Inside the journeys of 4 millennials ditching New York for Florida to escape winter — and oppressive lockdowns — in favor of boating, tennis, and the beach

  • New Yorkers in their twenties and thirties are moving to Florida for the winter.
  • Snowbirds from the city  have long spent the colder months in the Sunshine State — but this is the first time ever that millennials, who can work remotely, are joining the flock, too.
  • So many snowbirds are migrating south this year that there are bidding wars over rentals, according to South Florida real-estate agents. 
  • "I would say there's a 500%, 600%, 700% increase from last year to this year in rental demand," Miami broker Chad Carroll told Business Insider. "We used to get a call or two a day, now we're getting 10." 
  • Business Insider interviewed four millennials journeying to Florida for the season, who said they're happy to escape the cold and thrilled by the prospect of outdoor activities all year long.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Alissa Farina rode out the early days of the coronavirus pandemic in her tiny Manhattan studio.

But with the inevitable sub-zero temperatures of a Northeast winter made even harsher by looming COVID-19 restrictions on dining, gyms, and social activities, the 24-year-old entrepreneur decided to move south — to save her sanity.

When the lease on her West Village apartment expired in the fall, Farina didn't renew it. Instead, like her retired neighbors have done for decades, she packed up and headed to Florida, with grand plans to spend the winter working remotely while reveling in Miami's square footage and sunshine. 

"I have a one-bedroom here that is probably twice the size of my New York studio," said Farina, founder of the fitness clothing brand Alina Sol, who is also saving about $300/month on rent. "I'm very focused on working out, and I have the opportunity to go to the gym here, to be outdoors, and access the beach."

As coronavirus cases spike in New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio has warned a total shutdown might be mere weeks away. But in Miami, a balmy climate allows for comfortable outdoor dining year-round — as well as other activities from boating to tennis. And the freedom to enjoy what resembles a pre-pandemic life is what lured Farina and other citified young professionals, creating a whole new generation of snowbirds. 

"A lot of New Yorkers are moving down. I know a few friends who are here from the city," Farina added. "It's been very positive just being out of the cold weather and the gray skies. It's a much better lifestyle for me."

'A 700% increase' in rental demand

Farina is just one of a posse of twenty- and thirty-somethings — millennials currently range in age from 24 to 40 — with the resources and flexibility to make Florida home for the near term. 

In a typical year, the Sunshine State sees its population increase by 5 percent in the winter, according to NASA. At least 800,000 elderly residents relocate for the season, a study by the Journal of Gerontology found.

But in 2020, young'uns are changing the game.

The bigger-than-usual influx of winter transplants — also due in part to international travel restrictions that prevent Americans from decamping to other warm-weather destinations — is boosting rental markets from Miami up to West Palm Beach, according to local real-estate professionals. 

"I would say there's a 500%, 600%, 700% increase from last year to this year in rental demand," Chad Carroll, a top South Florida broker who was a star in Bravo's "Million Dollar Listing Miami," told Business Insider. "We used to get a call or two a day, now we're getting 10." 

In addition to fun-in-the-sun vibes, the ones hailing from New York will also get some real-estate bang for their bucks.

Farina's rent decreased from about $2,000 to about $1,760 a month. The median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Miami is currently $1,710, according to Zumper, while the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan is $2,575. And it's not like those higher Big Apple prices fetch more space. As of February 2020, the average size of an apartment in Manhattan measures 703 square feet, RentCafe found, while the average size of an apartment in Miami measures 891 square feet. 

Demand is so high for a finite number of apartments that daily prices of short-term rents are poised to nearly double in South Florida this winter, according to a November report by Forbes. After analyzing data from short-term rental sites Airbnb and VRBO, West Palm Beach-based property manager Farid Gazizov predicts daily rents will jump from $220 per month in January 2019 to $240 in January 2020, and from $234 per month in February 2019 to a whopping $468 in February 2020.

Young snowbirds can just 'pick up and go'

The vast majority of these inquiries, Carroll said, are coming from millennials in the Northeast itching to escape the confines of their apartments.

Take Kimberly Lewis, who told Business Insider that her decision to leave New York for the winter for the first time was an easy one. 

The couple was working from their roughly 1,200-square-foot apartment in Manhattan's trendy Chelsea neighborhood when they plotted a move to Boca Raton for the winter when their lease ended in October. They traded up: their two-bedroom in tony Boca is about 2,000 square feet.

"We thought about what it would be like to be in our apartment in New York this winter, and how terrible that would be," said Lewis, who is in her mid-thirties. Because their jobs are flexible and they don't have kids, the couple was able to "just pick up and go."

And demand just keeps going up, in spite of Florida's spike in COVID-19 cases and a 7 percent positivity rate. The bulk of cases and deaths are in Miami-Dade County, according to Local 10 news.

"We have bidding wars right now," Clelia Maufroy, a real-estate associate with ONE Sotheby's in Miami, told Business Insider. "What you see this morning might not be available this afternoon."

And while the typical snowbird season begins around mid-October or early November in South Florida, Maufroy continued, this year, inquiries and relocations began during the end of August and early September.

Florida's longtime allure for New Yorkers

South Florida isn't a new winter hideaway for chilly Manhattanites. In fact, Miami is often referred to as New York City's sixth borough.

The South Florida region, made up of Monroe, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties, is a popular year-round vacation spot with pricey second-home markets long known for attracting wealthy New Yorkers.

Tommy Hilfiger, for one, is selling his $47.5 million estate in Greenwich, Connecticut, according to the Wall Street Journal, because he and wife Dee Ocleppo plan to spend more time in a Miami home they've yet to purchase. (Their current Miami mansion is on the market for $24.5 million, Variety reported.)

Frank Acosta, cofounder of the dairy and grocery delivery service Manhattan Milk, similarly found himself lured by the siren song of the Sunshine State — even before winter.

In March, right at the onset of the pandemic, Acosta drove to Florida for what the 40-year-old entrepreneur called a "well-needed break." After about five weeks, he returned to the his Financial District apartment. His subsequent adjustment to the climate, plus working and living in the same high-density neighborhood, took a toll. 

"It was very dark. And because of that, I started dealing with daily depression," he told Business Insider. "I was becoming lethargic."

For a growing number of digital nomads, enabled and emboldened by the expansion and normalization of remote work in 2020, South Florida may just be a pit stop.

Farina, for one, is already conferring with her friends about potential next moves come spring. New York remains a tantalizing option — but it depends how the city survives the winter.

"There's talk about what's after that," she added. "Are we all going to go back to New York in June? I don't know."

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