I’ve been asked to participate in Thursday’s New York Times Event New York Real Estate: How Low Will Prices Go?”.
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One of the pieces of conventional wisdom we have picked up during the COVID-19 crisis is that high-density residential living will be less favored. The city to suburban migration pattern is already beginning in New York City and could last several years. The rising number of suburban single-family rental inquiries from the city has provided the initial evidence of a trend. City residents seem to be looking to test drive the suburbs and commute to their city job when “shelter in place rules begin to ease.”
New York City has developed a national reputation as a hotbed of Coronavirus infection because of our higher density. We live a lot closer together than a sprawling suburb in Dallas and have a greater dependency on public transportation such as the subway and buses instead of driving cars. I live in Fairfield County, Connecticut, a bedroom suburb of New York City with a county-wide COVID-19 ratio of 1068 deaths per its 943,332 population. Dallas County, Texas, had 153 deaths per its 2.636 million people. My county has a wildly higher death rate than a county that contains an urban core like Dallas.
Is the city to suburban trend sustainable?
New Yorkers buy into the urban to the suburban narrative, so I believe the push to the outlying NYC metro suburbs could be quite significant in the near term. While the outbound migration began a few years ago, it is not clear whether the trend can continue for more than a few years. The pattern could ultimately be different from what is currently expected including:
A boost for second-home markets: There might be an influx of demand to areas the Hudson Valley, Northern Connecticut The Hamptons, and the North Fork, to name a few. Consumers made begin to view a second home as an equal asset to the primary home to have similar quality options. This potential trend would be contrarian to other significant economic downturns as second-homes are not considered “second-priority.”
And because the implications of the SALT tax will remain in place on the other side of the COVID-19 crisis, Florida and Texas can make a compelling pitch to New York City couples with small children cooped up in 1,000 square foot 2-bedroom apartments right now. They are realizing they aren’t as tethered to their work location as they once thought – and schooling via Zoom is not all it’s cracked up to be.
I think that the high-density lifestyle of New York City is what makes living there so great. I’ve lived in or around New York City since the mid-80s. Before we moved to the city, my dad used to proclaim:
Where else can you buy strawberries at 3 am in the morning?!?!?
Placing strawberries aside, I remain skeptical that the urban to suburban outbound migration can be sustained long term. We saw the same outbound pattern after 9/11 and then an inbound return only a few years later.
Density is not the only reason
Urban density is just one reason for the high COVID-19 infection rate that is driving outbound migration. It is not the reason. Other factors influencing the disparity in the infection rate include neighborhood characteristics such as wealth, commute time, and the concentration of multi-generational households.
The map above confirms the argument that it’s not all about density – the highest infection rates are in the “suburban-like” areas of the city including Staten Island and the outer reaches of Brooklyn and Queens. Manhattan, home for many of the tall commercial and residential towers the city is famous for, has the lowest infection rate.
These Manhattan results might help maintain the enthusiasm for that occasional 3 am strawberry run to the corner market.
If you can indulge me, I was included in the ABC World News Tonight broadcast on Saturday night to talk about the potential urban to suburban housing shift, particularly in NYC. It was cool to be interviewed by Deirdre Bolton for her first World News Tonight segment since just joining ABC via Fox Business and previously from Bloomberg where I had spoken with her before. Great move ABC!
I am reading a lot more about everything right now, including real estate. Yesterday’s Bloomberg article caught my eye: Greenwich Homeowner Bets on Virus Getaway Pitch to Win a Sale. Desperation to sell can take many forms. Please read on.
The article featured a listing in Greenwich, CT that came on 68 days ago that wasn’t moving (I assume this based on what was done later). Here is the text for the original listing displayed at the bottom the screenshot:
Like new light-filled house with a modern design by Donald Breismeister including 9 ft ceilings on the first floor. High-tech amenities throughout with e-thermostat, lighting and security cameras all hardwifred CAT-5 wiring throughout. Bathrooms are beautiful and modern with separate steamshower and large whirlpool tub. Nice front yard and backyard has large entertainment deck. All these amenities are just two blocks from the Post Road on a quiet road within walking distance to GreenwichHS, Greenwich Country Day and Central MS.
With the sales market slowing down despite entering peak selling season, many homeowners are reluctant to add their homes to the rental market. The owner in the article said:
“I rented property in the past. It’s too much hassle. My trust level is pretty low with renters.”
About ten days ago the listing was modified by raising the price to $100,000 and throwing in a 2011 Subaru, linens, televisions, etc. and rebranding the sales effort as a Coronavirus Special (bold emphasis mine).
CORONAVIRUS SPECIAL – Some houses are move-in ready. This house is live-in ready. It comes with all furniture, kitchen appliances, washer & dryer, dishes, silverware, TVs, pool table, beds, linens, lawn equipment and even a car. Everything you need to enjoy living in your own house in Greenwich. The house was designed by an award winning architect with lots of custom features. The first floor has high ceilings and two fireplaces. You have a Costco closet just off the 2-car garages and 5 BRs upstairs.You have town water, gas and sewer and are close to both public and private schools. Tomney is a quiet side street, but near downtown, the train and I-95.If you don’t want the time and hassle of arranging movers and buying lots of new items, this house is ready for you now.
