Pandemic Migrants Returning to New York from South Florida

Brown Harris Stevens’ Traci Byers & Rex Gonsalves; Douglas Elliman’s Frances Katzen; Compass’ Chad Carroll (Brown Harris Stevens, Douglas Elliman, Compass, Getty)

As Labor Day ushers in another push for workers to return to the office, brokers say New Yorkers who decamped to Florida during the pandemic are reversing course.

But back-to-work mandates aren’t the sole catalyst. Some just want out of the Sunshine State.

“Florida was not exactly what we thought it was going to be,” one couple told Rex Gonsalves, an agent at Brown Harris Stevens helping a number of clients condo hunt in New York.

The two finance workers, who purchased a house outside of Miami when Covid hit, got return-to-office memos this summer from their long-time firms in New York. Still, they could have negotiated a more flexible arrangement. They just didn’t want to.

Shifting priorities

During the depths of Covid, southern living lured many New Yorkers with beaches, low taxes, relatively spacious homes and weak pandemic protocols.

But for some, the endless warmth became oppressive and the state’s conservatism unsavory, and they longed for the culture promised by a reopened New York.

“I think the call back to the office was just the final nail in the coffin,” Gonsalves said.

Traci Byers, also with Brown Harris Stevens, said she just nabbed a lease at a new, luxury development in Harlem for a client who had spent the past year and a half in South Florida.

Given the city’s supercharged rental market, there were hoops to jump through. A Friday evening open house drew an out-the-door line of applicants and sparked a bidding war that same night. Her client of her agreed to pay $250 over the asking rent to seal the deal on a modest-sized one-bedroom.

As a private practice therapist, the client didn’t need to be back in the city. She just really wanted to.

“She said, ‘I got what I needed from Florida: I felt like I was on one vacation for 18 months,’” Byers said. For many, the broker explained, Miami’s party vibe can’t compete with the diversity of experience New York offers.

Facebook posts reveal a similar weariness among Northeast ex-pats. Groups for New Yorkers considering Florida are peppered with missives from folks who regret the move. The page “Moving Out of Florida” has over 12,000 members, and the number keeps growing. Nearly 100 have joined this week.

“I’m in Space Coast, moved here from Brooklyn. Not feeling FL at all,” a post from Sept. 1 reads.

“I’m from Staten Island, I’m in the same boat,” user Jackie Johansen responded.

“The people are nothing you’ve ever seen before. The traffic is insane.” she elaborated, adding that the food “sucks,” the weather’s too hot and “there’s nothing to do, especially if you have a family.”

Frances Katzen, who heads an eponymous brokerage team at Douglas Elliman, said she has worked with parents who aren’t keen on keeping their kids in the Florida school system.

“People are sort of saying, ‘For work, New York makes more sense, for schools it makes more sense,” she said. “For single gentlemen who feel that Florida is maybe not as culturally diverse or stimulating, they are coming back to the city.”

Gonsalves said another two clients making the move back to New York — a retired gay couple in Fort Lauderdale — could no longer stomach the state’s politcs.

In late March, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” prohibiting classroom discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade, a measure that critics said was unnecessary but would have a chilling effect.

For Gonsalves’ clients, the Supreme Court’s ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, a decision that sparked concern around the right to same-sex marriage, was the final straw.

“They’re very politically active so they needed to make this call and say, ‘We need to be home,’ and home was New York,” the agent said.

While it’s unclear how many New Yorkers are flocking back to the mothership this summer, brokers claim they’ve seen a significant uptick over the past month. Katzen said she received around four inquiries over two weeks in August.

“That is high. Normally it’s one every six weeks,” Katzen said.

Typically, she works with buyers coming from California or Texas.

“But not Florida. And now I’m seeing Florida, which is interesting,” she said.

Byers said her therapist client told her that “even her movers who picked her up in Florida said they have worked with so many customers lately that are moving back to New York from Miami.”

“Just a lot of us are Miami-ed out,’” the client told Byers.

Economists theorize that a slowdown in South Florida’s annual rent growth — a nationwide leader over the past two years — is the result of that out-migration.

Some tie those moves solely to employees being called back to their New York cubicles.
Florida brokers insist that many ex-New Yorkers have embraced the Miami lifestyle.

“I mean, 99.9 percent of the clients who I sold to who moved from New York or the Northeast absolutely love it here,” said Chad Carroll, president of Compass’ South Florida-based Carroll Group, noting the lack of state income tax.

Carroll said several of his clients are flying between their Florida homes and New York offices as they negotiate a hybrid work arrangement.

“Their home base is still South Florida. And they would like to keep it that way,” he said.

A push for office work

It’s likely that the pull of Manhattan offices will strengthen as late summer turns to autumn.

Alongside Wall Street and corporate America’s push for a return to offices, New York elected officials, including Gov. Kathy Hochul and Mayor Eric Adams have likewise encouraged employees to fill empty offices, calling it crucial for the city’s economic recovery.

In June, Hochul and Adams created a “New New York” panel to recommend ways to minimize commercial vacancies and “examine issues such as how and where people work.” Those pointers are expected by October, The City reported.

Meanwhile, New York office visits have ticked up.

As of Aug. 15, data from location tracker Placer.ai showed office visits were down only 29 percent compared to the same week in 2019. That’s an improvement from down 33 percent in June and July.

“It’s not back,” said Placer.ai marketing executive Ehtan Chernofsky, “but it’s moving in the right direction.”

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