On May 19, New York City, once the epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic, reopened. While that term is a little ambiguous and a number of infection control measures remain in place, the city appears to be crossing a symbolic boundary into its post-pandemic life. It also means a chance to fully change the story about NYC’s housing and mortgage markets.

While for the past 16 months the city’s real estate market has been dominated by stories of suburban and ex-urban flight, the return of the cultural and economic institutions that made New York the city it is, could spell the return of its titanic mortgage market. Brian Scott Cohen is already seeing that happen.

Cohen (pictured), a senior loan officer with Guaranteed Rate Affinity in NYC, closed significant volume in and around the city through 2020. Now, as the city reopens, he’s extremely excited by a fast-growing resurgence in homebuyer demand and investor interest. He’s positioning himself to capture that market now, utilizing capacity he had deployed in the suburbs during the pandemic and reaching out to his clients and prospects with education on where NYC prices are now and where they could be heading soon. As spring turns to summer, the outlook is better for the city and for Cohen’s mortgage business.

“The New York City market is on fire,” Cohen said. “We’ve had constantly higher sales numbers, week over week. We’re seeing people who moved out of the city during the pandemic that are now coming back. We’re seeing offices reopen at higher capacity and we’re seeing more first-time homebuyers who have just graduated school and are starting to enter the market. There’s a lot of buzz.”

Last year, Cohen made up his volume with more refinances than he would normally, and a greater focus on purchases and refis in the suburbs. Now, while he’s still going after suburban deals, he can focus more on his core Manhattan and Brooklyn business, as well as the Hamptons where bidding wars persist. As the school year ends, he’s seeing a number of buyers looking to return to the city so they don’t uproot their kids mid-year. Yankee baseball is back for fans and both the Knicks and Nets are in the NBA playoffs. Broadway is set to reopen in the fall and Shakespeare in Central Park will be back over the summer. The combination of reopening, school years, and other seasonal factors, in Cohen’s view, are driving buyers back to NYC and prices up.

After more than a year as a buyer’s market, Cohen believes NYC is a seller’s market again. While there’s still inventory in the city, that seems to be mostly focused on new developments. Existing homes and desirable locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn are already in high demand. Cohen is already seeing prices rise.

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To capture this market, Cohen is redeploying some of the capacity he directed at refis and suburban loans towards his deals in the city. He’s also marketing to clients and prospects on the unique moment this city’s market is in. He emphasizes that prices, while rising, are still not at pre-pandemic levels, sparking real opportunity for prospective buyers looking to move in. While he’s seeing a fair bit of investor interest, Cohen’s biggest buying influx are primary home residents and some second-home buyers looking to purchase a pied-a-terre in NYC.

While NYC might have been the test case for COVID-impacted urban housing markets, it wasn’t the only city affected. As other major metro areas reopen, Cohen believes there’s real opportunity for mortgage pros in these markets to win again if they focus on what a reopening really means: the chance to be together again.

“I think this is a nice opportunity to re-engage with the community,” Cohen said. “I think that people are excited to go out to safe events. I would say that now is a great time to plan something outdoors, in the community, to bring people together. I think there’s a lot of people who have been very isolated over the last 12 months, and who would love to get together and be a part of something right now.”