Three years into the pandemic, real estate is settling into a rhythm—a fast-paced one with forward-thinking buyers who have traditional values.
The real estate world was turned on its head in 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic drove everything as we knew it to a screeching halt. But since then, the sleepy suburban real estate market has experienced a boon the likes of which hasn’t been seen since 2006. But experts say this time, it’s different. Healthy demand, stricter mortgage requirements and low interest rates ensure this lively, competitive market might be here to stay for a while. So what can buyers and sellers expect to see in 2022? Area experts weigh in on the top trends.
Take a look at the top five buyer demands this year and all signs point to buyers prioritizing work/life balance. They want homes convenient to the city but with a yard and room for the family to gather. And they want to be close to town while still having a bit more property and a lot more privacy.
“What we are seeing now is a philosophical generational change,” says Angela Swift, real estate agent with Compass in Greenwich. “With a work-from-home hybrid schedule, the next generation of home buyers is placing a higher value on quality of life and amenities in the town, but with the caveat that they want to be able to access a major metropolitan city. Greenwich is uniquely positioned so they can easily access NYC if needed. As a result, this is not your grandmother’s Connecticut. We are seeing highly educated families with dual incomes by choice; buyers are diverse, international. I believe these changes will make the fabric of Greenwich so much brighter.”
“There are still people moving out of the city, but it isn’t a free-for-all like it was in 2020,” says Debra Goodwin, The Goodwin Team, Corcoran Legends Realty. Space, inside and out, is driving demand.
“The pandemic created a much higher demand for larger properties in more remote locations,” says Alison Leigh of Berkshire Hathaway NE, whose listing in Old Greenwich is getting lots of attention for checking off all the boxes “In recent history, buyers were less likely to want backcountry and preferred the in-town locations like downtown or Old Greenwich. Those locations are still desirable, so it is not a shift but a new reality that all parts of town are desirable.”
Five bedrooms are also becoming the norm, according to Swift. “Even if you don’t have a family, you want that dedicated space for working from home,” she adds. Larger homes in suburban or rural neighborhoods are thus having a come back, says David Wilk, strategic growth and sales manager at the William Raveis Greenwich office. The large residences of backcountry were “taking deep discounts” before the pandemic, says Wilk. Now those priced-to-sell properties are flying off the market. Buyers are looking for more space to social distance and enjoy the outdoors, which includes having pools, large terraces, gardens, recreation space and more.
Speaking of recreation. Many realtors say pools are practically a requirement. “If a property doesn’t have a pool, buyers are looking for properties that have a possible pool site or those where sellers have a survey completed for a pool site,” says Wilk.
Realtors across the region are saying chefs kitchens, in-home gyms, kitchen gardens, large terraces, spas, lounge space, wine cellars—anything that makes home entertaining easier and hosting more fun is drawing buyers. “These are factors that Covid thrust upon us,” replies Swift.
NYC IS MAKING A COMEBACK
When the pandemic hit, people were quickly leaving their Manhattan apartments for suburban summer homes they either already owned or quickly acquired. Two years later, we are seeing Manhattan reinvigorated in quieter upscale neighborhoods. The Upper East Side and Upper West Side are seeing a resurgence, partly for their proximity to Central Park, which provides the desired outdoor opportunities, and partly because those communi- ties provide safer, less dense housing close to quality schools with easy access to all of the city’s amenities.
“Buyers are looking for an elegant, civilized atmosphere and The Wales is going to be that in spades,” says Matt Adell, developer of The Wales, a landmark building completely restored and remodeled in the Carnegie Hill neighborhood near Central Park. Residences here will be ready for occupancy later this year and Adell says the project is garnering quite a buzz. The pre-war exterior is being restored but completely new interiors are being designed by European firm Cabinet Alberto Pinto.
