Virus spurs NYC exodus, upstate home sales

Sarah Eames | The Daily Star A home in the town of Milford listed for sale by Callahan Catskill Real Estate is shown Friday.

As COVID-19 infection rates continue to climb and clashes between police and demonstrators persist, many New York City residents are headed for the hills.

Chris Gross, owner of Hancock-based Upper Delaware Real Estate, said he has seen an increased interest in Catskill-area properties since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in March.

“People are pretty much looking for a getaway,” he said. “Most people are looking for second homes and weekend homes, but some are looking for a first home, too.”

“It wasn’t just COVID. The riots pushed things over the edge,” Gross continued. “They’re thinking, ‘Why do I want to leave my home when it's not safe to go outside my apartment?’”

Gross noted that the majority of prospective buyers have been younger people looking to move within three hours of the city.

“Since the coronavirus hit, a lot of them are realizing they can work from home,” he said. “‘What do you have for internet?’ is one of the most popular questions I get.”

“We’re pretty connected upstate,” Gross continued. “For the most part, we have high-speed internet pretty much everywhere, except maybe the little side roads.”

Outside of Delaware County, out-of-town buyers are attracted to the Cooperstown area, according to Betsy Shultis, broker for the Oneonta-based Benson Agency Real Estate.

“It’s a little bit of a further drive, but it’s easy to get to Albany,” she said. “Many people are looking for country properties with privacy.”

“COVID made it so that people understand that they can work from home, and their bosses actually want them to work from home,” Shultis continued. “We’re seeing a lot of working people looking for a second home — they want an escape.”

Among the area’s major selling points are its colleges, the arts scene, outdoor activities and the highly ranked medical facilities. Shultis said. 

“It is a brisk market,” she said. “Prices will continue to climb because of supply and demand. The more buyers there are, the higher the prices go.”

Downstate interest is predominantly centered around existing upstate homes, Gross said.

“It can take years to build a new house, and the last thing they want to do is spend another weekend in the city.”

“We have enough existing stock right now, but as housing stock drives up, you’re going to see a shift toward vacant land,” he continued, noting that the shift could occur locally as early as springtime. 

Even though more people are coming upstate to look at properties, Gross said he witnessed many buyers “making deals verbally and then not following through on the offers.”

“Sometimes things don’t come through because of contract contingencies. We’ve seen several deals fall through because of the home inspection,” he said. “There’s a lot of hype. We’re seeing a lot of trepidation on the buyer’s part.”

Sarah Eames, staff writer, can be reached at seames@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow her @DS_SarahE on Twitter.

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