Analysts say pandemic contributed to housing boom

Census and housing industry analysts say that the coronavirus pandemic contributed to a boom in the U.S. housing market nationwide.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Despite having come to a screeching halt in March of 2020, recent joint analysis by the U.S. Census Bureau and the real estate clearinghouse Zillow has revealed that the American housing market ultimately benefited from the coronavirus pandemic.

One unexpected consequence of the COVID-19 outbreak was that working from home gave 2 million renters the freedom to purchase homes for the first time, according to Earline K. P. Dowell, a program analyst in the Economic Management Division of the Census Bureau.

“When strict lockdown measures were lifted,” she explains, “the rebound in the housing market was big and fast. It also revealed new home buying patterns. Many Americans, who were now used to working remotely, began buying homes further away from large cities and traditional job centers.”

Zillow analysts say that 2020 was poised to be a big year in the housing market even before the pandemic. Census data indicated that a wave of some 72 million millennials were set to reach their 40s that year, making them prime candidates to finally purchase homes.

The majority of those millennials lived in expensive metropolitan areas where they were previously priced out of home ownership in order to reside within an average 30-minute commute of their jobs. But those employees’ willingness to pay premium rental prices for proximity to amenities like restaurants, museums and theaters that were no longer available during the pandemic naturally declined during 2020.

Prior to the pandemic, Zillow economist Treh Manhertz says that most workers based their home-buying decisions on affordability, local amenities, proximity to employment, schools, etc.

After the worst of the pandemic has passed, however, Zillow surveys found that 75 percent of respondents who had worked from home during the outbreak wanted to continue to telework at least half the time even when their workplaces reopened.

Based on their experiences of overhead cost savings during the pandemic, many employers are now willing to accommodate those telework wishes.

That combination of factors has led to a decline in both rental applicants and home owners in affluent metropolitan areas like San Francisco and New York, while housing markets have boomed in more affordable locations like Kansas City and Cleveland.

Census officials say that the industries most likely to convert to telework options include information technology, finance, insurance, real estate, scientific research, public administration and education.

Jobs in industries such as health care, transportation, construction and retail typical cannot be performed remotely.

Zillow pollsters also report that 66 percent of American workers now say that they would consider changing jobs or relocating if a new employment opportunity included the option of working from home in a more affordable housing market.

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