Eugene is the Founder of The Litvak Team @ Compass — one of the top producing and largest teams at Compass.
There’s no doubt that the pandemic has ignited a fervent interest in suburban living across the country. Around New York City, suburban markets throughout New Jersey, Connecticut and New York State are seeing unprecedented demand and historically low inventory, making bidding wars the norm in many communities. Westchester County, the large swath of communities just north of Manhattan and the Bronx, is a major destination for city dwellers looking for a close-in suburban lifestyle. With sales volumes that have increased 51% since last year and dwindling inventory, especially in prime neighborhoods and at lower price points, Westchester serves as an excellent microcosm of the broader city-to-suburbs trend.
While no one has a crystal ball, the question on every area real estate professional’s mind is if suburban fever in Westchester will continue even after Covid-19 is no longer a threat. On the one hand, some might say that the current market activity and prices are wildly overinflated. Therefore, once life goes back to normal, city dwellers will return to their Manhattan and Brooklyn enclaves leaving the suburban market activity to deflate. Another school of thought is that things will never return to a perfect pre-pandemic state. With more employees free to work virtually and live anywhere they want, perhaps the passion for more space, indoors and out, will trump the lure of city life forever.
Frankly, the answer is probably somewhere right in the middle. People may not be as tethered to New York City for employment as they had been in the past. But there will presumably be a hybrid approach to returning to work, which will keep people living close to but not necessarily in urban centers. Suburban single-family homes do offer far more flexibility for peacefully working and learning from home as a family. So, the reality of life after Covid-19 might be a more pronounced undercurrent to the traditional residential flow that has always existed in metropolitan areas: Spend your single days in the city and head to the suburbs to raise kids. In turn, suburbs will benefit from an influx of younger, more diverse urban families and professionals.
That said, how should agents be advising and preparing homebuyers who are contemplating a town-to-country migration? Is now the time to move, or should they wait for a suburban slowdown? When it comes to timing the market, I like to say that you can either buy at today’s high or tomorrow’s high. In in-demand suburban locations like Westchester with multiple submarkets to choose from, it makes sense to get the ball rolling, especially if your buyer’s financials are battle-ready.
Here are a few more tips we should be sharing with clients ready to make the leap to the ‘burbs:
• Look at commute times, even if the homeowners are not commuting right now. People may be headed back to the office after the new year or never, but ease of commute always matters in the suburbs. Even if it’s not an issue for your current buyers, it may be for their future buyers.
• Be open to new neighborhoods. Suburban markets are moving quickly, and keeping an open mind about specific areas or submarkets will give buyers a greater choice in a highly competitive landscape.
• Make sure their financials are buttoned up. This is critical advice for any homebuyer, but especially true in the hot, hot suburbs where the competition is stiff and transactions are a bit more complicated than buying a 500-square-foot Midtown studio.
• Expect the unexpected when it comes to repairs. Most longtime urbanites have a lot to learn about the care and upkeep of a single-family home. No more can they call the super at 3 a.m. to deal with a leaky faucet or busted furnace. There’s also the surrounding land to landscape and tend. In the end, newly minted suburban homeowners will end up more knowledgeable about plumbing, electrical and sewer systems than they ever thought possible. They’ll also need the cash reserves to stay on top of repairs, with some experts recommending as much as 5% of a home’s purchase price.
• Anticipate heartbreak and a long road ahead. Buyers entering hot markets should be emotionally prepared to miss out on a few opportunities. Bidding wars are called wars for a reason: they’re tough and arduous. The road to the perfect suburban retreat may be long, but it’ll be worth it.
• Last and certainly not least, buyers heading out into the suburbs should work with an experienced agent who knows the local communities inside and out. For city agents, that means a willingness to connect clients with a referral broker. That may seem like a great way to lose business, but relationships should always take precedence over money. Referring your buyers to a skilled broker in the suburb of their choice is an opportunity to make sure your clients are well taken care of throughout the process.
New York City isn’t dead, and suburban living will never lose its appeal. In our new, post-pandemic normal, maybe it’s no longer a matter of either-or.