Broker Says New York City Has ‘Grit and Will Come Back

John Jordan | October 2020

WHITE PLAINS—Recognizing the health, social and safety issues facing New York City at the moment that have led to an exodus by some residents to the suburbs, a panel of New York City and Westchester County real estate brokerage executives expressed confidence that the residential sales market in Manhattan will recover sooner rather than later once a vaccine is discovered for COVID-19 or at the very least that the infection spread there is deemed under control.

The Oct. 8 virtual panel discussion hosted by HGAR and Manhattan-based title company Titlevest entitled “Getting the Deal Done: Succeeding in a Regional Market” chronicled the current heady suburban residential sales market in the era of COVID and how restrictions, civil unrest and pandemic influences have battered the Manhattan residential market.

Candace Adams, President and CEO, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England, New York and Westchester Properties.

The program was hosted by Hudson Gateway Association of Realtors’ Chief Executive Officer Richard Haggerty, who is also president of OneKey™ MLS. The moderator and sponsor of the panel discussion was Brian D. Tormey, NTP, president of TitleVest. Panel participants were: Candace Adams, president and CEO, Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England, New York and Westchester Properties; Bruce M. Cohen, Esq., founding partner of Manhattan-based law firm Cohen and Frankel, LLP of New York City; Liz Nunan, president and CEO, Houlihan Lawrence and Diane Ramirez, executive chairman and senior advisor of Brown Harris Stevens.

“People call me almost every day saying, ‘Are you safe. Is everything OK?’’ said Brown Harris Stevens’ Ramirez. “New York is a little different that it was (prior to the pandemic). But, this is New York and we have grit and it will come back. I know that for sure.”

Ramirez said that the New York City residential market is in a time of flux and “incredible time of opportunity and value.” Both Ramirez and Cohen both said that value deals are being done at all price points in New York City.

In terms of movement, she noted that prior to the pandemic buyers were just flocking to all sections of Manhattan. Today, buyers are re-evaluating how and where they want to live in New York City.

“We are seeing business (in Manhattan) and I am so pleased to say that September was the first month that we actually had more contracts signed than a year ago,” Ramirez said. “So, the curve is going up. I am not sure it is going to be a V (shaped recovery), but it is definitely going up.”

Bruce M. Cohen, Esq., Founding Partner, Cohen and Frankel, LLP, New York City

Ramirez also pointed to a number of new sales patterns including some New York City residents looking to buy smaller homes in the suburbs, as well as Westchester and Fairfield (CT) counties becoming an option to those type of buyers that previously looked to purchase homes on the Hamptons.

While bullish on the long-term future of New York City, Ramirez did say that she is seeing more moving trucks on the streets of Manhattan than she has ever seen before.

Cohen related that due to the tremendous activity outside of Manhattan, his law firm has established offices in both the Hamptons and in Westchester County and noted that his firm “is swamped” at the moment with sale transactions.

He said that luxury and even some sponsored units in New York City are trading at attractive discounts.

Houlihan Lawrence’s Nunan said that the brokerage firm began seeing in response to the initial outbreak of COVID-19 in April a sharp increase in queries on its website for luxury amenities such as pools, tennis courts, gardens, mountain views, acreage and extra rooms that could be used for multiple home offices or “Zoom rooms” for children engaging in virtual learning. Those searches eventually led to higher sales activity in places like Greenwich, CT and Bedford in Westchester County, she noted.

“In Westchester, we have seen a large uptick of buyers from New York City,” Nunan said. She added that in the affluent community of Bedford in Northern Westchester County, the firm has seen a 290% jump in buyers coming from New York City in the third quarter as compared to the same period a year ago.

“They are coming to the suburbs. They are coming for that second home that will temporarily be their primary home,” she added.

Liz Nunan, President & CEO, Houlihan Lawrence

Berkshire Hathaway’s Adams said that buyer preferences are now shifting to such features as: pools, outdoor space, home offices, privacy and detached properties, noting that sales in vertical buildings (co-ops and condominiums) are suffering at the moment.

She noted that in Litchfield County, CT, buyers are opting for less living space in order to secure more land and privacy.

“Preferences have shifted, no doubt about it,” Adams said, noting that today’s buyers do not necessarily need to live near commuter rail because they are now willing to drive to work.

However, she stressed that this recent preference shift will only last as long as the pandemic. “I think commuter rail will become very important (once again) in six months or a year. The minute that there is a vaccine I think you will see people getting back to normal. I think you will see people getting back into the city,” she said.

HGAR’s Haggerty noted that in the early stages of the pandemic, the region’s real estate industry had to deal with restrictions imposed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo that made sales transactions possible only on a virtual basis. This gave a leg up on competing markets, such as Connecticut, which did not impose the same harsh restrictions on the industry.

Now, with the governor imposing restrictions that closed some businesses in COVID hot spots in Orange, Rockland and sections of Brooklyn and Queens, Haggerty said further spread of the virus and restrictions could impact the state’s real estate industry that has for months fueled much needed economic activity in the state.

Haggerty said if other areas are designated as COVID hot zones and real estate offices are ordered closed and transactions are only allowed on a virtual basis, “it will have a chilling effect’ on the real estate markets. While praising the governor’s management of the pandemic crisis, Haggerty related, “I wish the governor in this instance would be a little more surgical in terms of his approach.”

Diane Ramirez, Executive Chairman & Senior Advisor, Brown Harris Stevens Residential Sales, LLC

Adams added that real estate should be designated as an essential industry in New York State, similar to its designation in Connecticut.

“The protocols that are in place in this industry allow for us to very safely conduct business and allow people to continue to find shelter and move where they need to move,” Adams said. “Now we know that there has been no upsurge as a result of showing real estate at all.”

Haggerty related that one attractive tool for brokers in the time of COVID at OneKey™ MLS is a very prominent tab for virtual tours.

“At this point in time it is inexcusable for a listing broker or agent not to have a virtual tour on their listing because that has a tremendous amount of power for consumers from all parts of the country to have a sense of what that property truly looks like over still pictures,” Haggerty stressed. “Agents truly need to take advantage of virtual tours.”

John Jordan
Editor, Real Estate In-Depth