Coronavirus may cause shift to suburbs like Westport

WESTPORT — Of the predictions of a new normal once the coronavirus’ spread slows down, at least one Realtor sees a migration similar to what happened after Sept. 11 — from city to suburb.

“After this is over, I think you are going to see quite an exodus into what we’ll call the suburbs from Manhattan,” said Deb Alderson, past president of Mid Fairfield County Board of Realtors.

Alderson, who is also a Berkshire Hathway HomeServices New England Properties Realtor, said the shift of New Yorkers to suburban areas could be similar to the exodus in 2001.

“I think you may see the same thing happening here with people looking for a place with a little more space,” she said.

While people moving from the city is normal, she said she’s seen people seeking short-term rentals in suburban areas like Westport. She also said a Bridgeport agent told her he saw a lot of people from New York moving to the lower Fairfield County area, and buying multi-family houses.

Sara Harris, town operations director for Westport, said officials are already having early discussions about the potential shift.

“We’ve got some great Realtors in town ready to show great homes,” Harris said. “Our concern for town services and their capacity being met is only if we’re adding units, but this is moreso people moving into existing units.”

While officials haven’t done projections on what the level of movement may be, she said the community aspect of Westport was an understandable draw.

“We talk about quality of life in Westport, and one example of this is how well the community has come together to stay home,” Harris said.

The town-feel of Westport and other similar areas could also provide an attractive draw for a younger age group reeling from the impacts of the pandemic, Alderson noted.

“We’ve always had people moving out from the city, but I think this will be a heavy-hitter as a reason for people getting out of” the Big Apple, she said.

Similar to every other business sector, the spread of the virus affected the real estate market during a time when business had been booming.

“Not just Westport or Weston. There were a lot of the towns doing significantly better by either selling more houses and/or prices going up,” Alderson said. “This did put a wrinkle in that.”

The pandemic and wide-spread closures came during the much anticipated spring market, where buyers look to find new homes before the fall and start of a new school year. With a warmer January, Realtors saw an expanded spring market which will typically last into June.

“We’re in the height of spring market right now,” she said.

Alderson said some buyers attempted to close early to miss the looming impact of the pandemic. Others weren’t as fortunate.

“Unfortunately we’ve also had buyers who have lost their job and they can’t get a mortgage right now,” she said.

While there are houses still coming on the market and closing, Alderson said Realtors have adapted in servicing clients.

“We’ve gotten creative,” she said, noting the importance of technology in these times.

Virtual tours and Facebook Live walk-throughs allow for broker’s open houses to continue. Buyers are also afforded the same amenities when shopping around.

“It’s really just how creative can you get,” Alderson said. “The other thing I’ve seen are pictures taken prior to this happening are being stitched together with voice-overs for a walk-through of a house.”

While the market has slowed for now, Alderson said she believes it could bounce back when things have calmed down.

“Once we get to the other side of this we may be doing business differently for a little while, but we are going to be doing business,” she said.