More people from Florida — than any other state — have filed an address change for the areas surrounding Narragansett, South Kingstown, North Kingstown or New Shorham-Block Island since the coronavirus began, according to a preliminary analysis of United States Postal Service data.
About 760 people from Florida requested between March and June of this year that their mail be forwarded to a local address in these towns, according to data The Independent obtained under a Freedom of Information request.
But local officials have said that they attribute the high numbers from Florida — consistent with a similarly high number of 789 last year — to those splitting their time between the two states.
The preliminary data — subject to further analysis based on overlapping zip codes for towns — shows a potentially seven-fold increase from New York for requested address changes to Narragansett, South Kingstown, North Kingstown and Block Island from March through the end of June.
While far less in total numbers than those coming from Florida, the increase over last year is about 625 percent — from 28 to 203 address changes in that same time period. Narragansett was the top go-to spot for those from New York, Florida, Massachusetts and Connecticut.
In addition, the data shows a 28-percent overall increase in the number of people this year compared to last who requested address changes to these four local towns for March through June as the coronavirus has gripped the country.
The Florida address change requests were 450 to Narragansett, 193 to North Kingstown, 75 to Block Island and 42 to South Kingstown, according to a preliminary review that does not yet include Saunderstown — shared by both Narragansett and North Kingstown.
When removing the Florida numbers, about 383 other requests came from people living in New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut — the states providing 10 or more people requesting a change, according to the USPS.
None of this is surprising local real estate agents who say phones are ringing everyday with out-of-state people wanting to buy property in Rhode Island and escape their home state’s woes with the coronavirus.
“People want out of the big cities and with COVID-19 making working from home a necessity, it has made people want to move to Rhode Island and either work from home full time or part time,” said John Krekorian, a long-time South County real estate agent with Re/Max Flagship in Narragansett.
“I am sold out of properties for the first time in that I can remember,” he said.
Kerry Park, a spokeswoman for the Rhode Island Association of Realtors and State-Wide MLS, said that preliminary data for the past six months shows that most out-of-state buyers are coming from the Massachusetts, then New York and lastly Connecticut.
Joseph Wendelken, a spokesman for the state Department of Health said when asked about the influx of people to the state, “We are generally aware of the travel patterns from other states, including Florida.”
He noted that DOH had a web listing with states, including Florida, but not the other three states, where Rhode Island officials advise that people from those locations self-quarantine for 14 days or get tested for the coronavirus. No other actions are taken.
Data Behind the Moves
New Yorkers coming to the Ocean State were the initial focus in March of Governor Gina Raimondo’s self-quarantine orders.
The data, according the USPS rules, does not show changes from states with 10 or less requests citing privacy concerns. In the data provided, only the states of Florida, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York appeared.
With South County’s many beach side communities, it is also a second home to people from other states.
In addition, South County - as with many other states - has a sizable population of people called “snowbirds” who spend the summer months in the Ocean State and return to a warmer climate for the colder fall and winter.
USPS data also does not state the reason for the change, including whether these reflect new home-buyers moving to the state and whether they are individuals, families or businesses.
These changes can include short- or long-term renters, or those who own multiple properties and are shifting their primary residence.
These numbers, local officials agree, are a sampling of the increases that are occurring, but do not include those who have moved to second homes, but continue to have their mail delivered to their primary residences.
Nonetheless, the request indicates that these are people were planning to remain in South County for a while. The USPS data showing the number of change-of-address requests for Rhode Islanders leaving the state during the four-month period was not immediately available.
When comparing the raw numbers, such as the 760 reported USPS changes from Florida to Rhode Island addresses, others were considerably smaller.
In addition to addresses coming from New York rising from 28 to 203, requests based in Massachusetts went from 48 to 140, a 191 percent increase and Connecticut showed Nutmeggers logged 40 requests, up from 26 the year earlier, a 54-percent increase.
While Florida’s actual numbers dwarfed all of these, according to the USPS data, they are actually lower than the 789 requested address changes a year ago.
