The trauma of the coronavirus it has led many New Yorkers to permanently leave the largest city in the United States, which now has many empty apartments with rising property prices in the suburbs and nearby cities.
“I wasn’t ready to leave,” said Nick Barnhorst, recalling what he felt in February. This 41-year-old city lover, who has lived in the Big Apple for more than a decade, was already thinking about moving, but maybe in a year and a half.
However, a few weeks later, his wife became pregnant with her third child and the coronavirus devastated New York. Suddenly “everything indicated that we should get out of here as soon as possible”, he says.
Next week, Barnhorst is expected to sign a house purchase pledge in Mamaroneck, a small town north of New York. “I always felt that going away would break my heart,” said this California native. “But today I couldn’t be more excited.”
A friend of Barnhorst, who visited his in-laws in early March in Massachusetts, did something even more radical. He never lived in New York again.
With his eight-month pregnant wife, he sold his apartment and bought a house in Bronxville, a city located north of the Bronx district.
“Nothing that makes New York New York works today,” says Barnhorst, mentioning theaters, bars, cinemas, concert halls and museums that have not reopened. “It is easier to leave the city”.
In a booming housing market that “leaves no room for negotiation,” Barnhorst had to hurry to find the home he wanted.
Near the city of Montclair, New Jersey, there are properties that are sold 20% above the asking price, according to data from Richard Stanton, owner of the real estate agency Stanton Realtors.
“I didn’t expect such strong demand,” said this real estate agent, who expects the offer to adapt to demand in just six months or even a year.
A resident of Darien, a town in Connecticut, said he received several calls from potential buyers, although his home is not for sale. “This is the first time this has happened to me,” said the man who asked not to be named.
New York City, the national epicenter of the coronavirus, has recorded more than 215,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus and more than 23,000 deaths since March, although the number of infections and deaths has been declining for weeks.
Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio regularly compare the current situation with what happened after the September 11, 2001 attacks, another major trauma suffered by the city, and promise the same recovery.
In real estate terms, the repercussions of the attacks “were anecdotal,” said Stanton. “After 9/11, the pride of New Yorkers made me want to live in New York,” said Dillon Kondor, a guitarist who was a teenager at the time and lived in the suburbs of the city.
Kondor, who worked on several Broadway musicals, also left New York in June and moved to an apartment in Tarrytown, in the Hudson River valley. He made the decision on one of the first sunny days of spring, during a walk with his wife through busy Central Park, where he felt that few were wearing masks. On the way back from the tour, “one of us said: we have to leave this city”.
Moving trucks fill the streets of New York in July. In southern Manhattan, more than 5% of the apartments are empty, unheard of for 10 years, when the real estate firm Miller Samuel started publishing its statistics.
More than 9/11, Stanton compares the current situation with the 2003-2005 period, when rising rents pushed many New Yorkers out of town.
He also remembers the 70s, marked by a worsening of public services and an increase in crime that led many to leave the city.
This time, however, in addition to the effect of the coronavirus, “there is a stronger trend linked to the fact that there will be more people working from home,” says Stanton. In many cases “we will have a shorter week at the office”.
This move could calm the real estate fever in New York and allow a new generation to settle in a city that was previously inaccessible, the real estate agent imagines.
Dillon initially opted to rent while awaiting the reopening of Broadway theaters. But it’s hard for him to imagine coming back to New York. “There is a lot of uncertainty,” he says.