Exodus of NYC buyers to the suburbs slowed in August

By Jennifer White Karp  |
September 2, 2020 - 4:15PM

New signed contracts in the nearby suburban counties of Long Island, Westchester, and Fairfield showed month-over-month declines last month.


That surge of New Yorkers stampeding out of the city to the suburbs? There are signs that it is already plateauing in several of the city’s closest suburban counties.

In The Elliman Report for new signed contracts for August—which covers Manhattan, Brooklyn, Long Island, the Hamptons, North Fork, Westchester, Fairfield, and Greenwich—month-over-month comparisons show a decline for the nearby suburban counties of Long Island, Westchester, and Fairfield, despite being up for the year, according to Jonathan Miller, president and CEO of appraisal firm Miller Samuel and author of the report. 

(It's a different story in the very affluent burbs: The Hamptons and the North Fork both saw sharp increases for single-family houses—about double—compared to year-ago levels. Single-family new signed contracts for Greenwich were nearly triple year-ago levels.)

Miller spoke to Brick after being interviewed about the report by Korean and Japanese news outlets—apparently there’s fascination overseas with the exodus from NYC. But his analysis might shake up that schadenfreude.

First of all—it’s a trajectory from Manhattan to the suburbs, not all of NYC, he points out. Manhattan signed contracts declined 26 percent compared to August 2019, while Brooklyn is surging—signed contracts were up 182 percent in August 2020 compared to the prior year. In fact, Miller says, “Buyers from Manhattan are treating the outer boroughs like the burbs.”

Secondly—the misplaced spring market is a factor that’s plumping up the numbers.

“The spring market didn’t happen, so you have the release of pent-up demand, plus you have outbound migration,” Miller says. “The month-over-month decline suggests the spring surge caused by the delayed market has been satiated. What’s leftover is migration spurred by Covid.”

On Long Island, there were 3,317 new signed contracts in August, compared to 3,640 in July. Westchester saw 780 new signed contracts last month, compared to 987 the previous month. And Fairfield saw a similar decline: 866 in August compared to 1,221 in July.

To be clear, there is a definite flow of New Yorkers to the suburbs, he says. It just doesn’t take many sales to show a large surge in some of these suburban markets, which are much smaller compared to Manhattan.

In an interview with Bloomberg, Miller estimates that about 40,000 to 50,000 more New Yorkers than usual will leave for the suburbs this year, based on contracts signed. Some were going to leave the city anyway—the pandemic prompted them to make the move sooner, the article notes.

And some are already regretting their move: Miller tells the publication “that an inordinately high share of the purchase contracts (about a third) are blowing up as buyers back out.”



Jennifer White Karp

Managing Editor

Jennifer steers Brick Underground’s editorial coverage of New York City residential real estate and writes articles on market trends and strategies for buyers, sellers, and renters. Jennifer’s 15-year career in New York City real estate journalism includes stints as a writer and editor at The Real Deal and its spinoff publication, Luxury Listings NYC.

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