With an influx of city-escapees, a move towards more space, and limited inventory, there is lots happening in local real estate right now. “The real estate market in Westchester and Fairfield counties is extremely busy,” says Deborah E. Doern, senior vice president of sales with Houlihan Lawrence Headquarters. “Inventory levels are at a 20-plus year low and buyer demand is at a record high.” She’s found that for many buyers, the onset of the pandemic sped up their plans to find a home.

That’s why these days, it’s not surprising to have lots of offers on a home—and some properties going off the market as quickly as they come on. “The real estate market in Fairfield County is on fire,” says Ellen Mosher, a real estate agent with Houlihan Lawrence in Greenwich, CT, who says as of February the number of homes sold year- to-date increased 100%. “Inventory levels remain severely limited, which is triggering multiple bidding situations.” She finds the lack of inventory particularly challenging. “The demand is so great that agents are being more proactive than ever looking for potential listings,” she says. Plus, many buyers are making their deci- sions much faster, she finds, explaining that they’re still doing it “thoughtfully, but at an accelerated pace.”

Some agents predict that inventory will pick up as the spring hits, while others say to expect a limited supply throughout most of the coming months. But whether you intend to list or look as the year goes on, here are some of the trends that area agents have been seeing:

AMENITIES ARE A MUST

It’s no secret that, as we continue spending so much time at home, our houses have become a haven of sorts. And with that, comes a desire to be able to do everything from work to work out under one roof. “I think many people have gotten used to working out in their homes, and while they will eventually return to gyms and classes, a lot of buyers want the option to get their workout in at home,” says Yashmin Lloyds, a real estate agent with Compass in Greenwich.

Amanda Miller, real estate professional with Houlihan Lawrence in Greenwich, echoes that sentiment. “Buyers today prefer homes that meet the needs of the new pandemic-related lifestyle,” she says. “This includes offices, separate work and play spaces for children, home gyms, theaters and swimming pools.” She’s also seen an uptick in bars and wine storage areas.

And of course, that’s particularly true with work-from-home setups. “Now that people are working from home, they are more focused on having a home office,” says Julie Church, a real estate professional with Houlihan Lawrence Greenwich, who says homework spaces are also important. And many buyers are looking for more than one office, with Lloyds pointing to multiple home offices topping many buyers’ lists. “With remote learning and Zoom meetings still in full force, a home office has become a necessity rather than a luxury,” she says.

Plus, along with outdoor amenities at home, buyers also want them close by. “As travel, vacations and attendance at some summer camps continues to be unpredictable, ‘staycationing and ‘home camp’ has created greater desire for pools, grounds for recreation and access to the beach and parks,” explains Edward Mortimer, broker associate with Sotheby’s International Realty in Greenwich.

A PREFERENCE FOR DISTINCT SPACES

Similarly, with this always-at-home reality has come a need for more personal space. Lloyds has found that buyers are shifting away from the persistently popular open floor plans, and opting for homes that “offer more distinct spaces for everyone to spread out.” She cites the example of a playroom upstairs for kids and a rec room downstairs for teens. Or, “A large family room where everyone can gather, but also a cozy den or library for when you need a break,” she explains.

LESS DEMAND FOR PROXIMITY TO TRAIN

“Since commuting to New York City seems to be less important as many companies adopt virtual, work-from-home practices, reliance on a train hub that is a manageable distance to New York City is no longer as important a requirement,” explains Mortimer.

This is a marked difference from how things were before the pandemic hit. “Pre- Covid suburban homebuyer trends were all about convenience,” he says. “Access to a train, shops and restaurants was extremely important.” Buyers were less interested in larger properties farther from town centers and, instead, areas with “ease of access to travel to New York City were leading in sales.”

Now, he says, there’s been a shift. There are still those buyers that want the convenience, of course, but many others are opting for more land. “Larger properties with land to spread out have become popular again, offering greater space and recreational opportunities, as well as room for extended family visits or returning adult children to the household due to the uncertainties of living with the pandemic,” he says.

And Doern offers up a very similar take, saying that the pandemic, “turned trends of 2019 upside down.” She explains that, “For several years leading up to 2020, buyers were choosing to live below their means, preferring more modest homes, smaller properties with easier maintenance and walking distance to villages and trains.” Larger homes and even certain towns weren’t as popular because they were too far off, she says. Now, even though buyers have been looking for all types of properties, “luxury homes with larger parcels of land and luxury amenities became desirable again.”

LOOKING INTO MULTI-GENERATIONAL LIVING

Just as Mortimer explains that some people are looking for larger properties to better accommodate longer family visits or adult children moving back home, other families are opting to try multi-generational living right from the get-go. Miller says she’s been involved with “an increased interest in home sales to multiple generations within a family.” She explains, “Many people are asking for space for their kids as well as their parents.”

A DESIRE FOR RENOVATED HOMES

“Even with this unprecedented demand, buyers are still looking for pristine and fully renovated homes,” says Doern. “New construction is highly desirable. Homes that need improvements or renovations continue to remain on the market longer and sell for less.”

Mortimer predicts more new homes. “I think we will also begin to see an uptick in new construction due to an eventual shortage of existing inventory that meets the lifestyle needs of today’s buyer,” he says. Then, as Covid eases, more “in-town” property will fill the demand and create a balanced market for all.