By Holly Dutton
Forget Florida — today’s retirees are packing their bags for the big city, looking to spend their golden years taking in all the culture big metros like New York City offer.
So-called “WOOF-ers” (well-off older folk) have the right amount of money and the right amount of time to buy a pad in a city where the average apartment price is $1.35 million, according to Douglas Elliman’s 1Q 2013 market report.
Since the housing crisis in the late 2000s, urban living has increased dramatically, according to the 2010 Census, which reported that more than 80 percent of the country’s population now lives in urban areas. Additionally, in June of 2012, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that population in 27 of the country’s largest cities grew faster than the surrounding suburbs, a first since the 1920s.
Empty nesters are finding themselves with more space than they need and baby boomers looking to head back to cities they grew up in are increasingly seeking out apartments in New York City, according to some top brokers.
“I do see it as an actual trend,” said Citi Habitats agent Andrea Saturno-Sanjana, who is helping a retired school teacher find an apartment on the Upper West Side.
“I’ve read that when people are isolated when they’re older, they don’t do as well,” she said. “It’s so much nicer to be in this dense, urban environment.”
Saturno-Sanjana’s client lived in the same co-op in Manhattan Beach, Brooklyn, for 35 years, so the move is a major life shift.
“He spends time in the city and he has family here,” she said. “He thought, ‘Now that I’m retired, why make this commute?’”
Her client at first considered the Union Square/Gramercy Park area, but ultimately found the thriving restaurant scene and cultural offerings of the Upper West Side to be the perfect fit for his active lifestyle. “He likes the bigger buildings because they have lobbies and there’s a bit of camaraderie and the ability to strike up a conversation,” she said.
Long Island City, the booming waterfront neighborhood in Queens that has seen amenity-laden high-rises pop up like wildfire in recent years, is appealing to the “WOOF-er” demographic as well.
“I met a lot of people in that exact situation, or their children that live in those apartments who want to buy the unit to bring their parents back in there,” said Saturno-Sanjana of residents of one LIC high-rise.
“These buildings with a lot of amenities, including a parking garage, are appealing to people who are transitioning and don’t have to abandon their car, and there’s the train link so close.”
Veteran New York City broker and suburbanite David Schlamm considers himself a WOOF.
The 55-year-old founder and president of brokerage firm City Connections Realty said he plans to move back to Manhattan with his wife from their home in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey, after their daughters are both in college.
“Living in Franklin Lakes was a very nice experience for the Schlamm family, but with the girls gone, we won’t need a big house and it can get a little boring without them around,” Schlamm said.
The CEO said he and his wife also hope to have a country home “somewhere near Woodstock” to balance out their planned Manhattan life.
“We both miss the vibe of Manhattan as well as the much shorter commute to work for me,” said Schlamm, who spends two and a half to three hours commuting to his office in the city.
Mike Schulte, another Citi Habitats agent, is working with three different buyers who are looking to retire in the city.
All three spent their childhoods in the city before relocating to places as far away as Michigan and Nevada.
“For most of these people, it hasn’t been an amenity issue,” he said of the buildings his clients are looking at.
“The cost of retiring in Manhattan is quite high, and they have to have a slightly larger egg to do this.
“Ultimately it’s a dollars and sense thing; a lot of time they look at a neighborhood and what it has to offer and sacrifice home space because they want the experience of being in New York.”
A Queens native himself, Schulte remembers what the city was like 20 years ago when he was a kid, and how it was far from one of the safest big cities in the county, as it is considered now.
“I remember Times Square when it wasn’t Times Square,” said Schulte. “The city’s changed and it’s grown and become more expensive.”
Having three clients looking for an New York apartment in to retire to signals definite trend, he said.
“In my career, I had one at any given time, to have three is a sign that something is changing,” he said.