According to a Harris poll conducted in late April, the Covid-19 pandemic has caused 39 percent of those Americans living in cities to consider moving to less densely populated areas. As The Wall Street Journal recently observed: “The lure of leaving the city has increased.”
Real estate insiders agree, reporting a surge in interest for those areas beyond the confines of a city. These enquiries, they say, are fueled by many people having reassessed what’s important to them during lockdown—whether that’s a desire to work remotely in the long term, a wish for more space than crowded urban areas can provide, or wanting the inherent safety of a private and secluded location. And it’s not only suburban enclaves that are benefiting from potential buyers’ interest: rural areas and islands have seen a boom in demand.
Lucienne Smith, a company director of Smiths Gore BVI Limited, has noticed the upward trend in demand for homes in the British Virgin Islands. “After the devastating storms of 2017, we’ve seen a steady return of international investors, with a number of significant sales taking place in the last 12 months,” she says. “However, within a few weeks of the pandemic, we saw an even greater uplift in the number of enquiries from international buyers—perhaps a 25 to 30 percent increase from the start of this year.”
Attracting particular interest is Bella Luna, a property on the north shore of Tortola, and currently on the market with Smiths Gore. Situated above a pristine bay, the residence has no neighbors and offers complete privacy, yet is only a 10-minute drive from town and the island’s ports. It also boasts more than 11,000 square feet (1,022 sq m) of luxurious living space, of which 4,000 square feet (372 sq m) are dedicated to external deck areas.
Buyers are seeking large compounds, which they can easily move to with their whole family. They’re looking to escape—Ashley Robin
According to Smith, inquiries into available real estate are being made by families who may have vacationed in the BVI and then longed for a permanent island home, as well as individuals looking for “somewhere low density, easily accessible, and suitable for remote working, where they could relocate to for a few months of the year if necessary.” They include potential buyers from Italy, Germany and the United Kingdom, along with those from Canada, who typically make up a third of the buying pool.
“Our affiliates have sold many islands, but there’s also a strong interest in working ranches,” says Zackary Wright, Executive Director, Western and Asia Pacific Regions, Christie’s International Real Estate. “Many buyers are wealthy individuals who want the bragging rights of owning a large ranch.” They are not usually hands-on, he adds, and a new buyer profile has emerged: those in search of a safe haven to relocate to with their family.
Old Knowles Ranch has attracted potential buyers’ attention thanks to its 3,929-acre (1,590 ha) location in the remote and scenic Western Chilcotin region of British Columbia. As a working cattle ranch, it is secluded and operates off-grid, with its own hydroelectric system. A number of homes are dotted across its sprawling estate, including an expansive owner’s house, a guesthouse situated on the Chilcotin River, and an estate manager’s house.
When it comes to ranches, Texas holds a special appeal. According to Eric Walsh cofounder of real estate brokerage Ulterre, many landholdings here are bought for their expansive living space and isolated location, rather than a desire to raise thousands of head. This is because the state requires a relatively low livestock holding to qualify for an attractive tax-saving agricultural exemption.
Many potential buyers are wealthy individuals who want the bragging rights of owning a large ranch—Zackary Wright
“For example, on our listing for Twin Mountain Ranch, the taxes are only around 10 percent of what one would normally expect,” Walsh says. Indeed, the property is essentially a residential compound—a beautiful three-bedroom ranch house with a separate, historic three-bedroom house and additional quarters for an estate manager and ranch hand. A five-mile (8 km) dirt track from the freeway exit ensures its remoteness, but Fort Worth can be reached in just an hour by car.
Mountains, lakes, rivers and trees—rather than cattle—are the prime attraction of New York’s Adirondack High Peaks Region, which Slater Anderson, managing director of LandVest, Inc., says is attracting increasing interest. Values here can be extraordinary: the highly secluded 7,000-square foot (650 sq m) Masten House, a well-maintained historic mansion on 46 acres (19 ha) in the Adirondacks, offers eight bedrooms and eight baths, along with access to a private lake.
While New York City or Boston may be four-and-a-half hours away by car, the property—currently on the market with LandVest—is appealing specifically because of its remoteness, says Anderson. “It has a draw for city-dwellers who are keen to escape ‘high-touch’ living environments, such as apartment buildings with elevators.”
That level of remoteness, paired with the breathtaking mountain scenery of Wyoming, has recently received unprecedented amounts of interest, says Ashley Robin, sales associate from Jackson Hole Real Estate Associates, L.L.C. “We’re seeing enquiries from people living in cities on both the east and west coast, as well as Chicago,” she says.
One home with particular appeal, on offer through Jackson Hole Real Estate Associates, is situated in the prime Pine Siskin neighborhood. Nestled on 80 acres (32 ha) within a private estate, this five-bedroom, seven-bath legacy home was designed by noted architect Jonathan L. Foote and has unobstructed views of the Grand Teton. The property also offers a guesthouse, a heated outdoor pool, spa/exercise room, and multiple wine cellars.
Although the estate is truly isolated, Jackson airport brings it close with direct flights to most major U.S. cities including the international gateway of Denver. “People are seeking large compounds such as this one, within a smaller community, which they can easily access with their whole family,” adds Robin. “They’re looking to escape.”