October is Luxury Month on Inman. Inman Handbooks offer deep dives on luxury marketing and agent branding, luxury staging, referrals, and more. We’re thinking about what luxury means now, examining how the pandemic is reshaping the needs of luxury buyers, and talking to top luxury agents, all month long.
In a COVID-19 world, the suburbs have taken on a new form of luxury. The “new suburban luxury” is all about a change in mindset; it’s about rethinking what exactly a luxury-level home can do, and where it can be.
“One of the things I heard recently is ‘luxury is a brand,'” Paul Benson, a broker with Engel & Völkers Park City, told Inman. “For a client to match up to a brand, that brand has to create a sense of purpose for a client.”
In the several months in which the coronavirus pandemic has swept the nation and the world, many people’s “sense of purpose” has adapted to fit the current moment, and with that transformation has come a change in thinking about what luxurious living really is.
‘Suburban living’ has taken on new meaning
Simon Isaacs, broker/owner of Simon Isaacs Real Estate in Palm Beach, said he’s noticed younger generations quickly change their mindset throughout the pandemic about what kind of lifestyle they want, and that shift has made suburban areas seem more luxurious than ever. It’s also led to an influx of adults in their 30s and 40s moving to Palm Beach with their young families, something that used to be a rarity in the retiree haven.
Isaacs pointed out that a lot of young people living in large cities like New York have worked remotely throughout the pandemic, and that change made them realize that they could have more space elsewhere. “The kids were happier, they potentially were happier,” Isaacs explains, “but it’s a lifestyle choice they’re making.”
In Westchester, New York, where Francie Malina, a real estate salesperson with Compass, operates, it’s as though city-dwellers have donned new rose-hued glasses when they set sights on the suburbs these days.
“It’s always been this way, especially the area that I really cover,” she said of the area’s appeal, “but they’re looking at it with a different lens.”
What Benson, Isaacs and Malina have all seen from clients, is that previously “sleepy suburbs” have suddenly gained more pizzazz in a buyer’s eye.
“You’re driving through what you thought are the ‘sleepy suburbs’ and you’re seeing all these outdoor restaurants and pop-up shops, and all of a sudden, it looks like it has a vibe,” Malina told Inman. “It’s kind of always had a vibe, but buyers from the city think that they have that cosmopolitan flare, and they think that once you move here, even though you were a city denizen, [you’re] dead now.”
The luxury of space and customization
But former cosmopolitans are finding new life in the opportunities that suburbia offers in terms of customizing their home environment and claiming amounts of space they’ve never had available to them before.
For Benson’s clients in Park City, Utah, they’ve found luxury in the suburban-like mountain town by customizing their home environment to all their professional, recreational and familial needs.
When Benson’s movie producer-client from Los Angeles moved to a seven-acre, ranch with his wife and two kids, one of the first upgrades he made to the ranch was a Zoom room.
“[It’s] not like a room where you have a TV or a laptop, but a room where you have a built-in screen that you can stand in front of. It’s private and sound-proof, where you can do your meetings and feel like you’ve entered a board room or meeting room,” Benson explained.
And the Zoom room isn’t the only office-type space a client might have, Benson added. Some of his clients have added personal offices on top of that, for home business needs, like paying bills and keeping track of taxes.
“They’re really separating those two worlds, which I find interesting,” he said. “They’re trying to carve out areas of their home that are specific to their company and then specific to their lifestyle and really separating those, which is changing floor plans.”
Some very well-to-do buyers are also trying to claim as much of suburbia as they can by buying up the land around their home, even if they don’t necessarily plan to use it themselves.
The goal, Benson said, is to “create their own environments around them, meaning choose their neighbors, or move in their family, or decide what gets built on the home next door. Even if it gets sold off, they want to know what that home’s going to look like.”
These days, former urban residents are happy to trade the inconveniences of city living with those of spread-out suburban life since it comes with a lesser risk of contracting the virus.
Montana, for instance, has been flooded with out-of-state buyers from congested areas in places like California, New York and Texas seeking open space, according to Engel & Völkers Missoula-based agent Dawn Maddux.
“Lots of people have a lot of land, and I think in cities, it’s not unusual to spend an hour in traffic getting from point A to point B,” Maddux said. “But, in Montana, it’s not unusual to spend an hour just driving to get from point A to point B because we are so sparsely populated for the size of our state.”
All the outdoor space of the suburbs also affords the luxury of both kids’ play dates and adult barbecues with a bit more peace of mind with everyone in the open air.
“I don’t know how long it will last, but for now, [buyers] want to have the ability to entertain outside, so they want a nice patio and deck and [to] put out the outdoor heaters for winter,” Malina said. “A client of mine, yesterday, said their heated tent is going up this week, so they’re going to extend their play dates into December.”
City amenities are migrating to the suburbs too
But some suburbs within reach of major metropolitan areas are becoming more luxurious to former residents of places like Manhattan and Miami because big-city businesses have started to follow their customers as they migrate to less dense areas.
New York-based restaurants La Goulue and Sant Ambroeus have recently made moves to Palm Beach, for instance (La Goulue’s opening is still forthcoming later in 2020).
“They’re being smart, they see where their clients are migrating to,” Dana Koch, a Palm Beach-based Corcoran Group agent, told Inman. “I think that’s what people moving to the suburbs are bringing — they’re bringing that culture, they’re bringing the having-things-at-your-fingertips, the conveniences that people are looking for.”
Likewise, in Westchester, Malina said commercial brokers have seen an increase in inquiries from New York City’s restaurateurs.
“A lot of the restaurants in the city have reached out to commercial brokers up here and asked if they could find spaces up here,” Malina said. “They [are] thinking this is going to last a long time, and you can obviously get a much bigger space for the price up here.”
In short, the suburbs offer today’s homebuyers a little freedom in a world that’s become more restrictive out of necessity amid a global health crisis. And for the buyer that’s able to shift away from the “sleepy suburb” mentality, life in the ‘burbs these days can be the utmost luxury.