One Year Into the Pandemic, Our Outlook on Home Has Totally Changed—Possibly Forever

It’s been a year. One whole year. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared the “novel coronavirus” a pandemic, setting off a cascade of stay-at-home orders by state and local governments across the U.S. Little did we guess that in 2021, the death toll would have reached 529,000, and many of us would still be working from home while our kids Zoomed into their classrooms nearby.

The past year has been a crazy roller-coaster ride for real estate as well, with shutdowns affecting different places in different ways. Across the board, home buying became a priority—demand for housing shot up even as the inventory of homes for sale shrank, pushing up prices by 14.3% year over year, realtor.com® data show.

But the number of vaccinated Americans is creeping steadily upward this spring, and hope is in the air. People are talking about a return to normality in the near future, yet in many ways “normal” will never be the same again. The past year has forced us to reevaluate our priorities—especially when it comes to where we live, both our homes and our communities. The resulting shifts in lifestyle may well be a permanent trend.

A lot of home features, like home offices and backyards, have gone from the “nice to have” to the “essential” column, and now that people can work remotely and seek out more affordable places to live, they can truly buy the homes of their dreams.

Here are all the changes that came to real estate in this pandemic year that are likely here to stay.

Big-city living loses its cool—and suburbs will never be the same

It turns out that sheltering in place is a great way to find out if you really, really love your home—and being able to work remotely means there are more options if you don’t. The biggest wake-up call this year was for city dwellers who’d long justified the high expense of their tiny apartments with the many perks of urban life—until those suddenly became unavailable.

It’s always been the case that, as young people get older and start families, they’re more likely to move to the suburbs. But as realtor.com’s chief economist, Danielle Hale, put it, “COVID-19 accelerated this trend. People are looking for space and affordability, and [the suburbs are] where they can find it.”

In the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, shoppers were spending more time checking out suburban listings than homes near the city center last year, according to realtor.com research. Asking prices also shot up faster in the burbs, boosted by the surge in demand.

Some employers have already stated they will allow eligible employees to work remotely for good, offering more incentive for people to seek out greener pastures and larger homes. And judging from the number of people who’ve already made the leap and bought a home in a more remote location, we’re guessing they will.

As the transplants settle in to their new surroundings, they’re likely to make their mark on the suburbs, as well. After all, why can’t they have their single-family home with a yard and some of the advantages of city life?

Buyers expect more from their homes

People are starting to trickle back to their offices and gyms, and children to classrooms, but the lesson of 2020’s ups and downs, reopenings and reclosings, is that you need to be prepared if those things aren’t possible. That means buyers are paying close attention to homes with plenty of space to work, attend school, exercise, and enjoy the fresh air.

Millennials, many with young children, are now the largest group of home buyers, and their preferences will shape home buying for years to come.

That means savvy home sellers will have to get their homes in shape for a new generation’s expectations. These days, homes with a home office sell faster, and for more money, than homes without one.

Sanitary features have come into focus lately, too. Smart, touchless options for faucets, lights, and locks are not only convenient, they also cut down on the transfer of germs.

Technology is making house hunting and buying more convenient

House hunting during the pandemic means relying on technology more than ever. Cruising for home listings on sites such as realtor.com has been a basic first step for years. But this year, with orders declaring real estate work essential in some areas, and inessential for others for weeks at a time, folks were forced to move their home searches primarily online. Many folks ended up buying a home they’d never even seen in person!

And after all, why waste days driving around with a real estate agent, viewing house after house, when you can eliminate many options while sitting on your couch, at a time that works for you? The catch: There are some things that are harder to perceive in a video tour—so you need to know what signs to look for.

Other aspects of the often clunky home-buying process have also been streamlined by technology. There’s no need to sit in a mortgage broker’s office to discuss loan options, or sign piles of paperwork in a room at a title company. Remote mortgage pre-approvals, inspections, appraisals, and even closings are now the norm.

Homeowners are going to be more self-reliant

DIY projects used to seem like something fun to do in your free time, but when you want to reduce exposure to additional people, making simple upgrades and performing basic home maintenance yourself is a necessity. And once you’ve developed those skills, you’re less likely to reach for the phone when you have something that needs fixing.

Plus, homeowners have always known that doing things yourself is great for the bottom line, especially when you target projects that offer a good return on investment.

Article courtesy of realtor.com

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