WILTON — With the rate of new coronavirus cases in New York state “doubling about every three days,” according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, residents from across the border are looking to escape to Connecticut for short-term rentals.

New Yorkers are particularly seeking refuge in lower Fairfield County towns including Greenwich, Stamford, Westport and Wilton.

“When things started initially with social distancing, the phone started ringing,” said Lynne Murphy, an agent with Berkshire Hathaway in Wilton.

“People from New York City have been constantly calling about renting homes, and are even asking about renting vacant properties that are listed for sale,” she said.

Most of these potential renters are looking for a short-term stay, through April or the summer. “People are willing to pay a premium just to be out here,” Murphy said.

For the longest time, millennials didn’t want to live in the suburbs and preferred to live in the city, she said. But, the quick spread of the virus, particularly in New York City, is a game changer.

“That tide may be changing. Young families don’t want to be dealing with pushing elevator buttons and sharing close quarters with kids right now,” according to Murphy.

But the problem is, there aren’t a lot of homes to rent in Wilton for just a few months. “There’s not enough inventory for this kind of demand,” according to Murphy.

“There are 21 active rental listings right now in Wilton, with three under deposit,” said John DiCenzo, executive director of sales for Westport and Wilton for Halstead Real Estate.

But none of those listings are for short-term rentals, and long-term rentals can be pricey. Single-family homes in Wilton are being offered for rent from $3,000 to $15,000 a month, according to listings online.

DiCenzo said he is handling short-term rental requests for Wilton and Westport “a la carte,” on a case-by-case basis.

“There are people from New York looking in Connecticut to fill time over April, and some owners are willing to rent out for the short-term,” said Sarah Fair, vice president of sales, with The Fair Group at William Raveis.

But other owners are not so keen to convert their long-term rentals into short-term. “Some people are saying yes, but others are not sure they want to open up their house for just one month,” Fair said.

Pandemic

The spring real estate market had been looking up in Wilton, until the coronavirus pandemic hit.

“This is the second spring season in a row where the market has been impeded by something outside everyone’s control,” said Fair. “This year it’s the coronavirus, last year it was the threat of school regionalization. We thought it would be a solid spring market this year.”

DiCenzo agreed, and said the Wilton real estate market from December 2019 through February 2020 had been on the upswing. During that time, there were 52 real estate sales, compared to 42 sales in the same period the previous year.

But things changed quickly when the coronavirus hit Connecticut. On March 8, a Wilton man was the first in the state to test positive for the coronavirus. He is since in recovery. In just a matter of a few weeks, the number of confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has reached 1,012 in the state, with 21 deaths.

To prevent the spread of the virus, Gov. Lamont ordered all non-essential businesses to close, and advised residents to stay home, and maintain social distancing practices — staying at least six feet away from others when out in public.

Real estate brokers had to adjust quickly. In order to maintain social distancing, they canceled open houses that had been previously scheduled. “We canceled our open houses to limit exposure,” said Fair.

But with 152 single-family home listings currently in Wilton, brokers and agents aren’t giving up.

Instead of holding open houses in person, they are working remotely and offering things such as personalized virtual tours, walking through homes and talking to potential buyers through FaceTime and other video sources.

“We had three closings in the past week,” Fair said. “There is opportunity here. We are just working from a different point of view.”

Sellers are also being given more options during this time, according to DiCenzo. “If they want to take a break from the market at the moment, they have the option to withdraw their properties temporarily, and come back later,” he said.

“There could be a silver lining to this situation. If people from New York like what they see in Connecticut, perhaps they will consider moving here or buying a second home here,” Murphy said.

pgay@wiltonbulletin.com