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Short-term rentals boom in suburbs as coronavirus pandemic shifts demand

Gerri Willis

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Real estate websites say visitors are spending more time looking at suburban and rural properties outside major metro areas, but buyers aren’t necessarily slapping money down for purchases.

Instead, much of the money being spent right now is for rentals as families look for alternatives to city dwelling amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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Around New York City – the U.S. epicenter of the outbreak – New Jersey, Westchester, Long Island and even areas further away are drawing interest.

“Our short-term rental market has nearly doubled year over year,” said Candace Adams, the CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices for New York, New England and Westchester Properties. “I think this is very similar to 9/11, where it was very fear-driven … and then the time of year with the kids being out of school, knowing that the summer was coming, I think a lot of people decided, ‘let's just get out of dodge and go into to a short-term rental of three-to-six months and settle in for the summer.’”

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Fast money is prompting some homeowners in those areas to pack up and stay with family while they rent out their house.

“Right now, the Hamptons are packed,” The Real Deal founder and publisher Amir Korangy said. “It’s as if you were in the middle of summer, the boom season. Houses that used to go for $10,000 to $15,000 per month, are going for $30,000 … It’s funny – where the city was getting top dollar, that’s shifting away.”

Even Korangy, a longtime resident of New York City, has searched for a second home in the suburbs of Westchester. He’s bought nothing yet.

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Even so, the Berkshires, a second-home area in western Massachusetts two hours north of Manhattan, recorded the fastest pace of sales for the first quarter in 23 years. Prices are rising, too. Real estate agent Tom Doyle says that in some cases, New York buyers are purchasing without even visiting the property and are inspecting homes using a Facetime tour.

Whether the interest in properties outside major metro areas turns into a real estate boom or a rush for the exits among city dwellers is yet to be seen, and will depend, in part, on whether the pandemic winds down or roars back this fall.

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But, at least one governor sees opportunity. This week, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont said Monday-through-Friday commutes from leafy suburbs like Greenwich, Connecticut, to Wall Street may be a thing of the past, as New York City employers opt for streamlined office space and more at-home work. To be sure, keeping commuters home would be an advantage to cash-strapped states like Connecticut.

In the meantime, however, city dwellers are opting to spend time outside – and away from the urban areas.

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