Homeowners from NYC and beyond discuss moving to CT during COVID – CT Insider

Newcomers from New York City and Los Angeles bought homes in CT during a competitive pandemic market.

Photo of Nicole Funaro

JD Müller (right) and wife Alini (second from right) sold their Stamford home to find a larger home to accomodate their growing family. The Müllers currently have three children: (from left to right-center) 7-year-old Chloe, 10-year-old Mayah and 7-year-old Payton, and they are expecting a baby in August 2022.

JD Müller (right) and wife Alini (second from right) sold their Stamford home to find a larger home to accomodate their growing family. The Müllers currently have three children: (from left to right-center) 7-year-old Chloe, 10-year-old Mayah and 7-year-old Payton, and they are expecting a baby in August 2022.

Felipe Castro Photography / Contributed Photo

Amanda Gabbard and husband Michael McGuirk moved to Ridgefield, Conn. from Manhattan during the COVID-19 pandemic. Two years later, the couple said they

Amanda Gabbard and husband Michael McGuirk moved to Ridgefield, Conn. from Manhattan during the COVID-19 pandemic. Two years later, the couple said they “could not be happier” with their life in Connecticut.

Courtesy of Amanda Gabbard / Contributed Photo

Interior designer Schuyler Samperton was visiting Litchfield County from Los Angeles when she fell in love with the town of Lakeville. She closed on a home in the area in January 2022.

Interior designer Schuyler Samperton was visiting Litchfield County from Los Angeles when she fell in love with the town of Lakeville. She closed on a home in the area in January 2022.

Courtesy of Schuyler Samperton / Contributed Photo

Neil Phillips (left), daughter Riley (center) and Stephanie Phillips (right) in their Darien, Conn. home. The family relocated to the area in 2020 after living in New York City's East Village. 

Neil Phillips (left), daughter Riley (center) and Stephanie Phillips (right) in their Darien, Conn. home. The family relocated to the area in 2020 after living in New York City’s East Village. 

Elleyett Photography / Contributed by Stephanie Phillips

These buyers purchased homes in Connecticut’s COVID-19 real estate market. / Contributed Photos

Stamford pastor JD Müller wasn’t planning on selling his family’s home — especially not now, as the market wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic created minimal housing inventory, sky-high prices and steep competition. But with a baby due in August and his family of five already outgrowing their space, finding a new place to call home suddenly became his top priority. It also became the second time he bought home since 2020.

The Müllers aren’t the only ones relocating in the time of the pandemic market. Some packed up their lives in New York City as the pandemic took hold and put down roots in Connecticut. Others came from as far away as Los Angeles and as near as neighboring towns seeking space and community connection.

These are the stories of four families and their decision to buy a home in Connecticut during the pandemic.

NYC couple’s three-month CT quarantine turns into two years of homeownership


Amanda Gabbard and husband Michael McGuirk moved to Ridgefield, Conn. from Manhattan during the COVID-19 pandemic. Two years later, the couple said they

Amanda Gabbard and husband Michael McGuirk moved to Ridgefield, Conn. from Manhattan during the COVID-19 pandemic. Two years later, the couple said they “could not be happier” with their life in Connecticut.

Courtesy of Amanda Gabbard / Contributed Photo

Amanda Gabbard and her husband Michael McGuirk lived in New York City for over 21 years. The makeup artist and her actor/singer husband, however, saw their time living in the city’s East Side draw to a close as the COVID-19 pandemic settled into the area. 

“We had every intention of sticking it out in New York.” Gabbard said in an email. “It wasn’t until around week three that it started to cross our mind when we talked to friends who had gotten out. All of a sudden, the thought of being able to take the dogs for a walk or the trash out without having to suit up in protective gear and clean ourselves off before stepping foot back inside started to sound intriguing. And most importantly — safer.”

They found themselves in search of a quarantine location away from New York City, and they “packed everything in two days and left.” They landed in New Canaan, Conn. where they thought they would quarantine for three months. But those three months spurred a love affair with Connecticut and a home search, and eventually the duo purchased a home in Ridgefield.

Two years later, Gabbard said they “could not be happier” living in Connecticut.

“We had gotten out of Manhattan after 20-plus years for what was supposed to be a quick three-month stay in Connecticut,” Gabbard said in an email. “Of course, all that changed when we fell in love with the area and happily stumbled on the magical town of Ridgefield which, we realize now, must have been calling our names.”

Of course, the move to suburbia came with some adjustments, starting with the additional space that comes from owning a home versus renting their Manhattan one-bedroom apartment. Gabbard said she has “more closets than I know what to do with” and will “still squeal with excitement over closet space.” But among the most surprising transitions for Gabbard was the new life she and her husband would come to build so quickly. 