The Wales developers designed its resi- dences to be flexible to today’s buyers. “We have an open kitchen concept that can also be closed off for those buyers who prefer a more traditional concept,” says Adell. “We enhanced these pre-war homes with a mod- ern aesthetic to embrace 2022 living and appeal to those who like both old world and modern dining/entertaining spaces.”
Separation of spaces for different uses has become a necessity since the pandemic began. “You need to be more fluid, whether it’s your children staying home from school or having the opportunity to work from home a bit more,” says Leslie Singer, realtor with Brown Harris Stevens in NYC.
But home offices are just the beginning. A mother-in-law apartment or extra rooms and levels for the grandparents or au pair to stay, room for the college student to come home or even attend class from home, and the at-home gym, all mean multiple
generations are using the space at once. Buyers want a home “that can accom- modate working from home, home schooling, home exercise, home enter- tainment, plus extended family and friends gatherings,” says Kevin Sneddon founder and lead broker of The Private Client Team at Compass, which serves NYC and Greenwich.
DUCKS IN A ROW
Despite the low inventory and high demand for homes right now, realtors say buyers are willing to pass up a home that isn’t turn-key ready; so, it is essential to get your home ready for sale. “Buyers don’t have the time or patience to wait on reno- vations and don’t really want workers in their home due to Covid,” says Sneddon.
Realtors are still advising sellers to have their home painted and staged and any small repairs taken care of before putting it on the market. “It’s a seller’s market but that doesn’t mean you should take shortcuts in preparing the house for a good showing,” says Kelly Kraus of Houlihan Lawrence Real Estate in New Canaan, CT. “Good first impressions are key.”
“[Buyers] are looking for the ‘best wrapped package’ offering the most value,” adds Wilk. At Raveis, the real estate firm offers Raveis Refresh, a premium service designed to present a seller’s home in the best possible light. “Our team of experts can renovate, make cosmetic upgrades and stage your furnishings, providing a facelift for one’s home and adding value with no upfront costs to the seller,” says Wilk. Swift, who works with Compass Concierge, a similar service, also recommends a home inspection before listing, to get an impartial, professional perspective on any issues before selling.
On the buyer side, financial companies are much stricter about denying loans to people who can’t afford them compared to before the recession in 2008. That means buyers must have their financials in place before they put in an offer. “The cleanest offer is what is winning the bids,” says Swift. “I let me clients know when we begin conversations that they should talk to their mortgage broker before they are ready to put in an offer and do whatever they can to assure the seller their mort- gage won’t be an issue.”
SELLING PROCESS STARTS EARLY
Part of the reason real estate experts advise having all your ducks in a row before the buying and selling process begins is that sales are happening quickly now. In many cases, buyers have a sense of whether a home is right for them before they even step foot in the house.
Because of virtual opportunities, in- person open houses have become less critical but still important. “Most buyers’ first tours of a house are via a video tour or via FaceTime with their agent,” says Sneddon. Goodwin in Irvington, NY, explains, “I had a house that was turn-key that sold really quickly—even in December! Within a week, we had four or five offers.” She adds that anything under $1.8 million sells immediately, and anything over $2 or $3 million is selling quicker than it was pre- pandemic.
A BROAD REACH
Realtors say connecting with a strong real estate firm is important, even in a hot market like this one. “You will not be able to touch as many buyers as a broker can,” says Swift to those considering a sale-by- owner approach. “Successful agents can get the word out to a broader audience.” She has found interested buyers are com- ing from areas beyond NYC. “We are seeing people from South America, Europe, Asia,” says Swift. “They’re coming because people they know have talked about the diversity of Greenwich, restaurants, services and fitness opportunities in town.”
Green space, whether in the city or suburbs, is also a big draw. Goodwin’s current listing on Riverview Road backs up to preserved open space, which she expects will be a big draw. Open space is something Westchester and Fairfield counties have prioritized for decades. In New Canaan, Kraus says buyers have always been drawn to the schools and downtown, but parkland is abundant. “While always important, that is even more essential now,” notes Kraus.