Coronavirus News: New Yorkers leave city during COVID-19 pandemic, unsure of return

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- Many New Yorkers are deciding to flee city dwellings, opting for suburban areas with more space for their families in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Stephanie and Paul Ellis, like so many others, are trying to plan for the future -- one that may not include living in New York City.

"If the city is not going to be the city we love and pay all that money to live there, we don't know what to do, and it's kind of not in our control," Paul Ellis said.

The couple owns an apartment on Bleecker Street, which had been on the market before the COVID-19 outbreak.

They had planned to rent a larger unit until it sold, but then in mid-March, everything changed.

They packed up and with their son Nolan and dog Eloise and are now temporarily living at Stephanie's parents' home in Marlboro, New Jersey.

"As the time passes by, we've come to the realization that I don't think we should go back, and we love New York," Stephanie Ellis said.

Alison Bernstein, of Suburban Jungle, says they're experiencing a 348% increase in new clients from this time last year.

"We are seeing a mass exodus," she said.

People are not only leaving the city for the nearby suburbs, but they're moving to places like Austin, Texas, and South Florida.

"Six weeks ago, we thought, hey, we're going to be out of school for a week, two weeks, do a short term rental for a month, this will normalize," Bernstein said. "People now realize this is a bigger problem.."

On the flip side, another real estate firm says it's seeing a new wave of people wanting to come to the city. They are specifically looking for rentals, testing the water a bit before buying.

"Even if we don't have the theater, restaurant scene, and nightlife, it will come back," said Sarah Saltzberg, from Bohemia Realty. "And when it comes back, it will be stronger, and there are people that just are waiting to be a part of that."

Saltzberg is also seeing people exiting the New York area, saying people are breaking rental leases because they have lost their jobs or are choosing to move closer to family in other parts of the country.

In terms of buying property right now, experts point out there are challenges with mortgages and also because agents can't hold open houses, they are doing virtual tours. Saltzberg does say anyone who is buying with cash is in a very strong position.

Experts point out this market is primarily made up of young families like Stephanie and Paul, trying to figure out what life looks like in a post-coronavirus world. It is a city that no doubt will look and feel much different.

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