New Yorkers ditching city for elbow room fuel housing boom

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Anil Lilly, center, holds his granddaughter Paige alongside his wife, Joyce, at their new home, Tuesday, July 21, 2020, in Washingtonville, N.Y. New Yorkers anxious after weathering the worst of the coronavirus pandemic are fueling a boom in home sales and rentals around the picturesque towns and wooded hills to the north. Real estate brokers and agents describe a red-hot market recently, with many house hunters able to work from home. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

If the outbreak roars back in New York City, Anil and Joyce Lilly will not be sheltering again in their Bronx apartment. They just bought a house an hour north in the Hudson Valley.

“We need more elbow room,” said Joyce Lilly, explaining their move to Washingtonville, New York. “Because we were locked into the apartment for three months, a solid three months, I feel like I’m getting out of prison and I want to run as far away as possible.”

New Yorkers anxious after weathering the worst of the coronavirus pandemic are fueling a boom in home sales and rentals around the picturesque towns and wooded hills to the north. Real estate brokers and agents describe a red-hot market recently, with many house hunters able to work from home.

“There has been a big uptick from Manhattan people, no doubt about that,” said Steven Domber, president of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Hudson Valley Properties. “Number one, it’s cabin fever, which is wanting to get out of an apartment and having some land if, God forbid, there’s a lockdown again.”

The Catskill Mountains and bucolic stretches of the valley beyond the city's northern suburbs have been longtime getaways for city residents. But agents say sales and rental activity is far above normal. Domber’s sales were up almost a third year over year in June. Builder Chuck Petersheim said he took eight orders in a month, compared to his usual one-and-a-half a month.

New York City is in no danger of hollowing out any time soon, though. The upstate wave looks more like a trickle in a city of 8.3 million. With new homes in the region running from under $200,000 to more than $1 million, they are an escape hatch many cannot afford. But the spike in sales and long-term rentals shows how New Yorkers who endured the worst of the pandemic see the city as less hospitable.

“We just feel that the city will not be the city that we lived in,” said Susan Cohen, who rented a home in Rhinebeck with her husband after sheltering in their Upper East Side apartment.

“For six weeks in our two-bedroom apartment, all we talked about was without a vaccine, we will never go on the subway again, we’d be hesitant to go on a bus again, we won’t go to the movies. we won’t go to the theater ... So what do we have for the next two years in Manhattan? And we said, ‘What are we living here for?’”