Hamptons home prices spiked 19 percent in the first quarter compared with last year, and the rest of the Long Island real estate market got off to a healthy start despite a spate of winter storms.
In the Hamptons, the median price hit $880,000 in the first three months of 2014, according to reports to be released Thursday by the appraisal firm Miller Samuel and the brokerage Douglas Elliman. Closed sales soared by 52 percent, to 528.
The North Fork was busy too, with 109 homes sold, a year-over-year gain of nearly 40 percent, although the median price dropped by 7 percent, to $436,000.
Across the Island, excluding the East End, homes sold for a median price of $345,000 in the first quarter, 1.2 percent more than in the same period last year. Island real estate agents had their busiest first quarter since the real estate boom of 2007, with 4,071 homes changing hands in Nassau County and western Suffolk County -- an annual rise of 4.3 percent.
Overall, "You're not seeing the same gains that I see in the city, but it's definitely busier. People are out there," said Dottie Herman, chief executive of Douglas Elliman in Manhattan.
In Manhattan, the median price of co-ops and condominiums hit $972,428 in the first quarter, a gain of 18.5 percent over last year, and the price per square foot surged to a 25-year high of $1,363, Miller Samuel and Douglas Elliman reported last month.
With interest rates still low, but rising gradually, many first-time buyers are jumping into the Hamptons market, said Ernest Cervi, executive managing director of Corcoran in Bridgehampton.
"We're seeing activity in all price points, which is a very healthy sign in the market," Cervi said.
The average rate for a 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage was 4.27 percent last week, up from 3.41 percent a year earlier, mortgage giant Freddie Mac reported.
To be sure, it's tricky to compare the Island's housing market so far this year with early 2013. Many high-end home buyers rushed to close deals by late 2012 to avoid a 2013 tax increase; as a result, big-ticket transactions lagged in early 2013. Also, damage from superstorm Sandy, which struck Oct. 29, 2012, prompted some homeowners to sell flooded properties at depressed prices, while other sales were delayed or canceled.
Plus, this year's late winter storms discouraged many home buyers; in Nassau and western Suffolk, contract signings dropped by nearly 12 percent compared with a year earlier, to 5,135.
Even so, brokers said they expect prices and sales activity to remain strong this year.
"I see what I call sustainable growth -- it's going to grow but it's not going to grow like crazy," Herman said.
Along the South Shore of Nassau County, prices and sales activity posted gains compared with the first quarter of 2013. From January through March, 571 homes were sold, 11 percent more than during the same period in 2013. The median price was $372,000, an annual gain of almost 5 percent.
On Suffolk's South Shore -- excluding the Hamptons -- sales activity rose year-over-year by more than 10 percent, with 605 homes changing hands. But there, the median price dropped, by almost 4 percent, to $269,000.
Well-maintained homes, especially those not directly on the water, have seen price increases, said Jerry O'Neill, owner of Coldwell Banker Harbor Light in Amity Harbor. "We're having more activity in the higher price ranges," he said.
However, he said, storm-damaged properties selling as-is continue to drag down median prices on Suffolk's South Shore.
Inventory was tight throughout Nassau and western Suffolk, with 15,098 homes listed for sale, up from a low of 12,801 in late 2013 but still down 37 percent compared with five years before, Miller Samuel reported.
Some homeowners would like to sell, but they don't have sufficient equity or good enough credit to buy their next home, said Jonathan Miller, chief executive of Manhattan-based Miller Samuel.
"You have people that are just sitting and waiting for prices to rise so they can get back into the market," Miller said.