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Why I’ve followed my head and left NYC

By Heidi Burkhart

There is no place like the old New York City. I keep having discussions on what it will look like after the COVID-19 pandemic subsides, versus what it looked like in the last few years.

The city isn’t the same as it was 18 years ago, when I first moved here. Then, retail was in its prime. Restaurants were places to be seen. The streets were clean. Businesses were starting to boom again after 9/11.

In the last few years, though, I have seen mom and pop retail leave as rents creep up to astronomical rates. I have seen the city become more commercialized losing its luster. I have seen a surge of homelessness, yet I fail to understand this with all the money that is poured into shelters. I have seen a city that has forced so many of its citizens to ask the question, “Why are we even living here?” 

And then came COVID…

The streets are empty. Everyone has been on lock down. Offices are all working remotely, begging the question, “Do we really need office space? And if we do, does it need to be in Manhattan, let alone NYC?”

People who had second homes are now making them their primary homes. Others in lock down in their apartments are reconsidering the small space they live in with their partners, family or alone, versus the space they could have in other parts of the world.

I for one have moved to North Carolina to my home on the beach, and from what I have heard, many more are coming down this way, notwithstanding the mass exodus already seen to South Florida.

For the last several years, I have been living in a place where I was paying almost $7,000 for 1,400 square feet. Sure, it was nice, but when I look at the opportunities here in Wilmington next to the water, I am feeling so dumb for wasting so much money on NYC rent.

I went to look at a new development, Salters Haven, here last week. It has newly beautiful built, large, 2,500 square feet homes with a yacht club and a community pool. The houses range from $500,000 to over $1,000,000 on the water.

Of course, you will need a down payment, but at $500,000 I would need to put $100,000 down, and with interest rates so low my monthly would be $1,741. So, 1,400 square feet for $7,000 a month in beautiful bustling NYC or 2,500 square feet for $1,741 a month near to the ocean with surfing and fishing. It starts to make you think while in lock down.

I mean, if you really wanted NYC, you can live on the waterway in new state of the art condominiums with crazy views that feel just like NYC for $1,800,000 at 2 Marina.

Seeing that you have the money to put down, you still would be spending less than my rent in NYC at $6,628.

I keep asking myself what was I thinking all these years in NYC? Was it worth it? Evan Barton of Cadence Realty noted in the last two months he has seen “a large surge of northern buyers wanting coastal living outdoor amenities with space, but still have the urban interior amenities.”

As working in an office becomes a thing of the past, what will keep people in NYC from moving to more affordable places that offer more amenities and a better quality of life?

Though I am not a huge fan of owning homes if you are looking to build wealth, I am still amazed at how much money I just threw away in rent living in NYC.

This doesn’t even include my office rent which was astronomical each month. My dogs had to come with me to work, so it was worth it. But I am excited that this monthly expense will also be gone as we go virtual once that lease expires. 

Of course, it’s so hard not to compare this ‘NYC exodus’ to the tragic events and aftermath of 9/11.

According to one article, two million New Yorkers moved away in the years following 9/11. It took a decade for people to start moving back and to rebuild New York City.

Now with COVID, I would agree with The Wall Street Journal that many of us were moving out prior to the pandemic, but this has expedited the process. I was one of them and I have other friends who are doing the same as the City is just not the City anymore.

With the hit of COVID, many of the beautiful, smart, talented people of NYC will move to suburbs or different states for a new and better quality of life.

The New York Times did a poignant article on the early stages of the exodus, noting that in March, the USPS received 56,000 mail forwarding requests. This number almost doubled in April at 81,000 requests. I have a feeling this will only increase as the shutdown continues, and livelihoods are greatly affected, and huge expenses continue amassing.

So yes, hidden gems like Wilmington, North Carolina are where I believe more and more New Yorkers will escape to; little surfing and fishing towns near larger cities with an increase in quality of life that is affordable. 

It is so, so, so hard to leave NYC. The famous saying definitely applies, “every time you try to leave it pulls you back in.”

New York City is hard to break up with. Although in months of being cooped up, and questioning life, it really is easy to see so much more — let alone how little you can actually live on to be happy.

As always, NYC will see a new era. Many will move to new places while others will stay to rebuild the city and create another ‘new’ New York City.

Regardless of where you end up, the one thing I know is that we have our right to our own pursuit of happiness  — wherever we choose to call home. 

Heidi Burkhart is the president of Dane Real Estate

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