“The one thing that we did not realize about moving to our new home here was the community that came with the town itself,” she said. “Ridgefield really does have a tremendous heart and soul. We saw that firsthand with the new neighbors that quickly became friends and realized it extended throughout the town as more things opened up post-COVID.”

Gabbard and McGuirk have since woven themselves into the fabric of the town. Gabbard said her husband is working as a real estate agent for William Pitt Sotheby’s International in Ridgefield and on the board of the Chamber of Commerce and the Newcomer’s Club. He is also putting his theater skills to use, getting involved in ACT of CT’s production of “Jesus Christ Superstar.” 

As for Gabbard, she’s busy growing her clientele for her beauty business in Connecticut and Manhattan, and she said living away from the city makes her “appreciate it so much more now that [they] have a balance in [their] lives.”

“I will never completely break up with the ‘Big Apple,’” she said. “I simply state that ‘I’ll always love you, we just can’t live together anymore. We’re better off as friends.’”

While they never planned to seek out suburban life, Gabbard said she is grateful to now call Ridgefield home. 

“Being happy with our move would be an understatement,” she said. “Not a day goes by that we do not realize how lucky we are to not only survive the pandemic, but also realize that the path it lead our lives on has enabled us both to grow in ways that were never even on our radar.”

Los Angeles interior designer finds second home in ‘beautiful, bucolic’ Lakeville


Interior designer Schuyler Samperton was visiting Litchfield County from Los Angeles when she fell in love with the town of Lakeville. She closed on a home in the area in January 2022.

Interior designer Schuyler Samperton was visiting Litchfield County from Los Angeles when she fell in love with the town of Lakeville. She closed on a home in the area in January 2022.

Courtesy of Schuyler Samperton / Contributed Photo

East Coast native Schuyler Samperton found her way back to the Northeast, and all it took was a visit with a friend and a near-miss with COVID-19. 

The Los Angeles-based interior designer closed on a Lakeville home in January, and now uses the Litchfield County property as a second home and office space as she expands her interior design business to Connecticut. So far, she says her time in Connecticut is the perfect contrast to life in Los Angeles.

“I don’t feel like we’re in the middle of nowhere; it’s sort of the perfect-sized town for us,” she said. “There’s certainly not the traffic that we have to contend with in Los Angeles — that’s a huge plus. We get to drive down really beautiful streets and see beautiful houses…it just makes your blood pressure lower just being here.”

But her route back to the Nutmeg State was far from direct. Samperton grew up in Washington, D.C., and came to Connecticut when she attended college at Hartford’s Trinity College. She continued her stint in the Northeast when she attended New York University and Parsons School of Design. The interior designer moved out West, taking her skills to Los Angeles and setting up Schuyler Samperton Interior Design and an adjoining textiles business. But when she visited a college friend in Litchfield County’s Lakeville last year, Samperton said she fell in love with the area. 

“I stayed there for a week and [my friend] brought me all over Litchfield County,” she said. “I got to know the different towns, and I just really fell in love with it. I just thought it was so beautiful, and it was completely different than Los Angeles.”

Samperton went from Lakeville up to Maine to visit her partner, but once she arrived, she realized she couldn’t stop thinking about Connecticut.

“I kept daydreaming about the different towns I had seen,” Samperton said, and it spurred her to place an offer on a home she never saw and leave Maine to tour it in person.

When the friend she was staying with tested positive for COVID-19, Samperton said she had to quarantine in Connecticut for two weeks. Though she ended up not buying the house she originally put an offer on, she “found another place that I totally loved” as she took solo “jaunts” around the area. After closing on the home at the start of 2022, Samperton said purchasing the property in Litchfield County allows her to expand her business locally and in the greater New York market, noting the area is “a great place to be for business.”

Samperton said she’s grateful to have landed in the “beautiful, bucolic calm” of Litchfield County.

“My COVID experience ended up working to my advantage because I was able to spend even more time here and get to know the area,” she said. “It never would have happened had that little COVID monkey wrench not happened.”

Former East Village residents ‘have no regrets’ about moving to Darien


Neil Phillips (left), daughter Riley (center) and Stephanie Phillips (right) in their Darien, Conn. home. The family relocated to the area in 2020 after living in New York City's East Village. 

Neil Phillips (left), daughter Riley (center) and Stephanie Phillips (right) in their Darien, Conn. home. The family relocated to the area in 2020 after living in New York City’s East Village. 

Elleyett Photography / Contributed by Stephanie Phillips

In 2020, there was an exodus of New Yorkers who moved to Connecticut as the COVID-19 pandemic settled into the Northeast. Real estate agent for Houlihan Lawrence’s Darien office Stephanie Phillips was one of those Manhattan movers; she and her husband left their East Village home in March 2020 when she was four months pregnant with their daughter, Riley. 

