Buyers and renters in search of a "new normal" have been leaving New York City en masse and flooding the suburbs, where there is more space and less dense crowds. Others are riding out the outbreak at their second homes in the surrounding suburbs.
The outbreak has kept New Milford realtor Jason Levine busy.
"People want space to move around outdoors," said Levine, who owns TeamLevine ONE94 Real Estate Group with his wife, Katherine.
"I would say about half the offers we are getting on the properties that have multiple offers are people from New York. [Coronavirus] is definitely adding to the urgency."
Experts have said that the recent rash of buyers and renters leaving the city could revive the real estate markets in affluent towns of North Jersey, Westchester County, Long Island and Fairfield County.
“After going through this in the city ... people want a place where, if they have kids, they can get out and do something,” Steven Magnuson, a Douglas Elliman broker in Greenwich said to CNBC. “They can go out for a bike ride, and go for a run or walk and live their daily lives without feeling inundated by their neighbors."
“It seems like everyone wants to leave the city,” he added. “Our problem is not enough inventory for sale. We’ve been on the phone 24/7 and on email.”
When Gov. Phil Murphy imposed the stay-home order, things came to a halt -- both for realtors and much of New Jersey, recalls Jenny Viteritti, a realtor with Prominent Property's Sotheby’s Int’l Realty of Alpine.
New listings dropped by 23.4 percent in March. Showings took a plunge, too, she said.
Viteritti took properties off the market to protect homeowners early on, as well as her own family, she said.
"There was too much unknown to take a chance," she said.
Prominent Properties Sotheby’s Int’l Realty and other companies later shifted to virtual showings and limited in-person showings just to keep business moving forward, safely.
“Digital is key," Viteritti said. "Marketing properties with groundbreaking 3D platforms has always been part of our marketing strategy, but our online presence has proven to be paramount in highlighting homes, providing buyers with an accurate, detail property view to safely shop -- while still in pajamas."
The online shift has made the difference in the last two months, Viteritti said.
"There is traffic now," she said. "There were different shoppers early on, folks needing to move, perhaps they just sold a home, and bargain shoppers believing this could be similar to 2008.
"This Recession is not a housing crises, and prices are expected to rise."
COVID-19 has given many of Viteritti's New York City-based clients the push they needed to start the next chapter of their lives -- becoming homeowners.
"Many of the great towns are seeing the exodus of empty nesters and the arrival of young families ready to call Bergen County home, especially Millennials," Viteritti said.
"There’s limited inventory, so great homes will go quickly."
Short-term leases are also in high-demand in Bergen County and Hudson River towns, Viteritti said, noting those can be rented at top dollar right away if they're furnished.
Levine saw a slowdown in business at the onset of the outbreak, he said.
"People were fearful and rightfully so," Levine said.
"Now the fear seems to be subsiding and buyers and sellers are starting to feel more comfortable with the process. We have been incredibly busy."
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