COVID Chronicles: ‘Rona’s Housing Trends are Here to Stay

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Welcome to the dystopian world of COVID-19. We wear masks and operate as shut-in recluses working from home, having someone else bring us food, and homeschooling our kids. The stock market collapses and comes back, unemployment falls off a cliff from 3% to 24%, and then it may go down to 30% or up to 10%; we don’t know for sure, but the outlook is not so good. Even if we knew, the data would change tomorrow. It is completely taboo to shake hands, people are making picnic tables for squirrels, and apparently college isn’t a thing anymore. And yet, the housing market is red hot.

Walk in a big-box store. See if you can find some lumber; I dare you. Timbers and boards are the hottest ticket in the lumber yard. Apparently, when we Americans are shut in for a while, we all collectively think, “I should add on to my deck.” And then we go to Menards and buy all the wood that can be found.

Apartment dwellers are clawing to get out of smaller spaces and making a beeline towards suburbia and wide-open spaces. City dwellers in high rises, once the source of envy for many dreamers who idolized that swanky lifestyle, just seem sad now. Give me a home on the range, so when they lock me up again, I can at least run laps around my yard. The exodus from multifamily and city apartments is fueling the housing market, which was already reacting to a large pent-up demand before COVID.

Builders, contractors, and architects are quickly adjusting to the new housing trends, eager to make hay while COVID is hovering. The home is now our workplace, our school, our gym, our church, and our safe haven. Cue his-and-her offices, rec rooms to fit the Peloton, built-in desks in kids’ rooms, larger yards, and padded walls for when we have to do this all over again (just kidding on that last one, but maybe not such an awful idea). While we are all dreaming, I would also add large pantries for that panicked Costco run when we get close to five in a row on our Apocalypse Bingo cards, as well as a wine room for obvious reasons.

Floor plans are being redrawn and adjusted to fit our new quarantined lifestyles. Air-purification systems are a new norm. It may be expensive, but after all, health is the new wealth. How permanent will these changes be? Very permanent, in my mind.

Let me take you back to 2009, when Hurricane Gustav blew through Baton Rouge. Bad storm, yes, but the worst part was that it left our entire city without power for two-and-a-half weeks (this was 2008, not 1908). Let me say that again: Baton Rouge had no power for two-and-a-half weeks. As a pregnant woman in August in Louisiana, I can tell you never again. People paid whatever it cost to hook gas-line generators up to their houses. It may have happened once, but never again. We will be prepared next time.

It is the same with this pandemic. We are all so traumatized from both working and distance learning at home. The kids need high-speed internet, computers, desks, and cardboard boxes because teachers think it’s fun for parents to do projects while kids are doing online school. I have a running list of what we need in order to buck down and do this again. My inner Emergency-Preparedness Girl cannot help but plan for the next time the government shuts me inside again.

Builders are cashing in on these desires. Their ability to pivot to add more square footage, work-from-home spaces, gyms, and private spaces is paying off. After all, you can only take so much of an open floorplan when you have to stare at your family for 40 days. Investors are bullish on the housing market. Not only is housing expected to be the “least-bad” of all the industries during COVID, it is expected to thrive in the upcoming months.

Note the unemployment rate. How are Americans paying for all of these new houses? Well, this is not 2009, and Americans have savings upwards of 13%. There is extremely high pent-up demand, meaning those who were planning to move – but didn’t – have the time in the world, all of a sudden, to scroll through houses on Zillow. Mortgage rates are historically low at 3%. Stimulus checks help. Rent-to-own homes and horizontal apartments are also aiding the American dream, and would-be buyers/renters are flocking to them.

While the hard data can change tomorrow and the housing market could go down again, it is not likely we will see these housing trends going away any time soon. Our wounds are not only fresh, but still open. We could see a spike in cases and reversion in openings at any given time. So, go get your lumber while you still can, and start that vegetable garden next to your extended deck. Just make sure you use the leftover scraps to build those squirrels a picnic table.

Squirrel picnic table. You’re welcome.

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Amanda M. Vincent, Product Marketing Specialist