‘Always been a destination:’ Greenwich grows in popularity, USPS data show

Photo of Ken Borsuk

Editor’s note: This is part of a Hearst Connecticut Media series examining the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on the state’s real estate market and community resources.

GREENWICH — It’s billed as the ultimate suburb, with lush beaches, country mansions, top-rated schools and a quck train commute to New York City.

And Greenwich real estate has been in demand this year, even during the coronavirus outbreak.

“When the coronavirus first started out, we immediately saw people coming from New York that wanted to rent for just a few months,” said Roseann Benedict, a Realtor with William Raveis in Greenwich. “They wanted short-term furnished rentals and it was like gangbusters.”

First Selectman Fred Camillo pointed to Greenwich’s attributes, especially for city dwellers looking for a change in lifestyle.

“Our town has always been a destination,” Camillo said. “Now the fact that we have a little more space to offer than the cities is really playing to our advantage.”

Data shows that many people left New York City, which was ground zero for the pandemic, and headed for Connecticut’s Gold Coast.

According to change-of-address requests with the U.S. Postal Service obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media, nearly 16,500 out-of-staters came to Connecticut this year between March 1 — just about a week before the state’s first confirmed case — and May 31, compared with 11,204 during that period in 2019.

They came predominantly from New York (just shy of 10,000 people) and Florida (nearly 5,500). But residents from Massachusetts (573), Rhode Island (174) and New Jersey (139) also changed to Connecticut ZIP codes in triple-digit numbers during those three months of the pandemic.

In Cos Cob, Greenwich and Riverside, the total number of address changes for 2020 was 923, up from 612 in 2019. The rise was even more dramatic in Stamford, where the number went from 351 in 2019 to 1,105 in 2020.

It’s unclear how many address changes were due to New Yorkers moving to second homes in Greenwich, or snow birds returning early. Many may be attributable to college students and young adults returning to their parents’ homes.

But it is clear that some were moving to town, at least for the short term, according to Benedict.

“It was unbelievable how many people were looking for short-term rentals,” she said. “Our market wasn’t really prepared for that because that’s not usually a product that we have in Greenwich.”

Local real estate blogger Mark Pruner, who is a Realtor with Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties, saw a surge in the marketplace as well and said people are defintely coming to Greenwich.

“Rentals are up substantially for houses, not so much for apartments,” Pruner said. “The higher the rental price the greater the increase in leases. House sales are also up, as are sales of townhouse-style condos. Backcountry and mid-country are up over last year as people want more space.”

Looking at the numbers

It can be difficult to draw conclusions from the data set. For example, the U.S. Postal Service does not release data for ZIP codes where 10 or fewer address changes occurred due to privacy concerns, which may skew past data.

Also, the numbers don’t necessarily reflect new home-buyers coming into Connecticut, and they include both individuals and entire family units.

A short- or long-term renter, or those who own multiple properties and are shifting their primary residence, may also request a change of address.

However, the data indicates the people were planning to stay in Connecticut for at least a little while, because the were requests for address changes and not just those looking to have their mail temporarily forwarded.

USPS data showing the number of change-of-address requests to leave Connecticut during the pandemic was not immediately available.

Changing the market

The sudden increased interest in real estate in Greenwich has presented a new challenge for Realtors.

“Demand is up, but our inventory has stayed low,” Pruner said. “The result is we may not have what the client wants and we are seeing multiple offers on properties — meaning that for each deal we may have multiple disappointed clients.”

Short-term rentals were once an option only for owners who couldn’t find buyers, Benedict said. But the market for furnished homes in town is skyrocketing now, Benedict said. The coronavirus is remaining a problem, and people want an option for the summer outside of the cities, she said.

“People in Greenwich certainly have seen the demand — so many agents are telling their clients about it and clients are putting their homes up for short-term rental,” Benedict said. “They’re commanding really decent amounts of money. Those short-term rentals, especially if you have a pool, are flying off the market.”

The rental phenomenon can be seen across the region, she said.

As the market heats up, more owners are becoming interested in selling or renting out their properties, Pruner said. And that can translate into more sales and higher prices, he said.

Benefits for the town

More home sales means more conveyance taxes — which are imposed on a real estate transfer — is good for Greenwich’s bottom line and could brunt the impact of the economic fallout from the pandemic.

Town Clerk Carmella Budkins reported last week conveyance taxes are down in the current 2019-20 fiscal year over 2018-19. As of Wednesday, the town has brought in $4,484,398 in conveyance taxes for the fiscal year, which ends June 30. That is down slightly from the $4,886,838 brought in last year.

In April, the town’s Board of Estimate and Taxation reduced the munnicpal operating and capital budgets for 2020-21 because of concerns about the economic impact of the pandemic. But a surge of residents “definitely could help” turn the numbers around, BET Chair Michael Mason said.

Mason noted that the town has never fully recovered what it lost in conveyance taxes, building permits and interest after the economic collapse of 2008. The town is still losing revenue now in parks and recreation fees, parking collection and other areas due to the coronavirus.

“The underlying question is, ‘Are more people looking to retire and get out of town than they used to be?’ ” Mason said. “We understand there is an influx of people who want to come in because of what’s going on and that’s good. ... But from the big picture, you have to say, ‘A lot of people are coming in, but are there more people looking to get out?’ And we won’t see the answer to that for a year after this thing is all over and there’s a vaccine and less fear.”

Pruner believes the concerns about the coronavirus are not about to go away.

“We will continue to see this surge for at least the next two years as we have with prior shocks to the market,” he said. “It takes that long before people start to forget their prior concerns. This one, I think, will actually have an even longer-lasting impact, because the pandemic is worldwide and everyone is affected.”

Benedict, agreed, saying that her clients are beginning to ask about buying homes.

“They’ve moved here, they’ve engaged in the community, they like what they see and now I think they’re falling in love with Greenwich,” she said.

Realtor Carolyn Anderson, managing broker of Anderson Associates, said city dwellers who just wanted out of apartments are now seeing the space and greenery that Greenwich has to offer.

“People are discovering all the amazing reasons for living in Connecticut and now people are looking Greenwich for more than rental,” Anderson said. “They’re also looking to make a purchase.”

The trend could be a boost to backcountry sales, which have lagged behind other parts of town in recent years, she said.

Camillo expressed optimism that the town’s work to improve the business districts will attract new residents.

“I think any time we can at the very least get people to come here and visit our town and shop in our stores and eat in our restaurants and, even better, rent or buy places here, it enriches our town,” Camillo said.

He also sees opportunities for space in town as companies from New York look to move or set up satellite space in town.

“Everything we’re doing now is with an eye toward the future,” Camillo said. “And that’s what we’re trying to do with our planning here.”