People are still searching for homes, but traffic on Zillow does not show more urbanites suddenly looking to move into suburban or rural areas. Nor are waves of home shoppers seeking to flee large cities for smaller ones. What’s more, while current and prospective buyers in urban areas are most likely to say the coronavirus pandemic has affected where they want to live, 70% of the nearly 10,700 US adults we surveyed in April say they want to live in an area that is equally or even more urban than the neighborhood where they currently live.
But it’s not their location they might want to change — it’s their actual home. Many would want designated office space and more room inside and out. Home buyers on a budget almost always make tradeoffs, like living farther from transit or family to be within a preferred school district. It makes sense then that many who gave up square footage or a fenced yard for a shorter commute might reconsider if work-from-home policies shift in the future.
A large enough shift could actually ease price pressure on urban and inner-suburban areas — which might be welcomed by many fast-growing cities struggling with housing scarcity and affordability issues. Perhaps it would even allow some with service industry jobs, and other jobs that can’t be done remotely, to move closer to their workplaces — essentially reshuffling people within a metro area to better suit their needs and lifestyles.
It may not feel like it, but we are in the early days of this pandemic. And the murky early signals tell us that residents aren’t cutting the cord from their central city, they’re maybe exchanging it for an extension cord. People still want to be close to the urban amenities they value: culture, history, nightlife, arts, theater, education and sports. And cities are home to huge clusters of world-class health care and research facilities that are more necessary now than ever.
As cities reopen in fits and starts, the hope for a resumption of uniquely urban activities and pursuits in coming months burns bright. Cities may not be exactly how we remember or want them to be when this is all over, but they will endure and thrive through this crisis. And people will still call them home.