Litchfield County boom: Pandemic brings surge of new residents - especially Brooklynites

“First people started with rentals,” William Raveis real estate agent Stacey Matthews said. “It was just a mad dash for rentals last March and April, and then it quickly changed over to people wanting to buy…People had locked up short-term rentals and then realized they loved it here and everyone's telling their friends and it just kind of spread.” 

As life seemed to stand still in the early days of the pandemic, it made way for a different and equally-widespread change: a booming real estate market. While lower Fairfield County landed eight of the top 10 spots for net gains in 2020 in New York and Connecticut, travel an hour north on Route 8 to Litchfield County, and there’s a similar, yet quieter migration of new residents settling into the area.

The Litchfield boom by the numbers

According to data presented by real estate listing company Redfin, Litchfield County’s home inventory in January 2020 was 1,216 properties; by September 2020, the area hit a peak with a year-high of 1,392 properties listed. By December, that number reduced to 917 homes — and by March 2021, Redfin reports only 731 listed in Litchfield County. 

At the same time that inventory in the area reached its pinnacle, a separate Redfin data set shows that Litchfield County homes began spending less time on the market. In fact, at the start of their records in 2012, the average amount of time a Litchfield County home spent on the market was 226 days; while that number fluctuated over the course of the next nine years, it never dipped below a median of 70 days on the market in July 2018. Cut to 2020, and homes were spending an average of just 61 days on the market in the month of October; by March 2021, that average moved to 66. 

Where are the buyers coming from?

Realtors in the area are seeing the data play out in real time. For Matthews, who is based out of Washington Depot, she said she saw an influx of buyers from one area in particular: Brooklyn, N.Y. 

“I think we've seen things change from primarily Manhattan to Brooklyn over the past few years," she said. “But now, it's just definitely a majority of the people are from Brooklyn.”

Matthews isn’t the only realtor in the area who has seen this shift. Broker Elyse Harney Morris of Elyse Harney Real Estate said she too has seen an exodus from Brooklyn to the state’s northwest corner, calling it “the strongest location out of New York City.” Melnick said there was even a particular demographic for each Brooklyn and Manhattan buyer he’s seen.

“They’re usually…a couple that are both professionals, aged 35-45 it seems like,” he said. “They all had two kids. They needed to have enough Wi-Fi bandwidth to have two Zoom calls for each professional parent as well as two kids on Zoom school. So what became really important was the strength of the Wi-Fi.”

An aerial view of fall foliage in Kent on Oct. 15, 2020. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many New York City residents - especially those from Brooklyn - moved to Litchfield County for more open land and more home space. 

An aerial view of fall foliage in Kent on Oct. 15, 2020. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many New York City residents — especially those from Brooklyn — moved to Litchfield County for more open land and more home space. 

Patrick Sikes

The motivation for moving

For Dave Mallison, a realtor with Best & Cavallaro in Salisbury, the transplants to Litchfield County that he’s seen from New York, parts of New Jersey, Long Island and even cities in Connecticut had one clear reason for their move. 

“It seemed like people were abandoning metropolitan areas and moving to the country, where the air is clear and not filled with the virus as much,” he said. “It was an escape from the more urbanized areas to the much less urbanized areas to the country.”

In Matthews’ experience, this preference for the country trumped suburban areas in Connecticut. 

“If you're in Fairfield County, you're really in the suburbs and it's still very congested,” she said. “There's still traffic. You still have to book a reservation every time you want to go out to dinner. It's just a whole different kind of feel there. As soon as you cross over the Litchfield County border, it's just immediate country…I think people want more space, more fresh air, no traffic and more outdoor activities.”

Seeking more space took the form of finding Litchfield County’s trails, lakes, mountains and ski areas an added bonus, especially for previous city dwellers, Morris noted. With more outdoor amenities available in a time when most activities seemed to halt, Morris said it seemed to force some of her clients to reconsider what was most important to them. 

“I think people’s priorities became very focused to safety, family, to enjoy the simpler things in life,” she said. “I have about eight different clients of mine who are all now raising chickens. They just got their little chicks and their kids are all watching this transpire.”

Other features of the area that Melnick and Matthews both found attracted new residents to the area included lower tax rates, access to good school systems and proximity to Bradley International Airport and the commuter train to New York for work travel. For Matthews, the steady stream of new residents has potential to continue past the pandemic. 

“I think it really depends on people's work, but I do think that the people who have come here are making a commitment for a year or a longer-term commitment; I don't see those people leaving,” she said. “They're bringing their friends up to visit now that COVID restrictions have lifted and now their friends want to buy houses.”

Sun One Organic Farm in Bethlehem, Conn. on March 4, 2021. With more outdoor amenities available in a time when most activities seemed to halt, those who relocated to Litchfield County seemed to reconsider what was most important to them, real estate broker Elyse Harney Morris said, with some even deciding to raise chickens. 

Sun One Organic Farm in Bethlehem, Conn. on March 4, 2021. With more outdoor amenities available in a time when most activities seemed to halt, those who relocated to Litchfield County seemed to reconsider what was most important to them, real estate broker Elyse Harney Morris said, with some even deciding to raise chickens. 

Nicole Desanti

The lay of the land

Comprised of 21 towns, the northwestern county spans from North Canaan just below the Massachusetts line, to Sharon and Kent bordering New York’s Dutchess County. Litchfield County is also home to many of Connecticut’s hiking trails, mountain peaks and waterfalls, including Bradford Mountain in Canaan and Kent Falls State Park. 

Helping to preserve the natural flora and fauna is the Litchfield Land Trust, which was established in 1968 and has accumulated 3,682 acres of parcels and conservation easements. The trust works to establish “permanent protection” of these lands, which according to Matthews, will help preserve Litchfield County’s landscape no matter how many new residents the area attracts.

“We have a huge amount of our total acreage tied up into land trust. So that really reduces even the amount of land that could be developed,” she said. “One of the reasons why we don't have a lot of inventory is there's not a lot of speculative developing here. So it's not like the suburbs where we have the big builders coming in and developing 50 houses on a cul de sac. It's not like that at all.”

The area, however, was already popular among those seeking vacation or weekend properties, according to Bill Melnick, a realtor at Elyse Harney Real Estate in Salisbury, who called Litchfield County “undervalued” prior to the pandemic. 

“The land trust and land preservation up here are different than the Hamptons, which really keep the land looking the way it does now,” he said. “We lack in big box stores, and we have miles and miles of beautiful landscapes, which is something that people who were forced to look outside the Hamptons were immediately attracted to.”

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Houses on the Town Beach Clinton on March 21, 2021
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