The trauma of the pandemic has already forced many New Yorkers to leave the city for good, leaving many empty apartments and causing real estate prices to soar around the metropolis.
“I wasn’t ready to leave,” recalls Nick Barnhorst when he sees each other again in February. At 41, in New York for 11 years, in love with the city, he was thinking of a move, but not for at least a year.
Within weeks, his wife became pregnant with her third child and the coronavirus ravaged New York City. All of a sudden, it became: “We must get out of here as quickly as possible”.
Next week, Nick is expected to sign the deed of sale for a house in Mamaroneck, a wealthy town north of New York. “I had always imagined leaving would be heartbreaking,” said the native Californian, “but today I’m at the height of excitement.”
Rising prices outside the city
A weekend away with his parents-in-law in Massachusetts in early March, a friend of Nick’s was much more radical. He never returned to live in New York. Having a wife eight months pregnant, he sold his apartment and bought it in Bronxville, a town immediately north of the Bronx neighborhood.
“Nothing that makes New York New York currently works,” Nick points out, because theaters, bars, cinemas, concert halls, or museums have not reopened. “So it’s easier to leave her.”
In a boiling real estate market, which “leaves no room for negotiation”, Nick had to struggle to find the house he was looking for.
Around the popular town of Montclair, New Jersey, it’s no longer uncommon to see homes selling for more than 20% above the listed price, according to data from Richard Stanton, owner of Stanton Realtors. .
“I didn’t expect demand so strong,” says the real estate agent, who doesn’t expect supply to catch up with demand for six months or even a year.
A resident of Darien, Connecticut, says, on condition of anonymity, he received several calls from potential buyers when his house was not for sale. “This is the first time this has happened to me,” he says.
Vacant apartments: never seen before
Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio often compare the current situation with the one that followed 9/11, the city’s other great trauma, promising the same rebound. But in terms of real estate, the repercussions of the attacks “were anecdotal”, tempers Richard Stanton.
“After September 11, the pride of New Yorkers rather made me want to move to New York,” says Dillon Kondor, guitarist who was then a teenager and lived in the suburbs of the metropolis.
He, who has worked on several Broadway musicals, also took the plunge in June and left New York for an apartment in Tarrytown, in the Hudson Valley.
For him, everything changed with one of the first beautiful days of spring, during a walk in Central Park, crowded, where masks were too rare for his liking.
When he returned with his wife, “one of us said: we must leave this town”. In New York at the beginning of July, moving trucks abound during the day.
In lower Manhattan, more than 5% of apartments are vacant, unheard of in ten years that the real estate firm Miller Samuel has published these statistics.
Leap into the unknown
More than 9/11, Richard Stanton compares the current economy to the period 2003-2005, which saw a wave of New Yorkers pushed out by rising rents.
He also evokes the 1970s, marked by a degradation of public services and an increase in crime, which many of those who could afford it had fled.
But this time, in addition to the coronavirus effect, “there is a heavier trend linked to the fact that there will be more people working from home,” Richard Stanton analyzes. In many cases, “we will have a shorter week in the office”.
This movement could even bring down the real estate fever in New York and allow a new generation to settle in a city that would otherwise have been inaccessible to them, imagines the real estate agent.
At first, Dillon chose to rent, not to rule out, while waiting for Broadway to restart. But he finds it difficult to plan to return to New York. “There are so many unknowns that it seems hard to imagine.”