Hamptons real estate heads into its hottest season ever

Temperatures aren't the only thing on the rise as the Hamptons readies for its biggest summer yet. After a late start, delayed by an unusually long and harsh winter, the Hamptons real-estate market is seeing unprecedented activity going into the 2014 season, with all indicators pointing to a boom not seen since, and in some cases surpassing, 2007's peak.

From a luxury builder's perspective, in three-and-a-half decades, there has never been the level of demand in the market that there is right now.

Water Mill is a hamlet of Southampton, NY
Source: Rob Rich
Water Mill is a hamlet of Southampton, NY

The biggest factor? Wall Street bonuses.

Bonuses are up 15 percent — and are bigger than they've been in seven years.

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That, combined with a stock market near record highs, is bringing to the Hamptons droves of Wall Street, real estate, entertainment and other Manhattan professionals, as well as a significant and steadily increasing number of foreign buyers.

From a Hamptons real-estate agent's perspective, there is a lot of confidence in the high end, and that is spreading throughout the market.

Growth across the board

All price ranges are moving, from the lower end of the market — $3 million to $4 million — on up. In the first quarter of 2014, closed sales increased 38 percent over the same period last year, according to the Corcoran Report, and sales volume rose by 27 percent. And, while the Hamptons market historically doesn't move as fast as Manhattan's, properties that are unique and those that are priced well within their particular range are selling much more quickly than usual.

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Contributing to the accelerated pace is the extended winter, which created pent-up demand as buyers and renters who postponed venturing out while the weather was bad are now trying to get in for the summer. The month of May has seen a frenzy of activity not just with last-minute renters but with buyers seeking to close in 30 days or so — including one sale that closed in as little as 10 days.

On the sellers' side, a few big sales in recent weeks have spurred others to put their homes on the market. This month alone has seen an oceanfront estate sell for $147 million and an inland property on Georgica Pond for $50 million.

Hamptons hot spots

As available land has become scarce, it has increased in value especially in prime areas south of highway near the ocean and waterfront.

Wainscott, Sagaponack, Bridgehampton and Water Mill still have a few large parcels available and all have the rural feel that, along with the beach, first attracted the high-end clientele to the Hamptons years ago, offering plenty of open space, farmland, vineyards, orchards and reserves.

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The villages of Sag Harbor and North Haven — artsy, low-key, and historically under the radar — are now hot. Buyers are coveting their boatable waterfront as similar inventory shrinks throughout the Hamptons, and properties there are commanding prices 30-percent higher than in the first quarter of 2013.

What buyers covet

After a five-year standstill, the Hamptons' building renaissance has revealed a marked shift in aesthetic as the elaborate, traditional design elements long favored here are giving way to a cleaner, lighter look. Buyers are drawn to interiors with an open flow, abundant natural light, and flexible floor plans.

Bigger is better — clients are coveting expansive master suites with his and her baths, dressing rooms, private porches, and sitting rooms. Walkout lower levels boast ceilings as high as 12 feet, plenty of light, and everything from state-of-the-art gyms and theaters to bars, wine cellars and service kitchens.

Today's Hamptons buyer also seeks integrated indoor/outdoor living. Sliding glass walls that seamlessly connect indoors and out, outdoor kitchens and fireplaces, pergolas, and pool houses equipped for entertaining are all sought-after features.

Who's ready for summer in the Hamptons?

Commentary by Jeffrey Collé, president of JC Construction Management Co. and SusanBreitenbach, senior vice president of the Corcoran Group.