Bye, Open Floorplan: How Real Estate Buyers’ Priorities Have Shifted Throughout The Pandemic
When the first iteration of the coronavirus descended on New York City in March 2020, almost two years ago, commerce pretty much ceased. No one went to stores. No one went to restaurants. In fact, no one except essential workers went much of anywhere at all. The city and its real estate market began to come back to life as summer turned to fall and people ventured, hesitantly, once again out in the streets. And as the city slowly came to a semblance of life, agents all over town realized that buyer priorities had changed. Walking distance to work and to schools suddenly became a priority. Outdoor spaces looked more attractive than ever after six months of being homebound. And townhouses, once a specialty market, became hot. No elevator, no shared space, your own garden or terrace space (or both). Starved for escape from their apartments but apprehensive about human contact, New Yorkers found that their homes seemed more important than ever before. And the real estate market trickled back to life.
In 2021, with the advent of the vaccine, the trickle turned into a torrent. Even as the Delta variant raged all over the country and the world, the New York real estate market caught fire. Clients who had been perfectly happy with their homes suddenly needed more: more space, more building amenities, more proximity to parks. And then, as 2021 was ringing to a close as one of the most robust national real estate years in recent memory, Omicron arrived, demonstrating that the coronavirus is probably something we have to live with, not live through.
So how have the ebb and flow of the virus changed our market, both nationally and locally? More than anything, life in a pandemic has changed our understanding of the way we inhabit and want to inhabit our living spaces. Everyone in the white and pink collar worlds has developed a routine for working at home. Whether the home office is a table in the corner of the bedroom, the far cushion on the living room sofa, or a dedicated room, everyone who can, now works from home at least part of the time. So that’s one change. The “open plan” layout which was so popular a couple of decades ago? A disaster if several people are trying to co-exist and work in the same space. Rooms, preferably with doors, are back! But even more than physical realities, the psychology of our home spaces has altered.
The economists at the listing aggregator website Realtor.com estimate that in the Northeast, almost half of all 2022 homebuyers will be first-time purchasers. The number is even higher in the South. These new homebuyers, mostly Millennials and people in their twenties, list attaining the dream of homeownership as the number one reason driving them towards a purchase. Unlike Gen Xers, who have seemed to value experience over possessions, their younger counterparts want a piece of the rock. And they want space! The top amenity that is chosen by this demographic: a big yard.
This virus is here to stay. So the ideas of refuge and safety inherent in homeownership have steadily gained importance over the arc of the past two years. Buying a house or an apartment offers the chance to create a safe haven. It is a place where residents can remove both the psychological and the physical masks they have been wearing during their ever more frequent forays into the work, social, and recreational outside worlds. We all inhabit a brave new world, with all the irony that both Shakespeare and Aldous Huxley injected into that phrase. And while Americans are eager to re-enter that world, they also want, more than ever, a place to retreat from it. In other words: a home.