Real estate shopping patterns have changed dramatically in the past decade. Whether it’s for the next five or fifty years, buyers and renters have differing tastes, desires and objectives when they are making decisions about the community they want to call home. Real estate decision-making is unlike what any previous generation has experienced and has resulted in a whole new set of guidelines families and individuals must now face.
One constant, however, is Stamford’s appeal. People of every age still seek to call the city their home for a wide range of reasons: proximity to New York City, amenities, shopping, restaurants, open space, nightlife, schools, jobs, availability and diversity of housing options. Stamford has it all, and people want to live here for that reason. Tastes are certainly changing; challenging the notion that purchasing a home is not the reliable long-term investment it once was, more people are choosing to rent. The bottom line? Stamford’s real estate market continues to thrive. Whereas other Connecticut communities are seeing an exodus, Stamford’s allure still resonates soundly across all demographics. It is one of the few Connecticut towns that has seen its population rise in recent years.
“Stamford fared well in comparison to many Fairfield County towns in 2018,” says Tammy Felenstein, executive director of sales for Halstead, LLC. “Like a big ship that doesn’t turn on a dime, our size, variety, location and affordability keep us afloat and moving forward. We will always be conveniently located to New York City; we have the largest assortment of any type of housing you want, from quiet back-country homes, to waterfront communities and a vibrant downtown.”
Real estate professionals always paint an optimistic picture, but particularly so in Stamford. Sales of single family homes in Stamford fell 2.1 percent through the third quarter compared to 2017, and the median sale price fell 0.17 percent, according to statistics provided by William Pitt Sotheby’s International Real Estate. Sales of single-family homes fell 3 percent in Fairfield County, though, while the county-wide median sale price rose 7 percent. Sluggish sales of expensive homes in North Stamford helped contribute to Stamford’s decline in the median sale price.
“I have the same sense of optimism for 2019 that I had for 2018,” says Barbara Hickey, a longtime agent for William Pitt Sotheby’s. “I think maybe we fell a little bit short of expectations. I would have liked to have seen a stronger second half. I’m just as bullish for 2019.
“The big developers have not slowed down, and the downtown area is continuing to improve,” Hickey continues. “Mill River Park is sensational, it’s a city jewel. Stamford Hospital, Harbor Point, that entire downtown corridor is booming. How much better can it get?”
Perhaps the biggest change in the past few years in the Stamford real estate landscape is the continuing demand for rental properties, particularly in the area of Harbor Point and downtown. The supply of apartments continued to escalate in 2018, and more are on the way in 2019.
One highly anticipated opening will occur at the parcel of land located at Greyrock Place and Tresser Boulevard. Known for decades as “The Hole in the Ground”, the site will house the first apartments of a 650-unit, eleven-building complex planned to open in July. Construction of the project, known as Stamford Urby, began in October 2017, and is the result of a partnership between F.D. Rich & Co. and Ironstate Development.
Another highly-anticipated project is The Smyth, to be developed by Lennar Builders on the site where St. John Tower on Washington Boulevard—across from the Government Center—once stood. The development will add 400 apartments to the downtown market in 2020.
These join the recent openings of Aisnley Square on Colonial Road, Atlantic Station on Atlantic Street, Vela on the Park on Washington Boulevard and Harbor Landing on Southfield Avenue.
“Stamford has emerged, after what is now a sixty-year renewal of its core area, as one of the greatest small cities in the country,” says Tom Rich, president and chief executive officer of F.D. Rich & Co. “People are choosing to live in or near downtown but, in many cases, commute out of the city to go to work. That means the plethora of apartment projects are being supported by a much wider office market and employer base than ever before.
“Further, Stamford and Norwalk apartments continue to be a 40 percent off-sale as compared to comparable New York City rentals while continuing to offer an exciting urban and highly walkable lifestyle,” Rich adds. “Barring a recession or significant interest rate increases, I think financially feasible apartment developments can continue unabated.”
The influx of apartments in Stamford’s downtown area—and the talent pool signing those leases—has helped many businesses thrive while encouraging other companies to relocate to Stamford. Sandy Goldstein, the president of Stamford Downtown, says the energy within the downtown community is more palpable than at any time during her twenty-five-year tenure with the special services district.
