
“They are motivated sellers,” Mr. DePersia said. “Where are you going to get 20 acres with 900 feet of oceanfront and utter privacy with a historic house for that kind of money in the Hamptons? You are not.”
According to a first quarter report from Bespoke Real Estate, which deals exclusively with $10 million-plus properties, 122 homes priced over $10 million were on the market at the end of March, with 13 between $30 and $40 million.
Most $10 million-plus buyers already have a home in the Hamptons, said Zachary Vichinsky, a principal at Bespoke Real Estate, and have spent “in some cases the better part of two years exploring the market and defining what works best for them,” whether that means upgrading or building a new home closer to the water.
“There is a lack of urgency on their part, in a lot of cases, but the special inventory continues to move pretty quickly,” Mr. Vichinsky said.
In 2018, a total of 41 homes sold for $10 million or more in areas that brokers refer to as the “alpha market,” which includes East Hampton, Southampton, Water Mill, Bridgehampton, Sagaponack and Wainscott.
But there was one bright spot in the market overall: homes listed for $500,000 to $1 million. That sector of the market accounted for 34 percent of sales in the first quarter, according to a report from Brown Harris Stevens.Mr. Baltimore affectionately refers to his hexagonal house as “the hive.”CreditDaniel Gonzalez for The New York Times
Last November, after renting a “shack on the bay” in Sag Harbor for nine years, Keith Baltimore, an interior designer with offices in Manhattan, Port Washington, N.Y., and Boca Raton, Fla., paid $900,000 for a “quirky and campy” 1970s contemporary house with an upside-down floor plan, a circular great room with a skylight, and a pool, on an acre in Water Mill. The house was originally listed for $1.15 million.
“There were so many houses on the market, it felt like a full-time job looking at what’s out there, doing due diligence,” said Mr. Baltimore, 55, who spent weekends for a year and a half house shopping.
From Westhampton to Montauk, about 1,900 homes are available for $2 million or less, including about 900 under $1 million and 160 for around $500,000, said Mr. O’Connor, the Halstead agent.