The Great Migration: Dealers see potential as people ditch big cities

Home COVID-19 The Great Migration: Dealers see potential as people ditch big cities

Lake Chelan, home of the Lake Interiors flooring store, is drawing high-income execs from Amazon and Microsoft.

Along the shores of Lake Chelan, a 50-mile treasure in north-central Washington state, real estate agents are busy these days accommodating executives from the likes of Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing as they look to relocate to this vacation hamlet.

Ready to seize the opportunity is Don Cantor, owner of Lake Interiors in Chelan. “In the last few weeks, people have hunkered down in Lake Chelan—and they
love it,” said Cantor, whose flooring retail business stands to benefit from this recent trend of city dwellers fleeing the big cities in the wake of COVID-19. “We are in a sweet spot and we count our blessings. I have spoken with some of these Microsoft and Amazon employees; they can now work from home, which saves them two and a half hours each way. It’s a more efficient way of life for them.”

The coronavirus pandemic is prompting scores of Americans to consider leaving the big cities and seek refuge in smaller locales and suburbs. The exodus is also fueled by the ability—and lure—of working remotely, experts say.

Nearly one-third of Americans are considering moving to less densely populated areas post-COVID-19, according to new data from The Harris Poll. What’s more, a recent Zillow survey conducted by Harris found that more than half of Americans have had a chance to work remotely during the pandemic, and 75% of them 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 further 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. All of this could bode well for independent flooring dealers, most of whom are located outside major cities.

Flooring dealers experience exodus, seize opportunity

Cooped-up Chicagoans are eyeing places like Naperville, home to Great Western Flooring.

Some dealers said they have already seen activity brewing in their neck of the woods. “One of the largest local real estate companies just reported to me that about 50% of their current sub- urban buyers are coming from the city,” said Lauren Voit, owner of Great Western Flooring, Naperville, Ill., about 35 miles from Chicago.

“Our geographic area will see a steady market especially being that we are in Naperville, which is the second-largest economy in the state of Illinois and also ranked one of the safest places to live and best places to raise a family. As people move out of the city—which we are expecting many will do after being cooped up in their condos in Chicago during COVID-19—I see our surrounding area as attracting many new homeowners. We see this trend as a huge opportunity for us.”

Charles F. Zeigler & Son is located in Hanover, Pa., a somewhat commutable driving distance to the Baltimore-Washington corridor. For co-owner Bill Zeigler, this latest poll confirms what has been taking place in southwestern Pennsylvania. “The cost of living is substantially less here, and Pennsylvania is more tax friendly [than Maryland],” Zeigler said. “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 well positioned 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.”

Florida has long been a destination location and doesn’t need a coronavirus-inspired pandemic to draw people from large metropolises. Still, the additional business would be welcome for retailers like John Taylor, owner of Taylor Carpet One Floor & Home, Fort Myers, Fla. “We live in paradise, so thankfully it is a place many people eye to move to for relocation or retirement,” Taylor said. “It is our opinion that this pandemic will strength- en the desire to move as well as move up the timeframe to do so. We are positioned and ready for the influx.”

Weather and climate have historically drawn ‘snowbirds’ to Fort Myers, Fla. The population stands to increase in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Terre Haute, Ind., home of Indiana State University, is a town of 50,000-70,000 people depend- ing on the student population. It, too, could see a spike given its location. “When you consider the price of living around here in comparison to Chicago—just a two-and-half-hour drive north, the difference is staggering,” said Dan Smiddy, co-owner of Smiddy’s CarpetsPlus ColorTile.

Even in far outposts, retailers are gearing up for more business opportunity. North Dakota is considered one of the best places to live when it comes to cheap—yet great—cities and towns. And Bismarck, the state capital, is one of the best places to live in the state, surveys show.

So, it is no wonder that Jon Dauenhauer, co-owner of Carpet World Bismarck, said he is in a good spot to reap the benefits. “We see the migration trend as a great opportunity and would welcome the new growth,” he told FCNews. “The majority of our city’s growth currently comes from within our own state. North Dakota is a great place to live as long as you can handle the cold and wind during the winter months.”

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