“The number one reason we left the city was that I was scared of how COVID may affect my pregnancy…we really felt we couldn’t escape crowded areas at the time it was considered a hotspot area, and the suburbs felt much safer at the time,” she said.

A Connecticut native from Burlington, Phillips and her husband Neil lived with her parents for eight months while house hunting in Stamford, Norwalk, Greenwich and Darien. The family eventually purchased a house in Darien in May 2020 and settled into the home after some renovations by October. 

Nearly two years after they purchased their Darien home, Phillips said her family is “definitely very happy” with their decision to live in Connecticut, especially now that most events are in person again. Their home’s location to the nearby Metro-North train station in Darien allows them to visit the city easily.

“We don’t even need to get in a car; we can just walk over to the train station and pop into the city when we want,” she said. “My husband is still working from home, but when he does [go back to the office], it will be super easy.”

The family’s house hunting process in 2020 also inspired Phillips to become a real estate agent. Now she uses her buying experience to advise her clients who are trying to buy in the competitive market spawned by COVID.

 “You have to be a little cautious, and you could certainly take your time during the house hunting process,” she said. “Things move so quickly that you don’t want it to be a year later and then, ‘Did I take too long and now homes are continuing to appreciate?’ I know it’s scary seeing a home in 15 minutes, but if you feel you love it, jump on it.”

In addition to helping others find their next homes, Phillips is on the newcomers’ committee for the YWCA of Darien, which she said has helped her meet and befriend many locals through play dates for children or wine tasting events for adults. 

“I think we’re finally building roots in town, which is a great thing” she said. “We never did that in the city. I think that was always looked upon as a temporary thing. But now, it’s like, ‘OK, this is home,’ and we love it here. I have no regrets about leaving the city.”

Stamford pastor on a mission to buy and sell to make room for growing family


JD Müller (right) and wife Alini (second from right) sold their Stamford home to find a larger home to accomodate their growing family. The Müllers currently have three children: (from left to right-center) 7-year-old Chloe, 10-year-old Mayah and 7-year-old Payton, and they are expecting a baby in August 2022.

JD Müller (right) and wife Alini (second from right) sold their Stamford home to find a larger home to accomodate their growing family. The Müllers currently have three children: (from left to right-center) 7-year-old Chloe, 10-year-old Mayah and 7-year-old Payton, and they are expecting a baby in August 2022.

Felipe Castro Photography / Contributed Photo

JD Müller and his wife Alini moved to Stamford from Houston, Texas in 2013 with a mission to start a church in the community. That mission led to the creation of Connect Community Church in Stamford. The family of five purchased a home in Stamford in 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic was ramping up. Two years later, the soon-to-be family of six is set to move again — but this time, they are staying close. And they had the added pressure of having to sell one home and buy another at the same time in a highly competitive market.

“We weren’t thinking of selling and moving because the market is so crazy,” he said of the Stamford home they will soon move from. “With this house, we have three bedrooms and we had to convert one of them into office space…so we have three kids in one bedroom and an office in the third bedroom and with a baby on the way and my eldest just entering the age where she needs her own space, we were like, ‘We might have to bite the bullet and go for it.’”

Generating interest on their home was simple. They put their house on the market on a Friday morning and had one offer that night, Müller said. After a three-day open house, they had six offers. 

“Saturday and Sunday, we had so much traffic; it was only a three-hour window from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” he said. “Our agent was like, ‘At one point, I think you had more than 50 people in your house.'”

The Müllers accepted an offer on their home, but the deal fell through. At the same time their home was up for sale, Müller said his family was looking for their next house. While they hoped to stay in Stamford, they put offers on three homes in Weston — all of which they lost to bids that were thousands of dollars above the asking price. Eventually, Müller said he saw a house come up for sale by its owner in North Stamford, and he jumped at the opportunity schedule a tour. 

They toured the property in February and had only 15 minutes to do so. Müller said they put an offer in, and while the home had multiple offers — some higher than theirs — they ultimately got accepted. 

Now their current house goes back on the market as the purchase of their next home is pending. Müller said his experience of shopping in the current market taught him to think beyond the immediate gratification of winning an offer on a home to what makes most sense for his family long term. 

“Don’t compromise the future of your family or your life or your finances with a 30-year mortgage on an emotion that’s built up from a time of extreme stress,” he said. “We’re making permanent decisions on temporary emotions…Be logical and act your wage.’”

No matter how logical a buyer is, Müller said there is no denying the way homes can tug at the heartstrings, especially when it comes to visualizing the future of his family.

“We have a baby on the way — everything is emotional now,” he said. “It’s family planning. It’s personal. It’s dreaming. I’m looking at the house, and I’m not seeing the value of the property, I’m seeing my family and my kids. I’m seeing my child learn to walk there. I’m seeing Christmases. It’ so easy to get wrapped up in that emotion and not actually be objective about what you’re getting yourself into.”