As coronavirus flared up in California and Washington and exploded in New York, poking through the hourly onslaught of imagery depicting suffering and succor was one contrasting shot that is lodged in my mind, for the sheer absurdity, I suppose: a luxury SUV with Empire State plates speeding east on I-95, presumably to a getaway home on the Connecticut or Rhode Island shorelines.
But for those of us who spent a moment contemplating Gov. Gina Raimondo’s March vow to go door to door to hunt down, for quarantine purposes, any New Yorkers taking refuge in her state, some may have added a footnote way, way at the bottom of the list of 101 immediate to-dos for that day (daily portfolio swoon, rousting resident collegian for Zoom English 201, Amazon safari for toilet paper).
“Getaway home — that might be nice, one day.”
In the six decades-plus of suburban living from the mid-’50s though today, the R&R routine has traversed an arc of increasing affluence from the backyard hibachi, to the camping trailer, lakeside cabin, Winnebago coach, vacation second home and luxury timeshare — sprinkling in an Ocean House room here or a Carribean cruise there, and an Airbnb in between.
But if “one day” seems years away in the grips of the pandemic, it remains an inconvenient fact that there may never be a better day to scout one’s options for a vacation sojourn spot that does not require a survival pack of sanitizing wipes, sprays and face masks. That’s because with the Federal Reserve slashing interest rates to next to zero, it is essentially free money at your disposal to get a mortgage on a second home, leaving the only real question of whether vacation properties will decline in value to create a bargain market. Any appreciation over time could go down in family lore as the kind of smart real estate buy that set up many of our parents and grandparents for security in their old age, after snagging them for a song.
"But if 'one day' seems years away in the grips of the pandemic, it remains an inconvenient fact that there may never be a better day to scout one’s options for a vacation sojourn spot that does not require a survival pack of sanitizing wipes, sprays and face masks."
Despite the time-share model’s rapid proliferation, second homes continue to beckon for many. In its assessment of the 2019 real estate market in Connecticut, Wallingford-based Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties attribute a luxury home sales boom along the Shore Line East region to renewed appetite by New York City, Westchester and Fairfield County denizens for a perch along Long Island Sound, with sales up by double digits on the eve of the coronavirus outbreak in many of those communities.
“We’re seeing a big migration out of the city — huge — coming into Connecticut. They are jumping over Westchester and they are coming up the ... shoreline,” says Candace Adams, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England. “The rentals we have been doing for the summer … for two or three months for $20,000 or $30,000 per month, flying off the market. We see New York license plates all over the place.”
It had been an extended dry spell for Connecticut otherwise, with the state shut out of the National Association of Realtors’ most recent list last October of the counties nationally with the highest share of mortgage originations for second homes over a five-year stretch. Cape May on the Jersey Shore? Leading the nation with a 64 percent increase. Hamilton County in New York’s High Peaks region near Saratoga? Only three slots behind. The Vineyard and Nantucket, Cape Cod, New Hampshire’s White Mountains wilderness, Vermont’s Green Mountains — all appear on the National Association of Realtors list, with Maine pepping other categories addressing overall affordability.
All of them are worthy draws for the Connecticut homesteader looking to get away, but Adams’ assessment of the city crowd looking for a relatively easy drive to either a salty seaside like Madison or Mystic, or a leafy idyll like Kent or Litchfield, means the state perhaps will see an influx in the years to follow of those from New York and other parts who want the weekend getaway — without the worry of what the last visitor left lurking on the door handle.
In the Fed’s own study last year of the supply and demand of the secondary-home market in the previous boom-and-bust cycle, buying increased with the upswing of the economy as one might expect as people generated wealth, before tailing off after the panic of 2008. As we all came to learn this spring, there is no panic like a pandemic panic — and when an entire economy is turned upside down like garden soil after the freeze, sometimes one finds the unexpected sprouting in one’s backyard, and at unexpected moments.