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Nostalgic for the Pre-Covid New York? The Resurgence May be a New Adventure

The former vibrancy may be gone, the city seem unfamiliar, but the pattern has always been the same. NY real estate has always rebounded before any other city

Iconic Chrysler Building. Photo: Terry Sanders

While some are still guarded with anticipation of life returning, the reality is becoming clear.  After a 14-month pause, we seem to be entering a new chapter of life in New York City.

Five Points in Queens: One of the many colorful neighborhoods in NYC.

On closer reflection, it is more a ‘version’ of the former NYC.  While boarded up storefronts are now home to new retail outlets and former restaurants have either changed ownership or opened under new guidelines, the city resembles its former self, but with the vibrancy missing.  Not to be negative, but I don’t want to think that the once great– and most admired city in the world–may never return.

I recently spent an afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum and although I was pleased not to be shoved by tourists and crowds, I confess to missing those same people I once complained about. The starkness of the empty galleries was almost alarming.  The Museum Store was eerily quiet, as was the shop at the MoMa and others. You get the picture.

What comes to mind was an event I attended at the Guggenheim when I was volunteering and hosting the Works and Process program. Thomas Krens, the former Director of the Guggenheim, was reflecting on his years as head of the Museum. As he was being transferred to a branch opening in Dubai, his reminisces were poignant and filled with an insight into what will be missed.  One of the most memorable of all his comments was “nostalgia is an emotional longing for reference points”.  I remember feeling jolted when I heard these words, as his image was more corporate than intimate. Such is the case with my feelings today on the reentering of life in New York City, as it is more a nostalgic memory of what I long for.

As a real estate professional, the conundrum over staying in the city–despite its changes–or leaving it, remains a vital and longstanding debate within my circle. People who have owned in NYC for many years are either on the point of selling and moving on, or staying and hoping for a return to the glorious, robust, energizing city we all knew and loved. With prices on a steady incline, it is no longer a question of ‘where shall I go, but rather can I afford to stay?’ Maintenance fees in many cooperative buildings have increased dramatically, as a result of commercial tenants not renewing their leases. The result is shareholders being left with the burden of covering the rent for vacant retail spaces on the ground floor of their co-ops.

Central Park Cherry Blossoms. Photo: Grace Russo Bullaro /VNY

Then there is the exodus of one-percenters with homes outside the city who do not seem to be returning; although this seems to be similar to what used to happen at the beginning of summer in former years.

What we have here is a failure of a new and revitalized imagination. There seems to be an absence of the varieties of people that kept NY unique unto itself.  Perhaps only on the streets that I have crossed.

I am reminded of my feelings on the first day of school, with great anticipation of a new teacher, new books, new classmates; the wonderful chaotic inner excitement of a new adventure. That is what I’ve been hoping for as New York enters this new phase.  Sadly, it is not what I’ve been experiencing, although it’s quite early in this mass transition from lockdown to reentry. Nevertheless, I remain cautiously optimistic.

From the real estate ‘podium’ I am foreseeing a semblance of resurrection. As I’ve been on the fence regarding my real estate association, and just when I thought it was ‘safe to retire’, I’ve been asked to plunge back with a new exclusive shared listing with a colleague.  The 1 bedroom, 1.5 bath apartment, at 1100 square feet, is considered large by NY standards. The best part is that it sits on the corner of West 68th Street – a most desirable Upper West side location.  However, after several showings, I am reminded of why I was ready to resign. Many of these potential ‘buyers’ are accompanied by perhaps inexperienced brokers who have either forgotten to bring or fill out the Covid forms (now needed for showings) or have disregarded the scheduled time, arriving too late or too early.  What’s more, their clients are unprepared for the renovation needed to bring this unit up to date and are either mildly polite upon leaving, or in a few cases, have shown great enthusiasm imagining their dining tables, and a kitchen they’ll renovate and then no more is heard from them.

Times Square, New York, joyous New Yorkers celebrating. (Photo: Terry W. Sanders)

These misdemeanors are minor when selling a 1.3 M apartment, but when reviewing the comps the large pattern seems to be emerging: prices are moving up and interest is returning. From a real estate perspective, this seems to be the first clear and present sign of renewal.

I’ve been inundated with inquiries from my overseas friends, former clients, and in general, fellow New Yorkers, regarding the state of the market. Second to sex, interest in real estate still reigns supreme. And for many in a certain age group, you can change the order. My response has been the same: New York was the last to plunge and will surely be the first to surge. Although what will rise may not be what we’ve experienced before in terms of neighborhoods, pricing and the type of buyers now purchasing. New York City’s real estate history has been consistent: in previous crises it has always rebounded before other large cities, so we expect it to do so again.



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