‘Frantic’ New Yorkers snatch up unwanted homes in the suburbs

They were the castoffs of local real estate — until coronavirus came to call.

Some houses in suburban towns and rural areas outside of New York City sat on the market for years.

But then the pandemic spurred cooped-up urbanites to run for the hills and sparked an uptick in property sales within a few-hour radius of Manhattan.

In Connecticut, a charming colonial home in Darien lingered on the market for 1,083 days, while a 1980s contemporary in Salisbury ticked over the 1,500-day mark.

But then COVID-19 hit. They went from being the last kids picked on the team to idyllic quarantine dreams.

The four-bedroom colonial at 208 West Ave. in Darien, a tony town near Stamford, listed in September 2018 for $980,000 but drew little interest until March. (Like many houses that linger on the market, it was likely overpriced at the start.)

Then, Halstead agent Cheryl Williams says, she conducted multiple virtual showings before the colonial sold to a young couple for $750,000. They had to cancel their May wedding, Williams adds, “so they decided to buy a house instead.”

In the northwest corner of the state, a gem with midcentury flair at 351 Twin Lakes Road in Salisbury has a similar story. First listed in March 2016, the asking price gradually dropped from $1.01 million. COVID-19 led to several offers, and it recently sold for $895,000.

“Before the pandemic, everyone would say, ‘Hey, if I’m buying a million-dollar house, I want a new kitchen and renovated bathrooms,” says listing broker Bill Melnick of Elyse Harney Real Estate. “But now if the toilet flushes and they can move in quickly, they’re here!”

“We’re so flat-out busy, I can’t even tell you! It’s outrageous. We are putting deals together very quickly for people” who haven’t even seen the properties they’re buying, adds Melnick’s boss, Elyse Harney. Also buying are “people who had been renting since [social distancing started on] March 12 and fell in love with the area. They’re buying up quickly. Inventory is the lowest we’ve seen in over 10 years.”

After over four years on the market, 351 Twin Lakes in Salisbury sold for $895,000.
After over four years on the market, 351 Twin Lakes in Salisbury sold for $895,000.Realtor.com

In May, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont told CNBC that “phones are ringing off the hook at real estate agent offices.”

“It means that if you have to stay home for a period of time,” he added, “having a nice little backyard is not a bad way to do it.”

Moving company FlatRate Moving cited a 74 percent increase in relocations between New York City and Connecticut between March 15 and April 28. The mass exodus has been dubbed “a tidal wave.” In April alone, the US Postal Office received 81,000 mail-forwarding requests from New York City residents, 60 percent of those were to addresses outside of the city

Less dense spots are hot; the city is not: Hudson Valley properties are in demand, too.

Berkshire Hathaway agent Jeff Serouya describes frantic calls from New Yorkers begging for a piece of the Catskills.

“Folks are buying sight unseen,” he says. “And at a time when we’re not able to meet with clients, with guidelines imposed on us to get properties shown without putting anyone in danger.”

One of Serouya’s listings, an oversize modern cabin with three bedrooms at 121 Ridgewood Road in Kerhonkson, NY — in a very “Brooklyn-centric development named Hudson Woods” — lured barely any bites after a year. It went into contract to refugees from NYC “as soon as the pandemic hit,” Serouya says, for $1.2 million, or just under its original asking price.

After nearly three years on the market, 85 N. Sugar Road in Salisbury, Conn., sold for $3.75 million.
After nearly three years on the market, 85 N. Sugar Road in Salisbury, Conn., sold for $3.75 million.Realtor.com

Larger homes that fell out of favor are now back en vogue, agents add. “It allows working couples to have two home offices in addition to bedrooms with the possibility that shelter [in place] will happen again,” Serouya says.

Thomas McGowen, of Elyse Harney Real Estate, held the listing for a sprawling six-bedroom property at 85 N. Sugar Hill Road in Salisbury. After 984 days on the market, it sold for $3.75 million (down from its original asking price of $5.35 million).

“A lot of people would have a smaller place in Connecticut, a home in Vail and a pied-à-terre in Paris. People wanted smaller homes and more of them,” McGowen says. “Now large estates are trending back.”.

221 Fuller Mountain in Kent, Conn., idled away on the market for nearly eight years before being scooped up during the pandemic.Realtor.com

Agent David Bain’s listing at 221 Fuller Mountain Road in Kent, Conn., lingered on the market for almost eight years. The four-bedroom home, which sits on more than 28 acres and originally aimed for $3.4 million, sold for a heavily discounted $1.49 million in April.

“If it was not for this buyer, it would have been someone else in this mix,” he says. “People are looking to get out of harm’s way.”

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