I’m Going to Have a Baby Soon. Should I Leave NYC for the Suburbs or Not?

published Sep 22, 2020
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Credit: Photo: Shutterstock, Graphic: Apartment Therapy

Welcome to Key Questions, a new real estate advice column where we address your conundrums related to renting, moving, buying, selling, housing, and more. Ask us your weirdest and weightiest wonderings at advice@apartmenttherapy.com.

Dear Apartment Therapy,

My husband and I are expecting our first baby early next year. We own a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan, and always planned to move to a nearby suburb when we grew our family. Unfortunately, we can’t comfortably afford day care in the city and we also have more family support just outside of it. I’m wondering if this is the worst possible time to make this move. Suburban markets seem so hot—I keep hearing about places getting dozens of bids and going way over asking. And the city market is much cooler. Should we hold off for a year or so (or longer!) and stay in our one-bedroom? Or is there a way to make it work while still being fiscally responsible?

Possible New Kid on the Block

Dear Possible New Kid,

Alexa, play Should I Stay or Should I Go? by The Clash. 

It’s a question lots of city dwellers in particular have been asking themselves this year. It’s also a pretty good song that could be remixed into a lullaby for your baby, I bet.

On a more serious note, congratulations on the forthcoming addition to your family! That’s wonderful news, even if a global pandemic has thrown the biggest wrench of all time into everybody’s plans. 

There are so many factors to consider when it comes to your question. First, let’s address the real estate market in Manhattan. No matter where you may move to, it’s still going to be an uphill battle to sell your unit.

By the end of June 2020, properties in contract were down 68 percent year over year, according to real estate analytics site UrbanDigs. But that was before—and things are slightly better now. The second week of September saw a 70 percent increase in Manhattan listings, though closings have not caught up quite yet. They were up 28 percent, comparatively. “Manhattan is still a buyer’s market, as the sellers who are willing to part with their properties are at an ongoing post-pandemic disadvantage,” reads UrbanDigs’ latest report. 

So, if you were to put your apartment on the market, it might sell for a little less than it would have last year—and it may linger on the market for a bit. But that’s not the end of the world if you’d really like to hightail it out of here.

“Deciding when to list your apartment is always tricky, particularly in this post-COVID market. Nobody has a crystal ball to predict whether the market will continue to soften or start to recover,” says broker Tania Isacoff Friedland with New York City-based Warburg Realty. “The good news is that there are always buyers who want or need to be in NYC. People relocating, downsizing or even purchasing pieds-a-terre instead of staying in a hotel. With interest rates at record low levels, even first time buyers are eager to jump into the market rather than renting. If an apartment has reasonable carrying costs and is priced correctly, it will sell. We are seeing demand and activity in the market for smaller apartments.”

There’s always the chance a buyer will see your place and fall immediately in love with it, right?

“The length of time you’ve owned the apartment and how much capital you have invested in the property has a big impact on where you may or may not be willing to sell,” Friedland says. “I always tell my sellers that they are in the driver’s seat—you can test the market and see what happens. If you don’t get activity or offers that are acceptable you can pull the apartment off the market and relist when things get better.”

Out in the ‘burbs, things are quite busy. You’re right about the pricing uptick. In Connecticut’s Fairfield county, real estate agent Yashmin Lloyds with Compass says there’s extremely limited inventory. Multiple offer situations are common and paying less than asking price is not.

“The feeling of frenzy has gone down a bit because there’s not enough inventory—we don’t have enough for people to buy,” she says. “I’ve got a number of buyers in the city who are like ‘Is there anything?’ and there’s really nothing right now.”

The Simon Westfall-Kwong Real Estate Group in New Jersey reports being busy with handling both leases and home purchases. It seems families who are set moving out of the city are pouncing on listings right as they hit the market. If you do you start your search in the suburbs sometime soon, Possible New Kid, keep in mind that you’ll be competing with parents with school-aged children who are chomping at the bit to get settled.

Lloyds recommends fighting the urge to rush and buy a place, if possible.

“If you could wait a year—and there’s no real need to move right away—I would give it until the spring and see how it plays out,” she says. 

In the end, there are even more factors you’ll have to weigh as you make your decision. Maybe paying a premium for childcare for a year will balance out with buying a cheaper home next year. Or maybe it’s the opposite—paying a little more for a house this year is worth it if you can be closer to your family. It’s an unwieldy pros and cons list to make, but it’s one worth making. (There is one pro that I want you to consider when it comes to staying: your kid will be able to say a very cool thing to their friends when they get older, which is, “Yeah, I lived in Manhattan when I was a baby.”)

Early on in the pandemic, I, too, wondered whether I should change my living situation, though purely for financial reasons. Should I go live with my parents—or maybe in a cheaper apartment somewhere else—to ride this out and save a bunch of money? How can I use this global crisis to my advantage? I asked myself. How can I game this tragedy somehow? What I’ve realized is this: There’s no way to come out on top. Being “fiscally responsible” can mean different things to different people. No matter what you do, it’s not going to be the perfect option—because there isn’t one. And that’s OK! (Global crisis, remember?) So whether you do stay or end up going, you’re going to do great. Your little one will, too.