It’s not a cliché — your urge to buy a home in the suburbs to start a family or at least put down more permanent roots is one plenty of people feel. Especially now, after many homebuyers moved to the suburbs in 2020 after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it makes sense to seek more space, privacy or access to the outdoors.
While more urban housing markets have seen a comeback in 2021 that helps city-lovers feel reassured more dense living isn’t dead, suburban areas remain a hot spot, and in many cases they are some of the most competitive places to buy a home.
Should you follow suit and move to the suburbs? Here’s what to know about this real estate trend and if the benefits of suburban living might appeal to you:
— Universal seller’s market evens the playing field.
— The benefits to living in the ‘burbs.
— The pandemic accelerated an existing trend.
— Cities are sticking around.
Universal Seller’s Market Evens the Playing Field
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted many renters, homeowners and real estate investors to reexamine their housing preferences and seek larger properties, (slightly) lower costs and less dense populations.
Since then, suburban housing markets have remained on top. This past August, realtor.com released its list of the hottest ZIP codes in America, based on the time it takes for properties to sell and frequency of online views for available properties. The top 10 list is dominated by suburbs of larger cities such as Boston; Raleigh, North Carolina; Columbus, Ohio; Detroit; and Nashville, Tennessee. Peabody, Massachusetts; Brentwood, North Carolina; Lincoln Village, Ohio; Farmington, Michigan; and Franklin, Tennessee are all suburban options that make the list.
Of course, more dense city settings have largely seen a comeback as well from the earlier days of the pandemic, when it seemed people were fleeing more urban environments. As early as March, national real estate company Redfin reported city home prices had increased 16% year over year, surpassing the price growth of suburban and rural home prices for the first time since the pandemic.
Expect a seller’s market in just about any setting, from urban to suburban neighborhoods, big metro areas to small. The National Association of Realtors reported that the number of existing homes sold in August dropped 2% compared to a year prior, and the inventory of existing homes on the market also fell by 1.5%. With fewer homes available, buyers have to compete for the low stock of what’s available, whether they’re house hunting on a suburban street or in a city neighborhood.
The Benefits of Living in the ‘Burbs
Suburbia has drawn people out of crowded city centers for generations as people seek the ideal living situation for them, and those benefits are hard to ignore. Here’s a quick breakdown of the benefits of living in the suburbs:
— More space.
— Lower cost of living.
— Easy outdoor access.
More space. After months at home in tight quarters, many couples and families are looking to spread out in single-family houses that offer more square footage.
Lower cost of living. Not every suburb is cheap, but you’re likely to find new ways to save if you expand your home search to the suburbs. You can find lower rent and lower monthly mortgage payments, and you can cut some costs like parking. Of course, if you don’t already have a car, factor in the additional cost of payments, insurance and maintenance on a vehicle.
Easy outdoor access. By forcing people to remain at home for extended periods of time, the COVID-19 pandemic reminded many people that getting outside is necessary, whether it’s to exercise, get some sun or simply breathe fresh air. A preference for easy access to the outdoors has carried through even as restrictions have relaxed — in a time when people are still nervous to be in a crowded indoor setting, being outdoors feels safer. While some apartments and townhouses in the city have balconies, small backyards or rooftop common areas, the possibility of sizable outdoor space draws many to suburban life.
The Pandemic Accelerated an Existing Trend
Moving from the city to the suburbs isn’t a new concept. It’s a shift in mindset that goes back generations, in which people desire larger homes, more space and more choice in education when their children reach school age. Not everyone gets the same itch to move from downtown to the suburbs, but it’s a common enough occurrence.
Due to the global pandemic, even more people who hadn’t yet planned to leave the city saw the benefits of more space and a lower cost of living while remote work remains an option for many.
“The demographic for people that are moving out (to the suburbs) were looking to move anyway — they maybe just hastened that timeline,” says Angela Ferrara, executive vice president of sales and leasing for the Marketing Directors, a residential development advising company based in New York City.
Major cities with plenty of high-earning people right on the cusp of that age saw the biggest impact in 2020, says Jonathan Needell, president and chief investment officer for Kairos Investment Management Company. KIMC invests in buying and fixing up older apartments, among other investment strategies, and Needell says these properties saw rents decrease most in major cities like New York and San Francisco.
While time has passed and cities have seen a new influx of eager renters and buyers, they’re not necessarily the same people who left for the suburbs in 2020. “I’m not going to get someone who moved to a suburban market early in their life cycle to change their mind,” Needell says.
Cities Are Sticking Around
Instead, the people filling up available rentals in urban settings are younger, Generation Z renters, or those young adults born in 1997 or after, who are starting their professional careers. They also benefit from the vacancies left by millennials who moved to the suburbs.
“They made an opportunity for the next generation to move in at a lower price point,” Needell says.
But, Needell notes, “It’s not like going to the city for the next generation won’t come without a cost.” While housing costs may have dropped to make having your own apartment — or fewer roommates — possible, the pandemic wreaked havoc on urban economies in other ways.
There are a greater number of vacant storefronts, and many retailers and restaurants are still working to adapt to reduced staff numbers, health and safety restrictions and the impact of decreased revenue.
It’s all part of the cycle of real estate, both residential and commercial. Especially for cities where there’s a concerted effort to attract businesses and residents alike. “In the early ’90s they used to talk about how office space was so vacant it would never fill again. It filled in five to seven years,” Needell says.
Regardless of where you are in your personal and professional life, depending on the closest major city to you, you may be able to achieve a suburban feeling without sacrificing the city address. For example, in Chicago the neighborhoods beyond the central business district have many single-family houses, complete with a small front and backyard, explains Maurice Hampton, past president of the Chicago Association of Realtors and owner and managing broker of Centered International Realty Corp. in Chicago.
“I particularly live in a community where we’re in the city of Chicago but it’s very suburban. It’s a very town-feeling community,” Hampton says.
Your choice to stick to city living or head out to the suburbs should ultimately be based on your personal preference, considering access to local amenities, amount of space desired, proximity to schools if you have children and more. If you put off a push to the suburbs, city living remains a viable option, and you may be able to find a community that feels residential within the confines of a major city.
More from U.S. News
Update 10/07/21: This story was published at an earlier date and has been updated with new information.