Scoffers label it, ‘panic-moving.’ Others call it common sense. Wherever you stand, there is little doubt that, as the pandemic continues to surge, the flight of families from city to suburbs is picking up steam across the nation.
“Young New York couples typically put off a move to the suburbs until after the birth of their second child,” said Elizabeth Nunan, president of Houlihan Lawrence, a leading New York residential brokerage. “It gives them time to save some money and enjoy the perks of city living until the need for space and the cost of childcare make the family-friendly suburbs a better choice.”
But circumstances have flipped the concept on its ear.
“Living in the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic left most New Yorkers justifiably fearful,” Nunan said. “Theaters and restaurants have all but shut down and, perhaps most important of all, thousands of parents now working from home see that as a continuing possibility at least part of the time.”
For many, Nunan observed, the idea of trading crowds and traffic for a safe space with an outdoor garden quickly grew in appeal - and the perfect storm of changing priorities, professional opportunity, and low interest rates makes it sensible to move up the timeline.
A move to the suburbs is costly.
“The entry price point for a single-family home in Westchester, Greenwich, and similar areas within easy reach of the city is close to $2 million,” Nunan said, “and yet the search for such homes is up some 60 percent over this time last year because, in the age of coronavirus, no one wants to share an elevator or other facilities in a less expensive condo or co-op.”
And the market is hugely competitive.
“It’s definitely a seller’s market,” said Nunan. “Couples are draining their savings, dipping into retirement, getting help from their parents, or pulling cash out of the stock market. Some are making all-cash offers to help them prevail in a multiple-bid situation.”
Atlanta Realtor Debbie Sonenshein, a luxury home specialist with Coldwell Banker, sees a similar dynamic.
“The market revved up fast here in Atlanta,” she said, “where local buyers are competing with buyers flooding in from out of state for upscale homes in the Atlanta suburbs, where a good-sized property with a pool and maybe a view is less costly than in other areas.”
With inventory low, Sonenshein said she and her team are selling new-on-market, single-family homes in good condition for somewhere between $1.65 million and $4 million depending on size, location and features.
“Many of my buyers are in health-related fields,” she said, “young doctors, nurses, people in medical product manufacturing or technology who want to move their families away from cities and hospitals into safer spaces. Others just want to be able to grow tomatoes and bake bread with their kids in a cleaner, greener environment.”
The team frequently makes use of 3D home tours and other visual technologies, Sonenshein added, to help clients narrow their choice, greatly reducing the need for in-home showings.
“We have far fewer homes than we have enthusiastic buyers,” she said. “In-person showings are for serious buyers only, and you’d better be prepared to move.”
Perceptions can vary about where the suburbs begin and end.
“People in San Francisco see Oakland as a suburb, while people in Oakland are swarming into the East Bay or even up to mountain vacation areas like Lake Tahoe,” said Linnette Edwards, founder and associate broker of Abio Properties in northern California. “With inventory tight and interest rates low, buyers are literally coming out of the woodwork, including many young buyers tired of living and working, and even home-schooling, in their 800 square-foot apartments.”
Bidding wars are common, she said, with as many as 15 offers on a single-family residence not at all unusual.
“Young buyers, especially, who can work from home and aren’t tied to their employer’s location, are scrambling to find smaller detached homes with enough yard space to add on office space or an extra bedroom,” she said.
“Prices are ticking up a bit in most areas because of the high demand,” Edwards said. “But it’s still possible to find an entry-level homes for well under $1 million in parts of Oakland and in some East Bay cities, and that is driving demand.”
One local lender, she said, pre-approved 268 borrowers for home purchases in June - an all-time record for the company, up more than 100 percent from last June, when they pre-approved 124 buyers.
“The biggest problem we have is tight inventory,” Edwards said, “although sellers are slowly coming back into the market as they realize the value of their properties.”
Values are changing as people in the age of pandemic re-evaluate what is important to them, said Edwards, who recently purchased a second-home getaway for her own family.
“Watching with your child as a 10-year old African spurred tortoise crosses the road can be the highlight of your day,” she said.