Ian Group loves New York City. He was born and raised there. So he was as surprised as anyone when he and his wife bought a home in Boca Raton, Florida, and decided not to go back to the city.
It was not a decision they took lightly.
“I love going downstairs to my favorite smoothie place, taking my son to Central Park,” said Group. “But the biggest driver for me is being where we can have it all. A good quality of life, space, affordability. Once Covid hit, we knew we didn’t want to be in the city anymore.”
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While he and his wife had considered moving to Long Island, Maryland or Florida over the years, it never felt urgent until the pandemic hit. Working from their one-bedroom Upper East Side apartment with their young son and infant daughter, who was born at the end of April, had become untenable.
“With the baby in the apartment, we had to play Tetris about who is going to be where,” said Group, who works at a technology company. “I was moving from the kitchen to the bedroom and back on calls. We had to leave.”
His wife suggested they go to Florida, where her parents live. They arrived in June and by early July they put a deposit on a new construction home that’s more than three times the size of their New York apartment.
“We saw what we could have down here,” he said. “It is a resort community. There’s tennis courts and a pool. These were long days of me really sitting with the idea of not being in the city. But it came down to: Where can I get the best quality of life for my family? Right now, that is Florida.”
Group and his family are not alone. Increasingly, people who have been newly untethered from office life and have the means for mobility, are questioning why they are fighting so hard and paying so much to stay in the city.
Leaving the city (and not looking back)
As the coronavirus continues to dominate our day-to-day lives, people who are wealthy enough to leave major cities are increasingly looking for places to live with more space, fewer people and greater affordability, said Jonathan Miller, president of Miller Samuel, an appraisal firm in New York.
Signed contracts for sales of condos and co-ops in Manhattan, for example, plunged nearly 60% in July, while contracts for single-family homes in areas outside of New York City skyrocketed, according to a recent report from brokerage firm Douglas Elliman and Miller Samuel.
Similar shifts are playing out in suburban areas around other major cities. Norfolk County, outside of Boston, saw a 38% increase in new contracts for single-family homes in July over last year, according to Compass. Collin County, Texas, outside of Dallas, saw a 58% increase. San Bernardino County, outside of Los Angeles, saw a 62% jump and Marin County, outside of San Francisco, saw a 77% increase over last year.
Both San Francisco and New York saw 80% more people leave than move in during the months of March and June, according to a report from HireAHelper, an online marketplace for moving services. The top destination by the number of overall people moving in was Florida, it found.
An affordable ‘quality of life’ upgrade
Morgan Dix and Aterah Nusrat left Boston in March to explore the possibility of a more affordable and enjoyable lifestyle further afield in Longmont, Colorado.
“I had a good job and my wife had a great job at Harvard Medical School, and we still didn’t come close to being able to buy something we liked in Boston,” said Dix.
They kept expanding their search area around Boston, trying to find something that ticked all their boxes. “By then, we were looking at homes that were more than halfway to Providence, Rhode Island, to get the quality of life upgrade. It canceled out our effort to be close to the city.”
So they opted for a bigger life change instead. Dix continues to work remotely for a furniture company and Nusrat found a new job locally.
“We are 46 years old, we have a four-year-old daughter, we’ve gotten into the home buying game really late,” Dix said. “But that idea of actually having a home that is ours, where we can enjoy hanging out with each other and our friends in the back, that’s really deeply appealing.”
By July, they had moved into a new three-bedroom home in Longmont with mountain views that backs up to a nature preserve.
“We love, love, love it,” said Dix.
Having the space to work from home
Tanya Hayre and Eva Synalovski are coworkers at Better, an online lending company based in New York City, that is going remote until March of next year at the earliest. They haven’t seen each other since last March, when they both moved to different parts of Florida. Now neither wants to return to the city.
As the virus shut down New York in March, Synalovski went to Fort Lauderdale to be with family.
“I’ve lived in New York for over a decade, I never would have thought I’d be leaving now,” said Synalovski, who paid rent on her apartment in Long Island City, Queens, through the end of her lease in August and then moved out. “But when I was presented with the opportunity that I could work from anywhere, my motivation was that I want to be near my family. And also live close to the beach, have space outside, have a car instead of taking public transportation.”
She rented a new apartment in Fort Lauderdale and plans to stay.
Meanwhile, Hayre and her husband are staying at a friend’s home in Sarasota after they got married on a nearby beach in July. They shared the event with friends and family over Zoom. At the beginning of this year, she said, nothing would have swayed them from the life they had in New York.
“I love living in the city,” she said. “But now we’re down here thinking maybe we should stay. We go for a walk on the beach after work and say to ourselves, ‘We would be on the subway right now.’”
But her husband works at an investment bank, and while he is working remotely now, they anticipate he will need to return to the office eventually.
“We would stay here, if we can,” she said. “The only thing I really miss is my friends. But whatever, I can chat with them.”
Competition is fierce
In the suburbs of New York City, like the Hudson Valley and the Catskills, the demand to buy a home is so intense that traffic jams form around hot properties and altercations erupt among agents angling to get their clients in to see the home during the allotted, coronavirus-safe 30-minute window.
“It was frenzied,” said Joan Capria, an agent at Halter Associates Realty, about recent showings of a three-bedroom, 2,000 square-foot home, with a pool on six acres in Saugerties, New York.
“There is a panic to find a place,” she said. She had 10 offers after three days of showings, some were as much as $80,000 to $100,000 over the $769,000 asking price. Buyers tried to make themselves more appealing to the sellers by making all-cash offers, waiving inspections or removing an appraisal contingency.
Eileen Norton and Kevin Gallagher felt the sting of that competition as they looked for a home in the Catskills over the past few months. After escaping the city to stay in a rental upstate at the beginning of March, they realized how much less stressed they were and decided to give up the Brooklyn apartment they’d lived in for nearly four years.
After being outbid on several homes, they’re finally in contract on a three-bedroom, 2,000 square-foot home in Margaretville, New York.
“We were scared, as first-time buyers, we were overpaying,” said Norton. “But we feel confident about it. We didn’t go much above the ask and there are some improvements we can make to it.”
While they aren’t totally giving up on the city, they are giving up their apartment.
“We assume we’ll have to be back in the office at some point and will think about apartment living again then,” said Gallagher. “But for now, it made more sense to pick up and move out.”