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Wealthiest NYers using charter jets, private teachers to avoid COVID risk

From chartering private jets for trips to hiring private teachers for their kids, the wealthiest of New Yorkers are able to insulate themselves from the pandemic's effects.   Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara, Raychel Brightman

In mid-March, when it became clear that there was about to be a shutdown because of the pandemic, many New Yorkers stocked up on basics like toilet paper, rice and beans. One subset of New Yorkers, however, did something else: They called a charter airplane company.

“Whenever a region was shutting down, it’s been like a game of whack-a-mole,” said Nick Tarascio, CEO of Ventura Air Services, a charter company based at Republic Airport in East Farmingdale. “The people in New York were trying to fly to their second homes in Florida. Then, when Florida’s numbers were way up, those same wealthy people wanted to go out West.

“People were saying, we have the money and we are going to make sure we are never in a hot spot.”

The outbreak of COVID-19 is having vastly different effects on Americans depending on the size of their bank accounts. The wealthiest have found ways to reduce the risk and stress caused by the pandemic, which has already killed more than 170,000 people nationwide: moving to safer more secluded homes, hiring private teachers and bypassing the European vacation for more COVID-friendly, if not less pricey, modes of recreation.

Long Island has felt the impact of this most in real estate.

The U.S. Postal Service logged 25,000 changes of address from New York City residences or businesses to Long Island from March through June of this year. Many of these so-called COVID refugees landed in the Hamptons, home to some of the priciest second home communities in the country.

“There is no such thing as an offseason in the Hamptons any more,” said Hara Kang of Douglas Elliman Real Estate’s Atlantic Team. “Not this year. With renting, people want to be out here at least through February. And longer.”

Demand has been up across the board at all price points and not limited to the Hamptons, according to broker Deborah Hauser, who is chief operating officer of Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty, headquartered in Cold Spring Harbor.

“It’s insane. We can’t keep up with the thirst people have,” Hauser said. “Average sales price is up about 5% across Long Island. The biggest problem is inventory is down about 30% and in the North Fork and Hamptons more than that.

“Everyone wants a pool, many want an extra bedroom for guests or a home office or both, they want to be near golf courses. They also want privacy. Even if it’s not a lot of property, there’s some fear for their health.”

The North Shore, because of its proximity to golf and boat clubs, has become a new rental hot spot.

Matthew Silpe, a dedicated Manhattan resident for the past 30 years, never thought he would return to the North Shore near where he grew up. Since May, however, he and his family have been decamped to a $25,000 a month rental with a pool and tennis court on several acres in Locust Valley. And he likes it so much that he has Lowell Ackerman, an agent with Daniel Gale Sotheby’s, helping him look for a home in the area to purchase.

Silpe said it has been an "incredible escape" from a Manhattan he no longer seems to recognize since the beginning of the pandemic.

 “I didn’t realize how much I was going to like having the space and a lifestyle where I can walk outside and have a backyard and nature and tranquility," said Silpe, who is the COO of June Jacobs Labs, a skin care manufacturer for a number of brands including Peter Thomas Roth. "It’s me and the birds  and tranquility.”

Education options

The advantages of having money, however, aren’t limited to having a nice house.

Few subjects have caused more stress for Long Island parents than what to do when school reopens. For most, there are few good choices. Remote learning in the spring was a nightmare as many tried to hold down full-time jobs while basically homeschooling their kids. Now, depending on their school district’s plan, they are either facing the prospect of doing the same thing again or potentially risking their family’s health by having their children return to an indoor classroom where it isn’t always clear how crowded it will be or what precautions are being taken.

There are options, however, for those who can pay for it.

The Ross School in East Hampton, a K-12 not-for-profit private school founded by Courtney Sale Ross, the widow of Time Warner chief Steven J. Ross, plans to open full time with 15 tents and six outdoor classrooms on its 63-acre grounds.  Students will be organized into learning pods to minimize exposure to other students.

The fact that tuition ranges from $22,700 to $45,000 hasn’t been a huge barrier as enrollment in the elementary school grades has more than doubled from 75 students to more than 150, according to Andi O’Hearn, the school’s head of advancement and operations.

“Most of this is people from the city who owned second houses,” O’Hearn said. “It’s about safety.”

Another option for affluent parents is Avenues: The World School, a private school with a campus in Chelsea that is opening a satellite campus in East Hampton this fall called Avenues Studio Hamptons. The for-profit school, which has a pupil list in New York that reportedly includes Suri Cruise, the daughter of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, charges $48,000 a year for its satellite campus, according to its website. The school has room for 60 students, grades 4 through 11. According to a published report, the school has received a dozen queries for every available space.

One creative and slightly more affordable avenue is to form a pandemic pod, or micro-school, for a limited number of children and hire a teacher. Abby Brody, who left the city for her parents’ house in Westhampton when the pandemic hit, has done exactly that.

