By Ken Ryan
Nearly a third of Americans are considering moving to less densely populated areas in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, according to new data from The Harris Poll. Not only would such a development stand to have a major impact on residential real estate sales and home prices, but it could also bode well for independent flooring dealers—the vast majority of which are located outside major cities.
While anecdotal information shows Americans are looking to leave densely populated metro areas over social distancing concerns, real estate experts suggest the shift toward remote work will likely increase the number of buyers looking to relocate from expensive metropolitan hubs to cities with a lower cost of living. The U.S. was already facing an affordability crisis prior to the pandemic, with people fleeing expensive coastal cities for a higher quality of life in places such as Charlotte, N.C., and Nashville, Tenn.
“People were thinking about relocating or talking about relocating before the pandemic, but COVID was the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Kristin Lopez, an agent for real estate brokerage Redfin in Boise, Idaho. She added that 90% of her clients are coming from California, Seattle or Portland.
Retailers poised to capitalize on exodus from big cities
Some flooring retailers contacted by FCNews said they have already seen more activity in their markets from city dwellers. A case in point is Great Western Flooring, based in Naperville, Ill., a western suburb of Chicago. Lauren Voit, owner, said she is expecting a flood of people leaving their condos in downtown Chicago for hamlets such as Naperville, which is about 35 miles away. “I see our surrounding area as attracting many new homeowners,” she said.
Pennsylvania proves attractive for those seeking a change
Charles F. Zeigler & Son is located in Hanover, Pa., a driving distance to the Baltimore-Washington corridor. For Bill Zeigler, president and co-owner, the latest Harris Poll confirms what has already been taking place in his area of southwestern Pennsylvania. “We have experienced the shift for some time,” he said. “Our business is located very near the Maryland line, and Marylanders have been moving here for over 20 years and commuting to Baltimore and Washington D.C., to work. The cost of living is substantially less here, and Pennsylvania is more tax friendly. Now that more of them will be working from home, I suspect they will spend even more money on their homes.”
Meadville, Pa., is centrally located in western Pennsylvania, where Foulk’s Flooring America is poised to take advantage of the flight from big cities. “The trend of people moving to areas with lower costs of living will definitely help us dealers that are located in small town America,” said Mike Foulk, owner. “We are 90 miles from three major cities. People are not far from large city culture, but they are close enough where the lifestyle is affordable.”
Work-from-home option plays into the equation
More than half of employed Americans have had the opportunity to work from home during the pandemic. In a recent Zillow survey conducted by The Harris Poll, 75% of respondents said they would like to continue to work remotely—at least part time. The survey also found that those who would be able to work remotely would consider moving farther from their place of employment while searching for a home with more space for a home office. These factors combined could mean that former urbanites who work remotely will be tempted to move out to the more affordable and spacious suburbs.
Recent Zillow research suggests more Americans are at least looking at their housing options. In mid-April, page views of for-sale listings on Zillow were 18% higher than in 2019.