Poll: Pandemic Making Suburbs More Appealing

May 1, 2020

Some real estate forecasters predict a wave of people moving from the city to the suburbs in search of more space in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While 30% of Americans say they’ve browsed a real estate site recently, according to a Harris Poll conducted April 25-27, urbanites are twice as likely as suburbanites (43% versus 26%, respectively) and rural dwellers (21%) to have been looking for homes and apartments to buy or rent. Nearly a third of Americans are considering moving to less densely populated areas due to the coronavirus, the Harris Poll shows. Further, nearly four in 10 respondents—39%—are urbanites who say the health crisis has prompted them to consider moving to the suburbs.

In the post-coronavirus real estate market, suburban areas with sprawling McMansions in more remote locations may increasingly be more in demand. “Suddenly, it’s hip to be private, spacious, and quiet,” John Downs, a real estate pro with Berkshire Hathaway in Connecticut, told The Wall Street Journal. Downs notes that he has had an increase in calls about remote properties from people who live in urban areas.

CNBC also reports an uptick among New York’s wealthiest residents who desire to move their families to surrounding suburbs and exurbs as they look for a less crowded lifestyle. They’re seeking more space and distance from neighbors and crowds, brokers say. For some, this may be a second home that is a short drive to the city, while others may want to make the move more permanent. “It seems like everyone wants to leave the city,” Steve Magnuson, a Douglas Elliman broker in Greenwich, Conn., told CNBC. “Our problem is not enough inventory for sale. We’ve been on the phone 24/7 and on email.”

Magnuson recently rented a five-bedroom home with an infinity pool in Greenwich for $55,000 a month—a record high for the town. The rental is now available again but is listed at a more expensive price—$65,000 per month—and has a waitlist of 18 people desiring to rent it.

People in the city who are eyeing suburbia are looking for a more spacious place to run, walk, and ride bikes. Wealthy buyers are also focusing on homes with a pool, large home office, and strong internet and cell services, Magnuson notes.

Could the rush from city to the suburbs be temporary, as it was following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks? Brokers report a momentary shift in the market during that time as more people fled the city. But they quickly returned, driven by overseas buyers and young professionals. Even without an exodus, brokers are still banking on a desire for second homes to grow among the wealthy after the pandemic. “Being able to go someplace not far from your home, where you have a home office and can keep your friends and family safe—that’s number one,” Magnuson told CNBC.

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