Space in suburbs

During the pandemic, buyers sought space in the suburbs — do they still? 

While agents aren't seeing a flood of city-to-suburbs movers, buyers continue to prioritize quality of life, space and flexible floor plans.

October 25, 2022
3 minutes

Key points:

  • Some buyer preferences, like more outdoor space and home offices, have stuck.
  • Buyers broadened their geographic search areas earlier in the pandemic, but job and school constraints have narrowed them once again.

Sandra Hines was a bit surprised by what happened to the real estate market in the Puget Sound area when the pandemic hit.

"I thought the sky was falling, and no one was going to be buying real estate, or doing anything else, right now," she says. "I thought I was going to have to get another job and all that."

As it turned out, Covid caused "just a pause," but that was it. According to Hines, an associate broker with the Puget Sound Real Estate Group, the real impact of the pandemic has become more apparent post-pandemic, as buyer preferences and mindsets have shifted.

"Buyers are much more interested in quality of life than location," Hines says. "'Why would I want to live near the city? I can afford more and get more and start moving out to the suburbs,' so people started doing that more. Being able to work from home remotely seems to be something that's staying with us."

In the Atlanta area, much the same thing happened, says Christian Ross, managing broker with Engels & Völker. 

"I always tell clients that the market is fluid, a living breathing organism that changes all the time, and the pandemic really highlights that," she says. "Before the pandemic, in a lot of markets with high school districts, people would basically move in the summer. But with school being virtual, people were moving all year long, and we were encountering 50 offers on a home."

And, Ross says, buyers might have been looking in seven or eight areas rather than two or three.

"They were mixing their search between the suburbs and the city, and we hadn't seen that much before," she says. "But the search areas have definitely tightened, because someone in the household is going back to work."

While families with children are back to looking at school districts, one thing that increased during the pandemic — the desire for pools and other outdoor areas — has "stuck," Ross says.

"The City of Decatur here is a year behind on pool permits," she says. "People want pools. … They also want that extra bedroom, that extra office space."

In the Seattle area, Hines is also seeing the demand for outdoor spaces and offices.

"Outdoor living space is becoming more of a trend, and yards are important," she says.

Even before the pandemic, Hines was noticing a shift toward moving out of urban areas and into suburban areas, where schools are typically better and lots are typically larger.

"We're seeing a little more of that now," she says. "If people don't have to go into work every day, they can move further out to areas they would have gone to before except for the commute."

And though some people are after larger homes, they tend to be more cognizant of a home's floor plan rather than its square footage, Hines says. "They want space for their kids, but they also want that extra room for a home office," she says.

Something else Ross has noticed is that buyers are exploring more neighborhoods and options. "There's been a lot of wealth created through real estate, so there have been a lot of move-ups," she says. "People were able to cash out, make $200,000, and move back to their hometowns, something they didn't consider before."

And there's more time to consider it these days.

"During the pandemic, you had to get to a house within a few hours," Ross says. "Now, you can breathe and at least wait for the weekend."

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