Real estate agent Jennifer Grimes had a sale all set up — a buyer who, in an effort to get out of New York City, was offering to pay around $700,000 cash for a picturesque vacation property in the Catskills Mountains. But then came the questions that are on the mind of many luxury homebuyers planning to work from a second property these days: Does it have a fast internet connection? Will I be able to do my work?
“He was ready to buy and said the house looked great but noticed that the house had satellite internet,” Grimes, who runs both brokerage Country House Realty and a vacation rental company Red Cottage Inc. in the Catskills, said. “I had to explain that it was on a rural road, which is normally a very peaceful and attractive set-up, and does not have access to cable.”
Around since the 1990s, satellite internet is used to provide access to more remote areas and is generally slower and glitchier than a broadband connection. To not lose the deal, Grimes quickly got in touch with the owner and insisted that he contact the home’s internet provider, Spectrum. The owner was able to set up high-speed cable internet, and as a result, the deal is set to close by the end of the summer.
“I would have lost the deal to that buyer had that not been the case,” said Grimes.
Since the start of spring and the onset of the coronavirus pandemic in New York City, Grimes has observed an explosion in client questions about what type of internet connection a particular property has. Both homebuyers and renters were asking about types of connections, speeds and service providers as they looked for secondary properties in which they could wait out the outbreak while still working.
“Suddenly, all of their questions just pivoted on a dime from hospitality and vacation to internet connectivity,” Grimes said, adding that her team has started putting the details of the internet connection on every sale and rental listing. “We had to learn the specifics of every house’s system.”
While high-speed internet was once one buyer perk among many for an interested buyer, it has become an indispensable part of a home, said Raj Qsar, founder of the Boutique Real Estate Group in Orange County. The shift in buyer priorities comes primarily as people adjust to working from home amid the coronavirus pandemic — one report found that internet use surged more than 47 percent in the U.S. and Europe during the first three months of 2020.
“If the kids are doing their school and sports on Zoom and the parents are on conference calls, that’ll suck up their bandwidth,” Qsar said, noting that he has observed clients pull out their phones to check a home’s internet strength before they even get to the tour. “You can have 20 to 30 devices online at any one time when everyone’s at home.”
Many luxury and vacation homebuyers are professionals who hope to conduct video conferences and do everything from writing to running an online business from a new property. When you factor in kids who need to do remote school and want to go on YouTube or other sites, using internet without glitches will often require some of the fastest internet connections currently available — at least 40+ Mbps and preferably higher. While most providers offer unlimited home plans, limited data can also be a major setback for those working from home.
The problem is particularly acute for vacation properties in less populated areas known for having weaker signal and connection. While isolation has become a luxury and a hot commodity amid the coronavirus outbreak, the remoteness is moot if it keeps a buyer from being able to work. As a result, vacation home owners who wish to attract a buyer this summer may consider investing in a super-fast internet connection as a way to market and draw in buyers.
“If the internet is bad or the owner perceives that they can’t do what they need to run their business from home, the house will be discounted to that particular buyer,” Maurice Tegelaar, a Compass agent working in California’s Sonoma wine region, told Inman. If a house is cavernous or built in a way that gets a poor signal, it could be bad news for the seller.
Buyer priorities vary from year to year and inevitably fluctuate depending on major current events — Qsar said in 2018, many Orange County buyers were particularly concerned about a high-end home’s insurance in the wake of the string of wildfires in the region. With time, those questions grew less frequent.
But as the pandemic drags on longer than most of us could have anticipated and more companies find ways to keep their employees working remotely for the long term, agents predict that a strong internet connection will remain at the top of homebuyers’ concerns for years to come.
“People are making life decisions based on the pandemic knocking them out of their comfort zone,” Grimes said. “The only way for that to really manifest itself in action is with technology.”