How home buyers’ priorities have changed throughout the pandemic

When the first iteration of the coronavirus descended on New York in March 2020, nearly two years ago, trading all but ceased. Nobody went to the stores. Nobody went to the restaurant. In fact, no one except essential workers went almost anywhere. The city and its real estate market began to come alive as summer turned to fall and people ventured hesitantly once more onto the streets. And as the city slowly returned to some semblance of life, agents across the city realized that buyers’ priorities had shifted. Walking distance to work and schools suddenly became a priority. Outdoor spaces looked more inviting than ever after six months of confinement at home. And townhouses, once a specialty market, have become popular. No elevator, no shared space, your own garden space or terrace (or both). Hungry for an escape from their apartments but worried about human contact, New Yorkers found their homes seemed more important than ever. And the real estate market came back to life.

In 2021, with the advent of the vaccine, the net has turned into a torrent. Even as the Delta variant raged across the country and around the world, the New York real estate market caught fire. Customers who were perfectly happy with their homes suddenly needed more: more space, more amenities, more proximity to parks. And then, as 2021 drew to a close as one of the strongest national real estate years in recent memory, Omicron arrived, demonstrating that the coronavirus is probably something we have to live with, not live with.

So how has the ebb and flow of the virus changed our market, both nationally and locally? More than anything, living in a pandemic has changed our understanding of how we inhabit and want to inhabit our living spaces. Everyone in the white and pink collar worlds has developed a routine for working from home. Whether the home office is a table in the corner of the bedroom, the far cushion on the living room couch, or a dedicated room, everyone who can now works from home at least some of the time. So it’s a change. The “open plan” layout that was so popular a few decades ago? A disaster if several people try to coexist and work in the same space. Rooms, preferably with doors, are back! But even more than the physical realities, the psychology of our domestic spaces has changed.

Economists at real estate listing aggregator website Realtor.com estimate that in the North East nearly half of all home buyers in 2022 will be first-time buyers. The number is even higher in the South. These first-time buyers, mostly millennials and people in their 20s, cite achieving the dream of homeownership as the top reason for buying. Unlike Gen X, who seem to prioritize experience over possessions, their younger counterparts want a piece of rock. And they want space! The best equipment chosen by this demographic group: a large yard.

This virus is here to stay. Thus, the ideas of refuge and security inherent in home ownership have gradually gained prominence over the past two years. Buying a house or an apartment offers the possibility of creating a haven of peace. It is a place where residents can remove the psychological and physical masks they have worn during their increasingly frequent forays into the outer worlds of work, social and recreation. We all inhabit a brave new world, with all the irony that Shakespeare and Aldous Huxley injected into that phrase. And while Americans are eager to reenter this world, they also want, more than ever, a place to retreat to. In other words: a house.

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