Melissa Golden/The New York Times

A rent deposit slot at an apartment complex

August 10, 2020

Ithaca Housing Market Sees Double-Digit Increases in Real Estate Activity

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As students begin to move into Collegetown apartments for a hybrid semester, property managers in the area have been making many adaptations.

In anticipation of students returning to campus in the fall, properties like Collegetown Terrace and 312 College Avenue have partnered with Cayuga Medical Center to coordinate free on-site testing for residents.

Throughout the summer, they’ve already made additional concessions to meet current Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for businesses, such as sanitizing frequently touched surfaces and potentially closing common spaces like gyms. After classes went fully remote on March 13, Collegetown Terrace even made and delivered meals to its tenants during the spring.

Despite online classes, occupancy in Collegetown buildings remained high during the spring semester, but decreased significantly during the summer as classes ended.

Steve Fontana, owner of Fontana Apartments, said he was “surprised [by] how many people stayed in their apartments after March 13,” attributing the numbers to some international students’ fears that they wouldn’t be allowed back into the country, the relative safety of Tompkins County and some residents’ desire to get the most out of their college experience.

Since Cornell’s reopening announcement June 30, landlords in Ithaca have reported an increase in lease signings. Looking forward, Fontana predicted that there will be “an increased demand for quality housing at the lower price point,” a trend he has observed following many economic downturns since he began managing Ithaca properties in the 1980s.

Although many Cornell students sign leases at the very beginning of the school year, there were many properties in Ithaca that still had vacancies in the spring. To fill these vacancies, property managers had to get creative.

“When the whole pandemic just started, we actually went around to all our properties, and created three-dimensional renderings as well as virtual tour videos of every property,” said Charlie O’Connor, co-founder of Modern Living Rentals.  “We did a lot of site unseen leases that were signed, and they actually didn’t see the apartment [in person].”

Through such efforts, Modern Living Rentals was able to reach just under 100 percent occupancy. O’Connor said that he was satisfied his new tenants felt the process was convenient given the circumstances, and that such a strategy eliminated the risk of viral spread.

A report from McKinsey & Company attributed advantages to those landlords who’ve invested in technologies like virtual open houses, predicting that the pandemic will foster permanent changes in the real estate landscape. O’Connor said that virtual tours could also increase the efficiency of filling vacancies caused by forfeited leases.

In addition, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.) extended the moratorium on evictions until Sept. 4, responding to the financial hardships experienced by tenants during COVID-19.

So far, the domestic housing market has rebounded relative to its pre-COVID-19 stature and is “now following a recovery trajectory” according to Forbes. Ithaca has followed suit, with real estate activity strengthening in June, according to a report by the Ithaca Board of Realtors.

Since May, new listings and pending sales in Ithaca increased by 12.3 and 27.2 percent, respectively. Housing has maintained its position as an essential good even during the recession, providing hope that other markets will soon follow with the path to recovery.