While I very much appreciate how hard it is right now to market a home for sale during a global pandemic, the marketing of a home as a CORONAVIRUS SPECIAL is a bit tone-deaf especially when raising the price to include a bunch of the seller’s personal stuff. “Throwing in” used furniture, appliances, linens and an old car by raising the listing price by $100,000 is not, by definition, “throwing it in.”
When I first saw the listing in the Bloomberg piece I thought about all the snarky headlines during other pandemics/tragedies and using brutal sarcasm I found myself chuckling from the absurdity of all of it. Now, as I was writing this post a day later, the initial LMAO title ideas felt icky and were not worth repeating.
Q: Can you imagine associating the word “SPECIAL” with these?
A: I didn’t think so.
Times like this call for creative marketing and perhaps the Bloomberg story and even this blog post may bring new eyeballs to the listing to help it sell. I suspect that won’t happen because the appearance of the home and what comes with it for the price isn’t the problem. The agent is definitely not the problem. The seller is definitely not the problem. The problem is the sudden change in the world we live in and the understanding that it will take time to adapt. Our initial impulses to take action, such as this situation, are often wrong.
I whipped up eight charts using data from our expanding Douglas Elliman Market Report Series to touch base on a wide array of U.S. housing markets. These charts appeared on pages 280-282 in the 2020 Spring/Summer edition of Elliman Magazine. Click on each graphic to expand.
Michael Kolomatsky of the Calculator column in the New York Times real estate section crafted a cool infographic for this weekend using data from the Douglas Elliman‘s Hamptons Sales report that I author. The gist of it is that sellers are slowly pricing closer to market causing days on market and the listing discount to compress somewhat. This faster moving pattern is in sharp contrast to sliding price trends, declining sales, and rising inventory. The narrative in this market clearly reflects a slowdown, but with a vibrant regional economy, the buyers are here, but unwilling to pay at price levels of a few years ago.
Diana Olick at CNBC reached out to me this week to talk about the Q1-2019 Elliman Report on the Greenwich, CT housing market (as well as Q1-2019 Fairfield County, CT) and the impact of the federal tax law on high-end suburban markets in NYC metro.
We spoke on Greenwich Avenue in Greenwich at 8:30 am and had to keep doing segments over because of the random roars of delivery and garbage trucks. The irony was not lost on me – a busy downtown with not a lot of empty parking spaces so early in the morning – combined with a slow housing market. Anecdotal but this is what we are seeing at the macro level – a robust regional economy with soft housing conditions.
We were set up in front of a Vineyard Vines store while I was wearing a bright Ted Baker tie (Hey, I can be a social media style influencer too). The irony in this product placement “ties” this story altogether (in my own mind). I received more feedback about my tie than I did on my content. Oh well. And for the record, Diana made very clear to me that she commented on my tie first.
The Winter 2019 Issue of Elliman Magazine was just released. I provided a two-page spread showing various market tidbits on random U.S. markets where Douglas Elliman has a footprint. The magazine is well done and a good aspirational read.
Here’s the full online version of the magazine:
Tags: Elliman Magazine
The Fall 2018 Issue of Elliman Magazine was just released and as usual, I provided a two-page spread showing interesting (my definition, lol) of what is going on in some of the markets under their national footprint. The magazine is well done and a fun aspirational read.
Here’s the full online version of the magazine:
Tags: Elliman Magazine
So I was walking down Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan in the late morning after a meeting and got a call from Bloomberg TV. Apparently, two different stories that featured two of the market reports I author – published by Douglas Elliman – were the number one and two most emailed on the Bloomberg Terminals worldwide. They wanted to talk about them.
So I took a left and walked over Bloomberg HQ. Got to speak with Vonnie Quinn and Shery Ahn on set – who knew how to make an interview go well.
[Geithner Bathroom, Westchester MLS]
Today I received a press release from Zillow that shared the results of their research with the headline: Homes with Blue Bathrooms Sell for $5,400 More than Expected.
Like the Zestimate’s results that are presented to the nearest dollar, this type of presentation infers a market precision that does not exist. Labeled as “disrupters,” I think Zillow’s concept of “aggressively marketing an accuracy that is non-existent” is one of the biggest challenges facing real estate appraisers and brokers and in turn, the consumers. Numbers can be magic, especially when presented in an econ-sounding way. The consumer absorbs the results as gospel without challenge.
I’m sure the numbers are accurate with the data they have but Zillow’s application of the results are misleading. Yes their data says blue bathrooms sell for $5,400 more but that doesn’t mean your blue bathroom will get you $5,400 more than your neighbor with the exact same house across the street that doesn’t have a blue bathroom.
As that commercial on tv says: if it’s on the internet, then it must be true.