Coronavirus Has Luxury Clients — Including New Yorkers — Looking to Rent in the Philly ’Burbs

Both city-dwellers who miss their amenities and New Yorkers seeking to put some social distance between them and their neighbors have gone looking for houses in the suburbs to borrow for a while.

coronavirus rentals finale farm

The hefty rent — $12,000 a month — has kept Finale Farm in Solebury Township vacant while its owners waited for it to sell. Then COVID-19 hit, and a New York family in search of social distance scooped up a nearby equestrian farm for $10,000 a month. Chances are this property’s time will come soon. | Photo via Kurfiss Sotheby’s International Realty

Sometimes you just gotta get away.

Maybe you’re looking for a place where you and your family can relax and unwind by the pool or work out in the gym.

Or maybe you feel you just need to put some distance between yourself and all those other people out there.

Whatever the reason, the COVID-19 coronavirus has, at least for now, put a halt on the Baby Boomer trend of moving back into the city. Instead, they’re looking to get out now, if only for a little while. Several local real estate agents interviewed for this article say they’ve noticed a sudden surge in inquiries from people looking to rent large, luxurious houses in Philadelphia’s suburbs for a short period of time.

“The phones at our offices have been ringing constantly for about the last 10 days, and our New Hope office has been getting slammed,” says Valerie Patterson, director of marketing for Kurfiss Sotheby’s International Realty. All of the callers, she says, live in New York, and “many of them are trying to get a place in Bucks, probably because it’s a little easier to drive there from New York.

“Some agents expressed concern about people coming into the community from areas where COVID-19 infection rates are high, but some of us pointed out that in our markets where a lot of New York residents already have second homes, those folks are already here — they’ve been here, along with friends,” Patterson continues. “They need to ask themselves what they would do if the shoe were on the other foot. And more importantly, everyone must abide by the standards set forth in the Fair Housing Act.”

“My partner Jennifer Rinella and I have noticed a steady stream of affluent people from New York City looking for rentals for two or three to six months to get out of the city,” says Michael Sivel, founding partner of the Sivel Group at BHHS Fox & Roach Realtors. “But I haven’t had anyone living in a Center City condo calling us. Most of our clients in those buildings have second and third homes elsewhere. I’d assume they’re most likely holed up in one of those with family.”

Andrea Desy Edrei, co-founding partner of Black Label Keller Williams, says she has heard from city condo-dwellers looking to borrow a house in the ’burbs. “We get a lot of requests from people who miss having their 8,000- to 10,000-square-foot house,” she says.

One of the sudden changes driving these people back across City Avenue: they can no longer access their own buildings’ amenities because of the COVID-19 restrictions designed to enforce social distancing. “They’ll say, ‘I miss having my gym,’” she says. “They can’t use the pool, they can’t use the common movie theater, and that has them thinking a little differently.”

Another factor changing their thinking: their kids have suddenly come back home from college for an undetermined amount of time. “I have a client who downsized from a 10,000-square-foot home in Haverford to a 1,700-square-foot condo at the Ritz-Carlton,” Edrei says. “She says to me, ‘I would do anything to have my house back.’ With their dog, it gets cramped with five people in a two-bedroom condo.

“People are figuring out that having a little more space isn’t always a bad thing, because it’s there if and when you need it.”

black rock road residence in gladwyne

Lavinia Smerconish of Compass currently has this Gladwyne Cape Cod on the rental market at a more reasonable $2,895 per month. “As in post-9/11 days, those who can financially seek to go for greener, more expansive living,” she says. | Bright MLS image via Compass

None of the agents interviewed reported bidding wars over the small number of luxury suburban residences for rent, but some say it’s definitely a landlord’s market right now. Edrei notes that the market was already tight going into the outbreak, but then, few people were looking to rent luxury houses anyway. She says, “Before, people negotiated rental deals. Now it’s ‘Name your price.’”

And for some, it appears no price is too high. “We have a high-end equestrian property in Solebury Township that is now being rented by a couple from New York,” says Patterson. “In this case, the house was for sale and not for rent, but knowing that equestrian properties often take a while to sell, the owners agreed to rent it for six months.

It’s being rented for $10,000 a month. “It was listed before the COVID-19 outbreak.” Up until that point, Patterson says, the property attracted very little interest. “Then suddenly, the agents got lots of inquiries about it.

A similar equestrian property nearby, Finale Farm, pictured above, is still available for $12,000 a month. “Something that rented for $12,000 a month before the outbreak was certainly not likely to find a tenant,” she says. “But when the Hamptons get crowded, New Yorkers come down here. And relative to there, $12,000 a month is not so pricey.”

While this trend was born out of necessity crossed with anxiety, at least one local luxury real estate specialist sees a trend brewing that might outlast the pandemic.

“I believe we will see an emerging trend with people seeking housing that offers more social distancing,” says Robin Gordon, CEO of the Robin Gordon Group at BHHS Fox & Roach Realtors. “The urban living trend might well transition to an increase in demand for suburban environments, especially for the Millennial generation.”

And what does this mean if you happen to be one of those owners of a suburban mansion? If you were planning a move anyway, you might want to go ahead with it, especially if you have a new place already lined up. And if you currently have a vacant house sitting on the market, you might want to contact your real estate agent to see if they can find someone who wants to borrow it for a few months. Chances are you’ll find a taker.

Updated April 1st, 2:02 p.m., to correct the monthly rent on the Solebury Township equestrian farm that was recently leased to a tenant from New York. The $12,000/month rental remains available.