New York's wealthy are moving their money — and often their families — into surrounding suburbs and exurbs as they look to escape the coronavirus hotspot and a crowded lifestyle.
It's too early to tell how many New Yorkers will leave the city, or if the mass exodus that many are predicting will come true. Yet sales activity and interest, especially at the high end, is already shifting from New York City to the surrounding areas.
Although more than 3.2 million people worldwide have been sickened by the coronavirus, New York City, with its high population density, has been particularly hard hit. According to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, more than 164,841 people have had Covid-19 in the city.
Brokers say there's a rush of buyers and renters from the city who are asking for the same thing: more space and more distance from neighbors and crowds. Some of the wealthy are looking to rent. Others are checking out second homes a short drive from the city and still others want more permanent primary homes for their families.
"I can't remember the last time we were this busy," said Owen Berkowitz, with the Berkowitz Marrone Team at Douglas Elliman, who serves Westchester County, New York; Fairfield County, Connecticut, and other high-end markets around New York and Boston.
Berkowitz had a home in New Rochelle, New York, go into contract this week to a New York City buyer, and has two other homes headed to contract. The New Rochelle home, a four-bedroom colonial, was listed for $999,000.
Fairfield County has become another hotspot for New York emigres. While some are looking to buy, many others are looking for summer rentals there as an alternative to the Hamptons, which has more traffic and not as much space and local infrastructure for the money.
Steven Magnuson, a Douglas Elliman broker in Greenwich, Connecticut, recently rented a modern, five-bedroom home with an infinity pool there for $55,000 a month, a record for the town. Now, the house is available again and the owner raised the rent to $65,000. Even with the higher rent, there's a waiting list of 18 people waiting to see it and rent, Magnuson said.
"It seems like everyone wants to leave the city," he said. "Our problem is not enough inventory for sale. We've been on the phone 24/7 and on email."
The rush of activity could help revive affluent suburbs like Greenwich, Westchester County and parts northern New Jersey that were slow to recover from the 2008 housing crisis. The recent federal limits on state and local tax deductions also hit suburbs hard because of their high property taxes. Wealthy buyers also didn't want the big classic estates and mansions because they were too much work to maintain and they wanted to be in the cities.
But in the post-coronavirus market, sprawling homes with multiple rooms and living quarters, large land parcels and remote locations have become an asset rather than a liability.
"I think some of the big estates here will be very attractive again," Magnuson said.
Magnuson and others said the most desired amenities among wealthy buyers are a pool, a large home office and strong internet and cell services.
"After going through this in the city ... people want a place where, if they have kids, they can get out and do something. They can go out for a bike ride, and go for a run or walk and live their daily lives without feeling inundated by their neighbors," he said.
In the Hudson Valley, New Yorkers are looking for second homes with a view toward eventually working less in the city. Some expect companies to allow employees to more frequently work from home after weeks of having their staff operating remotely.
While the Hudson Valley has long been a popular area for affordable weekend homes, wealthier New Yorkers are looking at the area now for escapes with more amenities where they can stay and work for extended periods of time.
Jeff Serouya, with Berkshire Hathaway Home Services/Hudson Valley Properties, and a New York transplant himself, said there simply aren't enough homes on the market in the area to meet demand.
He just sold a 3,800-square-foot stone house in High Falls, in Ulster County, listed for $839,000.
"I'm seeing a much higher wealth level of buyer than we've seen in the past right now," he said. "They're looking for the highest quality."
Of course, the rush from the city to the suburbs may be fleeting. After 9/11, many New Yorkers fled the city, causing a momentary shift in the market. But it quickly returned, as more overseas buyers and younger professionals poured back to the city. Brokers say this time, however, New York may be slower to come back.
"Even if there is a vaccine (for the virus), being able to go someplace, not far from your home, where you have a home office, too — be able to keep your friends and family safe, that's number one," Magnuson said.