Meet the new urban buyer

What you’ll need to know about city buyers this year

The new urban buyer doesn’t have a common age group, background or net worth. The size of the properties and budgets differ widely. But there are three attributes that set them apart.

New Yorkers have a knack for spotting trends—and so do luxury real estate agents. When I am asked by my clients and colleagues if I’ve noticed a new category of buyers emerging in today’s unprecedented urban market, I am happy to tell them that there is.

This category isn’t a demographic. The new urban buyer doesn’t have a common age group, background, or net worth. The size of the properties and budgets differ widely. But there are three attributes that set them apart.

1. The new urban buyer is informed

Sotheby’s International Realty – Downtown Manhattan Brokerage

For luxury agents, it’s normal to be approached by clients at the very beginning of their journey—so new that they need a primer on basic vocabulary and processes. That’s changed.

Today, many buyers seeking luxury properties in the city have educated themselves, even if they’re entering the market for the first time. They come across calm and cool, and if they’re nervous or anxious, they seldom show it. They’re not looking to peruse a hundred homes with you; they know what’s happening in the market, they’ve looked at the inventory, and they aren’t willing to overspend. They know the city isn’t over. Take these buyers seriously—because if you don’t, they’ll know it, and they’ll take their business elsewhere.

2. The new urban buyer is prepared

Competition is extremely tight in New York City, and I expected some of my buyers to be alarmed, and maybe even discouraged, by the speed at which they needed to move. That hasn’t been the case.

Rather, urban buyers are highly motivated. Gone are the days of going to 10 open houses on a Sunday. These clients don’t schedule in-person showings unless a decision is near, and they’ll show up pre-approved and ready to transact. There’s available inventory for the first time in years, but it’s moving fast, and these unique market conditions won’t last forever.

3. The new urban buyer has a vision

Sotheby’s International Realty – Downtown Manhattan Brokerage

At the moment, luxury real estate in New York City looks like a game of musical chairs, and a similar game is being played in major urban markets nationwide. That’s because the previous year has been a reckoning for many homeowners, urging them to rethink their values, priorities, and lifestyle.

As a result, buyers will all have different, deeply personal reasons for moving—but they are all very purposeful. They have envisioned the urban life they want, and they are seeking the exact home to make it a reality. For some, that means a larger apartment; for others, smaller. Some want to be closer to family after a year in isolation, while others want to be closer to the office to avoid a commute on public transit.

One other thing that many of these buyers have in common is that they’re not new to the city. They are moving within the city—hence, that game of musical chairs. Many of my New York City clients already live here, they love it here, and they’re committed to staying here.

Those are the three general traits of today’s urban buyer—but there are a few other factors that I encourage my fellow agents to consider.

Say hello to motivated millennials

There are a lot of first-time homebuyers coming into urban markets at this time, many of whom are millennials. They fit the profile of the new urban buyer in that they’re very knowledgeable about inventory and competition, and their wish lists span a wide variety. I just sold a large Tribeca loft valued at almost $3 million to young buyers, then turned around and helped another get a one-bedroom Chelsea walkup in need of a full-gut renovation priced under half a million.

Millennials make up the largest share of today’s homebuyers. What sets them apart is that they’re often not the only stakeholders in the transaction. For many of them, be prepared to work with their parents as well, who may be helping them make this first life-altering investment.

Buyers who hesitate lose the bid

In New York City, the asset class below $3 million is unbelievably competitive right now; the days of discounts are over, replaced by bidding wars that can make your head spin. Not all urban buyers are ready for this.

Some still believe they can dictate prices like they could in the past. As agents, it’s our job to not only advise and prepare them on a practical level but on a psychological one. Losing out on a home you have your heart set on is difficult—and in this market, it happens daily if you’re not in peak form.

Ultimately, today’s urban buyer can be anyone—but whoever they are, they’ll likely be more educated, motivated, and purposeful than the clients you’re used to. No matter who walks through your door, you need to be ready to engage them in a way that proves your expertise and adds value. The key is to stay fluid and flexible in this ever-changing market.


Katherine Salyi

Katherine Salyi is an associate broker, 2018 and 2019 top producing agent of Sotheby’s International Realty – Downtown Manhattan Brokerage, and was ranked among the 2018 and 2019 America’s Best Real Trends / The Wall Street Journal Ranking Top 1% in New York. She has been making her mark in the world of New York City real estate since 2000, with a focus on residential sales since 2011. Katherine has closed nearly $400 million in sales and is the co-founder of @themommybrokers–Where NYC Real Estate Meets Mommy Realness. Prior to joining Sotheby’s International Realty in early 2017, Katherine worked in residential sales with a top broker from Bravo’s Million Dollar Listing New York where she consistently ranked as a top producer and team leader.