In late March, Elizabeth Manko was in the midst of renovating her two-bedroom condo across from Lincoln Center when the pandemic shuttered Manhattan. “My apartment was literally pulled apart,” she recalled, and the sublease she was living in was coming to end April 1.
Like many Manhattanites, Ms. Manko headed to the Hamptons, where she had been renting for a month each summer or staying with friends for 25 years.
“Whatever you have, I’m in, I’ll take it,” she told Maryanne Horwath, an associate broker with Douglas Elliman. In late March, for $8,000 a month, Ms. Manko rented a three-bedroom townhouse in the gated Whitefield Association, a Stanford White-designed estate turned 16-acre condominium in Southampton village with two tennis courts, a pool and gardens.
She agreed to allow prospective buyers to tour the unit, which had been lingering on the market at $1.395 million. Ms. Manko, a fund-raiser for nonprofits, played tennis with the owner and delighted in the sunset views, deer and chirping birds. “The beautiful old Gold Coast setting reminded me of Sands Point, where I grew up,” she said.
When a potential buyer made an offer, the owner asked if Ms. Manko might also be interested. A bidding war ensued, and she ultimately bought the townhouse for 10 percent over the asking price. “I did not expect to come out and do this,” she said.
She’s not alone among renters looking to buy what was meant to be a temporary home. Some have submitted offers “even if the property is not on the market,” said Todd Bourgard, senior executive regional manager of sales for Douglas Elliman Real Estate.
According to a Douglas Elliman August report, new signed contracts for single-family homes in the Hamptons more than doubled from a year ago, along with a significant increase in new signed contracts for condominiums, continuing a trend that began shortly after the pandemic hit. Behind the surge is “pent-up demand,” said Jonathan J. Miller, president and chief executive of Miller Samuel, the real estate appraiser and consultant who prepared the report. When the “outbound migration from Manhattan” began with a frenzy in March and April, some Hamptons houses rented 20 to 50 percent above the asking price.
“It was clear there wasn’t enough product,” Mr. Miller said. “These consumers began buying homes and it has not stopped.”
It was partly practical. “The rent started to equal what it would cost you to buy a house with the new rates,” said Enzo Morabito, an associate broker with Douglas Elliman, referring to historically low mortgage rates.
The trend marks “a repositioning of the Hamptons from a second-home market to a co-primary or longer-term market than it had been in the past,” Mr. Miller said.
Matt Breitenbach, an associate broker at Compass Real Estate, called it a “seismic shift.”
“Friends who lived in the city used to say, ‘I wish I could live out here full time,’” Mr. Breitenbach said. “After Covid, it is acceptable and in fact preferred” among those working remotely. “Those who lived in the city mainly came out on weekends; now they are out here mainly and maybe go back to the city for a weekend.”
In the last month, Mr. Breitenbach’s team put $40 million worth of homes into contract, most in the $3 million to $6 million range.
About 50 percent of Elliman’s Hamptons deals are over the asking price, with the most multiple offers on $1 million to $2 million homes, and many in the $2 million to $4 million range.
Hamptons Bidding War
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Early in September, Mr. Morabito listed a five-bedroom house with indoor and outdoor pools for $1.275 million in East Quogue, and immediately received a full-price offer, then another. “‘Let’s orchestrate a bidding war,’” Mr. Morabito recalled telling his team. With multiple buyers submitting written offers, the sale price could ultimately rise by $150,000 to $200,000. “My job is to get people the most money,” Mr. Morabito said. A recent open house drew more than 30 groups and helped generate four offers, including two over the asking price.
Buyers are also snapping up new construction “well before it is completed so they can put on their own finishing touches,” Mr. Bourgard said.
Sales at The Latch Southampton Village, where 20 condominium townhomes are under construction, weren’t slated to begin until January, when furnished models would be complete. But by Memorial Day weekend, Steven Dubb, a principal at Beechwood Homes, the developer, started selling the three-bedroom townhomes — priced in the mid-$3 million to $4 million range — off floor plans. He put eight units into contract by late August. “There is going to be demand for condos one block away from the village no matter what,” Mr. Dubb said. “Covid poured gasoline on it.”
Buying a house sight unseen isn’t so unheard-of anymore.
Erin Ferris Smith, 37, and Jason Smith, 42, of Houston, usually visit the Hamptons yearly. “It’s the place we spend time with our family in the summer,” said Ms. Ferris Smith, who grew up in northern New Jersey. When the pandemic kept Ms. Ferris’s mother, Kathy Ferris, from visiting the couple’s 1-year-old triplets, the Smiths became determined to buy a Hamptons home, where, after quarantining, they could gather with loved ones.
Using FaceTime, virtual tours and photographs, they chose a four-bedroom saltbox with a pool on 1.4 acres north of the highway in Southampton, for $1.6 million. They’re scheduled to close on Friday.
“It was the right time for our family to have a place there to be together, especially after all of this,” Ms. Ferris Smith said. “We are recapturing the lost time with our family.”
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