In November, one of the hottest real estate markets in the U.S. hit a gloomy milestone: Manhattan rent prices saw their steepest drop since the Great Recession, according to a new report from real estate platform StreetEasy. 
The median asking rent in the borough hit a 10-year low of $2,800. This is a 12.7 percent year-over-year decline, compared to a 10 percent drop in the heart of the recession. 
“We expected the rental market to match the weakness seen during the Great Recession, but the fact that the market has surpassed that level in less than one year shows how serious the crisis caused by the pandemic has been,” said StreetEasy economist Nancy Wu in a statement.
Outside of Manhattan's high-rise jungle, other boroughs experienced only a slightly less dramatic fall in rental prices. Brooklyn rents dropped 6.3 percent year-over-year, and Queens dropped 5.7 percent year-over-year in November, each surpassing their recession records. 
Yet, even as prices fall across the city, inventory remains double what it was this time last year with a net increase of 37,000 homes on the market, according to StreetEasy data. 
“The rollout of COVID-19 vaccines and plenty of great rental deals will be the catalyst for many to return to the city, but we’re still a long way from the city’s return to normal," Wu said. "Until that happens, inventory will remain high, and renters will continue to enjoy deals that were unheard of a year ago.”
This is most evident in midtown Manhattan. The platform reported that 30.7 percent of landlords in that area have discounted monthly rent on their units. 
There is some evidence, however, that the rush on rentals is already underway. 
New leases in the borough increased 30 percent in November over last year, according to a report from real estate appraisers and consultants Miller Samuel and Douglas Elliman. This marks the strongest November for new leases in 12 years. 
Keyan Sanai, a real estate agent for Douglas Elliman, told Cheddar that low prices and concessions from landlords are already driving increased demand for rentals.  
"I understand why StreetEasy is putting a negative spin on it, but at the end of the day I don't think it's news that prices have dropped," he said. "I do think it is news that leases are being signed, because for a long time they weren't." 
Much of what's happening can be chalked up to the strategy of individual landlords, he added. Some are willing to cut prices and offer discounts in the short-term to drive interest, while others might have higher overhead and can't offer the same deals. 
Sanai also stressed how different this crisis is from the Great Recession, and that any comparison ultimately fails to reflect the unique challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.  
"Hopefully this is something that we'll never have to compare anything else to," he said.