Navigating The Hamptons Real Estate Market Through COVID-19

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Tim Davis, Hamptons Real Estate

The trucks carrying the introductory deliveries of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine left the Michigan facility on December 13 and are on their way to all fifty states as the virus death toll in the United States blazes towards 300,000. Over the past nine months the East End has been a safe haven for many who came from New York City to quarantine in their second-homes. There is a sense that 2021 will continue to be filled with temporary denizens as well as new permanent transplants. For real estate, it has been a boon to the region that ultimately saw the end of a somewhat stagnant market.

Rentals were booked sight unseen for extended leases, and those who had been sitting on the fence on a sale bit the bullet and made offers. 2020 has seen the Hamptons become an epicenter of real estate sales, and we were curious how top agents and brokers have navigated the market? For many, who have been serving their clients non-stop since March, the new normal has put into effect new modes of operation, much of it distanced or entirely remote.

Susan Breitenbach. Courtesy The Corcoran Group

“This last year, to say the least, has been a very challenging one for all!” said Susan Breitenbach. The Corcoran broker has been on the The Wall Street Journal Real Trends Top Sales Professionals list too many times to count.

“I am so glad that I have stayed healthy and have been able to be there for all of my clients and customers helping them during this crazy year! As you can imagine working 24/7 since March when all were trying to evacuate New York City to find rentals — and then so many of them deciding to purchase as well. I really do not see much of a slowdown even now,” she continued. “Usually after Thanksgiving it is very quiet until after New Year’s when in the past people were coming back from holiday vacations! Not at all this year! The Hamptons, which has always been a popular place to spend summers and even fall and spring, has really become a year-round destination and community for so many. I really believe people have changed the way they live and look at the Hamptons in general and realize how nice it is out here year-round.”

Jackie Lowey. Courtesy Saunders & Associates

Jackie Lowey, a Saunders real estate salesperson who has been on a tear of closing homes, echoed the sentiment, and explained a shift in the populace mindset. “My business was strong before COVID-19 and it has exploded this year, with a more than 100 percent increase year-over-year. In March, people were rushing to find rentals to flee the city and COVID-19 and so many of us were very busy finding rentals. During the summer many of those renters became buyers. At first there was plenty of inventory to meet demand and interest rates were low, which is the perfect combination to fuel a market explosion.”

“Over the course of the summer most of the existing housing inventory was sold, particularly in the lower price levels,” she continued. “New homes coming on the market have been significantly outpaced by homes being sold – which has led to a historically strong sellers’ market. While COVID-19 has certainly had a profound effect on the market, I think there is actually a deeper and more lasting phenomenon at work. We’ve gone from a ‘panic’ market to a ‘lifestyle’ market. People have discovered that they can telework successfully from the Hamptons. Additionally, more and more businesses are switching to a telework model – that’s a game changer.”

Enzo Morabito. Courtesy Douglas Elliman

“Since March, the market has gotten even more engaged on the East End,” explained Douglas Elliman superstar, Enzo Morabito. “For example, in November, the number of pending residential sales increased 84-percent from the same period last year. That’s pretty radical. My team is still busier than ever, and we are fielding calls every day from people who are buying and selling. They know who we are and they know that we get the job done right. Nobody can touch the exposure or level of service that we bring. Even as the vaccines get closer to becoming a reality, the end of this pandemic is still a long way off. Now, especially as the weather has turned colder, we’re seeing that people are still taking this very seriously and they are banking on having a place to shelter and spread out. To be continued.”

Tim Davis, Hamptons Real Estate
Tim Davis. Courtesy The Corcoran Group

“For years I have touted the ‘safe haven’ aspect of The Hamptons,” said Tim Davis, a superstar broker at Corcoran. “Those ‘buzz words’ have become the reality for how we have survived the past eight months living on the East End of Long Island. New York City shutting down due to a pandemic caused so many to pause and pivot their life plans acting quickly to secure the ideal rental or sale for their immediate lifestyle needs.”

Davis credits his career of forty years to the trust and success he’s been able to secure for his high-net-worth clients. Especially during this intensely busy period, the trust factor positioned him as one of the “go to” market experts for providing valuable insight and advice to a multitude of new customers and clients.

“There has never been a more critical time in the Hamptons Real Estate market for the need of expert counsel from the top real estate professional,” he continued. “I feel fortunate to have been able to provide this service to so many during this challenging time in our lives.”

Cee Scott Brown of Compass Real Estate. Courtesy

Cee Scott Brown, a licensed real estate broker for Compass, saw how homes had to adapt to the new normal of telecommuting and kids studying from home.

