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Manhattan Choices Narrow

The number of apartments listed for sale in Manhattan shrunk to the lowest level in seven years, creating yet another challenge for would-be buyers, market reports say.

Brokers said the new supply hurdle for buyers could lead to higher sale prices in the months ahead and has already triggered a frenzy of bidding wars in the past few months, as sales surged and few new apartments came on the market.

When Amanda Sawyer, a Corcoran Group broker, put a two-bedroom apartment on the market in Greenwich Village in June for $1.495 million, she said eight would-be buyers submitted written offers within a week.

The apartment, with a view of the Empire State Building from its sixth-floor windows, went into contract in July for about 20% more than the asking price, she said. The buyer, a French national moving to New York to work in finance, “had lost out on other bidding wars,” she said.

In a new market report, Corcoran said there were 6,555 listings in the third quarter, the fewest since mid-2005. The listing count fell by 10.9% from the second quarter and 21.4% since the same quarter in 2011.

Inventory hit a peak of 11,667 units in the first quarter of 2009, after the onset of the financial crisis, according to Corcoran’s figures. The peak number excluded thousands of new condominiums that were available but not included in official tallies.

Now, after a construction slowdown during the downturn, there are relatively few new-condominiums on the market to help meet buyer demands.

The second report by Corcoran and another by Brown Harris Stevens and Halstead Property showed that the number of closings was the highest since 2008. A tally by StreetEasy.com showed that sales increased by 17% compared with the year-earlier third quarter.

But still another report, prepared by Jonathan Miller, the president of Miller Samuel Inc., for Prudential Douglas Elliman, using a different methodology, found sales significantly up from last quarter but below the year-earlier quarter.

Mr. Miller’s report put the median price of a Manhattan apartment at $890,000 and the average price at $1.44 million, both off slightly from the same quarter a year ago, as the share of lower-priced studio and one-bedroom apartments rose.

While the surge in sales reduced inventory somewhat, the number of new listings coming on the market also declined to the lowest level in years.

Corcoran President Pamela Liebman attributed the drop in new listings to declines in new condominium construction since buyers of new condos often turn around and list their previous apartments on the market.

“Too many buyers are now chasing too few properties,” she said.

But Mr. Miller said that with uncertainty over the economy and the expectation that interest will remain low for years, apartment owners were in no rush to sell. Because of the housing downturn, he said many potential sellers haven’t accumulated enough equity in their homes to sell and buy something bigger and better. Even so, Mr. Miller, too, said the inventory shortage could trigger some price increases, while inventory remains low.

Diane Ramirez, the president of Halstead, said the lowest inventory was on the Upper West Side and prime downtown neighborhoods of TriBeCa, SoHo and Greenwich Village.

The apartment supply is higher in Midtown and the Upper East Side, she said.

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