Earlier this pandemic summer, while stuck inside my one-bedroom apartment with only the internet to keep me company, I came upon the engrossing Instagram account of New York City real-estate agent Esteban Gomez. Although Gomez typically deals in expensive downtown apartments, after real estate in the city came to a halt in the spring, he began playing matchmaker between clients and quarantine-friendly homes all over Upstate New York, Connecticut, and Long Island. His account only has some 2,583 followers, but it provides the complete country-house fantasy: Mid-century modern homes that come with a quarry pool or border 86 forested acres, 1700s farmhouses with at least five fireplaces, monochrome contemporary retreats set on hillsides — all presented in simple white-bordered photos or narrated video tours that last up to 15 minutes.
Gomez rebranded himself @thecreativesagent (tagline: “Property Advisor to New York’s Creative Industry Leaders”) only a year ago, and it turned out to be very good timing. Interest in homes outside the city is surging, but his set of clients (often artists, designers, photographers, and the like) have no interest in suburbia: They want rural charm, maybe a pool, and, if possible, a house with a story to tell. Gomez, who worked for 15 years on the retail and wholesale sides of the fashion industry before turning to real estate, gets this. He also takes what he learned from buying his own weekend home in Connecticut to offer advice on finding the right house and all that comes after — from painters and contractors to furniture, lighting, and gardening.
“Secretly, I’ve always wanted to be the most famous concierge in all of NYC,” Gomez says. “The person you go to for anything and everything.”
What makes a dream house for your clients right now?
My clients are really into these polar extremes, nothing in between. No gray areas. What I mean by that is it’s either modern or antique, not cookie cutter. It’s not that they’re only looking for mid-century or only modernist homes. I personally like a stone house, I like a farmhouse — and my clients do too.
I’ve been trying to connect the dots between certain communities and my clients. If you’re feeling pressure to get out of your apartment, or you have a family and just want to give them some room to breathe, where are you going to look when everybody else is looking? It’s like a school of fish all moving at the same time; it’s crowded. What I’m trying to do is become almost like an aggregator and make my [Instagram] page feel almost like you’re shopping on Net-a-Porter. So that you say, Oh there’s good architecture and nice homes in New Paltz, or in Stockton, NJ, or in Ghent, NY, or, Where is Redding, CT? What is that community all about? I try to celebrate the most interesting properties on the market, and I celebrate the listing agents because I know how challenging our line of work can be.
How is working from home affecting people’s real-estate calculations?
People at this point are already used to what’s been going on with COVID-19 and the social restrictions. What is pretty common across the board is that they’re okay with being two hours from the city, or an hour and a half, because they feel — and maybe this is going to change in a year or two — that they can work mostly remotely. So rather than saving or looking for that one-bedroom apartment in the city, they’re seeing that their first home purchase is in a community outside what used to be their main place of work. I think people are excited about that; they’re excited for a change. For a long time, a lot of my friends were frustrated by the real-estate market in the city because they just couldn’t buy into anything they were excited about.
The buying pool used to be people with families, maybe a little bit older. Now I definitely see people who are younger. People who have the abilities or the means or have been saving for years to buy a one-bedroom apartment in the city and now they could potentially buy five, ten acres or more and a mid-century modern house.
What else is everyone looking for?
Sufficient space to have a vegetable garden. They’re picking up all sorts of hobbies and passions, and learning how to cultivate your own food is at the top.
During showings, [clients] kept saying, “This is where we should put the vegetable garden.” I always give them this tip: You have to be able to at least see it from your kitchen window. When we put a vegetable garden in our house [in Connecticut], we were horrible farmers because it wasn’t close enough to the house. We couldn’t keep a good, consistent effort on tending to it. And you do have to tend to it every single day and maybe even multiple times a day. There are rabbits; there are squirrels; there are bugs. There’s all kinds of stuff that’s going to eat your food if you don’t watch it.
What else do you advise your clients on when buying a house outside the city?
You won’t have a doorman; you won’t have a super; you won’t have a porter, and the city doesn’t clean your driveway. [My clients] see two acres and this really pretty farmhouse and fantasy kicks in: How am I going to set up the porch? Where am I going to set up my flowerbeds? But there are things you have to think about: What are your taxes like? What does it cost to maintain the property? If there’s quite a bit of lawn, or if it’s hilly, you’re more than likely not going to be able to take care of it yourself. Unless you know how to handle yourself with an axe and can stack birchwood about eight feet high, you’re probably going to need some help. You’re going to have to hire people. How much does it cost to heat up the house in the winter? What happens when it snows? How much do I expect to pay for each plow? That barn that comes with the house is incredibly adorable, but how old is the roof? Is it insulated? All of these things I try to give them a heads-up on.
A lot of people are like, I need to live in a place that’s not that rural, because they watched too many crime dramas or too many TV shows where it’s like the “creepy country.” They’d be like, Should I have an alarm system? It’s a foreign thing. You’ve got to deal with certain fears — maybe it’s too quiet and there are not enough people around. But it quickly goes away once you realize this is the best night’s sleep you’ve gotten in maybe ten years.
What’s the best house you’ve seen this summer so far?
One of my favorites I saw was this one in Simsbury, CT. This home was from an architect of the era — 1950s — and it was held in the same family for 60 years. It was in such amazing condition and was priced at $290,000. It has an acre of front and back yard, and it’s in an enclave that’s filled with flat-roofed homes from the ’50s. A lot of people messaged me about it, but that home was maybe on the market for two days and it had 12 or 15 visits. They got an accepted offer after two days.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.