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Urban Areas Still Appeal to Homebuyers

For more than a year, analysts have understood that the pandemic-related telework trend is shaking up the housing industry, but they have had to dig deeper to understand the ways those changes are impacting home-location preferences and to predict the potential permanence of such changes.

Despite the rollout of vaccines and loosened social-distancing recommendations, remote work is here to stay for many Americans, and that will continue to impact the housing market, experts say.  A U.S.-based survey of 5,000 working adults found that four in ten workers expect to have some form of continued remote work flexibility post-pandemic, says Chris Salviati, Senior Housing Economist at Apartment List, which conducts original research, analysis, and data on America's real estate market. He adds that 19% expect to have a hybrid arrangement that allows for remote work multiple days per week, while 21% expect that they’ll have the ability to work exclusively remotely.

"This unprecedented step-change in how workplaces are organized is weakening the link between job choice and housing choice, and remote workers are already taking advantage of this newfound freedom to move at higher rates," Salviati noted in a summary of Apartment List's report. "Understanding the geographic preferences of this group is now more important than ever, as their migration trends will have the potential to disrupt housing markets across the country."

During the earlier months of the pandemic and related lockdowns, speculation about massive migration from urban centers to suburbs abounded, but studies over ensuing months showed the "widely discussed pandemic-driven sprint to the burbs" was more like a "jog." (Or as Bloomberg put it, the so-called "urban exodus" was more of an "urban shuffle.")

We also learned from several sources that this migration was in effect even before the pandemic.

Apartment List's survey found that while 19% of remote workers moved over the past 12 months, compared to 13% of workers whose jobs require them to be on-site, most of the additional moves were local.

The survey showed that 57% of teleworkers who moved in the past year stayed within the same city where they had already been living, while 20% moved to a new metro and 12% crossed state lines.

"For comparison, data from the Census Bureau shows that from 2018 to 2019, just 9.8%of Americans moved to a new residence," Apartment List reported. "Although the Census data is not directly comparable to our survey data, this disparity nonetheless indicates that the pandemic seems to have prompted more moves over the past year than would typically occur."

Looking toward the future, 42% of telecommuters say they are planning to move over the next year, compared to 26% of on-site workers. And remote workers are more likely to be planning local moves as well as moves to a new city.

As for the specific factors influencing planned relocation, housing affordability and the ability to attain homeownership emerged as key factors, according to Apartment List, implying that some of the nation’s most expensive housing markets could see an outflow of remote workers who are ready to purchase homes but can’t afford to do so.

"Remote workers place high value on being close to family, indicating that some who are ready to settle down may move back to the places they grew up. And although many remote workers moved for nature during the pandemic, forward-looking plans show that urban areas still have high appeal, and this is likely to grow as city-life begins to regain its vibrancy."

The full report is available at apartmentlist.com.

About Author: Christina Hughes Babb

Christina Hughes Babb is a reporter for DS News and MReport. A graduate of Southern Methodist University, she has been a reporter, editor, and publisher in the Dallas area for more than 15 years. During her 10 years at Advocate Media/Dallas Magazine, she published thousands of articles covering local politics, real estate, development, crime, the arts, entertainment, and human interest, among other topics. She has won two national Mayborn School of Journalism Ten Spurs awards for nonfiction, and has penned pieces for Texas Monthly, Salon.com, Dallas Observer, Edible, and the Dallas Morning news, among others. Contact Christina at christina.hughesbabb@thefivestar.com.
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