Brody, an educator who does marketing for Schoolhouse, a micro-school company, has both a son and a husband who are in remission from cancer. Last year, both her sons went to private school in the city. This fall, she is reconfiguring her parents’ kitchen so that it can host a small group of children – six students in kindergarten through third grade.

“Last year was awful. I was trying to oversee their distance learning while trying to keep a job while the world was falling apart,” Brody said. “So much stress….I’m a dual working household. Distance learning puts us at a huge disadvantage. I was getting pushed out of the workforce. It was no option for me.”

Schoolhouse, which was fortuitously founded by two teachers in January, helps parents open micro-schools by providing a teacher and, if needed, helping form a pod. In the tri-state area, Schoolhouse is projecting it will have approximately 100 pods this fall.  Cost begins at $14,000 per child for a full-time teacher for a pod of eight.

Affluent parents have always had an advantage when it comes to college admissions, but this year that may be magnified as many high school seniors have had multiple college entrance tests canceled because of the pandemic.

Some private schools, including the Ross School, plan to hold ACT or SAT tests exclusively for their students this fall.  Marek Fuchs, a professor who has a writing chair at Sarah Lawrence College and is a high-end SAT/ACT tutor, had a client in the Hamptons that literally went the extra mile this summer to solve that problem.

“It’s test tourism,” he said. “They told me they were flying out West, I think it was Montana, where the test was open. When I expressed some concern for their safety on a long plane flight, they explained that they had a charter jet share.”

Travel, recreation choices

For many Long Islanders, vacations this summer have been limited to a new wading pool in the backyard or social distancing at a nearby park. Those with more disposable income, of course, have found other ways to ameliorate the stressful impact of living in the time of COVID.

Tarascio of Ventura Air Services said since the pandemic started he is reaching a new customer, the first class or business flyer who formerly may have resisted private aviation because of concerns about the appearance of opulence or the environmental impact. Forty percent of his new business since the pandemic has been people who say they have never flown privately before.

“It’s a completely different value proposition than it was six months ago,” Tarascio said. “There are people I knew who had the money before, but they would tell us they could never justify spending it to fly around. Now, your life is on the line…..I’m now the popular guy at the party.”

Flying privately means you control whom you are flying with, get closer to your destination and avoid spending a couple of hours inside an airport terminal. While business travel is virtually nonexistent during COVID, vacation travel this summer has exploded, Tarascio said, with popular destinations including Aspen, Colorado, Jackson Hole, Wyoming and Montana. He is currently adding a jet to his fleet that will be able to fly to Europe.

Private aviation, of course, is not inexpensive. Tarascio said that flying an eight-seat jet from Farmingdale to South Florida round trip would cost $14,000, or about $1,800 per person. By contrast, a first class ticket on Delta Air Lines from LaGuardia to West Palm Beach departing on Monday costs up to $1,198 depending on departure time.

Prefer traveling by water instead of air? Boating long has been another popular escape for affluent Long Islanders, and COVID has caused a mad scramble for boats at all price ranges.  Strong’s Marine, one of the region’s largest recreational boat businesses, is experiencing historic lows in inventory, according to Bridget Rymer, Strong’s director of marketing.

“We have been buying boats from dealerships as far away as British Columbia to meet the demand,” Rymer said. “We didn’t know what to expect in March when we closed down, but we could see from our website analytics there were a lot of people dreaming about things they could do and escaping. Then when things started to open back up again, we saw it honestly explode. Our [sales] leads were tripling and even quadrupling in some categories.”

Demand has been strong in all categories – from 18-foot sport boats to superyachts, where the entry price starts at $1 million.

“Usually if you sell a handful of yachts in a season that is a lot of yachts,” Rymer said. “This year, we have sold through much of our yacht inventory…..What’s surprising is that usually when you see someone spend a million and a half on a boat, it’s a process that takes three or six months and they want to customize. Now, it might take a couple of weeks. People might say I want that boat, it’s there, can you deliver it next week?”

Boats aren’t the only mode of recreational transportation hard to come by. RVs, once not associated with the high-end traveler, are suddenly hot with everyone from families with a little disposable income to the jet set, offering the prospect of a vacation without having to deal with commercial airplanes, hotels and public restrooms.

This summer, Justin Bieber and his model wife have been “glamping” at various parks around the country in a Marathon Coach vehicle that cost more than $1 million and features three flat screen televisions, a sauna and fireplace. The RV Industry Association says that shipments of recreational vehicles jumped 45% from May to June this year with many dealers reporting that they can’t keep up with inventory.

“It became very clear that this wasn’t pent up demand,” said Monika Geraci, a senior manager of marketing strategy and operations at the RV Industry Association. “There are a lot of people who had never considered an RV showing up at people’s lots and buying. More than 55% of sales are going to first-time buyers.”

— with Daysi Calavia-Robertson

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