“We have more development going on in terms of residential and hotel building than we’ve had in years and years,” Goldstein says. “As [New York City] gets more and more expensive, people are finding Stamford as a great alternative. There’s a lot of energy [here] and people love living here.”
It’s not just millennials and New York City commuters who are flocking to live in Stamford’s downtown. Some baby boomers, as they approach retirement, are leaving their homes and opting for maintenance-free living close to the heart of the city. “The Stamford market has so much going on,” says Ted Ferrarone, COO for Building & Land Technology, the developer of Harbor Point. “I think you’re seeing the transformation of Stamford into a twenty-four-seven city. When you look at the population downtown, a lot of it is driven by the apartment growth. Young couples and millennials are attracted to the nightlife and the restaurants.
“But we’re also seeing more and more empty-nesters. Not only do they want to stay near their families but they’re also looking for the same benefits the younger generation is looking for.”
While the apartment explosion in Stamford’s downtown has driven the real estate narrative recently, the trend in single-family and condominium sales remains steady, if not spectacular. But, in real estate circles, consistent incremental movement is considered a positive sign. Volatility—either upward or downward—is worrisome for most real estate agents.
Stamford will always have buyers who want to move into the city. In the current landscape, however, buyers need to have their homes prepared for the market. Today’s discriminating buyers has so much information at their fingertips, they can control negotiations more than ever before. They know what’s out there, how much things cost and the condition and features of other homes in their price range. They are willing to visit—and eventually make an offer—only if the home checks all of the boxes on their must-have list.
“Sellers need to prepare their homes thoughtfully, understanding that buyers are condition sensitive,” Hickey said. “At the right price, everything sells. It’s all about being ready when that opportunity presents itself. Then we have to figure out how the agents work together to bring it to the finish line.”
While real estate professionals went into 2018 optimistically, there was also uncertainty. Interest rates are always a concern, a new governor is in office, and new federal rules reduced tax advantages of home ownership for many Stamford residents. And yet, the real estate market in Stamford remained steady. For many, the advantages of living in Stamford are simply too tempting to pass up.
“The Stamford market is at a steady pace,” the Stamford Board of Realtors said in a joint statement. “New York residents and others are moving out of high-tax states and into Stamford and surrounding towns. The market grew more stable and confident. It was reassuring to see some younger people choosing to buy property rather than rent, and equally reassuring to see sellers making a conscious effort to meet the present demand by pricing accordingly. Three words come to mind when we think of the 2018 landscape: resolve, rejuvenation and confidence.”
New homebuyers are setting THE RULES and expect you to follow them
Stamford is known for its neighborhoods. Perhaps unlike any other city in the state, there are distinguishing features that add charm and character to the various villages. Whether it’s the statuesque homes of North Stamford, the small-town feel of Springdale, the diversity of the West Side, or the apartment-building boom that is drawing residents to downtown, these communities help give the city its rich personality.
But no matter where buyers choose to look for a new abode, potential homeowners are more apt to demand certain features while forgoing other standard elements, a change in the nature of residential real estate that affects which properties move. A new residential development bordering downtown—a first in decades in Stamford—could be a game-changer in illustrating what people are looking for in their new homes.
The sixty-two unit Ainslie Square, with its mix of new three- and four-bedroom town homes and single-family houses, opened recently on Colonial Road. Boasting amenities like a pool and sun deck, a clubhouse and a twenty-four-hour fitness center, the development brings together all of the features today’s homebuyers are seeking. It is the template for residential building in the twenty-first century.
“People’s time is valuable and they would rather spend it in different ways,” says Randy Salvatore, CEO and president of RMS Companies, whose team delivered the project. “A lot of people are attracted to the lifestyle we’re offering.”
The homes are built on a 4.5-acre parcel just 400 yards beyond the downtown border. Salvatore says the development marries lessons learned in apartment and hospitality building and brings them to single-family construction.
The challenge, Salvatore says, will be building more developments similar to Ainslie Square. Lack of available property and zoning ordinances make it hard to envision many projects of a similar nature coming down the pike. Another challenge, he says, is keeping up with changing tastes. “The demand evolves,” he says. “[Today], you take a top health club and put it into an apartment building. That [trend] has come a long way from an exercise room that had a couple of treadmills.”
