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How Quarantine Has Shifted Westchester’s Housing Market

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Photo courtesy of Houlihan Lawrence | Thompson & Bender

Westchester saw increased demand and lower supply in Q2 2020, as buyers are increasingly favoring amenities over location.

Major area realtor Houlihan Lawrence released two new housing market reports this month, analyzing how local buyers’ preferences have shifted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As expected, the area saw lower availability — a 24.3% decrease in volume — as owners and realtors were unable to fully engage in the sales process through quarantine. Demand still remained, however, in part fueled by those seeking short-term rentals and eventually single-family homes, as city-dwellers and others sought spaces where they could hunker down.

“Many homeowners who chose not to sell at this time opted to sit tight, not wanting to expose themselves to any possible health risks,” says Houlihan Lawrence CEO Elizabeth Nunan. “Residents in our area did not have the same urgency to flee that the residents of NYC did; in fact, quite the opposite.”

As a result, prices rose slightly in Westchester, with parts of the county seeing median sale prices increase by 1-5%, averaging about +3.6%.

“Multiple-bid situations are not uncommon for properly priced homes and the previously softer high end of the market has renewed vigor,” Nunan adds.

That luxury market is the bellwether of another emerging trend in Westchester: Whereas once the guiding principle of real estate was “Location, location, location,” the new mantra appears to be “Amenities, amenities, amenities.”

“The successful adoption of work from home during the shutdown was a game changer,” says Houlihan Lawrence Senior VP Anthony P. Cutugno. “Organizations big and small are re-examining the need and expense for employees to work in an office five days a week.”

He explains, “For luxury buyers, the functionality and amenities of a new home take precedence over location. Proximity to NYC and an easy commute are not as necessary when work and home life reside under the same roof.”

Selling points like acreage and interior footage — especially in terms of home offices or spare bedrooms that could serve as such — have risen in desirability, as have recreational features like pools, as well as indoor and outdoor entertaining spaces. Open floor plans, conversely, have become less prestigious as the need for designated quiet spaces became more necessary for work and privacy.

“Second-home buyers have returned to the market, says Cutugno, “however they are now paying attention to school systems, mindful that their second home could become their primary residence – and children’s school district – should circumstances warrant.”

With historically low interest rates and increased demand, Cutugno says the coming months will help determined whether this is a result of the initial pandemic response or more systemic changes we can expect to continue into ‘the new normal.’

“Meaningful insights will be gleaned from third quarter closed sales data, reflecting much of the activity that began in earnest in May when the curve flattened.”