Is the pandemic pushing more people to move or stay put?

by Kasi Johnston24 Jun 2020

Americans are traditionally movers and shakers. Whether it’s for a job opportunity, a family decision or for a change of scenery, it’s not uncommon for Americans to uproot and move to somewhere new.

Over the years, the rate that Americans have changed homes has actually slowed down by quite a bit, but Apartment List, an online rental listing website, found the coronavirus pandemic could reignite mobility. In a survey of more than 10,000 Americans, nearly half says the coronavirus has affected their plans to move; 17% are more likely to move by the end of this year, but 30% are more likely to stay put. With numerous large companies considering more permanent structural changes to include increased work-from-home capabilities for workers, people are no longer tied to a single location. The report also points to urban dwellers yearning about more living space amidst months of shelter-in-place orders.

“Millions of Americans have recently lost their jobs, leaving them with no choice but to move in with family or find some other more affordable living situation,” the report added.

In May, unemployment in the United States was just over 13% with 21 million people out of work. This economic fallout is having the biggest impact on moves, encouraging those who need to find cheaper housing, while discouraging those who cannot afford to move. The biggest factor discouraging a move is safety, with 37% of those less likely to move concerned that moving during a pandemic could be risky.

One in 4 renters said they were more likely to move, compared to just 11% homeowners, likely because of the flexibility that renting allows. But for renters, the report says mobility is a reflection of economic stress versus the desire for a lifestyle change.

“Renters are nearly twice as likely as homeowners to say they are moving to find cheaper housing (40% versus 23%, respectively). And among renters looking to move, 58% say that if they don’t, they are concerned they will be evicted from their home before the end of the year.”

The move away from cities

The Apartment List report says the narrative that remote work will fuel an exodus from cities is a bit overhyped. While 19% of those who are likely to move do cite this as a reason, it’s the least prevalent factor. However, coronavirus and social distancing rules have actually caused the density that many usually value to become a liability. Nearly 30% of city residents say they are more likely to move compared to those who live in rural areas who are much more likely to stay where they are.

Another study of 2000 Americans by Self Financial found that six in 10 Americans would consider moving away from densely populated areas to protect themselves from a potential second wave of COVID-19.

The same survey found that 71% say the pandemic has them rethinking their financial planning strategies. 61% of people say that the coronavirus pandemic has swiped away at some of their financial goals.

These results point back to the point that while many are moving for a number of reasons, one major driving force is financial security: “Financial instability and health concerns seem to be top of mind for those who have deferred their moving plans. If more and more Americans are looking to move into cheaper units that existing tenants are now less likely to vacate, the affordable housing market -- which was already undersupplied -- is likely to experience even more pressure,” said the Apartment List report.