Shifting home-buying preferences have affected the pace of transactions in established neighborhoods. Since homebuyers are coveting more community, walkability and a neighborhood feel, some large, pricey homes in North Stamford languish on the marketplace. Most buyers don’t want big properties miles from downtown, or to invest the time and cost equated with maintaining those properties. Sales of properties in Shippan, another area with spacious homes and high property taxes, fell more than 8 percent in the first nine months of 2018, according to Tammy Felenstein of Halstead.
“Today’s HGTV generation of homebuyers want new, quick, easy, amenities, little maintenance, and close-to-town. In short, they want it all,” she says. “They’re only going to pay what they feel the home is worth, and move on quickly if it doesn’t meet their expectations.”
Barbara Hickey of William Pitt Sotheby’s says: “Society’s tastes have changed. [Since] we no longer have big, sit-down dinners, the elegance of the formal living room and dining room [are no longer a priority.] People are looking for more casual but inclusive design because we’ve become more casual with the way we live and entertain.”
Still, though sales have been sluggish on higher-end homes, the market has remained stable; Stamford’s diverse housing options, amenities, growing businesse climate and proximity to New York help keep it a place where people enjoy living.
“Stamford’s real estate market has been slow and steady,” the Stamford Board of Realtors says in a statement. “Millennial buyers, out-of-state buyers and multi-generational buyers are finding their way to Stamford.”
Growing demand for CAMPUS HOUSING at UConn is a factor in the transforming local market
One of the undeniable trends in the Stamford real estate landscape is the emergence of UCONN-STAMFORD as an integral part of downtown, and by extension, the growing perception of the city as a college town.
Once a tiny campus tucked far away on Scofieldtown Road in North Stamford, the university continued to thrive since moving to its downtown location in 1998. In the latest development, the school introduced student housing on Washington Boulevard in 2017, which was quickly filled to capacity. As a result of increased demand, the school added 120 more units last fall.
The 116-unit residence hall at 900 Washington Boulevard housed about 270 students during 2017–2018 school year. The apartments were an answer to help the swelling population at this satellite campus of the University of Connecticut, which has seen its student population rise to nearly 1,800 students—an increase of 32 percent since 2013.
Before the apartments became available, UConn-Stamford had been known as a commuter school. Students attended classes in town, but offered little in the way of contributing to the local economy or adding to the vibrancy of the city. That changed when the students moved into the apartments.
“One of the things I’ll be watching in 2019 is to see if UConn will provide additional housing that has made it so tempting for students who want to attend UConn and live downtown,” says Sandy Goldstein, president of Stamford Downtown, the special servicea district. “[The students] are a phenomenal presence in the downtown area.”
Students attending UConn-Stamford have added energy and vibrancy, helping to support restaurants, entertainment and clubs. They also add appeal to city businesses that are seeking to hire local talent that knows its way around the city, and is ready to accept positions just steps away from where they attended school.
“Every truly successful city has a university presence,” says Randy Salvatore, CEO and president of RMS Companies, whose company built the UConn-Stamford residences. Many include lofts with private rooftop patios, study lounges on each floor as well as private meeting rooms and entertaining areas for student collaboration and socialization.
When Salvatore’s company started the construction project, the association with UConn-Stamford was not yet realized. That soon changed when it became clear the new apartments aligned with UConn-Stamford’s vision. “I think everyone had a belief that it would be successful,” Salvatore says. “The students are living in luxury apartments that are a far cry from what I remember in a dorm room. It was a glove-fit.”
Students at UConn-Stamford appreciate the advantages that draw so many other young people to the city. They enjoy the urban vibe, the proximity to New York City, and amenities such as shopping, entertainment, restaurants Mill River Park, and the coast.
The rent for the apartments is also significantly reduced from similar apartments in the city, sometimes as much as 40 to 50 percent less. Being close to the Stamford Town Center and the variety of inexpensive restaurant options add to the appeal.
Goldstein says former Governor and Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy helped deliver the apartments at UConn-Stamford. During the official ribbon cutting for the opening of the first student apartments, Malloy said: “With leading programs in digital media and business, a location in a vibrant city and access to an established transportation hub linking students to the entire eastern seaboard, it is no surprise UConn-Stamford is growing and thriving.”