Manhattan’s Once-Prized Walkable Areas Miss Out on Housing Boom
Affluent New Yorkers used to pay a premium to live in a walkable area of the city. The pandemic has turned that calculus upside down.
That’s the conclusion from AEI Housing Center research, which found that all but two of the 20 sharpest declines in metro-area home values from 2018 to 2021 are in Manhattan zip codes, including drops of about 10% in parts of Greenwich Village and Soho.
The trend may not reverse any time soon. Higher earners, who are more likely to have the opportunity to work from home, are now looking away from city centers in search of amenities such as greater living areas, office space, lots and access to open spaces, according to the AEI Housing Center, which is part of the American Enterprise Institute think tank in Washington.
A new survey published Thursday by the Pew Research Center confirmed the trend. Some 60% of respondents -- up 7 percentage points from 2019 -- said they prefer living in a community with bigger houses, even if that means shops and schools are further away.
A shift was already under way before Covid-19 hit, with affluent families moving out and younger people with lower incomes moving into some of the most walkable parts of big cities, according to Tobias Peter, director of research at the AEI Housing Center.
“We’re seeing this has just been turbocharged” by the pandemic, Peter said. Higher earners “are freed from being shackled to their desk or their employer. So now they can move virtually across the entire country.”
In the second quarter, net migration out of urban neighborhoods continued to be more than double the pace observed before the pandemic, according to an Aug. 26 report by Stephan Whitaker, policy economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland. “This flow of middle-aged people moving out to purchase homes in the suburbs is balancing a swelling return of young renters to urban neighborhoods,” Whitaker wrote.
From 2012 to the start of the pandemic, housing values in the most walkable areas in New York City had appreciated cumulatively by about 45%, according to Peter. Walkable is defined as a 10-minute distance by foot from commercial amenities and maybe a transit station.
The pre-Covid boom gave New Yorkers arbitrage opportunities that the AEI Housing Center quantified by tracking buyers through public records and changes of address at the post office. People selling a property in the New York City metro area and buying one in Florida spent about 70% to 80% of the proceeds on the new home, based on the median price. Whether they moved to Orlando, Fort Myers or Sarasota, they lost on “walkability,” the data show.
Danielle Hale, chief economist at Realtor.com, cautions against writing off the attraction of lively city centers. Even though the coronavirus and its variants are here to stay, at least for now, many people will still want to be in close proximity to others, where they can benefit from the culture and the social interactions.
“My expectation is that it’s likely to be temporary,” she said.
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