Why Fairfield has netted hundreds of newcomers since the onset of the pandemic

Photo of Katrina Koerting

FAIRFIELD — Ashley Langer and her husband spent the past 13 years living in New York City, but they always planned to move to Connecticut.

Langer grew up in Old Saybrook, while her husband is from Long Island. The couple saw Fairfield as a great compromise between the two locales.

The community itself also had everything they were looking for, especially when considering their two young children.

“I just love it here,” Langer said. “It’s fabulous.”

They’re among the hundreds of residents who made Fairfield home in the past year or so — causing the town to rank 10th in net gains in newcomers, according to a CBRE analysis of change-of-address notifications filed with the U.S. Postal Service within Connecticut and New York communities from the Hudson River Valley on down.

Fairfield had 400 net moves in 2020, part of a mass exodus of New Yorkers leaving the city during the COVID pandemic and resulting lockdowns.

The town’s available acreage, beaches, accessibility, shops, restaurants, outdoor recreation, as well as the schools and universities were all drivers for those moving to Fairfield, according to listing agents, those who moved and longtime residents welcoming newcomers.

Langer and her husband experienced the frenzy of people looking and buying during COVID firsthand with the pandemic hitting in the middle of their house hunt. They also experienced the other side of it while selling their Queens home before coming to Connecticut in October.

“It was an absolute rat race,” she said.

They looked at a lot of houses, placing offers on many only to be outbid. They made an offer on the house they ultimately bought in the university area before even seeing it in person, but falling in love with it online.

“It checked all of our boxes,” Langer said, adding it had a home office, home gym, guest room, powder room, a room for each of their daughters and a nice yard.

She also liked the sidewalks, which allow her to get out and walk with the stroller or go for runs. The abundance and quality of restaurants was also a draw. Both are things she enjoyed about living in New York City and appreciates having that continue here with the added accessibility to the highways and stores.

COVID impact

Rick Higgins, owner of Higgins Group, said these are popular features his clients are requesting, especially home offices and yards.

The demand for a yard has really driven interest for the Greenfield Hill neighborhood where there are a lot of two-acre lots, as well as other neighborhoods above the Merritt Parkway.

He said COVID has influenced what people are looking for, including what quarantining or working from home would be like.

“I don’t think people are going to forget the pandemic any time soon,” Higgins said. “It’s always going to be in the back of their minds.”

Fairfield had already been rebounding in home sales but he saw a real spike a month or so into the pandemic.

“COVID brought people out of New York like crazy,” Higgins said, adding the switch to people working from home helped because Fairfield is on the outer limits of what people might consider an ideal commute into the city.

Another appeal is the diversity in housing stock within Fairfield. He said people can get something for $100,000 or $200,000 in certain parts of town, while he also has a listing for $18 million. This allows people to stay in Fairfield as they purchase progressively expensive homes.

“People are buying anything and everything,” he said, adding homes up to $2 million sell fast with multiple offers on the property. The more expensive ones also sell, just not right away.

The demand has backed off a little, but it’s still there with houses receiving four offers instead of eight or so at the peak during the pandemic, he said.

“We’re not at 2007 prices, but we’re getting close,” Higgins said.

Who’s coming

Debbi O’Keefe, founder of ConnectFairfield, said she’s also seeing a lot of the newer residents coming from New York, especially Brooklyn.

She started ConnectFairfield at the beginning of this year to help newcomers meet each other and other residents through various events, including one scheduled for right after the Memorial Day parade at the Scandinavian Club.

“I’m finding there are a lot of people moving to this town,” O’Keefe said, adding about 400 people have joined the group online already — 80 percent of whom moved to Fairfield in the past year.

“Most people are young families who moved here for the community and the schools,” she said.

There are also older people moving to be closer to their grandchildren and young professionals just starting out. A husband and wife decided to come to Fairfield from Rockland County after they learned about the town because their twins attend Sacred Heart and Fairfield universities, O’Keefe said.

She’s largely hearing people chose Fairfield because there was a lot to do, the downtown and the beaches.

“I got to the beach and my jaw hit the sand,” Langer said.

Not just New Yorkers

While a bulk of the newcomers are from New York City, not all of them are coming from across the state line.

Katrina Davis and her husband fell in love with Fairfield as students at Sacred Heart University. After graduating, they stayed in the area, living in surrounding communities like Shelton and Bridgeport, but nothing had that same feeling Fairfield offered.

“We’re very outdoorsy and we wanted to live in a community that had opportunities to be outdoors with our children,” she said.

In February 2020 they started looking for a home in Fairfield. They fell in love with the first house they saw. It was in a nice neighborhood where their children could play outside — something Davis and her husband couldn’t do when they were growing up — and it was close to Jennings Beach.

They looked at some other houses in town, but signed the papers on that first one just before COVID hit last March and moved in September.

“We’re lucky,” she said.

She said it has been hard to meet other families though during the pandemic, which is why she launched the Fairfield Motherhood Cooperative, a group that hosts playdates and meetups for mothers with children 1 to 4 years old. She’s seeing a lot of newcomers there too, largely from New York City.

“A lot is COVID-related,” Davis said. “People were really feeling the pressure of being in their apartments all of the time and not getting out like we can in Fairfield.”

The schools are also a large factor.

Davis is a former teacher and worked in several districts, including Fairfield.

“There are other places that don’t compare to Fairfield when it comes to education,” she said. “We knew we wanted our kids to be in this district.”

Both Davis and Langer said they liked that Fairfield was a large town but still had that small town, community feel.

“Fairfield has something for everyone, and I may be biased because I grew up here, raised a family and started a small business here, but I think Fairfield is the best town in Connecticut,” First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick said. “It’s no surprise to me that many families are choosing to move to Fairfield.”

She said the town has a lot to offer.

“Fairfield is a picturesque and historic coastal community,” she said. “We offer urban-style amenities in a family friendly suburban setting with three train stations, and close proximity to New York. Our excellent schools are an attraction for young families, our two flagship universities provide a pool of talent for businesses, and their students provide youthful energy.”