Trauma to the pandemic of coronavirus led many New Yorkers to leave the greater city of WE, which now has many empty apartments, as property prices skyrocket in the suburbs and nearby towns.
“I wasn’t ready to go,” said Nick Barnhorst, looking back on how he felt in February. The 41-year-old city lover, a resident of the Big Apple for more than a decade, was already thinking of moving, but maybe in a year and a half.
However, within weeks his wife became pregnant with their third child, and the coronavirus devastated New York. Suddenly “everything indicated that we had to get out of here as quickly as possible,” he said.
Next week, Barnhorst is expected to sign a pledge to purchase a home in Mamaroneck, a small town in upstate New York.
“I always thought leaving would break my heart,” said this man from California. “But today I couldn’t be more excited.”
A friend of Barnhorst’s who went to visit his in-laws in early March in Massachusetts did something far more radical. He never went back to live in New York.
With his eight-month pregnant wife, he sold his apartment and bought a house in Bronxville, a commune just north of the borough of the Bronx.
“Nothing that makes New York New York work today,” Barnhorst pointed out, because theaters, bars, cinemas, concert halls or museums have not reopened. “It’s easier to stop.”
In a boiling real estate market that “leaves no room for negotiation,” Barnhorst had to hurry to find the home he wanted.
Near the town of Montclair, New Jersey, there are properties that are selling for more than 20% above the asking price, according to data from Richard Stanton, owner of Stanton Realtors.
“I wasn’t expecting such strong demand,” said this real estate agent, who predicts supply will adapt to demand in just six months or even a year.
A resident of Darien, a Connecticut city, said he has received several calls from potential buyers even though his home is not for sale. “This is the first time this has happened to me,” said this man who requested anonymity.
New York City, a former national coronavirus epicenter, has recorded more than 215,000 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 23,000 deaths since March, although the number of infections and deaths has declined for weeks.
The telework factor
Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio regularly compare the current situation with what happened after the attacks of September 11, 2001, the other major trauma suffered by the city, and promise the same recovery.
But on the real estate front, the repercussions of the attacks “were anecdotal,” Stanton said.
“After 9/11, the pride of New Yorkers made me want to live in New York,” said Dillon Kondor, a guitarist who was then a teenager and lived in the suburbs of the city.
Kondor, who has worked on several Broadway musicals, also left New York in June, moving into an apartment in Tarrytown, in the Hudson River Valley.
He made the decision on one of the first sunny days of spring, during a walk with his wife in a busy Central Park, where he felt too few were wearing masks. Upon returning, “one of us said: you must leave this city”.
Moving trucks swarm the streets of New York in July. In southern Manhattan, more than 5% of apartments are vacant, something unheard of in 10 years since real estate firm Miller Samuel began publishing its statistics.
More than 9/11, Stanton compares the current situation to 2003-2005, when rising rents drove many New Yorkers out of town.
It also recalls the 1970s, marked by a degradation of public services and an increase in crime that led many to leave.
But this time around, in addition to the coronavirus effect, “there is a stronger trend that there will be more people working from home,” Stanton said. In many cases “we will have a shorter week in the office”.
This move could calm New York’s real estate fever and allow a new generation to settle in a previously inaccessible city, the real estate agent imagines.
Dillon initially chose to rent pending the reopening of Broadway theaters. But it’s hard for him to picture himself in New York again. “There is so much uncertainty,” he says.