When I entered the real estate business in 1980, conventional wisdom had it that sales were seasonal. No one bought after Thanksgiving, nor in the summer. Active sales kicked off on January 15 and accelerated as the weather warmed into spring. All the moms left town after June 15, so nothing happened again till after Labor Day. Then the market bustled along till Thanksgiving, which initiated the turkey coma that lasted (with a little tryptophan boost from Christmas dinner!) till the new year began.
I had reason to revisit this calendar-based view of the market recently while I reviewed our August sales numbers, which were more robust than those for either July or September. I believe that the assumption of market seasonality, like so many assumptions based on past experience, doesn’t really hold up. Changing demographics and life patterns in our environment have rendered the old pattern obsolete. Today Mom is likely to be working at her own job, so the chances are good that she is spending plenty of time in the city during the summer. Similarly, slightly lighter work schedules for many people between mid December and mid January have also made that a busier time for looking at, and bidding on, property. The rental market was always busiest in the summer, and the buyers of smaller units also tended to be active then, in both cases so they could be settled for fall. Now we have seen that trend extend to larger units as well, as the notion of seasonality shows itself to be increasingly obsolete.
The change in who works, and for how many hours every day, has also substantially impacted another piece of conventional wisdom: that young families move to the suburbs to raise their kids, then move back to the city when the kids are grown. Increasingly New York families try to skip that middle stage of leaving town if they can. Commuter life, as conceived in the postwar period, depended on a 9 to 5 workday and a stay at home wife, complete with station wagon for ferrying the kids around. Longer workdays, and the increase in two career families, have turned this paradigm on its head. Who wants to work a ten or eleven hour day with a train commute on either side? When do you see your kids? Who is spending the evening with them if neither of you gets home till 9 or 9:30?
The main reason we hear from people choosing the suburbs nowadays is financial. They WANT to remain in the city but prices in the suburbs have plummeted so that they can’t afford NOT to consider a move. The majority stay in town if they can. That way they can have dinner at home with the family at a reasonable hour and commute by subway, or cab, or on foot, usually for no more than half an hour.
Frequently our paradigms become outdated and we don’t notice. Familiarity is reassuring. But in fact things change, and we need to respond to those changes, as agents or buyers or sellers, if we hope to make the best decisions for ourselves, our businesses, and our families.