“Location, location, location” has been the real-estate agent’s mantra of choice for decades. But when the quaint neighborhood in question suddenly closes its restaurants and leaves you quarantined in a 300-square-foot apartment, is that desirable street corner still worth it? “Gone are the days of cramming into tiny quarters because they are in a trendy area,” says McKenzie Ryan, a broker for Compass in New York City. “These past few months have taught buyers the necessities that they can’t live without.”
Among those new must-haves: more bedrooms, a renovated kitchen, and outdoor space. While many are shifting their sights to the suburbs and weekend destinations like the Hamptons and the Catskills (creating never-before-seen bidding wars), extremely low mortgage rates and less movement on the market in dense cities like New York indicate that this might just be the perfect time to buy in any major metro area. The key is knowing what to look for.
A Less Central Neighborhood
With more people working from home for the foreseeable future, proximity to a subway station is less important. “New York is such a walkable city and it’s continually growing out thanks to its biking and motorized scooter platforms,” says Ryan.
Pro tip: In NYC, prospective buyers are moving away from bustling spots like the West Village, Upper East Side, and Williamsburg for less expensive areas such as midtown East, Washington Heights, and South Harlem. Ryan also recommends looking in places like Bushwick, Inwood, South Bronx, and Morningside Heights, where your budget will get you further.
A Boutique Building
In recent years, large residential complexes with multiple amenities like communal rooftops, state-of-the-art gyms, and day-care centers have been highly coveted by young professionals, but with many of these perks on pause, buyers have started prioritizing smaller buildings. The ability to use the stairs instead of having to go up a crowded elevator also means that lower floors have gained more traction.
Pro tip: “The greatest pivot I have seen is people moving away from co-ops,” says Ryan. The traditional benefits of owning in one—better value for the price and market stability—have made way for a more important factor: flexibility. For buyers who want the opportunity to rent out their place, condo buildings offer more freedom.
A Quality Kitchen
With many restaurants closed and people staying in, there’s been an increased interest in large kitchens, but “renovating through a partial lockdown adds a layer of intricacy and difficulty at every step,” says Ryan, from purchasing materials to navigating building policies and procedures.
Pro tip: Focusing on just a few features can make a big difference. “Counter space can often go overlooked, but once you begin to use a kitchen to its full capabilities, having room to craft and create is imperative,” says Ryan. She also suggests keeping an eye out for dishwashers, cooking vents, and under-cabinet lighting as markers of a quality reno.
A Nontraditional Workstation
In an ideal world, every adult in a household would have their own spare bedroom to transform into an office, but with limited square footage, apartment dwellers have to get creative. More formal (read: closed-plan) layouts have seen a resurgence as professionals look for private corners to hop on Zoom meetings.
Pro tip: Ryan has noticed an increased demand for alcoves, formal dining rooms, and foyers that can be converted into a makeshift work zone. If your budget is limited, even the tiniest tucked-away nook (think: a breakfast bar or large closet) can do the job.
More than ever, people are craving yards and gardens, but in a concrete jungle like NYC, finding your own oasis isn’t easy. While Ryan has noticed an uptick in buyers seeking a private rooftop or a large terrace, she notes that floor-to-ceiling windows that fully open is another way to bring the outside in. “One of my favorite personal home features is a skylight,” adds Ryan. “I love seeing the blue sky and the rain falling even when I’m indoors.”
Pro tip: Make note of natural light. “A great indicator of ample sun is when shadows appear in the listing photography,” says Ryan. She encourages her clients to review the floor plan to see which side the unit faces (southern exposure is best, while eastern and western views provide great morning and afternoon rays, respectively). A quick Google Maps search can also help you figure out the building’s proximity to light-blocking neighbors. Lastly, a wider avenue or location near a river or a park increases your chance of having great views, even when you’re stuck inside.
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