Could vaccines end the suburban purchase boom?

by David Kitai14 Jan 2021

Jarret Coleman (pictured) watched his steady local housing market in Fairfield County Connecticut explode in 2020. Coleman, a loan officer at US Bank, explained that his market has been stagnant since the 2008 crash. Over the course of 2020, however, the suburban county outside New York City has turned upside down as house prices have skyrocketed and homes moved with dozens of competing offers. While other factors are at play, Coleman attributes almost all of this recent growth to flight from NYC, driven by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But with vaccines being rolled out and the widespread consensus that the worst of the pandemic should end this year, how is Coleman preparing for another change in his local market? Can markets like Fairfield County that have done so well since March of 2020 expect a reversal of fortune as cities regain their appeal and families return to urban centers?

“The virus sparked this purchase boom but I think the big question is, where do we move from here?” Coleman said. “Right now, I see no slowdown, I still see an amazing demand for real estate in this area. But, if the vaccine does work and the numbers come down, will people change their mindsets again in two- or three-years’ time?

“I think that overall, even with COVID behind us, this has changed enough peoples’ mindsets and changed enough about the world of work that Fairfield County is poised to do well into the foreseeable future.”

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Coleman accepts that the small towns and suburbs of Fairfield might not carry the same appeal as a reopened vibrant New York City. At the same time, however, he expects the likely heightened prevalence of telecommuting post-pandemic to make suburban life more appealing.

Anecdotally, Coleman takes some hope from the demographics of his borrowers. The vast majority of his clients, he said, are moving to Fairfield County with their families. Younger families, especially, loathe to move often, given the trauma moves can place on young children and the stress they can introduce. He sees borrowers moving from the city because they feared the pandemic in a dense urban environment, but he believes many of those same borrowers also moved to make a life in Fairfield County.

While ongoing high volumes are keeping Coleman and his team busy with purchase business, he is keeping an eye on the horizon and planning for when rates do rise. He expects rates to move up this year, either due to changes in fiscal policy or a simple inflation-driven trickle like we’ve seen in the past week. That prospect is keeping Coleman focused on purchase. He expects the recent refi boom means that we’ll likely see a refi drought for a long time to come, as those locked in at a 2% interest rate won’t touch their mortgages for a long time to come.

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Coleman’s strategy, for now, is to focus on his realtor partners and his turn times. He’s trying to cement his reputation during this high-volume period so when volumes do drop again, those key referrals will still come his way. He’s also still hiring.

While Coleman knows these record volumes may drop off in the medium-term, he’s still adding staff to his operation. Hiring, he admits, takes some managerial guesswork given the cyclical nature of this industry. However, he is confident that his company will be able to retain good people whatever the future volumes may hold for Fairfield County.

“Now the industry is asking, do we continue to hire and grow further? Do we stay with what we have? Or, do we potentially pursue layoffs?” Coleman said. “For us layoffs are absolutely not on the table. We’re looking to grow. If volume were to slow, we’d have to pivot accordingly, but if someone’s a good employee, and they do a good job, we’ll find a position for that person before letting them go. Whether it’s with me, whether it’s someone else, whether it’s in a different role, good people are hard to come by.”