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Manhattan apartment prices shoot through the roof

The good times are coming back to Manhattan’s residential real estate market.

After a sleepy fourth quarter, sales rebounded, prices rose and inventory fell during the first three months of the year, according to several real estate reports.

Even bidding wars, which were common during the boom years, are popping up again for must-have properties.

“We are back to a normal, positive market,” said Diane Ramirez, president of Halstead Property.

The average price of a Manhattan apartment hit $1.48 million, up 9% from the same period last year, and up 7% compared with the previous quarter, according to a report from Halstead. The number of sales rose 2% to 1,800.

Prices were pumped up by a 42% increase in the number of sales of apartments priced $10 million and above.

Among the hot closings in the quarter: a record-breaking $88 million sale at super-upscale 15 Central Park West, as well as several megadeals at plush upper West Side condo the Laureate.

But there was also a healthy number of sales of studios and one-bedrooms, which accounted for 56% of what was sold, according to a report from Prudential Douglas Elliman. That was the highest share for this lower end of the market in two years.

“Because rents are rising, it is pushing people to become buyers,” said Jonathan Miller, CEO of appraisal firm Miller Samuel, which compiles reports for brokerage firm Prudential Douglas Elliman.

The improving Manhattan real estate numbers are calming fears that a decline in Wall Street bonuses will stall the borough’s recovery.

“New York is a lot more diversified,” said Prudential Douglas Elliman CEO Dottie Herman. “We are becoming less dependent on the financial sector.”

“Look at the economy,” Ramirez added. “We have a surging stock market. New York is back and it’s leading the nation.”

The outlook for the spring looks promising.

The number of contracts signed in the quarter rose 9% compared with a year ago, according to real estate website StreetEasy.com.

Price cuts decreased by 4.7% from last year, while the amount of time apartments remained on the market fell 4.1%.

In another sign of an improving market, inventory fell 5% to 7,411 listings, according to Halstead.

“There is growing confidence from both buyers and sellers,” said Sophia Song, StreetEasy’s vice president of research. “The spring selling season is off to a really good start.”

While Manhattan is improving, the recovery has been slow. Prices are still about 22% below the peak reached in the first quarter of 2008, and are up just 3.5% from the low point reached in the fourth quarter of 2009.

“New York has been stable for 21/2 years,” Herman said. “It’s not going anywhere but up, but it’s going slowly.”

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