“The Novel Coronavirus has changed the way all things operate. Sadly, there are many segments of our lives that will forever be different: the arts, restaurants, theater, non-profit sectors in all fields, and on and on. Real estate in areas like the Hamptons, or northern California’s wine country have experienced a huge uptick in activity,” he said. “Due to the virus, people immediately sought less density in living situations, fewer people, more indoor and outdoor space. Many people came east thinking to rent for a few months to ride out the pandemic. But as it became clear that this was not a few-months-and-things-will-return-to-normal situation, renters quickly became buyers and those who already owned homes in the area soon realized that their three-bedroom house had morphed into a 2 bedroom house with a home office, with the dining room functioning as a second workspace, and they needed more space.”

“As is typical in a secondary home market, usually there is no urgency for buyers to make quick decisions. COVID-19 changed that,” he continued. “Buyers who had been casually looking at real estate prior to the outbreak were calling up in March/April asking if a house they saw in December was still available, and if so, they’d make an offer.”

His team, the CeeJackTeam, moved to Compass in November 2019. He credits the company’s high-tech tools and support that cemented their decision to join the agency. In that time, their volume of sales and rentals in 2020 has more than doubled from the year prior.

“3D tours like Matterport proved to be fantastic tools — houses were being purchased only being viewed on a computer screen,” he explained. “On average, homes in the Hamptons can often be on the market for 10 to 12 months. 2020 changed that. We saw houses being listed one day with multiple over-ask offers. Buyers knew that the pandemic was creating a recalibration of pricing, but realized if they wanted to get out of the urban areas they needed to move swiftly and not hesitate to offer full price or more. It was, and still remains in large part, a crazy, fast-paced, no-days-off market. This is all to say that our move to Compass certainly augmented our business, but the pandemic’s effect on how real estate is done was a major component. Let’s hope for a speedy distribution of effective vaccines and a return to some form of normalcy.”

Breitenbach echoed the lifestyle and housing changes that were demanded in the homes themselves. “People have made home offices and gyms, compounds are extremely popular and integrated interior/outdoor living with heaters and firepits,” she explained. “I am very grateful and feel blessed to have stayed healthy, so far, and being able to use my expertise to assist in helping my customers and clients find the right properties and whatever else they should need for their families in the Hamptons in their time of need!”

Reminiscent of the great exodus to the Hamptons post-9/11, many are learning that the region is more than just beautiful for summer barbecues and clambakes. Lowey explained, “Buyers have always appreciated the remarkable beauty and quality of life in the Hamptons, and now more have discovered they can enjoy it year-round while continuing to work. I think for all of these reasons, we will continue to see a strong Hamptons market. The key to being successful in this market is being decisive and working with an experienced agent who knows the inventory. I am grateful for the many buyers and sellers who have trusted me to help them find new homes during this unique and challenging time in history.”

Currently there is a testing of the waters to see if New Yorkers will go back home when this is all over. 

“I know New York City will always be New York City, and people have trickled back and forth and also to Florida and other suburbs, but I think almost all still want to continue to have a place in the Hamptons,” said Breitenbach. “I don’t see that changing! I have been one of the top brokers out here for almost 30 years, the only Hamptons broker ranked by the Wall Street Journal in top 5 in United States multiple times — but have never seen the real estate market like this or even close!”

The Hamptons experienced a resurrection of its real estate economy. And though the shift was born of tragedies, many are optimistic, as the trucks start dropping off vaccines across the nation. The continued booming real estate market would mean work for builders, plumbers, landscapers, interior designers, and the rest of the trade. It would mean business for restaurants, retail, and galleries — leading to an increase in future tourism. It also means we will need to integrate a new population into the fold, with a larger number of children enrolled in the schools and heavier traffic in the colder months. Many have fallen in love with the region, and will become part of the community — volunteering and donating to the East End’s causes. We’re all in this together, we have so much to be optimistic and grateful for.

Ty Wenzel

Co-Publisher & Contributor

Ty Wenzel, a recent breast cancer survivor, started her career as a fashion coordinator for Bloomingdale’s followed by fashion editor for Cosmopolitan Magazine. She was also a writer for countless publications, including having published a memoir (St. Martin's Press) and written features for The New York Times. She is an award-winning writer and designer who covers lifestyle, real estate, architecture and interiors for James Lane Post. She previously worked as a writer and marketing director for The Independent. She has won multiple PCLI and NYPA awards for journalism, social media and design, including best website design and best magazine for James Lane Post, which she co-founded in 2020. Wenzel is also a co-founder of the meditation app for kids, DreamyKid, and the Hamptons social media agency, TWM Hamptons Social Media.

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