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The great 2020 exodus

One realtor’s view


FORESTBURGH, NY — Pandemic shutdown notwithstanding, Deborah Jagel of Cabins & Canoes Real Estate has sold 17 homes in the past two months.

That sounds like a lot.

“It is,” she said. “We’re working at a frenzied pace to meet demand many times the norm.

“Most of my buyers are married professionals in their 20s and 30s,” says Jagel. In normal times, people wait until they are established in their careers and have a reasonable degree of financial security. “But these are not normal times.”

What are these young people hoping to find in Sullivan County? “Safety and some degree of normalcy. They’re looking for a place where they can let their shoulders down and build a life with some measure of certainty. The only certainty they have now in the city is continued uncertainty—about their jobs, their homes, their health and their physical safety.”

It’s not just Jagel seeing a rush of potential buyers. All real estate agents have been intensely busy recently. (See related story, “Local realtors rejoice.”)

“We are so lucky to have a very cooperative group of realtors in our area,” she added. “This trying time is when our bonds tighten, helping each other in any way we can.”

First it was the COVID-19 pandemic, then the resulting economic shutdown and financial meltdown, and now civil unrest in the wake of George Floyd’s killing by Minneapolis police. All of those events have made urban life look less attractive and more dangerous to many young people.

“When they call me, they’re panicked. They want to get out of the city and into the country as soon as possible. And, honestly, we don’t have enough inventory for all of them,” says Jagel.

What can they do to help you help them? “They can come to me prequalified for a mortgage; if they have that guarantee, I can help them move quickly.” What else? “They can be flexible in their selection of properties. I tell them not to be particular about the house, but to look for property that they love. Most houses have issues. Rarely does one meet all of the buyer’s expectations. Houses can be altered, properties not so much.”

Assuming they have mortgage prequalification, how long will it take to find and close on a property? “That depends. Everyone is in a rush, so triage is necessary. One of our more urgent purchases is by a woman eight months pregnant with her first child. Her husband is on military deployment to an aircraft carrier in the Indian Ocean, and she needs to close before July 1. I had to find her a new obstetrician in the county, so that she can give birth here.”

That seems like service above and beyond the real estate norm. “We’re not selling properties. We’re selling new lives. This is not a frivolous purchase. This is a purchase that will change lives and life paths. My rule of service: If I wouldn’t buy it, I won’t sell it.”

A fourth-generation entrepreneur with 38 years of real estate experience, Jagel began her work life expecting to be a kindergarten teacher. No sooner had she completed her student teaching than she turned to the business that would become her life’s work.

Still, her kindergarten teaching experience has not been wasted. A big part of her job is giving urban dwellers a primer education on the practicalities of rural home ownership. “They come here knowing nothing about septic tanks, wells, water pumps and other things they need to understand before making an informed buying decision.”

So they find a property, then what? “Then we find them a banker, a lawyer, a renovation company and/or general contractor, and sometimes also doctors, dentists, churches, whatever service is important and necessary to the start of their lives here.”

Real estate agencies are working hard these days. And “no matter the company,” Jagel said, “our goal is the same, to help our clients with the highest service possible under our current state guidelines.”

She added, “We need to be their sunshine while making the sales experience as seamless and painless as possible.”

Jagel has an empathetic grasp of the culture shock experienced by urban dwellers moving to the country. Although her home here was purchased in 1993, she and her family moved here only four years ago from Chicago. They’ve all settled in nicely since; her children now run the Forestburgh General Store.

This is not the first exodus from NYC. There was a massive move from city to country after WWII, another in the 1970s, and, most recently, one after 9/11, the latter also motivated by fear and uncertainty. But many of those who came here then have since moved away. Is this migration part of a new, ongoing pattern of American life, or just safe harbor from a storm?

Contact: Deborah Jagel, Cabins & Canoes Real Estate, 312/852-7500


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