The New Realty Reality Hits Home

675 Flying Point Road, Water Mill, Photo: Courtesy Douglas Elliman Photography

Here we are in the driveway, doing FaceTime while the buyer is walking through a house where the owner has put all the lights on and opened up all the doors so nobody touches a switch or a knob, and you have to leave your shoes outside and wear gloves and a mask or a hazmat suit to make sure you’re safe.

“Is it doable? Yes. Short term, it’s doable. Is it optimal? No way.”

Town & Country Real Estate CEO Judi Desiderio isn’t describing some otherworldly scenario, we well know, but rather the surreal state of real estate in the new normal. It happens to be a scene playing out here in the Hamptons, but really, it could be anywhere. And the issues it raises, even as it hits the market here in unique ways, bring up universal questions.

“Long-term, I don’t see humanoids being able to keep such distance and have such a lack of tactile stimuli,” Desiderio continues. “And real estate is probably one of the most personal things. You’re not buying a shirt, or a bottle of vodka or even a plant. You’re buying a house.”

Or renting one. Or trying to rent one, perhaps. Our East End rental market made national news as New York state began to shut down back in March, and the mass exodus from New York City drove thousands of people who once only visited in the summertime to start searching for a longer-term Hamptons or North Fork haven for themselves and their families.

For those who already owned second homes, those seasonal escapes immediately evolved into full-time residences. The supply of rentals that might otherwise have been on the market changed, the way people looked at the value of long-term renting and ownership changed…and, as we arrive at Memorial Day weekend, East End real estate leaders come together to discuss just how much that change will influence this summer and beyond.

“The rental market is off the charts. The starter was people wanting to flee the city in early spring. It has continued for people who want to be here for summer. Prices are up and inventory is down. That said, for those still looking, there are still many good rentals in all price ranges. I predict that off-season rentals will continue. With all the interest in the Hamptons, and the experience of living here in early spring, many renters will turn into buyers given the desire for a more permanent presence out East. I see this already from renters and believe momentum will grow.
–Gary DePersia, The Corcoran Group

“The most significant change we’re going to see is a dramatic increase in demand for purchase. People who have been on the fence, or put off buying a summer home are going to create a surge in this market unlike anything we have seen in decades. People are looking for homes with four-seasons appeal. More and more people tell us that the Hamptons is going to be their “home” and that the apartment in the city will be just that….the apartment in the city.

We are calling this phenomenon ‘Lifesizing.’ People are no longer looking to the Hamptons as a summer retreat. They want a home where they and their loved ones can make a life, throughout the year, no matter what challenges we as individuals and as a society must face during these dark and frightening times. Anyone who is considering selling their home in the Hamptons should find a broker they can trust, and get their home ready for a sales season this fall that will be stronger than any we have seen in decades.”
–Ann Ciardullo and Keith Green, Sotheby’s International Realty

“I suspect the fall will see another wave of interest or monthly and even annual rentals. This demand will transition to the sales market, causing a depletion of inventory and the inevitable increase in prices.”
–Alan Schnurman, Saunders & Associates

“Brokers were all overwhelmed trying to find rentals in a time where homeowners typically don’t rent. The comfort of finding a safe place within hours of NYC shed a new light on what the Hamptons has to offer as far as space, privacy and beauty. In light of that, renters are turning into buyers as they appreciate the value of health and safety when it comes to home comfort.”
–Deborah Srb, Sotheby’s International Realty

“The most notable short-term effect was the surge of rentals in the Hamptons and North Fork, and it continues to surge. I think one long-term effect will be a surge in sales. After 9-11 and now COVID-19, I believe families will no longer consider a second home a luxury. I’m hearing that they want a place they can get to quickly, within a few hours, to shelter.”
–Mary Terry, Associate Broker, Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty

“As rentals became unavailable, we’ve recently seen houses going into contract. Long-term, we see people looking to stay here for extended rentals and looking to buy so they have a safe place to stay. We are advising buyers to not drag their feet or put in under-market offers. We are recommending to sellers to make the deal when a good offer comes in.”
–Nicole Weiss and Tim Morabito, Compass Real Estate

“From a commercial perspective, retailers and restaurants are in a holding pattern. Retailers are closed and restaurants can only do take-out. I have been in discussions with both the tenants and landlords regarding rent payments. For the most part, rents have not been paid for April and May for retailers, and restaurants have paid reduced levels. Landlords have been very understanding, but for the most part they have mortgages and real estate taxes to pay, so this puts them at a disadvantage.”
–Hal Zwick, Town & Country Real Estate

“The short-term effect has been demand for rental properties for more than one month at a time. Many city dwellers who had not been to the North Fork before came looking for multi-month rentals including April, May and June. Previously there was no demand for April and May. With regard to sales, In the long term I see demand increasing. The new renters previously mentioned are already making inquiries on my listings. There is new interest in the North Fork due to affordability, bucolic setting and close proximity to the city.”
–Thomas McCloskey, Douglas Elliman

“We haven’t seen a rental market like this in quite some time, in the sense of full-summer rentals. Many people were not looking for short-term rentals. Where else can they go? They’re certainly not flying to Europe. Interestingly enough, owners only seemed to want full seasons. The person looking for a month is having a more difficult time.”
–John Christopher, Sotheby’s International Realty

“Inventory is sorely low, especially for full season or long season, because that’s what people want. Before the pandemic, AirBNB, Home Away, VRBO, they kind of changed the landscape, everybody was out here for two weeks in Amagsansett, two weeks in Southampton, a week somewhere else. Now, no one is doing AirBNB and VRBO. No one wants somebody in their house for two weeks, and then have a different set of people coming in two weeks. And no one wants to be in a house that somebody else was in for two weeks. It completely brought to a halt short-term rentals and put back in the saddle Memorial Day through Labor Day or May through September. Good luck trying to find a really beautiful one.”
–Judi Desiderio

“The most notable short-term effects from a real estate perspective has been the increased demand for rentals, and the rejuvenated importance the real estate agent has been given in order to help satisfy those demands–proving once again that when it comes down to a critical life-saving event, a good agent is worth every penny of commission they are paid. The long-term effect will be the fact the summer season effectively started three months earlier, and the summer season will begin much differently than it ever has before. Shortages, closings, masks and social distancing will force everyone to adapt to a much slower pace, as well as finding a healthy outlet for the new economic anxiety concerning the future.”
–Paul Brennan, Douglas Elliman

“After sheltering in place for over two months, now people are looking for more permanent solutions, like buying homes on the North Fork. With interest rates and inventory low, we are reaching out to our clients and letting them know it is okay, and even a good time, to consider selling. We have buyers actively looking to buy in the new virtual environment. Restrictions have taken the sport of looking at real estate out of the equation and let the real buyers and sellers rise to the top.”
–Carol Szynaka, Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty

“We are paying special attention to our virtual marketing and taking great care that our representation of our homes are easily navigable, stimulating, informative and accurate; thus providing the prospective buyers with a satisfying virtual experience.”
–Todd Bourgard, Douglas Elliman

“With face-to-face meetings sans mask verboten, people are adjusting to virtual open houses and Zooming together surprisingly well. How that will play out in the long run, it’s premature to say. Obviously, it’s a new playing field. Certain protocols must be followed. However, it all comes back to pricing. If it is priced correctly, it will sell.”
–John Christopher

“I have been utilizing 3D photography to enhance the online experience in house hunting. I have been doing conference calls and describing in detail the properties while we use the tools available. The biggest obstacle has been not being able to enter a home. I have yet to see any technology that can compete with the feeling of walking through a front door of a charming, elegant house. Being a secondary-home market, most of our negotiations have been via phone or email prior to NY Pause, so nothing has changed there. Virtual closings are great, and I hope the practice continues afterwards.”
–Thomas McCloskey

“The most notable optimistic real estate news for the moment is that all of the deal that I have had in contract–and fortunately there were a few–have all closed without a hitch. The deals varied from very large to very small, and thankfully they all went through. To me, that gives a very positive outlook for the market in the future. We were all stunned by the pandemic, and yet those who were buying felt confident enough to move ahead. That’s a very positive sign!”
–Paul Brennan

“It’s a whole new world we’re living in, and a whole new way of doing business that we are learning every day to navigate. Basically, the most important thing is to make buyers and homeowners comfortable in this new normal we are experiencing. The shift is towards offering virtual tours and videos as the primary source of showing properties and making sure everyone is geared up in masks and gloves for an onsite showing for those willing to open their homes.”
–Deborah Srb

“We have videos prepared for virtual tours on YouTube and our social media. We have become more dynamic and had to step outside our comfort zone with the typical protocols we were used to.We have adjusted to the demand and now have marketing materials that we wouldn’t have otherwise had.”
–Nicole Weiss and Tim Morabito

“Video. Video. Video. I have been texting videos and have been having great success. I obviously cannot enlist professional photographers at this time, so I’ve been using my iPhone. And my buyers are so familiar with it that they feel totally comfortable. I’ve also been doing virtual open houses and virtual closings. I’m fairly certain that this business will be forever changed. We’ve learned and grown from this experience. There’s no need to go back to the old ways of doing most transactions. I see virtual inspections–with supporting photographs–in the very near future.”
–Mary Terry

“One thing we are absolutely certain of is: Real estate will continue to be the best investment one can make. Over time it has always grown in value and along the way it provides shelter, comfort, pleasure and security, all so important in these challenging times.”
–Ann Ciardullo and Keith Green

“The most essential advice I can give a buyer is that real estate is always a good investment. As for the sellers, it’s a great time to sell, as currently only the most serious of buyers are looking.”
–Todd Bourgard

“More so than 9/11, I see those living in NYC, and the metropolitan area, coming to realize how important it is to have a place to go that is a little bit removed from their normally more crowded day-to-day environment. A lot has to do with quarantining, sure, and sheltering in place, absolutely. Yet for many who’ve been here since mid-March, they realize how wonderful it is to be out East, in some cases with their entire families, for a much longer period than they’ve experienced in past years. What is happening here is not happening to the same extent in other real estate markets. It only goes to show that while some have recently been sounding our death knell, the Hamptons will always be the Hamptons.”
–Gary DePersia