See which CT towns gained or lost residents in 2020 - and how parts of New York and New Jersey fared

Construction proceeds in April on a new home just off Stanwich Road in Greenwich.

Construction proceeds in April on a new home just off Stanwich Road in Greenwich.

Alexander Soule / Hearst Connecticut Media

A new study provides conclusive evidence of Connecticut’s appeal as a residential destination during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In 2020, Connecticut received a greater share of new arrivals than New York towns and villages spanning the lower Hudson River Valley and on Long Island.

Lower Fairfield County landed eight of the top 10 slots for net gains in newcomers in 2020 in New York and Connecticut, according to a CBRE analysis of change-of-address notifications filed with the U.S. Postal Service. CBRE is a Dallas-based commercial real estate services and investment firm.

Households file a single change-of-address form for all family members sharing the same last name, with anyone in the household having a different surname filing an individual form. That leaves open the possibility of the gross numbers including multiple individuals from the same household.

Westport led Connecticut and New York with 2,731 incoming changes-of-address offsetting 2,059 outgoing as reported to the U.S. Postal Service, for a net gain of 672 households and individuals to edge East Hampton, N.Y., at the tip of Long Island.

Also placing in the top 10 of the CBRE study were pockets of Stamford, Darien, Fairfield, New Canaan, Ridgefield, Shelton and Trumbull.

“Connecticut certainly fits into broader themes you are seeing around the country,” said Matt Mowell, an economist in the Boston office of CBRE who co-authored the study. “Migration really wasn’t a huge story everywhere — but it was a really big story when you are dealing with cities that have this poisonous cocktail right now of being very, very high density and high cost.”

Working remotely

For those with working lives that depend upon proximity to New York City, the COVID-19 pandemic introduced the new variable of remote working allowances by employers when it comes to the choice of where to live.

Coupled with constraints in entertainment draws in the city, that has led to a boom in Connecticut’s real estate market, as Manhattanites have pounced on the best options there and in outlying counties in New York and New Jersey.

Putting the finger on why any one town proves a bigger draw than another is difficult, but Westport’s mix includes neighborhoods with appealing homes and leafy vistas; easy access to the water at Compo Beach, Sherwood Island State Park and private associations; Main Street dining and shopping options; and relative proximity to Manhattan.

“Westport is renowned for its access to the city plus its cultural assets [like the] Westport Playhouse,” said Candace Adams, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices New England Properties. “It offers all the amenities.”

ZIP codes with highest 2020 net move-ins in New York and Connecticut

ZIP code

Municipality

Neighborhood

State

2020 Net

move-ins

06880

Westport

CT

672

11937

East Hampton

NY

663

06611

Trumbull

CT

516

06840

New Canaan

CT

499

06877

Ridgefield

CT

484

14534

Pittsford

NY

468

06820

Darien, Noroton Heights

CT

455

06484

Shelton, Huntington

CT

441

06903

Stamford

CT

413

06824

Fairfield

CT

400

Source: CBRE analysis of U.S. Postal Service data

That appeal produced a wave of bidding wars for properties in the past year, spilling over into other Connecticut locales.

A section of West Hartford had the highest Connecticut gains outside of Fairfield County last year (one rung ahead of Oxford). A portion of midcountry and backcountry Greenwich also placed in the top 25 regionally along with Madison, while ringing up huge sales and listings.

But plenty of other communities saw gains, stretching as far as the eastern end of Connecticut, where coastal Mystic and its winding Mason’s Island byways ranked in the top 65 of more than 1,800 neighborhoods regionally included in the CBRE analysis.

The real estate boom had an immediate impact on Connecticut’s state budget: the state received an additional $113.8 million in conveyance taxes between July 2020 and this past March, compared to the same window a year earlier.

The question facing analysts now becomes how the larger Connecticut economy — and, by extension, state finances — will benefit if the pandemic reversal of years of out-migration turns into a sustained influx.

Manhattan employers, for example, may consider setting up satellite offices in Connecticut, which could entice even more workers into the suburbs. Wealthy sellers, meanwhile, may choose to stay local rather than heading for traditional retirement states like Florida and the Carolinas.

Local moves

The data also shows that many Connecticut residents are choosing to stay local, even as they up-size for extra space or cash out to seize on a fierce seller’s market they may never see again.

Some are choosing to move within their hometowns or within a few hours drive, allowing them to stay tethered to family or work situations.

