April was supposed to be the month we were going to look for a new rental apartment in New York City. I had it all planned out: As soon as we found out where our younger daughter was going to middle school (if only that was still the biggest drama in my life), we would launch our search.
I had done my homework: I knew the Brooklyn neighborhoods and even the buildings I wanted to hunt for available apartments. I had a wish list for what mattered to us: I wanted a big, full-service rental building, lots of amenities, and to be near a subway with a short commute to Midtown Manhattan. I had set my sights on Prospect Heights and Gowanus. Then the pandemic happened, and everything changed. What I thought was important for our next NYC apartment no longer matters. I’ve tossed my old wish list and started a new one.
Now my biggest priority is remaining close to Prospect Park, because walking the dog for an hour every morning and seeing nature is the highlight of my new, work-from-home life. With no subway commute in my future, we now plan on renting in a townhouse in Park Slope. There are few big, full-service buildings on this side side of the park, which is closest to my daughter's new school. And that's fine with me. The idea of depending on an elevator—and sharing amenities with lots of other people—has zero appeal for me now.
I’m not the only one who has changed what I am looking for in an apartment. Brokers say the pandemic has shifted priorities for both New York City buyers and renters who are planning a hunt. What’s in now? Boutique buildings and townhouses, pet-friendly policies, apartments on the first floor, and apartments with private outdoor space and home offices. What’s out? High floors, large buildings, and shared amenities.
Read on for more on how the pandemic has changed what New Yorkers will be looking for in an apartment.
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Townhouses come out on top
If the concept of “high-touch” surfaces makes you shudder—like door handles, elevator panels, shared amenities—then you’ll likely want a smaller building with fewer residents or tenants, or an apartment on the first floor that you can access quickly.
“Buyers may be more willing to trade off sky-high views for lower floors and townhomes to reduce reliance on elevators. Overall, living in less densely populated buildings may become more desirable to limit exposure to others, at least for the short term,” says Nada Rizk, an agent at Brown Harris Stevens.
Townhouses will likely see renewed interest, says Wendy N. Arriz, a broker at Warburg Realty.
“This category, which had slowed over the last couple of years, now may get more attention. Who wouldn’t want their own fortress with lots of space and amenities like a backyard, roof, media room or home gym? This type of ownership is also less per square foot than any of the new developments on the market. The townhouse market might, as it should, become more desirable in the post-Covid-19 world,” she days.
We’re all working from home
Lots of New Yorkers are working from home now because they have to—and many are likely not going back to the office after the pandemic subsides because companies have a better sense of the cost and health benefits of keeping workers apart. Apartments with a nook or separate room that can be used as an office and offer privacy for video conferencing—which is how we work these days—are going to be in greater demand, brokers say. If you are selling or renting out a place that has space that can be used as an office—be sure that it is highlighted in your listing.
Subway? No thanks
With a greater number of New Yorkers working from home, apartments close to a subway sound nowhere near as appealing as they once did. Because of the pandemic, subway ridership has dropped about 90 percent during the shutdown—leading to billions in lost revenue. Service has been reduced—so cars are dangerously crowded and something to avoid if you possibly can, at least for the time being.
Must love dogs
One of the feel-good stories to come out of the pandemic: Pet adoption is at an all-time high, and as a result, more apartment hunters are likely to be looking for buildings with pet-friendly policies. Pet owners say it’s easier to connect with other pet owners, making NYC buildings friendlier—especially welcome during the pandemic. Dog-walkers need places to, obviously, walk the dog. So, if you are selling or renting out a pet-friendly apartment, you’ll want to play up how close you are to greenspace.
“These four-legged additions are providing a lot of comfort for individuals and families and are now welcomed as one of the family themselves,” says Joanne Greene, a broker at Brown Harris Stevens.
I want to be alone…outside
Getting outside is fraught these days—parks are crowded and protecting yourself and practicing safe social distancing can be stressful. If you have a private outdoor space, consider yourself lucky indeed. If you don’t, you may be on the hunt for it in your next apartment.
If you’re selling or renting out a place, be sure to keep in mind this heightened interest in private outdoor space. Using listing language that acknowledges the pandemic is powerful. One of the best examples is a listing for a co-op in Midtown marketed by the Friedman Rosenthal Team at Halstead that invited renters to “practice social distancing on your own terrace!”
"I think outdoor space will hold more value for buyers moving forward. We could see more buyers opting for homes with a balcony or terrace or townhomes with a backyard. My clients who have outdoor space right now are so grateful for the ability to step outside and breathe fresh air while still being in the safety of their own homes. It is a precious commodity,” says Becki Danchik, a broker at Warburg Realty.
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