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Key Takeaways:

  • Home sales dipped in NYC, but increased substantially in many of the city’s suburbs
  • Suburbs in New Jersey & Connecticut were largely ahead of those in New York state
  • Buyers generally preferred larger, detached homes further from NYC proper
  • Toms River, N.J., saw largest the increase in sales activity in 2020 with 492 additional sales compared to 2019, up 24%
  • Ocean County, NJ & Fairfield County, CT were the top homebuying destinations in their respective states

COVID-19 was a complete game-changer in many areas, including the real estate market. Many New Yorkers sought alternatives to city life and, although prices for homes in New York City remained steady, the number of transactions dropped by 28% in NYC between March 2020 and February 2021.

Residents found the things that made city life unique and exciting were mostly shut down temporarily, and as companies switched to remote work, time spent commuting was no longer a factor. As a result, areas outside the city soared in popularity with homebuyers.

To see which areas won out in the dash for the suburbs, we analyzed and ranked NYC’s suburbs based on the increase in home sales in 2020 compared to 2019.

We found that coastal suburbs in New Jersey and Connecticut saw the highest increases in sales activity, beating out high-end destinations like the Hamptons and New Windsor. Read on for more details on which suburban towns and townships were the most popular with homebuyers in 2020.

Pandemic Shifted Homebuyer Preference Toward Larger, Stand-Alone Suburban Homes

The differences in sales activity points toward the fact that people looking to buy homes in the NYC metro may be turning to the suburbs as opposed to the city’s central areas — either for complete relocations or just pandemic-ready second homes.

This trend can also be observed at the state level. Boosted by the state’s increasingly popular suburban areas, home sales in Connecticut grew by 20% between 2019 and 2020. Meanwhile, in the state of New York, sales dropped 13% in the same timeframe. The drop could have been even larger if not for the state’s lower-density areas, as home sales dropped by as much as 21% in New York City proper.

Homebuyer preferences also shifted in terms of home size and type. For example, the average home sold in Fairfield County in 2020 had 1,965 square feet — 129 square feet more than the average home sold just one year prior. Likewise, Suffolk County homes were 132 square feet larger, on average, while the average size grew by 98 square feet in Westchester County.

At the same time, condo sales in Fairfield County grew from 2,146 in 2019 to 2,510 the following year — a 17% increase. However, sales of single-family homes increased from 7,539 units to more than 10,000 in the same time frame — growing by a considerable 35%. And, in terms of total sales, 33% more standalone homes in Litchfield County were sold last year, while sales were up 15% in New Haven County.

Clearly, the pandemic not only changed where buyers were looking to buy, but also what kind of homes they wanted. Homebuyers generally looked for larger, detached properties in the suburbs that could offer greater benefits during the pandemic — such as space for dedicated offices and ample outdoor areas — compared to more central properties with lower square footages.

Suburbs in Counties Further from NYC Most Popular with Homebuyers

While New Jersey and New York had several suburbs with strong showings in 2020, Connecticut dominated the list with 21 out of 36 total entries. It’s also worth mentioning that, of these, 15 are in Fairfield County, seven in Ocean County and another five are in New Haven County.

And, even though they vary greatly in affordability, many of these popular suburban areas have in common a longer distance to the boroughs. Conversely, counties within closer proximity to the city’s central areas — such as Suffolk, Orange and Westchester — only had one or two entries on the list.

The suburb that had the largest increase in home sales was Toms River, N.J., with 2,576 sales in 2020 — 492 more than 2019. Situated about halfway between New York and Atlantic City, this community along the Jersey Shore is the seat of Ocean County. The suburb distinguishes itself not only by the large increase in home sales during the pandemic, but also with its median sale price of $330,000 in 2020. Although this represents a 12% increase in its median price from 2019, it still makes Toms River considerably more affordable than the next two entries.

In second place is another seaside town — Fairfield, Conn. — which saw 353 more home sales in 2020 than in 2019. Although Fairfield saw fewer additional transactions in absolute numbers than Toms River, that figure represents a 46% yearly increase in sales for the Connecticut town, while Toms River’s increase was 24%.

However, the next suburb on the list saw more than twice the number of transactions in 2020 than in 2019: Westport — Fairfield’s western neighbor — had 661 home sales in 2020, up 109% from 2019. As an affluent town, Westport’s housing market commanded premium prices prior to the pandemic, but the increased demand in 2020 pushed median prices here all the way up to $1,224,900.

Hamptons Surpassed by Greenwich, Conn. in Median Sale Price

With median prices similarly surpassing the $1 million mark, The Hamptons also made an appearance on our list among the five entries in New York state. Specifically, East Hampton saw 234 more home sales in 2020 than the previous year, bringing it up to #8, while 111 additional Southampton homes sold last year, granting it the 23rd spot.

The three remaining New York entries were New Windsor (#17) and Monroe (#26) in Orange County, and Westchester County’s Bedford (#28).

Meanwhile, with 161 more home sales in 2020 than the year before — a 43% increase — Greenwich, Conn., reached #14 on our list. Median sale prices for homes in Greenwich also increased by 43% since 2019, resting at $1.77 million and making it NYC’s priciest suburb last year. In fact, according to our yearly ranking of the nation’s most expensive zip codes, Greenwich’s 06830 was the 92nd-most expensive nationwide in 2020.

Greenwich buyers also looked for considerably larger homes. Here, the average home sold in 2019 had 2,675 square feet whereas, in 2020, that figure was 3,371 square feet — 26% larger, on average, than the year before.

Suburban Homebuyers in NY State Turn to Westchester & Orange Counties, Hamptons Stay Popular

When looking at the 10 most popular suburbs in New York state, the most attractive areas were either The Hamptons or select towns on either side of the Hudson River.

More precisely, New York’s most popular suburbs were concentrated in three counties: Orange with five entries, Westchester with four and Suffolk with two. In particular, Suffolk County’s two entries — East Hampton and Southampton — were at the top of the list at #1 and #3, respectively, while those in Westchester County landed between the #5 and #9 places.

East Hampton is easily the most expensive of New York’s top 10 suburbs with a $1.45 million median in 2020 — up from $1.1 million in 2019. The town also headlined the list with 234 additional sales in 2020, an increase of 40% from 2019’s 579 transactions. It’s also worth noting that the area’s upward trend in both sales activity and median price was occurring for more than just last year. As a whole, The Hamptons and Long Island were already trending upward in the years prior to the pandemic.

Besides the Hamptons, Harrison was the only other suburban town on the list to break the $1 million mark with a $1.15 million median last year. Of the remaining eight entries, three had median sale prices in the $500,000 to $1 million range, while five had median prices less than $500,000.

Montgomery, N.Y., was the suburban town with the largest percentage increase in sales. It recorded 80 sales in 2019, and jumped to 136 the following year for a 70% increase. Not far behind, another town in Orange County — New Windsor, #2 on the list — came close to surpassing Montgomery with a 68% increase in sales between 2019 and 2020.

Jersey Shore Attracts Homebuyers Looking in NYC’s Periphery

On the list of New Jersey suburbs with growing homebuyer interest, seven out of 10 entries were situated in Ocean County, including the five most popular townships.

As the suburb that took the #1 spot in the overall ranking, Toms River also led the list in New Jersey. Two townships directly neighboring it — Brick and Jackson — also joined Toms River on the podium.

Brick Township is also situated on the Jersey Shore directly north of Toms River and boasts a similar median sales price around the $300,000 mark. Jackson Township, meanwhile, is situated west of Toms River. It’s connected to the Jersey Shore by Interstate 195, also known as the Central Jersey Expressway.

Although the majority of the suburban townships that logged more homes sales last year are on the Jersey Shore or slightly inland, two townships from the state’s northern fringes also made an appearance — Wayne in 6th place and Summit in 10th — with buyers likely being drawn by the larger number of transit options from these areas to the boroughs.

Overall, median sale prices in 2020 increased across the board in the New Jersey townships featured on the list, though by smaller margins than in New York. Medians here grew 6% to 25% between 2019 and 2020, with the 10 most popular suburbs averaging a 12% gain. The largest price increase was recorded in Little Egg Harbor, a township further down the coast from Toms River and Brick and about 30 minutes from Atlantic City. In terms of highest sale prices, Long Beach, N.J., boasted a median just shy of $1 million, while Summit’s $945,000 came close.

Fairfield County Home to 9 of 10 Most Popular Connecticut Suburbs in Pandemic

In addition to providing the runner-up and third-place entries in this overall ranking — as well as serving as home to 2020’s most expensive NYC suburb in Greenwich, Conn. — Fairfield County also dominated in Connecticut with nine of the 10 most popular suburban towns in the state. Here, median sale prices for homes in the county ranged between $283,000 in Stratford to $1.77 million in Greenwich.

Alongside Greenwich and Westport, New Canaan also made an appearance as one of the state’s destination for luxury homes. Its median sale price grew by 16% between 2019 to 2020, resting at $1.25 million, and the town saw 426 home sales last year — up 181 transactions, or 74%, from 2019.

The 10th entry was the only one not from Fairfield County: Torrington in Litchfield County closed out the list with an increase of 129 sales between 2019 and 2020.

One thing that’s certain is that New York City will remain a global economic powerhouse. Nonetheless, until the difficulties posed by COVID-19 are surmounted, it’s likely that the city’s residents will increasingly look toward the possibility of suburban life in the many towns and townships that surround it.

Methodology

To determine which NYC suburbs increased most in popularity during the pandemic, we considered all suburban cities, towns and townships in New York state, New Jersey and Connecticut with a minimum of 10 home sales in both 2019 and 2020. All Pennsylvania suburbs were omitted due to insufficient data.

The popularity/ranking of suburbs was determined by the rate of increase in sales activity recorded in each location. Some rankings have additional entries due to ties. In this case, the suburbs that have the same difference in sales between 2019 and 2020 were awarded the same spot.

Lucian Alixandrescu

Lucian Alixandrescu

Lucian is a copywriter for the CommercialCafe team. He has several years of experience as a freelance writer and is eager to learn about all things real estate and marketing. His work has been featured by publications such as Forbes, The Business Journals and Bisnow.