As might be expected, requests within Rhode Island were the largest overall of any group, according to the USPS data. There were 1,015 requests for this year compared to 1,054 last year.
This nearly four-percent decrease during the March-to-June time period represented the first months of the pandemic when quarantines and various other restrictions in the state remained strict and people severely limited any exposure to people outside their own households.
Ripple Effect on Real Estate
Local real estate brokers say they are seeing an uptick in out-of-state interest in Rhode Island because in some ways it has been spared from the worst effects of the coronavirus and is seen as a safe haven amid a pandemic scare.
“We are experiencing unprecedented buyer demand as people look to move from urban areas,” says Ray Mott Broker/Co-Owner of Mott & Chace Sotheby’s International Realty, representing buyers and sellers throughout South County.
“It could be a place near the shore, a great suburban property with a yard or a condo that has private entrances. For sellers, it is an opportune time to list and for buyers looking for alternative lifestyles. The low interest mortgage environment is compelling them to act now.”
Judy Chace, broker/co-owner of Mott & Chace Sotheby’s, said, “We expect that the market is approaching a period where the number of sold properties in 2020 may eclipse the number of sold properties in 2019 on a weekly basis.”
“People are going to be continuing to look for investments a little closer to home, hoping to find a place outside the urban areas and ride out any type of situation we might find ourselves in in the future.”
At Residential Properties, Ltd. In Narragansett, which also represents buyers and sells in the area, Robin Leclerc offered the same assessment of buyers’ interests in the area.
“I have numerous buyers I am working with now, that have either inquired to vacation here in Narragansett this summer or wanting to purchase,” she said.
“It seems that all of their reasonings are the same, that “they need to escape somewhere” so they are not in lockdown in their state,” Leclerc added.
She also pointed out that numerous cancellations came in the immediate March aftermath of state-imposed restrictions, but as these were gradually lifted “everything got booked up again,” she said.
“The fact that this has drawn people to our state that have never been here before, is opening up the buying clientele, which is great too,” she said.
Shannon Buss, an agent with Randall Realtors in North Kingstown said, “I am hearing from our agents that there in an influx of out of town buyers shopping for second homes. The demand for rentals has also returned.”
Krekorian, of Re/Max Flagship, said properties that are in desirable locations and well maintained are facing bidding wars among potential buyers and are sold within 30 days of listing.
“Rhode Island in general is suffering from record low inventory when we need it the most with rock bottom interest rates and buyer demand,” he said.
Town Officials’ Views
Rhode Island has seen a drop-off in virus deaths after an early spike, and that is an attractive feature to those living out of state, said some town managers from South County.
“The 28 percent increase over last year may be indicative of folks returning to Rhode Island earlier than usual due to the fact that Florida is identified as a ‘hot spot,’” said Narragansett Town Manager James Tierney, whose town has seen some of growing numbers of people coming into it.
He said people moving into the area could have an impact on increasing COVID-19 transmission if they fail to follow guidelines for quarantining upon arrival, social distancing and mask wearing.
“It remains important to follow these protocols,” Tierney said, and not cause disruptions — a reference to some recent business complaints about disorderly patrons refusing to follow guidelines for social distancing and mask wearing.
He did not, however, specify people from outside Rhode Island as the cause, but addressed the matter generally.
In North Kingstown, Ralph Mollis, said that the figures for address changes are not surprising.
“North Kingstown, along with Narragansett, Block Island and South Kingstown have for years been a destination for individuals who look to summer in Rhode Island or have a second home or their primary of two homes here in Rhode Island,” he said.
“With all that these communities have to offer, combined with some of the areas mentioned being hot spots during the months of March and April and the some of the successes we’ve had in facing COVID, I’m not surprised that 2020 saw an increase in the number of individuals as compared to 2019,” he said.
Robert Zarnetske, town manager in South Kingstown, offered, “Municipalities succeed or fail based on the suite of services and attributes they offer. People vote with their feet and we’re seeing that in these data, I think.”