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Perhaps the most difficult property type to determine value for today is vacant land or low rise properties which one would think have a highest and best use as a development site. The difficulty stems from a lack of transactions upon which to form an opinion.Does land have value today? Sure it does, but calculating that value is not an easy task.  Interestingly, during the most challenging years in the recession of the early 1990′s, land actually had no value. Zero. Nada! During most of 1990 and 1991, there were development sites, which had been forclosed on by banks, which were on the market for $20 per buildable square foot and there were no takers. This was shortly after the development market hit a peak in 1987 thru 1989 when the best sites in Manhattan ( Metropolitian Tower, Cityspire, and the Blockfront on Second Avenue between 64th and 65th Street) hit a record of $125 per buildable square foot. Massey Knakal sold a site, which I believe was one of the first development sites coming out of that zero-land-value period, at 408 East 79th Street to RFR Holdings for about $30 per buildable square foot. I vividly remember the seller being thrilled to have achieved such a high price.Today, land has value but the disconnect between buyers and sellers is significant. During this past cycle, land values routinely hit $400 or $500 per buildable square foot. The most prime sites reached approximately $700 and The Drake hotel site at 56th and Park achieved a price in excess of $1,000.Since the peak of this most recent cycle and as the economy has deteriorated, the availability of financing for development projects has all but evaporated. Accessing debt for hotel or office construction is very challenging today and the properties with the best chance of obtaining financing are residential rental developments. We are working with several developeres who are looking to purchase sites for residential rental construction, however, the common opinion is that in order to make a residentail rental project work, a price of $150 to $200 is the maximum that can be paid for the land. Given that sellers could have obtained two or three times this amount 18 months ago, they are not presently willing to “hit the bid”.Many developers who are interested in taking advantage of current market conditions are waiting on the sidelines for the failed projects of novice devolopers to hit the market via lenders who will likely take back many of these properties.One thing to keep in mind is that there are always exceptions to the rule.  A hospital recently purchased a site at 1133 York Avenue for just under $300 per buildable square foot and they will probably sit on this site for a while before ultimately building a new facility for their own use. Users will always have needs and sites that are extraordinarily well located or have some strategic value are likely to achieve premium pricing.This segment of the market is where I see the most opportunity today as, not only do you need capital to take advantage of the opportunities but, you need developoment expertise as well. As transactions start to occur, the question of what land value is, will be much easier to answer.

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