Nobody knew what was in store at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in March, but when schools and offices shut down and the threat of the virus in New York City was greater than ever, many wealthy families beelined to their Hamptons homes.
Always a sought-after destination between Memorial Day Weekend and Labor Day Weekend, the Hamptons is relatively quiet in March and April and is nearly vacant in the winter months. With Covid-19 still a looming threat, many city dwellers are taking advantage of the seclusion in the Hamptons and renting in the off-season this winter and even up to a year.
Since March, the market has been fierce, with many bidding wars and sales over asking prices due to low inventory and high demand.
“Once the stay-at-home order in New York came into place, people came out here looking for the quality of life, as well as a good investment, and the Hamptons has always been both,” says Todd Bourgard, Senior Executive Regional Manager of Sales for Douglas Elliman in the Hamptons
At the onset of the pandemic, East Hampton-based Sotheby’s International Realty agent Beth Felsen experienced a record number of inquiries, and many with turnarounds of less than two days. Many homes were even renting for up to three times the price in hopes of getting out of New York City.
“It was just this frenzy,” Felsen says. “Anyone who was looking to buy all of a sudden had this sense of urgency. Everything that was turnkey, like new construction, just flew and people wanted to move right in. I sold a house in April via FaceTime.”
Bourgard saw many people outbidding each other in the spring. “Homes that were on the rental market for, let’s say, $250,000 through the season, we saw going at sometimes $50,000 or $100,000 over asking,” he says.
Some homes are renting for up to $850,000 for a year-round rental or up to $375,000 per month, which is unheard of in the fall and winter months.
Despite the pandemic, the summer saw similar high traffic to past seasons, but the only difference was that more people were looking to buy at the end of the summer to secure a more permanent escape.
“In August, we did 94 contracts in the $1 to $2 million range,” Bourgard says. “That’s up 135% from August 2019. And even our $4 to $5 million homes were up 340% from August 2019.”
It seems as though people are shifting their mindsets from the Hamptons being a secondary market to a primary, as there is a serious uptick in homes being rented from mid-September through April.
“We’ve never experienced the demand for year-round or winter rentals like we are right now,” Felsen says, adding that in September, she received three sealed bids for properties listed that day that went significantly over ask. “I had a customer that accepted an offer in early September and they were out-bid. Everything is going for full price or above ask. It’s just moving so quickly.”
There is also a rush for families with young children to rent or buy a home, as many are choosing to enroll their children in local schools, especially in East Hampton, Amagansett and Sag Harbor. This year alone, the Ross School in East Hampton had 101 new students enrolled, compared to 16 new students enrolled in 2019.
Even private schools based in New York City are opening up campuses in East Hampton, including the prestigious Avenues: the World School, which opened up Avenues Studio Hamptons in August.
Felsen adds that Covid-19 has freaked people out, and families don’t want their children in an unsafe environment. She says many people are planning to stay in the Hamptons for the next one to two years, and while it might not be permanent, buyers are making sure they have everything they need within their homes to keep them safe and healthy for the foreseeable future.
Now more than ever, the amount of space and amenities are proving more valuable for families than location. For example, many want to ensure there’s space for a home office, a room for homeschooling, a kid’s playroom and a gym.
“This fall and winter, renters seem less concerned about being on the water and are concentrating more on the importance of practical living space, including large pantries and kitchens for many home-cooked family meals, indoor entertainment spaces for each member of the family and quiet rooms to work,” says Mauricio Umansky, founder and CEO of Los Angeles-based real-estate firm The Agency. “It is less about location and more about space.”
Felsen says the mindset around the Hamptons is swiftly changing from just a summer beach escape to more of a lifestyle.
“In general, people feel safe and feel they’ve made the right decision by staying out here,” she says.