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Lewis Morris / Jun. 23, 2020

Escape From New York

Many urbanites are leaving not just New York City but cities around the country.

Real-estate agents in New York City and elsewhere are facing a tough new market as sales, rentals, and overall demand plummet in urban areas. In the wake of China Virus pandemic lockdowns and then looting, rioting, and general urban lawlessness across the country, families and businesses alike are increasingly looking beyond cities to find more stable locations.

Some brokers were already expecting a slower economy in 2020, thanks in large part to the doom-and-gloom predictions of Democrats and their Leftmedia partners who are hoping that a tanked economy would drive President Donald Trump from office in November. But were they prepared for a sustained exodus of people from large urban areas?

The Big Apple’s real-estate market is dealing with record-low condo and co-op sales, and entire swaths of neighborhoods have empty, or soon-to-be empty, apartments as renters elect to pursue other options. Apartment purchases in total were down 80% in May, and the high-end market — sales above $5 million — was down 90%. But don’t expect the poor market to work to renters’ advantage. There are no bargains to be had, as New York City and most urban real-estate markets do not adhere to the rules of supply and demand.

“It’s a reaction to the pandemic, obviously. An emotional reaction,” Steven James, CEO of Douglas Elliman, told CBS New York. “It’s the same thing that happened after 9/11.” However, James is referring specifically to New York City. The pandemic hit everywhere. And cities all over the country are experiencing similar issues.

Even in good times, many city residents frequently reevaluate the costs and benefits of urban living. On one side there are high rents and mortgages and a higher cost of living. On the other side, presumably, is greater access to higher paying jobs and greater cultural and social interaction. For a growing segment of the urban population, however, the current situation has tipped that scale decidedly in favor of leaving metropolis.

When the pandemic hit, isolation and collapsed supply chains were enough to push many to leave the cities. Then came the demonstrations, riots, looting, and random acts of violence. To compound the problem, several city governments have begun defunding and dismantling police departments. As should be expected in such situations, violent crime has risen significantly in these cities, and a pervasive lawlessness has taken hold in many urban neighborhoods across America.

The big question for urban real-estate analysts and brokers is whether the sharp downturn is a reaction to the current situation or a long-term trend that will require major adjustments to the market. One variable that is still unknown is the impact of working remotely. The economic shutdown in the spring revealed that, after a few weeks of working from home, many employees, and in some cases their employers, realized that going into the office is something of a formality. Working from home may become the new normal for many more workers. This will have a major impact on demand for residential and commercial real estate in urban centers.

The best way right now to calm the market in these cities is to reintroduce law and order and common sense. But that’s up to each city and its citizens. And how many people stay and how many go is directly related to the decisions they make.

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