By Diane Saatchi
Ask anyone: The traffic this year is unbearable. The crowds are setting records. This August is worse than ever before.
Or is it?
In reality, August isn’t so different from July. There are slightly heavier crowds, slightly hotter weather, slightly more events — yet there’s just an energy, an aura that’s uniquely August. It’s like a peculiar and month-long out-of-body experience.
As far as why this is, I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I’ve come to no conclusion but do have some ideas. Primarily, I think it has to do with the sense that time is running out. The season is short, and August represents the beginning of the end. The end of “the lazy days of summer” and the beginning of a new year.
The end of summer means different things to different people
The Hamptons is two towns with a collective year-round population of about 80,000. It is 55 miles from end to end with a land mass of about 267 square miles. What was once a farming and fishing community is now largely a resort/service economy.
That evolution has created two groups of residents: the native families with a long history in the area, and the so-called, year-round “summer people.” Other than the work that keeps the locals safe, educated, sheltered and supplied, the industries exist to service the part-time residents: the summer folks and the many others who vacation year-round in the Hamptons.
For 10 months of the year, the diverse full-time populations co-exist happily and peacefully. Everyone agrees this is nirvana; a bucolic, safe and friendly place. Yet on peak weekends, there may be as many 300,000 people moving about roads and using services and an infrastructure designed for less than a third as many people. It’s then more hustle than peace.
A new academic year is more emotionally significant than the calendar year. January 1, with its late-night parties, noisemakers, and overindulgent buffets, pales in comparison to the days after Labor Day when everything is different one day to the next. The days are longer, foliage turns, toddlers become school children, and college kids leave for school and discover, just like we did, that home is never the same.
In the last few weeks of the season, the “summer people” start to dread the goodbyes to summer friends. They worry about leaving, and perhaps about not having found that summer romance. It may be decades since we had the stomach-upsetting first day of school anxiety, yet, it does not take much to be re-acquainted with it. The transition from summer to fall evokes all kinds of powerful memories, from a relocation planned for the start of the school year to leaving a grandparent (Remember On Golden Pond?), to wondering and worrying about class and teacher assignments. And to tie this to real estate (sorry, I can’t help myself) it’s when almost everyone with or without a summer home thinks about selling it or buying one.
While the local residents welcome Labor Day because they can get their town back, they have their own reasons to be anxious. Because most businesses bring in the majority of their income in the summer months, the end of the season is the last hurrah. To earn enough to get thought the year, many folks work seven-day weeks. Their anxiety is not about parties and benefits, or playing all the golf rounds and tennis games, but about making enough money to pay the bills until next July. Local workers are exhausted in July, and by August, when the summer people are or seem to be the most demanding, they are almost delirious.
That said, it’s not all in your imagination
I know I said August is only a little worse than July, and probably not all that much worse than it has been in years past, but three things have made August 2018 even more, well, August-like.
1) There is a significant shortage of summer help this year. Politics aside, the Hamptons, like many communities, have come to depend upon migrant workers for seasonal work. For obvious reasons, many businesses did not go that route this year. The results are staff shortages, longer waits for services and more workers coming from “up-island” to fill the needs — thus adding to the already too heavy traffic.
2) Mobile phone service is just awful. This isn’t new this year, but it is increasingly worse. There simply are not enough towers to support the demand. It’s nerve wracking to be sitting in traffic, late for appointments, and unable to communicate with those waiting for you. It’s painful for everyone, and it makes the day-to-day that much more stressful.
3) The real estate environment is changing. If you’ll indulge me for a minute, I’ll point out a third culprit that affects perhaps a smaller segment of people—nearly all brokers and the owners hoping to sell their properties. It’s been a slow build, but 2018 has been a turning point in how brokers work with buyers and sellers. Information about the market that was once exclusive to agents is now available to the larger public, and that’s been mostly positive. However, it has changed the relationships between buyers and their agents, who once upon a time were trusted and asked to find a clients’ perfect new home. Now, many customers and agents interact only shortly, viewing individual properties. Those customers miss out on the benefit of working with someone they know and trust and who also knows the property and the neighborhood. It also has made the herculean job of scheduling appointments even more complicated.
Eventually we’ll figure this out, but in the meantime, we’ll wait in traffic, curse at our cell phones, miss messages and end up with disappointed customers and annoyed homeowners. It happens all year long, … but when you consider the high expectations and low patience of the last days of summer, it really is worse in August.
© 2018 Diane Saatchi