The COVID-19 pandemic and associated shift to working from home have transformed the location and feature requirements of both homebuyers and renters, according to companion surveys of more than 1,000 consumers and 600 real estate professionals by Homes.com. The “new normal” is fueling more moves from cities to suburbs, more long-distance moves, and new space and amenity demands while also prompting sellers to be more selective in a market where 95 percent of transactions are receiving multiple offers.
A majority of these moves are likely to be permanent, with nearly three out of four consumers who have moved or planning to move to take advantage of remote work opportunities reporting they will not return to their pre-pandemic residences.
The long tail of the pandemic is expected to impact agents and brokers at least into 2021 as well. With the virus continuing to batter the country and interest rates remaining low, 57 percent of respondents to the industry survey expect homebuying activity to remain at current robust levels for the next 12 months. An additional 28 percent predict even more transactions next year.
“The surge in the work-from-home population has rewritten the playbook for many home-buying and rental decisions, from when and where to relocate, to what people are looking for in their next residence,” said Homes.com President David Mele. “That, in turn, is prompting changes for real estate professionals, many of whom are expanding their market area to better serve clients who are moving farther than before. If working from home becomes standard operating procedure for many companies, as predicted, these changes will be with us for years to come.”
The surveys also found that:
One out of three consumers who moved in the last 12 months did not plan to move before COVID-19 hit. In a related finding, nearly one out of four consumers who moved in the last 12 months or plan to move in the next 12 months report their decision was sparked by a change in their job situation, presumably caused by the pandemic.
Forty-five percent of respondents said they would move if given the chance to work remotely, with 20 percent indicating that remote working was the reason they moved within the last year.
The ability to eliminate commuting as a factor in home or rental choices has substantially altered consumers’ location requirements, with 32 percent of agents and brokers reporting city-to-suburb moves as the No. 1 change and 23 percent ranking fewer requests for proximity to public transportation or highways in the No. 2 spot.
Forty percent of consumers who have moved or plan to move are relocating more than 100 miles away, with half of those moving over 500 miles. Roughly 30 percent are moving from cities to suburbs, and another 15 percent are looking for even less populated areas.
Home feature preferences have shifted substantially during the pandemic, with 78 percent of real estate professionals citing client requests for home offices as the No. 1 change followed by larger square footage (57 percent), outdoor recreational spaces such as pools, hot tubs and decks (45 percent) and upgraded kitchens (44 percent). These adjustments illustrate the effect of today’s work-from-home and e-learning needs on creating a practical and comfortable living environment.
Both homeowners and renters are relocating, with 39 percent moving to single-family existing homes, 23 percent to apartments, 10 percent to condo/townhouses and 10 percent to single-family new construction. The rest were opting for room rentals in a private residence (6 percent), moving back in with parents or family (4 percent) or unspecified (7 percent).
The sellers’ market created by the large number of buyers as well as below-average inventory has reduced sellers’ flexibility. According to respondents to Homes.com’s industry survey, many are now less likely to accept a contingency (69 percent), show a house without a pre-approval letter (59 percent), negotiate on repairs (57 percent) or negotiate with buyers for a quick sale (40 percent). Only 17 percent of respondents indicated little change from pre-COVID-19 behavior.
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