Source: The New York Times
The North Fork Has Its Own Market Moment
A steady stream of buyers intent on finding good deals and open spaces during the pandemic has meant record sales and rising prices.
Home prices have been climbing on the North Fork for years now, but the market went into overdrive when the pandemic hit, and the impact could be long-term.
The market, which is usually quiet in the months after Christmas, has instead been bustling this year, as home sales hit numbers not seen since the mid-2000s. Renters, who have been testing the sales market since the start of the pandemic, are still snapping up properties, while longtime weekenders are making the jump to full-time residents.
Whether the strong interest is sustainable is unclear. As urban life creaks back to normal, and bosses summon workers back to offices, some North Forkers are packing their bags to return to New York. But for now, a place often overshadowed by the showier Hamptons seems to be reveling in newfound attention.
“It’s all very exciting,” said Angela Oliveri, a 35-year resident whose home-décor shop, Sweet Indulgences, in Greenport, had one of its busiest-ever winters. “It’s been wonderful to see people appreciate our area and realize how unique it is.”
Offering 30 miles of farm stands, wineries, pebbly beaches and calm coves nestled between Long Island Sound and Peconic Bay, the North Fork is a less populated and more agricultural version of the South Fork, otherwise known as the Hamptons.
Made up of part of the town of Riverhead, and the entire town of Southold — including the hamlets of Mattituck, Cutchogue, Southold and Orient, and the village of Greenport — the North Fork is also usually more affordable than the South Fork, with an average home price of about $1 million, about half that of the Hamptons. A short ferry ride from both the North and South Forks, Shelter Island is its own town between Peconic Bay and Gardiners Bay.
But in recent years, there has been a bit of an evolution. More buyers now view the North Fork not as a consolation prize after being shut out of other enclaves, but as a destination in its own right. And the Covid crisis, according to brokers, business owners and longtime residents, has seemed to only amplify that interest.
In the early months of the pandemic, when low-density vacation areas suddenly seemed all the rage, New Yorkers scurried to the North Fork and snapped up rentals, even if they had never spent much time there before.
Yet many came to like the area and decided to stay, often by buying the properties they had rented after their leases ended, which has fueled record-setting waves in the sales market.
Between July and September of 2020, after officials lifted restrictions on house showings, the North Fork saw 236 residential sales (mostly single-family houses) at an average price of $875,000, according to a report by the appraisal company Miller Samuel for Douglas Elliman Real Estate. It was the largest number of deals since the mid-2000s.
More than a year into the pandemic, panic no longer seems to be the main motivator for buyers, and activity has cooled. But high-water marks are still being achieved.
From January to March, there were 181 residential sales at an average price of $1 million, according to the Elliman report, making it the most active winter since 2006. Last winter, in comparison, there were 114 sales at an average of $816,000, according to the report, while winter 2019 saw 110 sales at $741,000.
Some of the deals, which had their closings delayed because of the high volume of transactions, reflect an earlier market. But even current demand is still intense.
On April 30, a house in Southold built in the 1970s with vaulted ceilings, which looked like it needed a little T.L.C., hit the market at $895,000 and quickly attracted 28 showings and 12 bids, said Sheri Winter-Parker of the Corcoran Group, the property’s listing agent. In early May, the house, which has four bedrooms and more than an acre, was poised to go into contract for “hundreds of thousands over ask,” said Ms. Winter-Parker, who added, “It’s been crazy.”
What differentiates the current market from last year’s partly is that the buying spree of the last few months has put a major dent in supply. Further tightening inventory, brokers say, is the fact that people who might have otherwise put their homes up for sale before the pandemic decided not to do so.
Similarly, there isn’t the usual amount of downsizing by empty-nesters, as there are fewer empty nests: Children who moved back home last year because of the pandemic have stuck around. According to Elliman, inventory in the first quarter was down 11 percent from the fourth quarter of 2020, and down 58 percent year-over-year.
Among those shoppers being squeezed are traditional buyers drawn to the North Fork for a beachy part-time retreat, like Jake Neske, 45, and his wife, Amy Kommatas, 42, residents of Jersey City who had been looking for years when the pandemic hit.
In November, the couple, who work in advertising, decided to make a bid on a shingle-sided two-bedroom house in Southold within days of its being listed, and without ever stepping foot inside: The seller had “deep fears” about Covid and refused all in-person showings, Mr. Neske said.
And Mr. Neske wasn’t the only one enamored of the house, the former headquarters of a local cauliflower guild listed at $649,000. Eight other offers came in, though Mr. Neske’s bid of $776,000 — 20 percent over the asking price — triumphed. “For us, the pandemic led to a realization about scarcity and pushed us along,” Mr. Neske said.
With supply tight, and some buyers leery of the 1960s suburban-style stock that dominates some neighborhoods on the North Fork, demand for new construction is on the upswing, said Jerry Cibulski, an agent with Century 21 Albertson Realty, on the North Fork.
For instance, a three-bedroom house on Hortons Lane in Southold that broke ground last fall went into contract a few weeks later at its introductory price of $1.2 million, said Mr. Cibulski, its broker.
In a nod to the tastes of the new crop of New Yorkers, said Mr. Cibulski, new-construction homes are getting finishes that were once rare or even nonexistent for the area. Developers are adding “zoom rooms” over garages, he said, as well as finished basements and pools.
But the amenities are still not at as over-the-top as in, say, Southampton. “We may offer remote apps for sprinkler systems and window blinds,” said Mr. Cibulski, who works with several local builders and has a half-dozen new projects in the works. “But we’re not putting in Wolf ranges and all the bells and whistles just for bragging rights.”
Other homeowners are upgrading houses that they once used sporadically or even rented out, pushing renovation permits to unseen levels, Southold officials say.
But the putting down of deeper roots seems to have a cost — a depleted summer rental market. And with fewer properties to go around, prices are moving higher for what remains, brokers say. This summer, a five-bedroom waterfront spread can be had for $200,000; the same house would have been $120,000 pre-Covid, said Carol Szynaka, an agent with the firm Daniel Gale Sotheby’s. At the low end, a three-bedroom house is listed for $30,000 a month, Ms. Szynaka added.
While it can be difficult to measure how houses are ultimately used, as weekend escapes or primary homes, for instance, the North Fork does seem to have had new life in the off-season, based on those who work there year-round.
The shop Sweet Indulgences, which has been open mostly every day without interruption for 28 years, has seen business in the last few months spike “substantially, both in traffic and dollars,” Ms. Oliveri said. The store, which is perched at a main intersection in Greenport, which in itself is like North Fork’s commercial heart, sold household items like cutting boards, soaps and place mats for new or rented homes, she added.
At the same time, evidence of the heated residential market has come to her front door, as real estate agents have begun stuffing cards in the jamb of her contemporary-style house urging her to sell.
But not everybody seems cut out for life in a vacationland, even if New York is just a couple hours away. “Some customers tell me they can’t wait to get back to their apartment,” Ms. Oliveri said.
Others seem to be taking their new and quieter life in stride. Last June, Melissa Hobley, a tech executive, relocated with her family to a house in the North Fork from an apartment in Battery Park City, and liked the area so much, she bought a house, a 1950s three-bedroom in Laurel, a couple of months later.
“We used to be like ‘New York or die.’ We loved the grit, the hustle, all of it,” said Ms. Hobley, who, as the pandemic wanes, is once again commuting a few times a week to her Manhattan office. “But we are really loving it here.”