Amidst the chaos of coronavirus, are families giving up on big cities?
Everest examines why Americans are up and moving to the ‘burbs

For decades, Manhattanites have celebrated the sheer magic of living in the Big Apple. But in a tragic twist of fate, the COVID-19 crisis has transformed New York from the world’s greatest city to the epicenter of U.S. outbreak. Since the very beginning of the pandemic, real estate agents have been fielding thousands of calls from concerned clients—all looking to trade their once urban paradise for the wide, open spaces of suburbia.

While many rich city dwellers own second homes in the country, coronavirus has everyone looking to escape. People who never considered permanently moving from their current homes and rentals are now seriously weighing other options. Beyond New York, similar trends have been reported in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Some real estate insiders are convinced the urban-to-suburban trend is here to stay. Still, others say the latest data doesn’t paint a complete picture of what’s happening. To start, let’s take a deeper look at the current COVID-19 migration patterns.

An urban exodus?

Experts say that in addition to changing how we live, the pandemic is also dictating where we live. With a vaccine still months—possibly years—away in the pipeline, many people are unwilling to ‘ride out’ another wave of shutdowns alongside New York’s crowds.

“Wealthy New York City residents have been moving their money and families into the suburbs as they look to escape COVID-19 and imagine a ‘new normal’ after the virus hit the dense urban city particularly hard, overwhelming hospitals during the height of the pandemic,” writes Daily Voice reporter Zak Failla. “In response to the outbreak, many buyers and renters have been leaving the city en masse and flooding the suburbs, where there is more space and less dense crowds.”

Following the onset of coronavirus, brokers reported a huge spike in activity. In fact, New York ‘expats’ have triggered a sort of suburban renaissance in Westchester County, Long Island, Fairfield County, and other tristate markets. Not only is inventory light, but social-distancing mandates have made it difficult for agents to keep up.

On the move
March-April 2020
 74%      Increase in moves from New York to Connecticut
38%       Increase in moves from New York to New Jersey
48%      Increase in moves from New York to Long Island
50%      Increase in lease signings in Fairfield County
50%      Increase in lease signings in Westport, CT
25%      Increase in lease signings in Greenwich, CT
                                           Statistics reported by NYT; based on year-over-year comparison

With so many professionals temporarily furloughed or working from home, it seems like a smart time to move. But for folks worried about money, their jobs, and the future of the economy, suburban curiosity could be just that—a fleeting interest.

Zillow chief economist: “It’s still early”

When it comes to buying trends, realtors definitely know best. But given how swiftly things might change in regard to the pandemic, many experts are reluctant to draw any firm conclusions from the aforementioned statistics.

“So far, while anecdotal stories abound of people leaving the nation’s biggest cities, there’s no data yet that shows it’s a widespread phenomenon,” says Svenja Gudell, Chief Economist at Zillow Group. “While current and prospective buyers in urban areas are most likely to say the coronavirus pandemic has affected where they want to live, 70% of the nearly 10,000 U.S. adults we surveyed in April say they want to live in an area that is equally or even more urban than the neighborhood where they currently live.”

While we wait to see how things pan out, consider 5 reasons why the great residential move of 2020 is—and isn’t—all about the pandemic.

Top 5 motives for moving during COVID-19

  1. Millennials are moving on

Gudell reminds us that “millions of Millennials are into their early 30s,” which is a key reason why they are looking to move to suburbia. Historically, as young people marry and have children, they have always left the big city in search of more bedrooms, bigger yards, and better school systems. That’s a fact—pandemic or no pandemic.

  1. Home offices are hot

One interesting outcome of coronavirus is the new ‘workplace’ mentality. After things blow over, surveys indicate that 75% of Americans would choose to stay home if their employer gave them the option. Realtors are finding that beyond location, suburban homebuyers are now looking for bigger home office spaces in addition to other amenities.

  1. Short commutes aren’t so coveted

In our newfound work-from-home era, short commutes don’t really matter so much. While young professionals once pined for apartments close to train stations, subway lines, and light rail, they now have the freedom to branch out. Rentals outside of the traditional ten-mile radius are suddenly more attractive (and feasible) during shutdown.

  1. City costs could soon drop

If many families leave at once, the trend could improve current downtown housing problems. That is, metro apartments that were once super expensive—and scarce to come by—may become more affordable and available. Actually, Gudell reports that “among homebuyers who moved in the past year, 55% stayed within their neighborhood.”

  1. The city still has its magic

Beyond work opportunities, people have always been attracted to urban living because of its many incredible amenities. From arts, culture, theater, and entertainment to world-class restaurants and education, that craving won’t dwindle so quickly. Once things start to open up, city dwellers will be reminded of what drew them there in the first place.

Everest says: take care wherever you call home