In the pre-pandemic year of 2019, Connecticut had already a higher percentage of movers who stayed local than in counterpart counties in New York and New Jersey. That trend became even more pronounced last year, with 66 percent of Connecticut movers staying within their county, versus about 55 percent across 18 counties in neighboring downstate New York and central and northern New Jersey, which parallel the density and demographics of Connecticut.

In Fairfield County, 1,500 more movers stayed within the county limits than in 2019. Only five tri-state counties in the Hearst Connecticut Media analysis had any kind of a gain; rural Sussex County, at the north tip of New Jersey, was the only other county to record more than 100 intra-county moves.

Connecticut also edged the New Jersey counties for an aggregate reduction in the number of people moving at least 500 miles — the window for retirement magnets in the Carolinas and Florida — while eight New York counties saw a sizable jump in those longest-distance moves.

Trey Reynolds was able to sell his Stamford property in the past year, after several years of offers coming up short of his asking price. He said the couple that bought it relocated from another Stamford address — but that they were able to do so thanks to New York City buyers putting in an offer on their own house.

Reynolds, a senior member of the executive placement firm RSR Partners, said that the same trends that have benefited Connecticut in the past year could prove a threat as well, given the increased willingness by employers to give key personnel wide latitude in deciding where to work in the era of Zoom conferencing.

Reynolds also noted that many of those individuals are financially astute, and quick to assess what tax advantages states may have to offer; New York and New Jersey have floated higher taxes on their wealthiest earners, while the Connecticut General Assembly is weighing multiple tax increases as well.

“There has been a great deal of churn, with people ... who were unable to sell their houses, who finally do and move out of the state,” Reynolds said in an email.

After the Internal Revenue Service reported two consecutive years of declining income and employment tax collections in Connecticut, the state turned the corner in 2019. But collections remained 0.8 percent below their levels of five years earlier when Connecticut was slogging its way out of the Great Recession, even as IRS payments surged 20 percent over that same stretch from New York earners and businesses, and 10 percent from those in New Jersey.

Where to work, where to live

The CBRE study shows that a cohort of “uptown individuals” — educated young urbanites who already have a higher propensity to move — left city centers at a 30 percent higher rate in 2020 than in the previous year, choosing newly purchased homes and rentals in suburban and exurban areas.

CBRE counted the biggest outflow from the midtown Manhattan district roughly south of the line between the Empire State Building and the United Nations campus on the East River, which saw nearly 6,400 individuals or families move out on a net basis.

Among Connecticut cities, downtown New Haven had the biggest exodus, with a net outflow of more than 1,300 movers. Pockets of Bridgeport, Hartford and Stamford also saw more departures than new arrivals.

But while cities dominate among neighborhoods that saw net losses, some towns are sprinkled among them, including Canaan and Kent in Litchfield County; and Groton and its Noank and Groton Long Point necks, just west of Mason’s Island on Long Island Sound — despite an ongoing hiring boom at General Dynamics’ Electric Boat submarine plant in Groton.

Still, all three towns saw improvements from a year earlier, as the case for roughly three of every four towns in Connecticut.

CBRE theorizes that city refugees may return whenever the risk of infection subsides, as apartment owners lower rents to draw them back. But Stamford, Norwalk and New Haven have seen an accompanying boom in new apartment construction, as well as smaller towns like Fairfield and Trumbull, that provide alternatives to the big city for younger renters.

“Pretty much every metro [area] you look at, the urban core apartment occupancies fell,” Mowell said. “But what’s interesting is that if you look at suburban submarkets, [apartment] occupancies held steady. ... The apartment market suggests you have a shuffling of renters right now.”

In time, many of those transient renters may be looking to buy — if sellers or developers put homes on the market they can afford, and Connecticut otherwise provides life and career fulfillment compared to other locales, whether in the New York City region or elsewhere.

“I think there was a lot of hyperbole out there about what’s going on — people saying, ‘Oh, this is the death of cities,’” Mowell said. “The people with means and resources — especially people raising kids in the city — are [changing] their minds and wanting more space. But not everybody’s becoming a homesteader and moving to ... Montana or Vermont. Most people are still tethered to the economic nucleus that is Manhattan or Silicon Valley. They are just moving farther out — and that’s why the numbers for Fairfield County are really jumping off the pages here.”

Includes prior reporting by Ken Dixon, Paul Schott and the Associated Press.

Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman