School’s back on. Will the NYC resi market follow suit?

“The idea that they may shut down again really closes the door to rushing back to the city”

TRD New York /
Aug.August 07, 2020 05:45 PM
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has given the go-ahead to reopen schools for in-person learning statewide (Getty; iStock)

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has given the go-ahead to reopen schools for in-person learning statewide (Getty; iStock)

As the city shut down this spring, New York’s wealthiest neighborhoods saw an exodus of residents, many of whom headed to second homes or rentals in the Hamptons and other parts of the Tri-State.

Now that Gov. Andrew Cuomo has given the go-ahead to reopen schools for in-person learning statewide, will those who fled return? Reacting to Friday’s news, several brokers and housing experts doubt families will be rushing back.

Chuck Petersheim, who founded Hudson Valley-based development and real estate company Catskill Farms, said families there have been planning ahead. Schools in the area have been bombarded with new enrollment requests.

“What you’re seeing is planning on, not just what your kids are doing when everything’s open, but what happens a month from now, two months from now, when they shut down again, possibly,” Petersheim said. “The idea that they may shut down again really closes the door to rushing back to the city.”

Cuomo left the final decision on reopening to district leaders and school superintendents. Schools may open for in-person instruction as long as the region’s coronavirus positive infection rate is below 5 percent.

Brokers said decisions by individual private schools to reopen have already played a part. Jordan Sachs of Bold New York said clients began calling last week. Cuomo’s new announcement about public schools will continue to bring “some of the family market” back, he said.

“It’s definitely a driver,” Sachs said, though he noted that colleges and universities reopening would have a bigger impact on the city’s rental market.

Gary Malin, head of rentals at the Corcoran Group, said one move won’t lure back families. Neither will it fuel the rental market, he added, which in June saw vacancies hit an all-time high in Manhattan.

“Schools are step one,” he said. “My assumption is that a lot of people are concerned about, well, [for] how long? … The city is still far from being the city that people left.”

“At this point, so late in the game, it just seems like it’s not going to have the impact that it might have if it was earlier,” said Jonathan Miller, founder of appraisal firm Miller Samuel.

And if parents are still working remotely from their new homes — and will be for the foreseeable future — that increases the likelihood they will stay, Malin added. The remote work revolution has already led large companies like Zillow, Google and Twitter to announce that working from home could become a permanent option.

“This whole situation with the schools opening up for kids doesn’t change the situation with the companies that are having their people work at home,” said Gino Bello, a broker for Houlihan Lawrence in Westchester.

Some parents have been looking toward alternative options to remain outside the city.

“[Families are] trying to find the school that’s going to have the most flexibility in the face of government mandates,” Petershiem said. “And for people who can afford it, that definitely is private schools.”

In the city’s school system, which is the nation’s largest with 1,800 public schools and 1.1 million students, the governor’s move still requires buy-in.

“These school districts have to be talking to the parents and talking to the teachers, because if the teachers don’t come back, then you can’t really open the schools,” Cuomo said during the announcement. “If the parents don’t send their students, then you’re not really opening the schools.”

Hal Gavzie, head of rentals at Douglas Elliman, said that uncertainty will present another roadblock for residents’ return.

“It’s still a bit unclear what the plan is going to be,” he said. “It’s not just going to open floodgates.”

Write to Sasha Jones at [email protected] and Erin Hudson at [email protected]


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